Lakeview smells like the summer breeze coming off the lake, rainwater and hints of jasmine and citrus — or, at least, that’s what the neighborhood smells like in candle form, according to Lakeview resident and candlemaker Annie Cantara.
Cantara is the founder of Vicinity Candles, and she makes soy candles that capture the unique essence of Chicago neighborhoods. What started as a hobby she picked up during COVID-19 lockdown has now become a business; her recent master’s program in product development and design inspired her to build a company “from the ground up.”
Having attended University of Chicago in Hyde Park as an undergraduate, Cantara crafted a nostalgic scent with the neighborhood’s many bookstores and libraries in mind, with hints of leather and musk. Lincoln Park, on the other hand, is a springy and green mixture of aromas like bergamot and grass. For the Andersonville candle, Cantara drew inspiration from history. The neighborhood, which was built on a cherry orchard, is represented in a sweet scent of rose, cherry blossom and magnolia.
Fresh off a July launch, Cantara has released just a few neighborhood scents so far, but is planning on expanding the collection. Patchouli and blackberry Old Town, Mexican hot chocolate-inspired Pilsen and sweet, chocolate factory-scented West Loop, her latest candles are available for preorder now.
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Cantara said scent is closely tied to memories, and with her candles, she tries to capture the different characteristics of the city’s neighborhoods. “Every neighborhood kind of has its own personality,” she said. “That’s what I’ve always liked about Chicago. There are a lot of cities within the city.”
In creating her candles, Cantara first does historical research, then visits local restaurants and cafes “to get a good vibe of what these neighborhoods are like,” she said.
She also likes to talk with residents to learn their experiences and stories about their home. “Then I kind of pull together those bits and pieces of the history and the culture, and try to pick out things that I think blend well in a candle,” she said.
Place-scented candles are a national trend. Homesick Candles started in 2016, making soy candles with scents based on places from Seattle to Miami.
“Homesick specializes in creating candles and other home fragrance products that draw on the power of scent to evoke thoughts of people, places and memories that matter most,” said Lauren Lamagna, director of merchandising and product. “We really hone in on those fragrances to transport people to somewhere that they’re not, but that also enhance the places that they are.”
Lamagna said Homesick doesn’t just use simple scents, but instead layers unique scents to evoke the ethos of a complex place. The New York City candle gets fresh Central Park aromas like bergamot and lemon as top notes, middle notes of concrete and bottom notes of sandalwood and musk from perfumey department stores.
During COVID-19, candles are a way for people to be transported to another place, Lamagna said. Some of the most popular scents lately have been destinations people can’t travel to during the pandemic, Lamagna said, like Hawaii’s salty seashores and juicy tropical fruit, or the tobacco and cafe au lait of France’s bustling streets.
The candlemaker is not just crafting place-specific scents. Homesick also offers memories like the sunscreen and campfires of “Summer Camp,” or the warm scent of baked goods from “Grandma’s Kitchen.”
Cantara has hyper-localized the trend with Vicinity Candles. “It’s hard to distill (Chicago) down to one personality or one scent,” she said.
But not all of her orders are from Chicagoans. “Some used to live in Chicago and wanted a memento of their time here,” she said.
I’m a big collector of vinyl – I have a record room in my house – and I’ve always had a huge soundtrack album collection. So what I do, as I’m writing a movie, is go through all those songs, trying to find good songs for fights, or good pieces of music to layer into the film.