Smell that? There's something expensive in the air.
The humble air freshener has been outclassed by a new breed of designer and celebrity-inspired scented candles, scent sticks and diffusers.
And they don't come cheap. Juicy Couture is offering a scented candle in a goblet for $350. Jo Malone's "living cologne" spray costs $95. Bond No. 9 has a "Wall Street" candle for $78.
With so much scent wafting about, American consumers are putting their money where their nose is. They are sniffing out chic combinations such as bergamot tea, jasmine, amber and musk — and spending an estimated $9 billion in the home-fragrance market.
That includes candles (accounting for roughly $2 billion of the total market), air fresheners, diffusers, aromatherapy products and scented rocks, considered the next generation of potpourri. That's not to mention ScentPods, stick scents, flameless candles and "scentstories."
Sniff again: That's the match lit under the home fragrance market.
The industry owes its transformation in the past 15 years in large part to creative nose-in-chief Harry Slatkin, New York City-based home-design president of Limited Brands Ltd. and founder of the candle maker Slatkin and Co.
Slatkin's name is linked with new scents for candles, higher-end oils and room sprays — along with home fragrances with the added cachet of the occasional Hollywood celebrity, socialite and even British royalty.
He's managed to enhance his products' aura of luxury, style and links with charitable giving, while still maintaining relatively affordable prices (a high-end line starts around $28 at Nieman-Marcus, with other candles and $10 "scentports" at Bath & Body Works).
"Male, female, doesn't matter the age, from my 8-year-old daughter who has a strawberry-scented plug-in in her room to the older woman, everyone uses home fragrance now, and not just if you live on Park Avenue or you're having guests over," Slatkin said, in a phone interview from Paris.
"It's to create pleasure for yourself," Slatkin said. "It doesn't matter what your home looks like, or whether you did the dishes, but when you light a candle, it instantly turns on a different ambiance and it changes your mood."
When it comes to candles, buyers are led by the nose.
About 80 percent of all candles sold in the United States are scented, and a similar percentage of candle users say fragrance is the leading factor in making a purchase, according to the Washington, D.C.-based National Candle Association.
Nearly half of all American women say they use candles to decorate and refresh their homes. These days, they've got a dizzying array of choices.
Analysts say there's a growing market for "premium" candles — those sold in specialty stores, gift shops and department stores. And the airwaves are flooded with ads for candles and home fresheners with mass market appeal, including Glade scented oil candles and Febreze products.
But the biggest innovations have been in the electronic and eco-friendly categories. Flameless candles run on batteries, while sleek ScentPorts plug in to electrical outlets. Soy and beeswax candles — made from renewable resources — are growing in popularity, as are non-burning scent diffusers, which use sticks to disperse the scent.
For Joann Wolferman, brand, price and even the complexity of the fragrance don't necessarily influence her candle and home-fragrance purchases. She seeks out the scents she likes: vanilla, apple and citrus.
"I'm a candle person," said Wolferman of Brooklyn, N.Y., shopping in Manhattan. "It has be very subtle and with just enough of a scent that someone will recognize it and say, 'oh, that's very nice.'"
Despite the good intentions of home-fragrance makers who promise products that will scent a room for an extended period of time, some consumers say the fragrances don't stick around long enough for them to feel they are getting their money's worth.
"They don't last," said Ramoncita Garcia, who's quick to note that she's tried just about every home-fragrance product on the market, regardless of price, in hopes of finding a fragrance that will refresh and clean the air inside in her apartment in New York City's Greenwich Village.
"The first day the scents are strong, almost overpowering, but by the second day you can't really smell it anymore," she said.
For fragrance skeptics, Slatkin and actress Jane Seymour, whose home collection includes candles, both suggest "layering" scents, perhaps by burning a candle while a plug-in oil diffuser or a scented stick diffuser is also releasing fragrance.
As a third layer, Slatkin pointed out that burning scented oils provides for a longer-lasting fragrance and allow the user to determine just how much scent makes sense in their home.
"I want a smile on every person's face every time they use it," Slatkin said. "And I love that I'm in people's homes every day and that I've changed the atmosphere of their homes every day."
On the Net:
Slatkin & Co: www.slatkin.com
National Candle Association: www.candles.org