If there’s a brand that’s synonymous with the rise and rise of niche fragrances, it’s Le Labo.
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Founded by Fabrice Penot and Eddie Roschi in 2006, the NYC-based company rode the crest of the niche wave in the noughties with its mix of French tradition and New York attitude.
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What seems standard now – idiosyncratic scents, apothecary packaging, naming convention for fragrances (the main scent note + the composition’s number of ingredients) – was positively innovative and daring at the time.
From its origins at 233 Elizabeth Street, Nolita, NYC, and acquisition by the Estée Lauder Companies in 2014 to recent releases, Le Labo has managed to maintain its credibility and quality in an increasingly over-crowded market.
Many of the house’s launch releases feature in this “best of” round-up, but there are also several other standouts worthy of your attention.
Where known, the name of the perfumer is included in brackets after the name of the fragrance.
Our Top Picks For Le Labo Fragrances
Le Labo Bergamote 22 EDP (Daphné Bugey)
Want one of the best bergamot fragrances on the market? This 2006 release is yours for the taking.
The opening displays the complex characteristics of the citrus note to great effect: tart, spicy and aromatic. There’s more citrus support from notes of bitter grapefruit and green petitgrain.
What could be an overwhelmingly sharp concoction is balanced with the subtle floral sweetness of orange blossom, white musk and an amber accord.
A large dose of vetiver in the drydown maintains the original freshness with its clean woodiness.
Yes, it’s pricey for a citrus-centric scent, but rest assured, you’re getting top quality as part of the deal.
Le Labo Iris 39 EDP (Frank Voelkl)
Le Labo established its reputation soon after its launch in 2006 with fragrances that included Rose 31, Bergamote 22, Patchouli 24 and Iris 39.
Created by Frank Voelkl (who also produced the almost-too-popular-for-its-own-good Santal 33), Iris 39 brings a different take on one of our favourite florals.
It opens with the brief sunny spiciness of lime, ginger and cardamom.
Iris is often cool and aloof, but Voelkl surrounds it with yet more warmth of the ylang-ylang kind. There’s powder aplenty with violet in support.
The drydown is big on the earthy patchouli and musky, animalic vibe (the synthetic civetone is particularly appealing here).
Le Labo Jasmin 17 EDP (Maurice Roucel)
Billed as the company’s modern interpretation of floral fragrances, we wear this 2006 release whenever we want to be reminded of spring and summer. It never fails to do the trick.
Bitter orange (also known as bigarade) is the first to make an impact with its sharp citric freshness.
The headline act is everything we want the white floral to be: intense, honeyed with just the right amount of sweetness, fruity and sunny. It’s enhanced and balanced by notes of orange blossom and neroli.
The drydown is on the creamy side, thanks to notes of vanilla and sandalwood, with musk concluding the sensual package.
Le Labo Ambrette 9 EDP (Michel Almairac)
This 2006 release is all the proof you need fruity fragrances needn’t be sticky sweet. They can actually be clinical, cool and as chic as hell.
Ambrette (also known as musk mallow) is a natural form of musk derived from the seeds of a tropical plant. It’s undoubtedly the star of this creation, but the mix of citrus and fruit (particularly pear) makes a notable contribution too.
It’s a soft rendition of the fruity musk theme and strikes a deft balance between slightly sweet and sour.
Le Labo Labdanum 18 EDP (Maurice Roucel)
Released in 2006 as part of the brand’s launch collection, this EDP is a curious beast.
Labdanum (also known as cistus labdanum and rock rose) is a sticky resinous substance obtained from the leaves and stems of the plant. It gives amber fragrances depth and potency.
In the masterful hands of legendary perfumer Maurice Roucel (creator of classics such as Hermès 24 Faubourg EDP and Frédéric Malle Musc Ravageur EDP), it starts out in musky animalic-leather style, with assistance from notes of civet and castoreum (don’t worry, no animals were harmed here, these are synthetic versions).
It softens as it progresses towards an almost baby powder feel sweetened with vanilla and tonka bean (we wish all babies smelled this good).
The powderiness keeps on coming with warm musk in the drydown.
Le Labo Neroli 36 EDP (Daphné Bugey)
Le Labo Neroli 36 was one of the launch fragrances from the NYC-based niche brand, but doesn’t get as much attention as, say, Santal 33 or Bergamote 22. Which is a pity, because this 2006 release is enchanting stuff from the first spray.
The title note brings on the sun with its honey-ish qualities. It’s amplified by notes of mandarin orange with a slight aldehydic vibe.
The floral mood continues with notes of jasmine and rose, fresh and gently sweet.
Musk and vanilla mingle in the warm drydown of this thoroughly cheerful composition.
Le Labo Patchouli 24 EDP (Annick Menardo)
Is this 2006 release from the brand’s launch collection a leather or a patchouli scent? The company’s website even states “patchouli is not easy to detect in this formula.”
There’s certainly no missing the mega dose of birch in it. The oil from the bark of this hardwood tree (birch tar oil) is renowned for its smoky leather properties and it gives this EDP an almost burnt quality.
A hint of warm and spicy vanilla softens the harsh edges.
Yeah, but what about the patchouli? It pops up when you least expect it, earthy and medicinal, and then disappears.
Intriguing, challenging stuff…
Le Labo Rose 31 EDP (Daphné Bugey)
Inspired by the aim to transform the usually feminine Centifolia rose into a powerful unisex scent, the house does just that with Le Labo Rose 31.
This is largely due to the potent pairing of the rose with cumin in the opening. Cumin is known for its spicy, animalic quality and it’s used to maximum effect in this 2006 release created by Daphne Bugey.
The atmosphere is sustained through the skilful use of woody notes that include vetiver, cedar and guaiac.
It’s not an easy-to-wear rose fragrance and the cumin will be too much for some people. But those with more robust tastes will be well rewarded with a standout EDP.
Le Labo Vetiver 46 EDP (Mark Buxton)
Long before it was trendy to highlight individual ingredients, Le Labo led the way.
According to the brand’s website, the name Le Labo 46 comes from the 46 essences that were used to create it.
There’s no mistaking the rich spicy opening with cloves and pepper at the forefront.
The woodiness of this scent comes through strongly with the cedar and guaiac notes.
What makes this vetiver fragrance special (the Haitian variety is used) is its intense and sexy smoky vibe that’s given extra oomph by the olibanum note.
Deep, dark, delicious… But not for everyone.
Le Labo Oud 27 EDP (Vincent Schaller)
Some people think this 2009 release is too animalic. We think it does a fine job of displaying the precious ingredient at its mysterious and musky best.
Rich and resinous oud beckons from the first spray. Its spiciness is accentuated by notes of black pepper, saffron and patchouli.
There’s also some seductive smokiness at work in this EDP, courtesy of notes of incense and guaiac wood.
Atlas cedar rounds it off with a touch of sweetness and a whole lot of warmth.
The result: an intense olfactory experience that mostly avoids the Western dilution common to many oud fragrances.
Le Labo Another 13 EDP (Nathalie Lorson)
You know you’re trendy when you’re commissioned by the editor-in-chief of the highly regarded fashion and culture AnOther Magazine to create an exclusive scent for them.
Synthetics are amped to the max in this 2010 release, which is actually a very good thing.
The soft woodiness of ISO E Super and muskiness of ambroxan are clearly evident, while the fruitiness of pear and jasmine are also present in the mix. The naturally derived musk ambrette seed absolute adds a silky dimension.
Not just another fragrance, for sure.
Le Labo Santal 33 EDP (Frank Voelkl)
One of the most prominent niche fragrances of the last decade, this 2011 release is still fantastic stuff. Don’t let the “it’s too popular” naysayers tell you otherwise.
Inspired by the iconic Marlboro ads with their free ’n wild west imagery, it presents the ruggedness of Australian sandalwood bolstered by an accord of lived-in leather, smoky papyrus, resinous cedar and spicy cardamom. A liberal dose of Ambrox gives it musky voomah.
Notes of iris and violet soften the edges with their sensual floral powderiness.
This decade-defining creation stands out for all the right reasons. We salute the perfumer behind it, Frank Voelkl.
Le Labo Lys 41 EDP (Daphné Bugey)
Big doesn’t necessarily mean better, but in the case of this 2013 release it’s big and beautiful.
Three white florals are presented in all their potent glory. While tuberose is the most prominent, lily and jasmine also get their chance to contribute to the sunny freshness.
Although not officially listed, we reckon there’s also some tiare flower, with its fruity and indolic attributes, in the mix.
Madagascan vanilla gives the bouquet a chic creaminess, with musk and woody notes prolonging the olfactory sensuality in the drydown.
It’s truly powerful stuff, so probably not the best option for the faint-hearted. Anyone else will lap it up with vigour.
Le Labo Thé Noir 29 EDP (Frank Voelkl)
This 2015 release is one powerful brew. We’ve never smelled a cup of black tea quite like it.
That should come as no surprise, as perfumer Frank Voelkl also created the brand’s mega-seller Le Labo Santal 33.
It announces itself in distinctive fashion with a trio of rich notes: fig, bergamot and bay leaf. The effect is immediately intense and compelling.
It gets even darker when the earthy vetiver and tobacco-ish black tea leaves come into play.
The result? An uncompromisingly bold fragrance that more than justifies its niche-level price tag. Bravo!
Le Labo Ylang 49 EDP (Frank Voelkl)
Any doubts that the acquisition of Le Labo by Estee Lauder in 2014 would dilute the quality and creativity of the NYC-based niche fragrance brand were put to rest when Le Labo Ylang 49 was launched in 2015.
Created by Frank Voelkl (who also produced the ever-popular Santal 33), it’s a luscious, dense and take-no-prisoners composition.
In the opening, ylang-ylang and Tahitian gardenia bring on the floral richness in no uncertain terms. It’s sweet and wonderfully intoxicating. Please don’t stop!
And it doesn’t, thanks to the next stage of the scent’s evolution, featuring dark and earthy notes of patchouli, oakmoss and vetiver.
After all that intensity, sandalwood and benzoin leave a warm and creamy smoothness.
Le Labo Baie 19 EDP
This 2019 release sees the American brand in conceptual mode. It’s all about the petrichor effect.
According to the BBC, two Australian researchers came up with the name in the 1960s to describe the phenomenon of the warm, earthy smell we experience when rain hits dry ground.
Baie 19 isn’t the first fragrance to capture this sensation but is one of the most convincing.
There’s freshness aplenty from an airy ozonic accord, with aromatic support from juniper berries and greenery in the background.
An overdose of patchouli provides the earthy aspect and is accentuated by musk and Ambroxan.
Intriguing yet very wearable stuff.
Le Labo Thé Matcha 26 EDP
Le Labo Thé 26 is undoubtedly one of our favourite tea fragrances for its bold distinctiveness. We reach for Thé Matcha, a 2021 release, when we want something more reserved and tranquil.
Although subtle, the matcha tea accord has the green-ish, seaweed qualities we love about the Japanese beverage.
It’s given character and contrasts with the sweet floralcy of fig and tart citrus of bitter orange notes.
The drydown is soft and woody, with notes of vetiver and cedar wrapping up the private olfactory experience with delicacy.