Liz Barrere

Illume’s president charts a bright future in candles—and beyond.

Photos by Stephanie Colgan

Liz Barrere is yearning for the desert. She can smell the cacti now: a mix of cassis, pink sea salt, and wild geranium with a hint of avocado. And the amber dunes: bergamot, tobacco flower, golden amber, and sandalwood with notes of velvet peach and Asian teak.

For every place, for every mood, there is a scented candle.

“The past few years, we’ve been in the woods, we’ve spent lots of time at the beach,” says Barrere, president of Bloomington-based Illume Candles. “Spring 2013 is going to be about the hip desert.”

You can bet the whole box of matches on that.

1212-Illume2_640s.jpgThat ability to translate cultural shifts and trends from the home industry and fashion runways into candles has helped Barrere transform Illume from an under-the-radar private-label manufacturer into an industry leader not only producing, but helping to develop collections for Target, Crate & Barrel, West Elm, and Anthropologie. Between big chains and local boutiques including Ampersand and Patina, Illume products are sold at more than 4,500 stores worldwide. This fall, Illume made its first major foray into bath and body with a body butter collection, Eternal Nomad, exclusive to Sephora (it’s currently available at 80 stores—none in Minnesota—and at With global-inspired packaging and scents such as Thai Lily and Mediterranean, Eternal Nomad evokes a sense of bohemian luxury that Barrere says was missing from Sephora’s shelves. The retailer agreed—a second wave of Eternal Nomad products will hit Sephora in March.

“We have such a strong design and product development team. We’re thinking about what we can do beyond candles,” says Barrere, who worked in product development for the home division of Marshall Field’s/Macy’s before joining Illume six years ago.

Illume employs 50 in Bloomington, including a staff of chemists who work onsite concocting scents and testing candle formulations. The product development team, led by Barrere, identifies the key trends, dreams up the scents, and develops the vessels—a critical piece that cements the style of each candle. Illume’s exotic print Boho jars are a top seller. The number one fragrance, for several years running, is pineapple cilantro.

“It always surprises me, but Americans like food smells,” Barrere says. “People have such an emotional response to fragrance.”

A coconut candle burns on Barrere’s desk, which faces an inspiration wall covered with magazine tear sheets. Rihanna is up there, next to Gucci ads and shots of Kelly Wearsler’s Los Angeles store—one of Barrere’s favorites at the moment. Barrere and her team have also been spending time at top flea markets, such as the one in Brimfield, Massachusetts, where they hunt for vintage objects that can be reproduced as candleholders.

“I like translating a vibe into home design,” Barrere says. “And we’re an accent business—not a couch—so we can play. It’s like lipstick. Candles make you feel good.”