The other day, I caught a whiff of a passerby’s perfume and was mentally hurled back to 2004, standing in the bathroom with my sister, spritzing us with Bobbi Brown’s Beach, a scent that smells explicitly and delightfully of sunscreen. In that nostalgic, perfume-swept moment, it occurred to me that summer hygge is real, and that fall and winter have been stealing the cozy spotlight for years.
Candles are the most obvious expression of hygge if we’re talking smells, and as a candle-lover, I’m miffed at the wintery context of burning a fragrant flame. It’s not like candles are actually warm, so why the seasonal monopoly? All this aimless whining ultimately found me sitting on my couch this past Sunday, surrounded by seven candles with beach- and summer-adjacent names, sniff-testing my way to a headache in service of discovering the secret to warm-weather coziness. Finding the perfect summer candle, I was certain, was like hacking your way into owning a summer home at the low cost of $22 to $80 dollars — much cheaper than a beach house.
After the first candle was lit, it struck me that I have no idea how to describe smells beyond imagining where I might breathe them. For that reason, along with my below reviews, I’ve include the written descriptions of the candles from their websites, which I assume were penned by professionals who know what hyacinth water is and don’t describe smells as “like the backseat of your grandma’s new car” (a smell I’m pretty into, consequently).
Anyway, without further ado, a summer candle review for the year-round hygge fiends among us.
Notes: “Refreshing salt water and sea musk warmed with sunny notes of tangerine and orange blossom”
I figured it prudent to start with a classic Yankee. First impression is the packaging is right on theme: very blue, like the sky. Or ocean! It smells pretty strong, even unlit. I would describe it as “pungently fresh,” not unlike the bathroom in a fancy hotel lobby if it were adjacent to where they wash all the guest towels. I like it. I would probably light it in March, when the winter is dragging and I’m considering a move to Earth’s inner core.
Notes: “green ozone, water fruits, white floral and moss”
This candle is very Ralph Lauren, very gold; would not be out of place in a gilded palace. The smell is pretty strong on first whiff, just like Yankee. It’s very floral; I do not smell any green ozone, but then again I don’t know what that is. It smells like a fancy department store you go to with your mom on special occasions, in a good way. It doesn’t make me think of summer specifically, but the floral notes make it feel fitting for warm weather.
Notes: “island lime, ocean breeze, sea salt, blue lotus, water hyacinth, white musk”
This box and candle are more millennial-friendly than Ralph’s in that I’m positive they’ve been Instagrammed a lot, possibly while being balanced on a watermelon. My first sniff is a citrusy delight, as is the second and third and fourth. My official diagnosis of this candle is “citrusy.” It reminds me of walking into a juice shop in Williamsburg with 17 dollars to burn on 8 ounces of juice. Or hugging my mom, for some reason. I would call this definitively summery. Would love to burn this while wearing a sundress and making a fruit salad.
Notes: “French lilac, heliotrope, muguet, and hyacinth, with a barely-there dash of carnation and leafy greans.”
This is the most beach-ready candle I’ve ever seen. And it smells just like a pool house! Or maybe the kind of flowers that are planted near your friend-with-a-pool’s pool, mixed with the pleasant rubbery smell of an expensive lounge chair. This wins for most explicitly summery. It smells a little more floral when it’s burning; I almost prefer it as a dormant, unburned room freshener for that reason, but I still love it and think it should be a crime to burn or even sniff this in the fall or winter.
Notes: “tropical citrus, creamy coconut, and cool sea breezes”
This candle smells how it looks: clean, simple, beige. Like a nice soap. It’s delightfully subtle. It took me a second to recognize the familiarity of it as the faint smell of sunscreen. It has a wood wick, which means it crackles as it burns. A distinctly cozy feature. Maybe too cozy? Just close your eyes and pretend you’re at a bonfire, is my tip. It reminds me of a candle I loved in college called “Cozy Cashmere” and the feeling I get after taking a much-needed shower and putting on a fluffy robe. I love this one, but it’s not necessarily summery. In fact, could be a year-round contender.
Notes: “A fanfare of orange peel, rhubarb, cardamom, fresh fig and guava balanced by a touch of cyclamen, same pale woods, a little vetiver and amber.”
This candle was supposedly inspired by Coney Island, which gives it points for beachy-ness despite not having a beachy name. Points are lost on that front, however, when you see it: It’s completely black, without a seashell in sight. On the other hand, it smells like a fruity cocktail served in the lobby of a resort, which is both distinctly summery and a vibe I’m open to propagating in my apartment. A little strong though. Unrelated: Byredo’s hand soap in Suede is my year-round heaven.
Notes: “A very sweet, voluptuous flower blend evocative of Florida’s blooming magnolia flower with hints of lemon and vanilla. Foods from the area were important for us. If you close your eyes, you’ll get a ricochet of key lime pie.” (via Ocean Drive)
This candle looks the most like summer with its green glass jar and palm frond illustration, and it makes for a pleasant-looking tchotchke unlit, possibly next to a tower of limes. It smells like walking through the rose-filled backyard of a spa, which isn’t something I’ve done personally but feel confident in my ability to approximate, smell-wise. It’s very summery, in that sense, but more floral than beachy. I did not smell the key lime pie, but would eat some right now or even later. It also smells expensive, as all Diptyque candles do, but approach with trepidation if you prefer something subtler.
I consider these all winners because I’m a benevolent candle judge, but my favorites were Jonathan Adler’s Sea Salt and Lafco’s Poolhouse. I didn’t find one that smelled explicitly of sunscreen like I hoped, but I’m sure it’s out there, and I’m certain it would effectively serve as a deed to a beach house if found, so put it in the comments if you know of one. And let me know how you manufacture summer hygge while you’re at it. I’ll be taking notes.
Photos by Madeline Montoya; Art Direction by Emily Zirimis.