Illuminati Waxworks Creates Alluring Scented Candles

Using soy and high-grade fragrance oils, these candles may smell like the season or a place or conjure up a feeling.


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Photo by Lance Yamamoto

As with many crafts practitioners, Matthew Sumner, candle maker and owner of Illuminati Waxworks, began by making candles for himself. His first fragrance was Wild Fennel, a familiar scent to Bay Area dwellers. He was content producing his candles for his own enjoyment and use, or as gifts for family and friends, until he realized he had “come up with a product that I was really proud of.” That realization led him “to take the leap and start selling them.”

Building the scents can take time; it’s “an ongoing experiment that can take weeks, or in some cases months,” Sumner said. His fragrances embody everything from a specific fragrance he may have in mind to “a place or a feeling,” which is what leads him to concoct such alluring scents as the seasonally appropriate Mulled Cider, the literary-inspired Lady Macbeth, and the locally familiar Sempervirens, which was inspired by Northern California’s coastal redwood forests.

Sumner said the simplest part of his process is constructing the candle, including the “preparing, wicking, and labeling the containers.” The real magic, and work, of candle making is in the development of the scents. Sumner is “picky about the fragrance oils” he uses, he said, explaining, “they have to be phthalate free and the highest grade — oils that would perhaps be used more commonly in perfumery than in candle making.”

To start, he plays with blotter strips and experiments with different combinations for a while; when he has come up with just the right scent, he mixes it all together into American-grown soy — which burns more cleanly than traditional paraffin —and packages it up into his unique reusable, recyclable glass tumblers.

“It’s important to me that my candles not only smell good, but that people can feel good about buying and burning them,” Sumner said.

At the moment, Sumner is working with Oakland’s Marion + Rose Fine Goods to develop candles with fragrances inspired by the four elements. His candles, which range in price from $8 to $28 in 4- to 12-ounce sizes in black glass tumblers and gold tins, are available at several stores in the East Bay and online at IlluminatiWaxWorks.com

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