Perfume Review: Le Labo Lys 41 and Ylang 49

Le LaboI’ve said it before: Le Labo annoys the fire out of me.  I won’t go into all the reasons here since I yarked about it in my Aldehyde 44 review, but suffice it to say that I find this French high-end niche brand really pretentious, and I mean beyond your typical French attitude.  Also, I have been irritated by the fact that frequently the name of the fragrance does not necessarily indicate what it will smell like. (For the uninitiated, Le Labo names their fragrances after the number of accords and the accord that makes up the largest percentage of the formula.  Ergo, Tubereuse 40 does not actually smell of tuberose; it smells of citrus and neroli in a classic cologne structure.  For a tubey fan bored by classic cologne, GRRRRR. ‘Nuff sed.)

However, I did like Aldehydes 44 (which, stunningly, does smell predominantly of aldehydes, go figure), and Patchouli 24, which had originally skeered the bejesus out of me simply by being named after my bete-noire-ish raw material but turns out to smell like smoke, rubber, leather and vanilla, like Bvlgari Black turning into the Hulk version of itself.  And when I began to hear good things about Le Labo’s new 2013 releases named after lily and ylang, which are two of my favorite raw materials… well, I resisted. And resisted, until I just couldn’t resist any more! I snagged samples.

white flowersLys 41, composed by Daphne Bugey, has notes of lily, tuberose, jasmine, woods, vanilla and musk. And oddly for a Le Labo, that is exactly what you smell. The tuberose-lily pairing is paramount, with wisps of greenish jasmine (with possibly a hint of the bitter-orange of petitgrain, and also the yielding satiny texture of orchid) peeking through. It’s heady but not overwhelming, fresh and soft at the same time — a just-picked bouquet that hasn’t had time to reach full-blown dropping-petals voluptuousness. Eventually it softens to a very gentle vanilla-woods drydown that is neither too sweet nor too rich.  It is, plainly, beautiful, carrying the suggestion of billowing white skirts.  My guess is that a man might find this one too femme and too soft.  I’m dabbing from a vial, and the longevity is not great, 3-4 hours on me despite containing two natural materials that tend to last on my skin (vanilla and tuberose).  Spraying would probably help the lasting power, but since the sillage is gorgeous in the first 20 minutes and negligible after that, you might be in for a very wafty ride, i.e., a stay-home-until-your-cloud-relaxes one.

Ylang 49 is the one that has been making perfume bloggers and critics rave; its floral-chypre braininess is something we bloggers seem to miss in the current perfume world, which seems obsessed with calling fruity, sweet, clean-patchouli frags “chypres.”  Composed by Frank Voelkl, it contains notes of ylang-ylang, gardenia, oakmoss, vetiver, patchouli, sandalwood and benzoin.  Vetiver comes to the front of this one for me, hiding the lush white florals underneath rooty, leafy, earthy materials.  There’s an odd, salty, celery note in here (usually that is associated with a jasmine partial material, I’ve heard in talking with Laurie Erickson of Sonoma Scent Studio, and sometimes I get celery in other vetiver scents as well) that I don’t like much, and a bitterness that tends to block the white florals.  This scent I find deeply disturbing, and when Persolaise mentions Dzongkha and Sel de Vetiver in his review, I begin to understand why: both those fragrances are also very earthy and rooty, and they tend to make me think of dank cellars, decomposing jungle vegetation, and pondwater.  I would like to report more on how it develops on skin, and whether it ever gets to a point where I find it bearable, but alas, I cannot. I made it 43 minutes the first time I wore it, and 28 the second, before I had to scrub due to nausea.

pond water

Sorry.  I really am.

I am a Philistine. I don’t like early Duchaufour compositions, and I don’t like vetiver. My recommendation is to Know thyself.  If you love Dzongkha, snap this sucker up.  I tend to do fine with very floral chypres, but not this particular one.

Both of these fragrances are available in the US at Le Labo boutiques and at Lucky Scent, at $145 for 50ml and $220 for 100ml.

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An AldeHo Dishes: Le Labo Aldehyde 44, a Perfume Review

I have to blame Abigail of I Smell Therefore I Am for this decant. 

See, Le Labo annoys me no end.  They really do.  They have this quasi-scientific packaging, they fill and label your individual bottle upon order as if this is a desirable thing, and they name their fragrances in this strange, quasi-scientific way that turns out to be misleading, as in Tubereuse 40 being a citrus cologne instead of a tuberose fragrance.  Grr.  Also, they have these certain fragrances available only in certain cities, and they won’t sell them online or by phone order.  To get Aldehyde 44, you have to go to Dallas and buy a bottle.  This strikes me as unnecessarily exclusionary in that country-club, “you don’t belong” sort of way, which burns my shorts because I am pretty well bought in to the whole American ideal of all [humans] being created equal (which, I know, isn’t actually borne out in practice, but I still believe in it as an ideal).  I am not likely to make a trip to Dallas any time in the near future, unless I have to connect through the airport on a trip to visit my sister in Fort Hood, TX, which is also not likely.

Also-also, Le Labo makes a big deal out of being French, as in, “We are French, and you are not.  You can buy our ridiculously-priced French perfume, but it will not make you French.  Ha ha ha ha!”  On top of all this snobbery and floofery to do with misleading names and ugly packaging and city exclusives and Frenchiness, the Le Labo fragrances are ridiculously priced.  Did I mention the ridiculous price schedule?  It’s ridiculous.  As in, you can currently buy a 100 ml bottle of one of the city exclusives (assuming you can travel to the appropriate city) for the whopping total, before tax, of $440 USD. 

So the fact that I purchased a 5ml split portion* can be ascribed directly to Abigail’s review of Aldehyde 44, because I would absolutely never have done it if she hadn’t activated my acquisitiveness glands.  I think the phrase that did me in was this: “OH MY GAWWWWWWWWD.”  *at a price somewhat lower, about $3.60 per ml – still ridiculous, but manageable in small amounts.

The notes for Aldehyde 44 include aldehydes (duh), neroli, tuberose absolute, narcissus absolute, jasmine sambac, vanilla, musks and woods.  Aldehyde 44 was composed by Yann Vasnier and released in 2006.  I am a total sucker for narcissus.  Ditto aldehydes, ditto tuberose.  Although I’m not a jasmine fan, I like tropical jasmine sambac much better than traditional-French-perfumery jasmine grandiflorum.  So of course, of course, I had to try it.

Aldehyde 44 starts out with a blast of, you guessed it, aldehydes.  I do not recommend huffing your recently-spritzed wrist up close, unless you want an aldehyde headache – I had to warn Gaze “Not too close!” when he sniffed me this morning – but within a few minutes, the blast is gone.  What’s surprising to me about this fragrance is that unlike most other aldehydies, there’s not an aldehyde-heavy opening quickly transitioned to something else that usually smells completely different

You look at the classic aldehydic floral fragrances like Arpege or, say, Balenciaga Le Dix, and they only start out with aldehydes.  Arpege, to me, is all about the rich, almost composty florals followed by a wonderful sandalwood.  Chanel No. 5 is aldehydes followed by rich florals and a beautiful woody-musky drydown.  Robert Piguet Baghari (the reformulation, at least) is aldehydes followed by a delightful orange-and-wood accord.

But Aldehyde 44 seems to keep its aldehydic character throughout.  I was expecting the aldehydes to slide into a sweet white-floral bomb, but they don’t.  Instead, I get just a vague white-floral veil, light and pretty and uncomplicated, still with that sparkly champagne-bubble character of the aldehydes.  I’d swear that there is a little bit of rose in this scent, too, a pretty woody rose.  After several hours, I smell a hint of vanilla and lots of dry wood, and at this point it reminds me to a small degree of Baghari.  The aldehydes are never very powdery, as often happens; rather, they keep their sparkly quality.  Even in the far drydown, six hours after application (a stunningly long time for an edp to last on me), I seem to still get sparkly, white fairy light aldehydes.  The transitions are so smooth with this fragrance, I can’t pinpoint when it’s moved from opening to floral to woods.

The whole thing is pretty and light and fairly dry, not as sweet as I’d expected.  My one complaint is that it wears too close to the skin and doesn’t project much, even in warm weather.  In fact, when I’ve worn Aldehyde 44 in the summer, it has shrunk down to skin and disappeared too soon, very forgettable, which is close to unforgivable in a scent that costs as much as this one does.  It is lovely, but not as assertive as I’d like – and you might remember that I am not a big sillage fan!  All the same, I’m glad I have this small portion, and I’ll be wearing it happily until it’s gone.

And then I’ll wear my Guerlain Vega, which is also gorgeous, more warm and friendly, and slightly less expensive.

(This review interrupted for a public service announcement: HAPPY BIRTHDAY, TAZ!!)

If you’ve been reading and cursing your bad luck at not living in or near Dallas, you should know this: in a special promotional program, samples of the Le Labo city exclusives will be available at the Le Labo website during the months of October and November 2011, at $10 per 1.5ml spray sample (shipping included).  Bottles will be available for purchase at LuckyScent in November, with samples available from now through the end of November.

Other reviews, most of them favorable: Bois de Jasmin, Tom at Perfume-Smellin’ Things, Marina at PST (not favorable),  Aromascope, The Non-Blonde.  In Perfumes: The Guide, Luca Turin first slyly pokes fun at Le Labo (yay!) and then calls Aldehyde 44 a “mini-White Linen.”  (Thing is, I don’t like White Linen…)

Fragrance image from Lucky Scent. 

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