Back in the 00s, when I lived in the UK, there was a perfume I’d visit. Every time I was in London, I’d take a detour through Liberty’s beauty hall to spray Le Labo’s Jasmin 17. So accustomed to fancy bottles – I wore YSL’s whopper Vice Versa, alternated with LouLou back then – I stopped at this counter as it was so plain. It felt like a perfume lab within a shop, with white-coated assistants hand-blending the scents on the spot in a pleasingly sciencey way. Le Labo ignored flouncy flacons and celebrity faces and focussed on the scent itself.
The scents were intriguing – Santal 33 is the one everyone goes crazy over – or just straightforwardly beautiful (Rose 31, for example), but once I’d smelled the Jasmin that was it. It became the scent I associated most with London, conjuring the frenetic streets and endless rush, the feeling you’re at the epicentre. Jasmin reminded me of everything I missed when I moved away.
Le Labo was founded in 2006 by two Frenchmen, Eddie Roschi and Fabrice Penot, who’d both trained in Grasse (where their ingredients are still sourced today) and worked in the fragrance industry. They opened their first store in New York with a simple, clever concept: a fragrance lab open to the public. This means that the scents – all gender-free – are hand-blended to demand (except at their airport counters, where they have to be kept in fridges and no hand-blending is allowed). The numbers in the titles refer to the number of ingredients – again, drawing attention to what’s in the bottle. They don’t, unlike other brands, encourage layering – if you stop and think, do you really want to wear an overkill of 50 or 60 ingredients? Le Labo were doing customisable labels long before everyone else cottoned on that we all have a strange passion for having our name or initials on things (perhaps it goes back to school nametapes). Le Labo scents are vegan, PETA accredited and cruelty-free, and have always been so since first created in 2006, due to the founders’ own values rather than any bandwagon.
It became the scent I associated most with London, conjuring the frenetic streets and endless rush, the feeling you’re at the epicentre.
In the 14 years of Le Labo, there have only been 18 scents – a small edit if you think of, say, Jo Malone London who might launch five in a single season. Bestseller Santal 33, meanwhile, is a “masculine scent to be worn by women”, and is all about open fire smoke and amber, with cool iris, smokey, spicy cardamom and warm woods. AnOther 13, meanwhile, dreamed up in conjunction with much-missed Paris store Colette, is a smoked-up take on jasmine, and well worth considering if you’ve a weakness for the evocative and sensual white flower. The most recent addition, Baie 19, is a wet green juniper and patchouli blend, inspired by a longed-for rain shower after a dry spell and yes, it’s as cool and beautiful as that sounds.
In a sea of jasmines – for me, the stars include Joy by Jean Patou, and Etat Libre d’Orange’s Jasmin et Cigarette, the epitome of a sultry night in Paris, plus Serge Lutens A la Nuit, a sexy, silky scent I’ve also had an intense affair with – what makes this one stand out? Jasmin 17 was created by Maurice Roucel, the perfumer behind scents as diverse as Musc Ravageur for Frederic Malle in 2000 to Celine Dion Sensational and DKNY Be Delicious. It’s clearly divisive, looking at reviews online – people compare it to jasmine tea at a Chinese restaurant, to soap; some find it harsh, sickly, musky… But it just shows how subjective scent is. To me, it’s a modern and distinct jasmine, with bitter orange, bright citrus with an edge that’s far from sweet – and it’s extremely long-lasting, somehow smelling even more gorgeous lingering on a jumper or coat sleeve – I usually just spray it on my clothes – giving me instant nostalgia for a day gone past.
Though there’s still no store in Ireland, Le Labo is now available at Dublin airport. Now the brand is owned by Estée Lauder, it’s inevitably becoming easier to get hold of, and some wearers don’t like this, enjoying the exclusivity. These are not cheap perfumes, but we have it on good authority that the airport has the most competitive prices (you’re looking at €157 rather than £184stg for 100ml at Liberty London; though in stores (not the airport), you can take in your empty bottle and get it refilled for 20 per cent less). These are scents you don’t wear simply because celebrities do, but because they smell great: however, we enjoyed the story of one well-known ambassador for a luxury perfume brand coming in to quietly stock up on Santal for himself to actually wear …
I’m a devotee of Luca Turin’s Perfumes: The A-Z Guide and looked up his assessment, bracing myself for the perfume maestro to dismiss one of my favourites (not that I’d stop loving it). He dismisses A la Nuit as “Death by jasmine” (there are surely worse ways to go), and describes Le Labo’s as “A wan little jasmine …”. Which just goes to show how subjective the art of perfume is – and this one, for me, is indelibly linked to good times.
Le Labo is at Dublin airport T1 and T2.
Sign up to our MAILING LIST now for a roundup of the latest fashion, beauty, interiors and entertaining news from THE GLOSS MAGAZINE’s daily dispatches.