You probably know the smoky, sweet leather scent of Le Labo's Santal 33 by smell, if not by name. Some days it feels like there isn't a woman in New York who hasn't purchased an individually mixed and labeled bottle of the stuff from the brand's Elizabeth Street shop. The resulting fragrance tells a story not only about the person wearing it, but the people involved in the process—notably Le Labo's host of bespoke fragrance mixers. And while every scent speaks for itself, we thought we'd let the ladies of Le Labo tell us a bit about them in their own words:
Edwina, business student
'I’m from the north of France and am here studying business and doing an internship at Le Labo for six months. The concept of Le Labo is very unique. I think perfume says everything about a person—even before the person speaks, you smell them. So the perfume, the scent, it’s your whole identity. That’s why I think a lot of people care about having their own smell and when we are trained in Le Labo, you take the time to study every ingredient because each one has its own personality. When we meet customers, we get to know them and try to match their personality with perfume. A lot of couples come in because the woman will tell her man, 'try this, try this!' and he’s like '…OK' [laughs]. But he likes it so they come back.
In France, a Le Labo perfume was like the 18th birthday gift. I wear Vanille 44. Everyone’s like 'Oh you like it because it's the Paris exclusive!' But no, not at all. It’s because it’s sweet and very musky, but not too sweet. It has 44 elements so it’s a complex perfume and soft. I always have perfume in my bag [laughs].”
'I’m from the Bronx. I found out about Le Labo after my best friend Alex stumbled upon the brand. She told me about the concept and we both fell in love with it. I was like 'What is this place? It’s beautiful.' She ended up working here first and when she left, I took her place. Scents play such a huge part in one’s life—you don’t really notice it until it’s brought to your attention. Just scent alone gets me to be so creative and gives me all these ideas as an illustrator.
My favorite is Rose 31. I’m not a very floral person, rose especially. My best friend bought it for me as a gift and I was like, 'Don’t you know me as a person? What are you doing?' Then I smelled it and was like 'OK, that’s exactly why.' It’s very much like me. It’s not your grandmother’s rose by any means, not very traditional. It’s on the darker, rebellious side, which I think is why I like it so much.”
'The first time I walked by Le Labo, I discovered Jasmin 17, which became a supplement for Hawaii when I was homesick, inadvertently. I ended up writing to the company about a project I wanted to do that would use the scents almost sculpturally. When you think about it, to be able to find the aspect of a person or place and bottle it and put in an exhibit to see—that could evoke the same feelings and ideas a sculpture could. I was really excited about the idea of an Abraham Lincoln perfume [laughs]. So I had written them this pitch, but I also just needed a job. At first they turned me down because they weren’t hiring and then I got an email a day later like 'Psyche! We’re hiring. We would love for you to come in and talk about this project.'
For me, learning about all the ingredients for a formula is sort of like speed dating. The next part is giving it a narrative and finding the poetic abstraction of perfume. Then it’s hearing the client's stories and what the perfume evokes in their memory, the nostalgic quality, and also aspirations of who they would like to be when they wear their perfume. One French woman came in and smelled the Petit Grain 21 and was really touched because I guess when you’re young there’s this French baby lotion that her mom would put on her and it reminded her of that. Jasmin 17 has an unaffected, honest elegance and ease. I've recently been wearing Gaiac 10 [ed note: exclusive to the Tokyo shop]—it's this musky, woodsy scent and wearing it makes me feel a little more gritty and a little bit more real and textured and versatile.”
Photographed by Tom Newton.