Into: The Synesthetic, Monochromatic Wonder Scents of Boy Smells

Published September 18, 2019

Photos by Isabella Behravan for Boy Smells. Art by Jack Vhay.

“Into” is a series dedicated to objects, artworks, garments, exhibitions, and all orders of things that we are into—and there really isn’t a lot more to it than that. Today: Our Digital Editor, Sarah Nechamkin, makes a case for the sensually disorienting power of some colored candles.

Chromesthesia, for the uninitiated, is defined (by the Google gods) as a type of synesthesia in which heard sounds automatically and involuntarily evoke an experience of color. Full disclaimer: I am not a person with synesthesia, but I do have a hyperactive imagination and a fondness for fancy things whose fragrances and pink labels describing “notes of sandalwood” distract me from latent existential dread. And so I sit at my office desktop, surrounded by a mountain of candles by the Los Angeles-based brand Boy Smells, probiotics, and half-read art books, letting some amorphous swirl of ambrette seed, rose, bitter orange, and cassis transport me to a hyperchromatic alter-planet. (No, I don’t light them all at once; who do you think I am?) 

The collection—now in its second iteration, titled Chromesthesia II—consists of four candles in four colors. There’s Damasque, a burgundy spiced rose-cherry-apricot-labdanum fusion that brings me into the wallpapered living room of my great-great-(great?) grandmother, sipping port wine while trading secrets. Damasque is the color of tobacco-laced whispers, of fizzled-out jazz on a half-broken record player. It’s the sinister little sister of the Spiced Pumpkin Yankee Candle, that saccharine token of autumnal innocence—the color of oxblood, or your ex’s. Curiously, this is the candle none of my coworkers have pillaged and lit, perhaps because they’re too afraid of the dark psychic force it will conjure. 

The whole collection.

Next up on the roster: perhaps the antidote to Damasque, De Nîmes is a cool, denim-hued almond breeze, swirling with gawking seagulls and the distant sound of children playing (distant enough to render it charming and nostalgic in medias res, rather than ear-piercingly nightmarish). Cool and collected, though not without dark depths, it’s an herbal skinny dip in a French Roman aqueduct, an Elena Ferrante novel in blueberry beeswax. De Nîmes is the most “together” of the group, the one who would likely remind everyone to stay hydrated. It’s also probably learning French on Duolingo.

Then there’s Cameo, and where to begin with Cameo? Cameo is pink—not peach, not even “millennial pink,” like its label. Cameo is pink pink—rosy, soft, and unabashedly “baby.” Cameo is grandma’s perfume candle-ized, two feet left of bubblegum. While one colleague is reminded of Dial soap, I’m more apt to call it the fresh launder of a prep school uniform, emanating girlish giggles and backhanded compliments. It’s Cyndi Lauper with a tinge of Lil’ Kim. The flicker of a childhood memory; the glimpse of a future that involves more than one faux-fur coat.

Last but not least, I arrive at Philia, the eggplant purple, spiced plum pie of a candle that has managed to infiltrate my nose and thoughts and dreams and state of being—it is, after all, in the name: an “abnormal love,” a proud celebration of delusions of grandeur. Throughout the course of our relationship, I have developed an abnormal love for the sights and sounds the scent connotes, which is warmth, royalty, and romantic dalliances that reach Brontëan levels of drama. Philia wants to be your favorite, and is good at doing it. Sonically speaking, it’s the buttery delivery of Jeff Goldblum, the batter-fried vocal bender of a sashaying Amy Winehouse. It’s Rihanna. Cosmic, intoxicating, regal, and plush—the texture of a black rabbit, or the froth atop a Gin Fizz. I imagine this is the preferred bathtime fragrance of Rachel Weisz’s expletive-happy rendition of Lady Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, in The Favourite. I, too, would bathe in the color, I’d bathe in the scent, and I’d most certainly bathe in the sounds. Philia is the ideal symbiotic fusion for the delusionally romantic among us. And what, if for anything else, would you buy a candle?