MEGAN: About a week ago, Kelly and I learned of a Yankee Candle “popup” experience in Soho, a glamorous New York City neighborhood that is usually full of German tourists and aggressive but friendly Nuts 4 Nuts vendors. On an unseasonably warm Tuesday the week before Christmas, it was relatively empty. Our destination was the aforementioned popup—a candle emporium that was also feast for the senses. How better to kill approximately one hour and all the cilia in your nose? How else should candles be experienced? We were about to find out.
KELLY: Our introduction to “CandlePower by Yankee Candle” was an sign proclaiming:
WELCOME TO AN IMMERSIVE POP-UP
EXPLORE SCENTED CANDLES LIKE NEVER BEFORE
Just beyond was a wooden forest designed to be traversed by, I shit you not, a little wooden bridge. Above it was a cloud that was also an LED screen, presenting scenes of wintry delight. It was some The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe shit except consumerism had replaced Christianity as its dominant subtextual message. It immediately set the tone for this adventure of total immersion into the Yankee Candle lifestyle.
MEGAN: Traipsing up the tiny bridge and emerging from the copse of wooden trees set a really wonderful scene. We were in Candletown, baby, and there was really no turning back. Spread out through what I think used to be an Old Navy with a very good sale section were a variety of sets—though I imagine the creators of this thing would rather them called “experiences.” There was a beach-adjacent setup, with palm trees and lounge chairs; there was some sort of rose/mirror arrangement that gave me Alice in Wonderland/acid vibes. There was a room of tranquility, an upside down something something and most importantly—CANDLES. Candles everywhere, arranged like tiny jewels. Candles as far as the eye could see. Overwhelming, really, but also...kind of nice?
KELLY: At first the symphony of scents almost physically hit you in the face, and I was pretty sure I was going to have to excuse myself to commune with my inhaler. But eventually I stopped noticing it, which was alarming in its own right! We dove right into exploring scented candles like never before by playing a game, which required us to match eight plain white candles to names ranging from the relatively straightforward (“Vanilla Cupcake,” three different citrus flavors) to the maddeningly abstract (“Midsummer’s Night” and “Pink Sands”). We correctly identified two of them, which the very lovely man assured us was an achievement. We proceeded to go candle shopping at the gigantic wall of candles. Megan, roughly how many candles did we smell? A hundred? A thousand?
MEGAN: “Let’s keep track of how many candles we smell!” you said to me, and I think I had intended to keep track of said candles on my phone, but became immediately overwhelmed with scent and so that plan was abandoned. My best guess at our final tally is somewhere in the neighborhood of infinity—I still think I smell some in my nose—but if you forced me to guess for money, I’d say maybe...37. We started in the center of the room and sniffed some of the hot in-store exclusives. Out of the bunch, we both particularly enjoyed “Fall in Central Park,” which does not smell of flop sweat, urine, and pumpkin spice, but of “black pepper and moss” according to its packaging—very nice! There was another, “City Lights”, that smelled like a freshly-showered member of the NYPD—not my favorite, but maybe for someone. The candle wall is where everything started to blur together for me, personally.
KELLY: Truly the candle wall was, for my nose, a melange of nice soaps for the guest bathroom, Cupcake Dolls, Mr. Sketch scented markers, and syrups for Starbucks holiday drinks. But there were some surprising delights, such as “Mountain Retreat” and “Candy Cane Lane.” Where they really got us was the “WoodWick” section. Specifically, the “reserve” candles, which have wooden wicks that crackle and were clearly designed to evoke Maker’s Mark and goddamnit, one of them smelled like actual, literal leather. We had been CandlePowered.
Perhaps this is a good place to note why this place exists in the first place, in all its Instagram-friendly glory. Malls are dying and Amazon is steadily eating away at the very concept of brick-and-mortar retail, so brands are looking at the runaway social media success of things like the Museum of Ice Cream and visualizing a lifeboat. Behold, the totally bonkers future of retail. CBNC explained recently: “Open from mere days to multiple months, pop-up shops create a sense of urgency, and lure in shoppers with exclusive items. It’s all about the buzz. They’re usually designed for art rather than function and include spots that beg to be shared on social media to spark chatter.”
All of which is to say, it worked! We each bought candles! Here you are, reading the chatter they sparked!
MEGAN: After we finished smelling everything that Candlepower had to offer, we turned our attention to the experience of it all, which was actually quite delightful. Ignoring the beach chair setup, we went straight for the most ‘Grammable experiences first and foremost. This included some sort of upside-down wintry lounge that required some coaching from our own personal Tyra Banks, the very kind and helpful employee manning that station. We posed. We smiled. We laughed.
My personal favorite also ended up being the most stressful: a weird floral fantasia that involved a tilted mirror and giant roses, scented with “Sundrenched Apricot and Rose”—a scent that would not be available until 2018, as our kind photographer informed us. Whoa. Getting into the pose that resulted in the following picture made me wish I had worn pants.
There was also a tranquility room that had a big screen full of various tranquil images—a pond of koi fish, a beach, a tree. You could touch a smaller screen and “draw” on the big screen; I watched Kelly lightly sketch in the beach scene and we both marveled at her restraint. She didn’t draw a penis, which was both of our first instincts. Tranquility, now!
KELLY: Having totally immersed ourselves in all things CandlePower by Yankee Candle, we finally approached the gigantic fake Yankee Candle that dominated the center of the space. This was the personalization station. I cannot tell you how disappointed we were to learn that we couldn’t personalize the scent itself, just the outside. We were going to design the Jezebel pod a candle that captured our essence, so some combination of stale gummis, Wifi fumes, and mouldering tabloids. Instead, we selected a comparatively attractive scent—because we do have to work in this pod, after all—and a recent group photo. It cost us, I believe, $27.99. We also walked away with our own “Fall in Central Park” candles, and I purchased an additional Christmas present. I am very deliberately not thinking about the amount of money I spent.
We retreated over the wooden bridge, back into the real world, and walked back out into the Soho morning. Never has car exhaust and cigarette smoke smelled so bright, so fresh!