Le Labo was established in 2006 by French co-founders Eddie Roschi and Fabrice Penot in Nolita, New York City. As much as the name suggests, Le Labo, which means “the laboratory” in French, is a cult perfume brand that takes its inspiration from the various goings-on of a perfumer’s lab. They pay special attention to the experience surrounding their perfumes, hand-blending and bottling each perfume in- store, labeling each with a created date and location, and allowing the customers to inscribe names or personal messages on the labels. Le Labo’s fragrances have staked out a unique presence in the industry, with charmingly distinct scents like Santal 33 and Rose 31 testifying to the brand’s deep appreciation of base ingredients.
Welcome to the 65th edition of B.
Not long ago, B welcomed to the world a sister publication. Unveiled in March, F is all about food. Brought to life in collaboration with leading Korean food tech brand Baemin, this symbolic expansion into a new world of food ingredients, with our signature documentary style intact, makes F both a special project and an experiment in content creation. We have showcased numerous food-sector brands to date, including Intelligentsia, San Pellegrino, and the Michelin Guides, offering a closer look at how the food business shapes our lives. With F, we wanted to narrow in on the industry’s most basic elements: the ingredients and the diverse people who make them available, as well as those who use and consume them. Along the way, we were fascinated by how powerful and universal the stories buried in these ingredients proved to be. Perhaps what makes these stories so compelling is that the elements that go into food are unchanging, timeless, intrinsically simple. They are a language that all the world speaks, a complete story unto themselves, lending themselves to endless modulation.
I expound on food and food ingredients not simply to point our readers to our new publication, but to set the stage for this edition of B, for which we step into the world of fragrances. In fact, food and fragrances have a lot in common in the ways they explore the possibilities of different basic ingredients. Fragrances are compounds that blend essential oils extracted from the bounty of nature—rose, vanilla, and orange blossom, to name a few—with alcohol and other ingredients. In the same way the single ingredient of a grape can be used to make tens of thousands of different wines, a single base note can be mixed with other notes to produce an infinite spectrum of fragrances. Rose, for example, can become a base for starkly different scents, alternately evoking a lighthearted romantic comedy, a stirring drama, or a hardboiled noir. Perfumery Le Labo has distilled the art of fragrance-making down to these basic elements. The key focuses of its creations are ingredients and blending, the fundamental aspects of fragrances that have long been overshadowed by showy concepts on the outside. The brand was launched in Nolita, New York, by founders Fabrice Penot and Eddie Roschi. The two were both longtime fragrance specialists at global beauty brands who had grown tired of the strictly commercial approach of designer fragrance development. They wanted to try something utterly original. Their story is fascinating because their brand philosophy was born out of a desire to break with the norms of fragrance-making, and they have executed this philosophy with a winning elegance. Instead of separate names, their fragrances are labeled with a single word and a number, for example, Rose 31 or Bergamot 22, according to the key ingredient and the quantity of notes. The design of their packaging is simple and no-fuss, like what you might see in a laboratory. Instead of promotional images and slogans, their stores are outfitted only with their product lineup and some time-worn pieces of furniture. And instead of trying to create or convey an image, they present their products as they are, for what they are.
This raises a question: Why? To be sure, Le Labo’s brand vision goes beyond a preference for minimalist design. Le Labo avoids superfluous emotive messaging to ensure that the experience people have of their fragrances is shaped solely by the scents themselves. That is, the brand does not try to lure people in with inviting words. When a customer walks into a Le Labo store and holds a test bottle of fragrance under their nose, their senses, heretofore controlled with poise, are instantly awakened to an experience of purely olfactory communication. All of the brand’s fragrances are made to order on-site, and the label can be customized with a personalized message. The makers of Le Labo are empiricists in the truest sense. They believe there are things that can only be known through experience, that surpass the expressive capacity of words and images.
Unlike reason or logic, experiences are not perfect. They are flawed, at times self-contradicting, and limited. The founders of Le Labo seem to find pleasure in giving creative form to such imperfections, or simply presenting them as is. This is the biggest difference between the fragrances of Le Labo and those of other brands. Fabrice Penot explains that he believes in the intuitive genius of knowing as a perfumer when to stop the work. Beyond a certain point, things would become too perfect and, thus, boring. Perhaps, as he says, balance is not about continuing to add on to something until it is perfect but rather about stopping at the very precarious brink of perfection. If so, one way to enjoy the world of fragrances, not to mention discover the best one for yourself, might be to compare where and how different fragrance brands achieve this sense of balance.
Content & Editorial Director