A monthly blog about the sensory experience of New York City

Saturday, January 6, 2018

SMELL: An immersive candle experience in SoHo

What does SoHo smell like in the winter? Wet wool, body lotion, something burning (pretzels? chestnuts?), damp stone, corrugated cardboard, rubber, perfume, steam. One thing SoHo can usually be counted on not to smell like, though, is theme-scented candles, the scourge of Christmas Tree Shops and suburban malls.


So when I started seeing ads for Yankee Candle’s “immersive pop-up shop,” Candle Power NYC, in an empty storefront on lower Broadway, I felt obliged to investigate. The shop promised to transport me from New York City’s holiday hubbub to a snowy forest, a cozy library, a rose garden, a beach, and a Zen oasis, all through the power of scent. One recent afternoon, I stepped through a curtain of wicks into a vast space filled with flickering candles, R&B, and a path that wended between different set pieces, all touting different scent themes.



Each scene was chaperoned by a sort of candle maĆ®tre’d who offered to take photos and supply the correct promotional hashtag, #candlepowernyc. It was evident this place was built more for selfies than candle shopping, intended to pull Yankee Candle out of the mall and into upscale retail.


The first scene was a winter wonderland representing the Balsam & Cedar candle. I clomped across a wooden footbridge through a forest of plywood trees and hills; above, screen-clouds displayed images of people sledding and building snowmen. Birdsong twittered. Plumes of a piney scent wafted between the branches.


Next up was a library turned 90 degrees askew: the furniture, lamps, and bookcases were attached to the walls, creating an opportunity for trippy Instagram poses. A (digital) fireplace represented the Woodwick candle, with a wooden wick that crackles as it burns. The signature fragrance here was Fireside, and the guide told me it smelled like “cardamom, or something like that.” And usually reading by the fire is cozier when the armchair is on the ground.


From the library I passed into the Mind & Body room, where, via a touchscreen, I could choose what I wanted to see and smell: videos of falling leaves, a koi pond, and a Zen sand garden corresponded with the Peace + Tranquility (“cashmere jasmine”) and Reflection + Clarity (“sea salt sage”) candles. 


Then it was off to the beach: palm trees, beach chairs, and a faux pool (no diving!) engulfed by the Sun & Sand candle. I couldn’t imagine actually burning this scent indoors, but the sunscreen-y smell did transport me to a beach.


Last, I stepped into an Alice in Wonderland–esque rose garden, complete with giant flowers and mirrors and infused with Apricot Rose scent. I padded across green-carpet grass and nuzzled my nose into the petals.



At the back of the room were a few tables displaying a quartet of candles meant to evoke distinctive New York City smells. “Fall in Central Park” did not incorporate the aromas of carriage-horse droppings, taxi fumes, or decaying leaves, but it did have mossy notes. “New York City at Dawn” was accurate perhaps if you’re awakening in a plush boudoir: no dog pee or garbage juice here, but instead “plum and rose petals paired with pink peppercorn and amber.” The “SoHo” candle promised to “encapsulate the exclusive SoHo environment” in “black amber with rustic notes of tobacco, musk, and mandarin.”


But “City Lights” did somehow manage to generate an "electrical" smell from its mix of “black sesame, patchouli, and balsam.” Extending the glass jar for a sniff, the weary candle chaperone suggested, “It’s for the city that never sleeps?” 

Candle Power NYC is now closed, but check out the website for a virtual (and scent-free) experience.

No comments: