For anyone reading this new to the world of scent, Le Labo is a luxury perfumer that creates all the fragrances in their line by hand in their New York City lab-hence the name. This is their way of guaranteeing that their fragrances will always be sold fresh, and, to be more cynical about it, it's a bit of a marketing ploy to make their creations stand out from other niche lines. I find it slightly annoying, because it means there is no price competition, they never have a sale, and there are no local outlets you can visit to sample (unless you live in NYC). Nonetheless, I could forgive all that if the fragrances lived up to the branding mantra of "fighting conformity" and creating fragrances that are "one of a kind." I just sampled Jasmin 17, and while I find it to be a very pretty vanillic floral, it remains just that-and how many vanillic florals can you think of on the market right now? Jasmin 17 opens with a burst of orange blossom and jasmine. It's a very nice combination, not overly hesperidic, and the orange blossom never grows harsh. The vanilla emerges slowly, and the fragrance gets more vanillic and sweeter on my skin the longer it remains there. This is a bit of a disappointment, to be honest, because while I enjoy the combination of florals and vanilla, making a fragrance sweet is a bit like adding salt, fat and sugar to food: it's the combination for success in appealing to the masses. Sweet fragrances are frequently the fast food of the perfume world. There are exceptions to this rule, of course, but Jasmin 17 does nothing to my nose to make it stand out and elevate itself. Now, to be clear: I am not blindly against sweet fragrances (indeed, some of my favorite fragrances are sweet), and I am not blanketly against fast food. They each have their place. The point is, Le Labo is charging niche prices for a fragrance that is very mainstream. And THAT is just wrong.
All this aside, I will give Le Labo kudos for offering its line in a variety of sizes. You can purchase a 15 ml bottle of a Le Labo fragrance for $52 plus shipping, which is an outrageous price per ml, but at least you have the option of going for a smaller amount. Check out http://www.lelabofragrances.com to purchase.
In the niche fragrance world, Le Labo Vanille 44 occupies the very top shelf. It's very, very exclusive and very, very expensive. Only available at Colette in Paris, at nearly $500 per bottle, it's one of those fragrances that makes me want to avoid sampling it because if I did happen to love it, I'd NEVER be in a position to buy it. I will say this now and you can all bear witness: I will never spend $500 on a bottle of perfume. I don't care what it is. Ok, that's done.
Despite this resolve, here I am with a sample because I've grown very curious. When a perfumer makes a fragrance very expensive and very hard to get and a cultlike following ensues, I always wonder if it's the exclusivity or the quality of the fragrance that causes the uproar.
The top notes of my sample are dominated by a surprisingly sweet, though not foody, vanilla and tea (oh no! ascorbic acid alert!). Thankfully the tea fades, and it's not as bad as it usually is to my poor nostrils in combination with the vanilla. I'm puzzled, though, because I thought this fragrance had a reputation for being a not too sweet, grown up vanilla. I await the drydown to set me straight.
The drydown is very nice. A touch of guaic, which I normally hate but pleases me in this, a smidge of bergamot, and a wee bit of incense are all peeking through.. and you guessed it, it still has a sweet vanilla base. I'm not typically overly sensitive to sweet scents, I don't think. One of my favorite go-to work scents is Sonoma Scent Studio's Opal, a freshly sweet powdery musk. But Le Labo Vanille 44 has vastly disappointed me in its sugariness. It's a perfectly pleasant scent, but it is inferior, in my humble opinion, to CJScents Vanilla Incense in the category of dark, woodsy vanillas. I'll just let you do that little price comparison, shall I?
So, my verdict is clear: I think that if Le Labo sold this in the US and did not charge a dramatically inflated price for it, Vanille 44 would be about as popular as any other scent of that line, and possibly even less so, given many niche perfumistas' aversion to sweeter scents.
Le Labo Rose 31…now what, you might ask, am I-a self proclaimed rose hater-doing testing a fragrance named thusly? Well ordinarily I wouldn't-I give the Rosines a wide berth, for example-but Le Labo is known for naming fragrances for their more subtle notes, rather than the dominant ones. In this case, rather than featuring rose notes, Rose 31 is all about cedar. First sniff reveals a woody cedar blast softened by rose in a very subtle manner. It's not at all floral, but rather is simply not as splinteringly woodsy as it would be were the rose not present. It reminds me of Costes, but without the lavender and the pepper notes. As it dries down, the pencil shavings vibe becomes more manageable. In fact, the drydown is simply amazing. A refreshing, vaguely foresty, vetiver filled, spa-like zen of a scent that I could wear every day. I wish the top notes were not quite so hamster cage-esque. I do like cedar but even I found the opening of this fragrance to be a bit much. The drydown, however, is worth enduring it. Now, to see about procuring a decant…
Oh yes, did I not mention? It costs $130 for 50 ml. No bottles for me.