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.


35 thoughts on “Perfume Review: Le Labo Lys 41 and Ylang 49”

  1. First negative review of Ylang 49! Go Mals! And thank you for killing a lemming!

    Brian sent me some Aldehyde 44, which is the first thing I’ve tried from Le Labo (other than that mini-collection they did for Anthro, which was really superb). I am sort of in love with Aldehyde 44. I want to try Lys 41 but I just can’t be bothered to order samples these days…

    1. It *may* just be my skin. But I will say that all of my family members either wrinkled up their noses or jerked their heads back from the Ylang 49, so there’s that. The Lys 41 is flat gorgeous. I have only tried a few of those LL Anthropologies, and they were nice but nothing grabbed me. (Probably a good thing because I think they were LE’s, so when they’re gone, they’re gone.)

      Aldehyde 44 is nice, but I wanted more white flowers out of it. I like wearing it, I’m usually not sorry I wore it… but for straight aldies I just prefer Iris Poudre. Oh well.

  2. It’s not you, it’s Ylang 49, and bless you for giving your honest opinion. I don’t like it either. It is huge, bitter, nearly chemical and I wore it for hours, hoping to have it morph into a green seductive beauty. Nope.

    I’ve recently given myself leave to like what I like in art, and respectfully dislike the things I don’t. For example–I adore movies. See lots. Foreign films, art films, lots of genres. I am not a Woody Allen fan. Nor Scorsese or Wes Anderson. The critics love those directors. That’s fine, they just are not my favorites to watch. I’m glad I’ve seen those films, to widen my knowledge, but I’m comfortable now (generally) avoiding their work. I might go if bazillions of people love the film, and something about it catches my attention. Moonlight in Paris was that kind of exception. Enjoyed it thoroughly.

    I’m ok now with feeling that way about perfume and certain noses. I still love trying things, but I won’t label myself sub par for not liking the critics’ darlings. I’m delighted there are thousands of wonderful things to try and boundaries to push. Mine this week has been sweet scents. Challenged by recent posts, I’ve explored sweeter things than are my want, with some pleasant results 🙂 Mals, you are brilliant, far better able to convey your scent experience than I can. Trust your nose and taste, and keep writing. Be well!

    1. It’s funny, I must have gotten a drop of the Ylang 49 on my desk when I wore it, because my wooden desk smells quite wonderful. My experience might just be due to skin — everybody else is so happy with it.

      But yes, I feel better about liking what I like, when I’m familiar with the oeuvre. I’m not a huge Beethoven fan, except for his piano music. I don’t like the bombast of his symphonies, just don’t. like. them. Have sung the Ninth, IN German, mind you, and there are melodies I enjoy, but overall — ehhhh. (The piano stuff, now that tends to wring my heart from me. Nobody does angst like Beethoven.) Mozart I adore, always. Handel I love. Bach is a mixed bag, but I enjoy more often than not. Haydn bores me.

      If I’d realized that there was a link between Ylang 49 and the murkier Duchaufour compositions, I’d not have tried it. I just kept hearing “floral chypre,” and I like that… but no.

      And thanks for the encouragement, dear!

      1. Have you ever listened to the Beaux Arts Trio playing Haydn Piano Trios? I share the rest of your judgment on music, except for Haydn, and especially the piano trios. I think they are the most beautiful, transparent chamber music ever composed.

        1. No, I don’t know the piano trios! I’ll see if I can look them up. I probably should have said Haydn’s symphonies bore me, to be more precise.

  3. The Lys is now a must-try for me. For me, the thing about Le Labo is that they are pretentious and obnoxious, but for the most part they can back it up. They have very few bad fragrances (although I wasn’t particularly impressed by their Anthropologie collection either). And I have to admit that their canvas bag bearing the words “Rose 31 got me laid” got a horrified chuckle out of me.

    1. You have a point about the Le Labos being worth smelling. I should acknowledge that, they’re well done and they don’t fall apart and they’re not horribly synthetic.

      I still have not smelled Rose 31 – I just for some reason think it would not suit me. The bag sounds like a hoot…

  4. Even though I like several Le Labo perfumes for some reason I do not like the brand. I don’t feel their pretentiousness (I’m not disagreeing with you, I just don’t get that partabout them) but still I do not like more things about them than I do. So naturally it makes reading your reviewseven more pleasurable.

    From your description I think I won’t like Lys 41 and I might like Ylang 49 (but probably won’t).

    1. It may be that as an American I’m more bothered by what I see as snobbiness.

      The Lys is very, very, very floral, way more floral than it is vanilla — which is nice in a semi-tropical floral — but it is almost boneless in its frothiness. I tend to really love that kind of thing. THe Ylang, as I just mentioned to Hemlock, smells FABULOUS where I spilled a drop on my desk. On my skin, it is horribly bitter.

  5. Phew! I have been tormenting myself whether I chose correctly in ordering a sample of Lys instead of the Ylang . . . I picked the Lys, which hasn’t arrived yet, and your review makes me feel like I did something right! I suppose I could have ordered both, but I AM trying to control my perfume spending. Emphasis on “trying.” 😉

    1. Lys is definitely a big white floral winner. It’s lovely. Not crazy unusual… but just SO pretty.

      I know that “trying” feeling. 🙁

  6. The Le Labos mystify me they really do. The Patch 24 was ok but not something you HAD to run out and own, and your description of Dzonghka-ish tonalities of Ylang 49 do not sound very encouraging.

    What I wish I’d done was smell aldehyde 44. Procrastination will be my undoing.

    1. I liked the P24, but it was sort of like Bvlgari Black on steroids – i.e., not something I would feel like wearing very often.

      I do very badly with the swampwater/mildew thing that seems to show up in a lot of those early Duchaufours. I did notice that the Ylang I accidentally dropped on my desk smelled wonderful after about four hours, but I just couldn’t hack it on my skin.

      Alde44 is nice; I have a small decant. But I’m not going to miss it, to be honest.

  7. The first lemming inspiration for me in your description of Ylang 49 was, oddly, “benzoin”. The second, probably unsurprisingly, was “dank cellars”. Woohoo! Gotta try it.

    1. I don’t notice much benzoin, to be honest, even in the bit that dropped on my desk. The moss came out in that.

      I don’t remember – do you do well with Dzongkha and Timbuktu? it reminds me a lot of those.

      When The CEO and I went to Rome a few years ago, we managed to visit a small church that was built on top of a… hmm, I think it was an 8th century church, which was in turn built on top of some catacombs. Talk about musty… and the odd thing was that I really enjoyed it as an atmospheric smell. I just don’t want it in my perfume, I suppose.

  8. I’m adding my voice to the dislike of Ylang 49. It smells like garbage to me (so far, only day two). Not garbage in the rotting fruit way, and not chypre-ish moss, which I can usually handle, just … garbage. A sort of bitter dissonance. It seems like you and I are getting the same sort of unpleasant sensation from it.

    But Lys 41! Superb. Like sunshine dipped in honey, as I’ve just said over at NST. I wore it today and got nine hours out of a few spits from a spray sample vial. (Some of that longevity was from my clothes, admittedly). I agree with you about the greenish note too, which cuts nicely through the creamy florals. Love. 🙂

    1. Bitter dissonance! Yes. And people have been yarking on about the white flowers in it, and to my nose they are so muted by that bitterness that they might as well not be there.

      The Lys, though, that is really lovely. Creamy and sweet, but fresh instead of cloying. I think it’s wonderful. Probably not going to buy any, but it’s gorgeous.

  9. I really liked the Lys, and hated, hated, hated the Ylang – I think I wrote a non diplomatic comment on a blog and then felt quite bad, like I was the rudest reader in the world… yet I stand by it: I think the ylang is not a great fragrance, and not just because “I” dislike it. I think the disconnection with the name makes it more interesting than it actually is.
    Like you, I felt like crawling out of my skin during the drydown!!

    I think I should try the Lys again: I enjoyed it very much (it is exactly my kind of fragrance after all), but I think I’d rather invest in a backup bottle of Lys soleya- I find the two very similar, but the sillage of the Guerlain is perfection for me. Anyway, further testing required.

    The blogosphere is a great place, but it is also subject to some strange hypes, sometimes… I remember havana vanille and nuit de tubereuse – two nice fragrances (one I could wear, and one I couldn’t) but hardly the exciting masterpices you would read about everywhere!!!
    Thank you for your refreshing and honest point of view, as always!

    1. As I found later, I really enjoyed the Ylang where it stayed on my wooden desk. On me, though? horrrrrrid. I think the mossy character is sort of suckering people into forgiving it for its faults, or maybe they don’t mind the bitterness.

      THat Lys is lovely. I haven’t smelled the Lys Soleia, though.

      1. I must have slightly better tolerance for the Ylang than you and Zazie, as I did keep it on, and by the end I finally got through to a mossy, chypre base. Nice, but not great, and CERTAINLY not worth the hours-long wait.

        1. I did discover that I liked the Ylang where it dripped onto my desk. On me, though, it really was dreadful.

    2. I agree that there is a lot of over-hype sometimes. And the reverse can be true: I don’t think Chanel No 19 Poudre quite deserves the condemnation it got from some commenters on the blogs after its release in 2011. Also, it can be quite the thing to condemn certain reformulations, but I try to stay as respectful as possible on that. After all, if you love the current Mitsouko or L’Heure Bleue or whatever, and cannot not afford to risk a vintage purchase, it can be annoying and almost hurtful to constantly read people abusing them. Still, everyone is entitled to their opinion of course.

      1. Oh, you know, that’s true… it’s one thing to have loved a certain perfume and been devastated by the current formula, but compared to — oh, Gucci Guilty or something, I would rather have refo’ed Apres l’Ondee.

        (Did NOT like the 19 Poudre, though. The musk just dulled the whole thing down for me.)

  10. Ooh Mals, I just have to tell you, I have spotted the most interesting thing. Apparently there is a new Malmaison. Really. Called Malmaison Encore and new this year. Do you suppose it is all cloves and nonsense?

    Oh and Brian at I Smell Therefore I Am likes the Ylang and thinks the Lys is pretty but no more. Odd, that. Maybe this breaks down along gender lines or patchouli love and hate lines. But oh, Mals…Malmaison! Sorry for the off topic nature of this comment. We return you to Mals’ regularly scheduled comment section.

    1. I heard about that! Someone mentioned it on my facebook perfume group the other day, I think. Apparently Floris is upfront about it not being the original, so who knows how carnationy it will really be?

      I hadn’t seen Brian’s review. We don’t often agree on our preferences, but I loooove his writing. I will say that I didn’t get a lot of patchouli out of the Ylang; it was a strange bitter thing that really displeased me with the Ylang. As far as the Lys goes, it is really really pretty, but Brian’s right – nothing earthshakingly different about it at all.

  11. I was pipped on Ebay this week trying to score samples of these two, but at least I am not going to be regretting the Ylang one. And I love ‘regular’ ylang-ylang as a rule. The Lys number I am pretty sure I will enjoy, based on your description – we have a similar liking in florals.

    The horror that is the pondwater number reminds me of Papryus de Ciane, which smells like fetid pampas grass on a mortuary slab.

    1. FETID PAMPAS GRASS ON A MORTUARY SLAB. dingdingdingding…

      Ladies and gentlemen, THAT is a perfume description. (Go read Vanessa’s blog. Worth it.)

      I really do very badly with that pondwater thing, wherever it shows up. Just… ugh. I would a thousand times rather have something like Amaranthine!

    1. Ummmm… okay, you’re sick. 🙂

      A lot of people really love those Duchaufour thingies I call “murky.” Which is unbelievable to me, but somebody else might look at my taste and go, “Ewwwwww, you like fruit? And coconutty white florals? Eeewwww.”

  12. Howdy, Mals! So glad to see that you weren’t a fan of the LL Ylang either. On me, too, it was just kind of bitter and dark, and sat there sulking on my wrist for several hours. And the Lys, though pretty, on my skin could have been a dead ringer for Madonna’s Truth or Dare — no lie! So if I want that scent, the celeb version is mucho cheaper. Money saved, I say, and hurray for that!

    1. Sulking!! Yes, sulking and bitter. Very unpleasant on my skin. As I say, though, the drop on the desk was very nice.

      Now, I didn’t like Truth or Dare. The tubey in it is very synthetic to my nose, where it’s not in the LL. I don’t mind a synthetic tuberose now and then (I actually spritzed some B&BW Velvet Tuberose yesterday and thought, “you know, this smells pretty cheap but I like it anyway”), but something about the Madonna one didn’t sit well with me. In Lys I smell mixed white florals with at least a hefty percentage of naturals, and the vanilla doesn’t take over. But skin might matter with this set of LLs, I shouldn’t wonder…

      1. You know how much of a deal-breaker skin can be. Heaven knows I’ve practically wept because a scent that I WANTED so much to love, was absolutely gorgeous on someone else and just went THUD on me.
        I do think the Lys smells more expensive than the T or D, but I did a wrist-by-wrist comparison and on my weird skin, there was very little difference. Frankly, I don’t like the T or D much either, although the body lotion in that scent is somewhat more wearable for me. So lots of $$$ saved either way. BTW, have you tried the Faberge Imperial yet and if so, did you like it?

  13. I fell hard and fast for Ylang 49, it’s become my most worn scent this summer, it’s perfect with a man’s skin chemistry, I can’t get enough.

    1. A lot of people loved that one, and I did notice that among those that were wowed by it, a high proportion of them were men. So, who knows? It’s not a bad perfume, it’s just awful on me.

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