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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