Sunday, 29 January 2012

When Continents Collide: Sampling The Le Labo City Exclusives In London, And My Shamefully Suggestible Schnoz

I have just come back from two days in London. No, that is not strictly correct - it was 29 hours in London - but it felt like two full days and more, as I packed a lot in. The night I arrived I attended Nick Gilbert's talk: "Voyage Around My Collection" (the first event of the newly formed group, Perfume Lovers London), then the next day I popped into Seymour Place to check out the new branch of Les Senteurs and watch Nick at work, before meeting Tara of Olfactorias Travels for a most enjoyable four hour sniffathon in Harrods and Harvey Nichols.

And before the talk on Thursday I swung by Liberty's, where I managed to fit in a fairly businesslike romp through some of the Le Labo range with which I wasn't familiar, including most of the City Exclusives. Poivre 23, the London one, was clearly displayed on the counter on its own, and when I inquired of the sales assistant if I had missed the window of opportunity when the full set was available in the capital, he said that I had, then promptly whipped out the testers in question from a drawer against the wall (see photo). Yay!

I would like to stress that I smelt these scents (except for Vanille 44 and Baie Rose 26) "exclusively" on card, and didn't even stop to note down my thoughts as I sometimes do, but am relying on my short term memory to conjure them up again in my mind. Moreover, though I kept the blotters carefully segregated in a clear film wallet, I can't truthfully say that most of them have retained enough of their scent to act as an aide-memoire today. And obviously that was the first port of call on my London visit, and I have smelt a TON of stuff since... So please take these mini-reviews as impressionistic jottings that give you a rough indication of whether a particular fragrance was a thumbs up, a thumbs down or a maybe.

Aldehyde 44 (Dallas, Texas)

Notes: aldehydes, neroli, tuberose absolute, narcissus absolute, jasmine sambac, vanilla, musks and woods

A bath bomb of sparkling, granular aldehydes up each nostril - nay, the aldehydic equivalent of an Apollo mission blasted off inside your nose. I did not hang around for the drydown, so I don't know how this went on, however, the general consensus in the blogosphere seems to be fairly positive. The sales assistant told me that Aldehyde 44 was inspired by the perfumer's vision of Dallas as an ultra-modern, glitzy city built on oil wealth, whose citizens are confident, sassy go-getters groomed to within an inch of their life (my paraphrase).

Vanille 44 (Paris - France, not Texas!)

Notes: natural bergamot, incense, mandarin, gaiac, vanille bourbon, muscenone, pipol, hedione

Okay - hold on a minute - how come this has the same number as Aldehyde 44...? That doesn't seem right. Anyway, being the "card-carrying vanilla ho" that I am, I gave this some prime arm space and liked it from the word go all the way to the far drydown, not that it developed much. It reminded me very much of Diptyque Eau Duelle ie a soft, mysterious, woody vanilla that treads that fine line between cheap bath product or foody vanilla and rich, boozy "70% cocoa solids" vanilla for hardcore vanilla lovers (where the cocoa is purely metaphorical, you understand). Yes, this was very nice, very easy to wear, but I don't need it as I already have Eau Duelle and a sample of Creed Sublime Vanille and a decant of Annick Goutal Vanille Exquise - in short, I have all the main congenial vanilla bases covered.

Poivre 23 (London - England, not the one in Kimble County, Texas again!)

Notes: pepper, cistus labdanum, incense, sandalwood, patchouli, vanilla, gaiac and styrax

Now you will never hear me complain about the presence of pepper in a perfume, whether black, pink, white or blue. I am very partial to the stuff, cliche'd or not. My initial impression was of a strong jolt of pepper, mixed with woods and incense and tingly spice. The overall effect was soft and rather quirky in a luxe pot pourri kind of a way, and I was suprised that I liked it even during this very brisk opening. The fragrance strip does have a lingering note of vanilla on it even now, and I suspect that the rounding and grounding duo of patchouli and vanilla lends this scent its particular charm for me. I wouldn't mind a sample of Poivre 23 in fact, but didn't bother to ask, as in my experience Le Labo are not noted for their largesse in this regard.

(On a side note, as it is not a City Exclusive, I even surprised myself by not hating Patchouli 24, a five star Luca Turin scent I had not dared to try, ever since LT likened it in "Perfumes: The Guide" to the smell of decaying books and chemicals in a lab at Moscow State University. I can totally see where he is coming from with this description, as the opening is very medicinal. The SA said he likes to spray Patchouli 24 on his scarf before he goes to bed, so that it is at the optimum stage of wearability when he gets up the following morning. And sure enough it is as odd as three, but by no means ghastly as I expected - more hauntingly weird. Definitely a dusty library vibe going on, in fact I would go so far as to say that - to adapt Tarleisio's phrase - this is an "intergalactic musty library" scent, if such an image is not too preposterous in itself. But Patchouli 24 is pretty out there, it must be said.)

Gaiac 10 (Tokyo)

Notes: olibanum, gaiac wood, cedar absolute, musk

I was interrupted by my phone going off as I was testing this one, so probably didn't give it my full attention. The opening was woody in a slightly sharp way: I do like gaiac wood as a rule, though it is teamed with cedar wood here, which may account for the initial roughness. Gaiac 10 didn't seem to have any distinctive qualities to it, though I daresay it probably softened down nicely if I had had a chance to revisit the strip much later in its drydown, instead of being on my second glass of white at Nick's talk by that point. The blotter does actually smell quite sheer and pellucid now, which is a pleasant surprise.

Baie Rose 26 (Chicago)

Notes: allspice berries, pink pepper, aldehydes, ambrox, clove, pepper, rose, musk, cedar

Now I have sniffed this scent in Chicago with Notes from the Ledge, and remembered it as being a not terribly remarkable peppery, spicy, woody rose. Mindful on the other hand of Olfactoria's recent acquisition of Tubereuse 40 when she was in New York in November, I was curious to try it. I asked the SA if he also had a tester of "the Tubereuse", and he heard "Baie Rose" and proferred a fragrance strip presprayed with the Chicago Exclusive instead!

Oh my goodness - I am ashamed to report that in my nose's eye, believing that I was actually smelling Tubereuse 40, for a few seconds I actually DID smell a languid hothouse floral scent - the sort of warm, heady, moist air that assails your nostirls as you enter the tropical house of a botanical gardens. Now this may not bear any resemblance to the real Tubereuse 40 - a quick glance at Olfactoria's review of this one suggests not - but it was a "genuine false" olfactory impression that was very vivid until the SA dispelled my illusion by explaining that he didn't have a Tubereuse tester and that I was in fact smelling Baie Rose 26...whereupon a whoosh of pepper and wood kicked in!

I was suddenly transported back to the Belle Dope phantom incense moment with Katie Puckrik in California, which in turn echoed the famous pistachio ice cream incident of my youth, where the waiter brought pistachio ice cream instead of lime, and my father proceeded to make me believe it really was lime to save waste. And it actually did taste of lime as I was eating it, my dad being the Svengali that he was.

So not only is my nose a bit of a blunt instrument at the best of times to start with, but to compound matters it is clearly highly suggestible. Now if I am a typical punter this may go a long way towards explaining why consumers buy a fragrance because - in the heat of the moment and the smartness of the store - they succumb to the persuasive patter of the SA who is describing it in seductively lyrical terms. For that brief window between "spritz on blotter and take bottle to till", that is the customer's olfactory reality.

It's just a little bit scary, don't you think?

And have I missed any more City Exclusive cities that are also in Texas? : - )

Photo of Liberty's from ell brown on Flickr, photo of Dallas from rkrichardson on Flickr, photo of vanilla from JosAclito Tirados on Flickr, photo of pepper from ralph and jenny on Flickr, photo of arch from matt hutchinson on Flickr, photo of pistachio ice cream from kusine on Flickr, Le Labo photo my own


queen_cupcake said...

Thanks for these quick reviews. I am a beginner at dipping into Le Labo, so a short paragraph or two actually helps me more than a long essay on each one. I do like Patchouli 24, even though it is hauntingly weird (love that). Because you love vanilla perfumes, I have to ask: have you tried Guerlain Spirituese Double Vanille and if so, how does it compare to the Le Labo Vanille 44?

Vanessa said...

Hi queen_cupcake,

Nice to hear from you! I think Patchouli 24 could grow on me, given time. It is certainly quite exceptional as a perfume, whether one likes it or not.

Funnily enough, I was with Tara in Harrods the next day and she sprayed SDV on skin, and we also tested SDV on card at Nick's talk, as it was one of his favourite scents he wanted to present to us. I have to say the two are nothing like, for SDV falls into that boozy, treacly end of the vanilla spectrum which I don't personally care for so much. That said, it was quite pleasant on Tara as it wore on, but I am not one for alcoholic drinks in perfumes as a general rule.

The nearest comparison would be Diptyque Eau Duelle I would say, though Eau Duelle, which The Non-Blonde even dubbed a poor man's version of the Le Labo. This Basenotes thread isn't directly comparing the two, but there are snippets about how each scent smells which may help clarify things.

Undina said...

When I tested Vanille 44 (BTW, what's wrong with the number? It's supposed to represent the number of components in the scent, not it's unique identifier in the line) I had exactly the same thought about Eau Duelle. I even did a parallel test of these two. My conclusion was that even though V44 was very nice and pleasant and slightly better than Dyptique's creation it wasn't 4 times better to warrant the difference in price.

Vanessa said...


Vanessa, you really did pack in 2 months' worth of sniffing into 2 days - fun though! I never got round to trying the City Exclusives in November so enjoyed your take. Sounds like they based Aldehyde 44 on "Dallas" the TV series! I've only tried Poivre 23 once and really, really need to try again. I feel the same way about P24 as you do. I admire it a lot but don't think I could actually wear it. The SA's routine with the scarf makes sense though.

I'm very happily wearing Labdanum 18 right now thanks to you and it's perfect for a cosy Sunday!

Vanessa said...

Hi Undina,

Thanks for the clarification on the rationale behind the numbering, which I did know but had since forgotten! Wouldn't you think they could have added a little something to either Vanille or Aldehyde to distinguish them numerically from each other? How hard would that have been? : - )

How interesting about your parallel test - I wasn't in a position to do that in-store but the resemblance was quite marked just on that quick test on skin of the Vanille.

Vanessa said...

Hi Tara,

I think you are spot on about the inspiration for Aldehyde 44. I understand from other reviews that the rest of the development is more floral, though the aldehydes never quite leave the (mirrored skyscraper) building.

Yes, I don't think I would ever get to the point of wearing P24, though it may work better on men. For me Poivre 23 was the other unusual yet wearable one in the Exclusives line, though I haven't tried the Tubereuse one of course.

Glad you are enjoying the Labdanum 18. I am covered in "Eau de Decant" again this evening, as well as a ton of scents I was auditioning to go in the decants, and also retested my sample of B's actual latest lemming, Lipstick Rose!

I wore your Bois d'Argent yesterday and enjoyed it very much, so many thanks again for that - and the Tom Ford! I edited my mini-review of Bois d'Argent in fact because it behaved so differently on skin vs card, at least initially.

Suzanne said...

Mmmm, I love Poivre 23, easily my favorite Le Labo. Actually I love several from this line: Patchouli 24 is both strange and provocative, which is my kind of thing; Labdanum 18 is a sexy kind of cozy; and normally I don't care for quiet scents, but Gaiac 10 is so misty and beautiful (I don't get the rough opening that you do). That said, I think the only one that I would be willing to jump through hoops and throw down money for is Poivre 23. I thought about that one a lot when it was availabe at LuckyScent last November.

Don't know why, since everyone else on Earth loves it, but I couldn't stand Vanille 44. There is something in the first hour of wearing it that reminds me of vanilla-meets-urinal-cake, and it makes me terribly queasy. Very few perfumes ever cause that reaction in me, but there are a few (that Serge Lutens buttered toast fragrance is another one).

At any rate, great mini reviews, and how wonderful that you got to meet Tara for a sniffathon! She strikes me as quiet, calm, lady-like and perfectly composed. The kind of person you'd want at your elbow when you're going into a classy department store. (Or maybe I should say, the kind of person I'd want, since I can use all the help I can get in that department. If I ever get to London, I'm looking the two of you up!)

Vanessa said...

Hi Suzanne,

Another fan of Poivre 23 - I know Birgit and Dee also love this one, so it has quite a following. I am still a Labdanum 18 girl at heart, and also like the Bergamot one.

To be honest, I don't think Gaiac 10 got a fair crack of the whip as I was distracted at that point, plus the nature of the card may have brought out the harshness of the cedar that might not have struck me on skin. Paper being of course a cousin - and conduit - of wood!

Sorry you didn't get on with Vanille 44 - I have heard that some people have similar issues with AG Vanille Exquise that I also like, and consider it weird. SL Jeux de Peaux made me feel a little queasy too, and king of the quease-makers during my sniffing session with Tara was By Kilian Beyond Love!

Yes, it was fab to meet Tara, who of course has met Birgit, as have I. So our hook up put the hypotenuse on the triangle (or something like that!). I will be doing a separate post on that in a bit - Nick's talk is up next - and will reveal what a great support Tara was in the classy department stores in question. The slickest and most nonchalant of sample scorers I have ever had the pleasure to observe!

Natalie said...

You and Undina may have saved me a lot of trouble. Thanks to Suzanne's reaction to Vanille 44 (urinal cake -- ewww!), I inherited a sample from her and after wearing it many times and thinking "Oh that's pleasant, but not worth the price or hassle" I did a bit of a 180 and the last few times I've worn it I have been thinking "When will I next be in Paris?" So pleasing to know Diptyque has a smell-alike.

Olfactoria's Travels said...

Okay, one more try with commenting... (HATE blogger!!!)

What a lucky break that you got to smell all the exclusives! I think Gaiac 10 is a lot better than it impressed you on paper, I would have thought it to be quite your kind of thing actually.
How funny how much our expectations shape our perceptions - the Tubereuse -Baie Rose switch is hilarious. (I abhor Baie Rose btw.) :) But I am sure you are not alone...

It is lovely that you and Tara had such fun, maybe one day all three of us will meet up and the triangle is completed in one go.

Tara said...

Do let me know how you get on with Lipstick Rose as I'm also very interested after B's post the other day. If you love it too I'm in trouble!

Bois d'Argent does act very differently on skin as opposed to paper, it's true.

Tara said...

Suzanne, you are too lovely!

I would LOVE to accompany you around the best department stores London has to offer should we ever be lucky enough to have you over here.

Vanessa said...

Hi Natalie,

Happy to save you a trip, which would cost you a bob or two before factoring in the Le Labo bottle! I think Eau Duelle is a most acceptable substitute, and I have a big bottle of the stuff if you would like some to test in the comfort of your own home... ; - )

Vanessa said...

Hi Olfactoria,

I am pleased you managed to comment at last! I wonder if it is a problem with the new Blogger interface. Let me know which comment layout seems to work for you.

Yes, I think I didn't give the Tokyo one a fair shot, and will give it another try - on skin this time - next time I am down in Feb.

And maybe the three of us could get together when you are over in May, which I do hope I am around for. It is somebody's birthday that week!

Vanessa said...

Hi tara,

That is a sample of Lipstick Rose I have had for a while - I was just sampling it to remind myself of how it smells, and to see if it might be appropriate to go in the swap package I was preparing. I like it, but probably don't love it. There is a stylised quality to LR that is just like the smell of make up - but not so sure of it as a perfume. Funnily enough, have also been sampling ELDO Noel au Balcon, which is an intriguing little scent Natalie alerted me to. The opening is like Lipstick Rose, or so it seems to me, but it has a hint of spice.

Olfactoria's Travels said...

Oh, V, it would be great if you could come to London in May as well! Yay! :D (That would be a perfect birthday present!)

Vanessa said...

Suzanne, seconding Tara's comment. Hopefully we will all get to meet one day in London, Paris, or somewhere!

Vanessa said...

Hi B,

If I am in the country, I am in London that week... : - )

Also, I am hoping to go for the weekend to Belfast just before that, so now I have two good reasons to keep my diary free if I possibly can!

queen_cupcake said...

Thanks for the link--very helpful!

Vanessa said...

You're welcome! Glad it was of use.

lovethescents said...

Now I MUST MUST MUST sample Baie Rose and Poivre!!! Why do you do this to me?????

Love ya, though

Vanessa said...

Hi lovethescents,

Sorry to whet your appetite in this way. : - ) I would snag a sample for you, but I don't think it is the Le Labo way. Will check on Ebay or MUA - you never know...

Love ya too!