Welcoming Back A Candle Brand: Illuminations

This is a very special entry in my Get to know a candle brand series. It’s a blast from the past from a beloved candle brand I never thought I would see again.

I just might have Illuminations to thank for my candle fandom. As a high school and college student in Northern Virginia, I did all of my Christmas shopping at a massive luxury mall called Tyson’s Corner. When I needed a break from the crowds and noise, I’d duck into the low-lit oasis of the Illuminations store for a breather. Dimly lit and exuding warm, spicy scents, it made it feel like I’d left the hustle and bustle of the mall for a cozy new dimension. 

Unfortunately, Illuminations fizzled out like a snuffed candle in 2009, a few years after Yankee Candle acquired the brand in a $22 million deal. In the aftermath, they replaced most Illuminations stores with Yankee Candle locations, and I missed the former store’s mystic, dreamlike atmosphere.

It turns out I wasn’t alone. Ten years later, serial entrepreneur Mitch Davis is bringing back illuminations in a big way. With an intimate October launch party, he reintroduced influencers to 12 of the brand’s iconic signature scents based on gourmet flavors and far-flung destinations, like impressionist painter Monet’s Giverney. Aromas like “Pomegranate Cassis” and “Pumpkin Spice,” which haven’t been available for a decade, are suddenly back on the market. But Davis has made some changes, too. With bold, modern text treatments and Millennial pink accents, Illuminations has exchanged its enchanted cavern vibe for something more fashion-forward. 

Shortly after the brand revitalized its web presence with a Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram page, I received two of the revamped Illuminations candles for review—the warm, earthy Wild Woodlands and the fruity but mature Napa Valley Harvest. I picked Wild Woodlands because I remember it from the store, and Napa Valley Harvest because it’s an appealingly new-to-me scent. I was curious to learn whether the candles would hold up if I didn’t have the experience of buying them at the inimitably charming Illuminations brick-and-mortar store. It turns out that these candles, with their understated frosted-glass votives, let their scents do the talking. Just like I remember from my visits to the store, these candles are noticeably scented even before they are lit. Wild Woodlands has the crisp scent of pine and Christmas spices, while Napa Valley Harvest brings to mind the sharp, tangy flavor of a California red wine. 

One new thing is the candle composition—a 100% natural coconut and apricot wax blend with a cotton wick. It’s only in the past few years that natural ingredients took the candle market by storm in response to customer health concerns. Sure enough, if you shop for old Illuminations candles on eBay, these originals are made of paraffin wax. To me, it’s a smart choice to revive this old brand with today’s candle fans’ sensibilities in mind. 

Out of the five senses, smell is most closely linked with memory. Even though this modest launch doesn’t revive Illuminations’ glory days of brick and mortar, the smell of Wild Woodlands, in particular, takes me right back there. A lot has changed in a decade. For example, these days I do all of my Christmas shopping online instead of at Tyson’s Corner. I still won’t have the Illuminations store to stop by when I want a break, but this year, I can pause and light one of their classic candles whenever I need to destress. 

Update: Illuminations has launched a holiday imprint just in time for Christmas! You can now get Cranberry Orange, Pumpkin Spice, and Wild Woodlands in three colorful holiday votives. They look fantastic in front of my tree.