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The notion of self care has loomed large in pop culture over the last few years. And that’s great. Draw that insane bubble bath, rock the moisturizing face mask and cucumber slices, snack on those dark chocolate cacao nibs. It’s called self care, sweetie. And while there’s nothing wrong with grand gestures of self care, I’ve found that the simplest and most effective act of relaxation is lighting a candle.
Aroma, light, warmth, and mood all combine in a high quality candle that communicates one of a myriad of vibes from romantic and sexy to sophisticated and stylish. Light a candle for yourself to settle in for the night or host the dinner party of your dreams with guests. Outside of the high end fragrance market, though, most candles simply don’t communicate that spectrum of moods. Cheap candles with inoffensive fragrances are widely available, but the majority of candles on the market fit squarely into one of two categories: woodsy, musky, masculine scents or floral, fruity, feminine. And even if they’re pleasant enough, they lack the personality you’d crave in a mood-altering fragrance. That’s where Boy Smells comes in.
I discovered Boy Smells thanks to excellent marketing and branding. A clear sense of identity separates it from so many other candle and fragrance brands at the same price point. And the candles, with such a diverse yet specific array of aromas, are so much more satisfying than any I’ve tried before.
Influenced by the world of fashion and the founders’ own queer identities, Boy Smells sets itself apart as a fragrance brand that is luxurious and deeply personal. I chatted over Zoom with one of Boy Smells’ founders about how fragrances can inform and be informed by our own identities and why the act of self-care can be so important.
BSPU: From Kitchen Counters to Nordstrom Shelves
Like any good brand story, Boy Smells has fairly humble beginnings. In 2015, founders Matthew Herman and David Kien began candle-making as a fun side project in their Los Angeles kitchen. Their early approach was very DIY, but the brand quickly took shape thanks to its founders’ backgrounds in fashion and design. Boy Smells has embraced an approachable luxury – marked by a clean yet warm aesthetic and affordable price range.
The candle market has seen serious stratification as cheaply made candles dominate the low cost end while high-fashion options reach over-priced levels. At $36 per candle, Boy Smells has quickly developed a passionate fan base.
“All the candles that are more affordable are skewing more traditional and less experimental and less forward thinking,” shares co-founder Matthew Herman. “So there's this huge space in the market for a modern fragrance brand that has this sense of luxury and identity.”
As early as 2016 Boy Smells was stocked at clothing and retail stores around the US and by 2021 the brand’s fragrances and candles were rolled out at over 100 Nordstrom stores.
What separated the brand in 2015 still marks Boy Smells as unique. The fragrance company continues to provide an inclusive space to enjoy complex aromas through its candles and fragrances. Boy Smells has even launched a line of “Unmentionables,” underwear and bras that are, as the brand describes “genderful” rather than “gender neutral.”
The DIY brand is a significant player in the fragrance market and has no plans of slowing down. Since moving to a 3,000 square foot warehouse in Pico-Union, Los Angeles in 2018 Boy Smells has continued to ramp up production and expand its offerings. But it’s not like founders Herman and Kien have forgotten where they came from. In a nod to its roots, Boy Smells still brands all its boxes with the cheeky “B.S.P.U.” acknowledging the Pico-Union neighborhood where the two initially began making candles in a kitchen and the warehouse Boy Smells calls home now.
Genderful Expression in Candles and Fragrances
The phrase gender neutral has become a key term for large corporations and marketers eager to bandy their LGBPTQ bonafides. But Boy Smells wears its queerness on its sleeve. Rather than brand itself as the cold, sexless “gender neutral” or “gender less,” founders Herman and Kien have adopted the term “genderful” for Boy Smells products.
“It's really more about a fullness of identity,” mentions Herman.
Obviously candles and fragrances don’t inherently possess gender. But, the traditional industries have created a binary where masculine and feminine scents have occupied separate spaces. Woodsy, musky colognes were for men while floral, fruity aromas were for men. As someone who appreciates both sides of that spectrum, Boy Smells eliminates the binary while still making space for those more traditionally masculine or feminine scents.
“David and myself as queer individuals didn’t feel like there was an aesthetic that represented us,” shares Herman. “I think I was at that position in my life where I’d always backed into a version of myself. A version that was great for everybody else – for my family, for my friends. But was it the most full, true version of myself? I was interested in that. Wearing more floral fragrances was really a big permission to myself. It really let my tastes guide me versus what society tells me to do.”
“We always mixed traditionally masculine and then traditionally feminine scent notes together in everything we do because that represents the complexity of our identities,” says Herman.
Embracing Rituals and Self Identity
In keeping with the brand’s genderful identity, Boy Smells has become a vehicle for self expression through everyday rituals.
“Everybody's feeling a more three-dimensional version of themselves because there's this kind of sense of permission through breaking the binary and fragrance,” explains Herman. “Looking backwards, it was very instinctual at the time but we really defined that as a core principle of the brand.”
When I’m by myself, I know I can wind down and recover with a Boy Smells candle. Whether I’m hosting or just vegging out, I get such a rush of calm when lighting the recently released Damasque ($44) or the classic Kush ($36) that I have lit now while I’m writing.
“Personal fragrance is such an essential part of self-expression and how you identify and how you see yourself and what you want to show off about your identities,” Herman says. “So, you know, as far as our genderful values go, personal fragrance is the penultimate self-expression when it comes to ourselves.”
5 More Reasons to Love Boy Smells
1. Boy Smells has launched several other products centered around self-care and indulgent experiences like a line of “Unmentionables,” genderful underwear and bras.
2. Not sure which personal fragrance is right for you? Boy Smells offers the Exploratory Set for $28 which features a selection of samples as well as a redeemable credit for the full purchase price of whichever fragrance you like best.
3. Boy Smells packages bundles and sets of candles so you can create a cohesive landscape of aromas in your home.
4. If our endorsement isn’t good enough, Boy Smells has teamed up with musician Kacey Musgraves on Slow Burn, which was the winner of GQ’s 2020 Grooming Awards for Home Scents.
5. Not satisfied with the scent of your new candle? Boy Smells offers returns/exchanges on any unused candles. Or if you just need a little help getting the best out of your new candle, the brand has provided a useful care guide.