Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Le Labo Vanille 44: fragrance review

To optically pair Vanille 44 by niche brand Le Labo with Luis Buñuel's Un Chien Andalou (1928) is a natural: The fragrance is illusory and surreal, like a razor slashing the eye ball that never actually happens. It's sexy too, in that perverted way of Buñuel's young novice about to take her vows led astray by her widowed uncle. How can a childhood aroma like vanilla do this stuff? Is there nothing sacred? Read on.

Vanille 44 weaves the cool, almost sour scent of frankincense (which naturally has citrus facets, therefore mixing well with bergamot and mandarin) into the tarry-smelling carapace of smoky woods, like gaiacwood. This tar-like inky note is due to pipol, a volatile component that smells of black smoky tea. But the treatment is diaphanous, complex veils of chiffon material rather than heavy damask, as one would have typically expected from an oriental fragrance based on this commonly thought of as aphrodisiac raw material, vanilla.

Le Labo's Vanille 44 is an atypical vanilla hidden beneath layers of other essences, veils of Salome, with a pronounced woody-musky trail (muscenone is a musk molecule) that would never have small children or those "too nice" co-workers with scrunchies on their hair atop bulky mohair sweaters to exclaim "you smell nice!". It's not that Vanille 44 doesn't smell nice, it's that it's not the instantly familiar sweet, cozy, foody vanilla these target groups are accustomed to. On the other hand, I don't know whether that super sophisticated group, who upturn their noses upon hearing your mother still likes Calvin Klein Eternity (which you faithfully buy for her every Christmas), would love it either. It's good stuff, created by one of the very best, perfumer Alberto Morillas (who has given us mega-hits from Kenzo Flower to Aqua di Gio for men for Armani) but is it that uncommon to warrant the huge price (500$ for 100ml)? I believe Lutens, Montale and Guerlain have already set foot in the smoky, woody or boozy vanilla territory respectively and not come back with losses. Vanille 44 is a good, mysterious fragrance, an oddball vanilla fragrance for adults of both sexes, but you need to forget about the name as it's as close to vanilla pods as Falco would be to the real Amadeus.

Le Labo presents it thus: "We all know that Paris is the city of love (and hence sex). But Paris is also the city of Vanille 44! We also know by now that our Rose 31 does not smell of only rose, that our Iris 39 does not smell of just iris, and that the number is as important (if not more) than the name of ingredient to the left of it (I am not a number !). Well our Vanille 44 does not smell of just Vanilla. At least it doesn’t smell of vanilla straight away. We could say that this theme is a subtle ambery incensy woody sexy note that once acquainted with your premium pashmina sweater will release the finest of the vanilla bourbons that you’ve experienced. It’s vanilla disguised."

You can say that again. 

Notes for Vanille 44 by Le Labo:
Natural bergamot, incense, mandarin, gaiac, vanille bourbon, muscenone, pipol, hedione

Le Labo Vanille 44 is a Paris city-exclusive (available at Colette), retailing at $290 for 50ml, but only for the month of November it is globally available at Luckyscent and on the official Le Labo site.

Related reading on Perfume Shrine:  Le Labo reviews & news ,Vanilla fragrances reviews

In the interests of disclosure, the review is based on a sample vial sent to me by the company.


  1. Anonymous04:46

    Vanille 44 is a ghost of a perfume. I personally love it and can only wish to own a full bottle. I'm currently hunting for close alternatives.

    Sidenote: The first time I watched Luis Buñuel's Un Chien Andalou was when I was 15. It has given me nightmares ever since. :)

  2. Anonymous07:45

    But isn't vanilla disguised in a lot of the old great perfumes (thinking of historic Guerlains)? I thought it was used as a base in many and isn't always discernable.

    I, too, have been haunted by that scene in Un Chien .......


  3. OO,

    ghost ofn a perfume is a poetic phrase which I like. I like the fragrance quite a bit, it's that the price makes me wince compared to all the other idiosyncratic vanillas out there.

    (and yeah, I know what you mean about Chien Andalou...)

  4. Jillie,

    excellent point, indeed it is as you say.
    To correct myself or clarify, I meant it in the realm of there are "genre"/thematic approaches in modern niche perfumery; the incenses, the leathers, the irises, the vanillas...that sort of thing. So I was categorising this by its name, more than its smell (it's a woody if anything), leading me to say "vanilla, what vanilla?". It's a grown up hint of vanilla on woods; a good thing.

    It seems some things are collectively haunting.

  5. Anonymous17:16

    Oh my goodness! I realise now that it looked like I was being picky with you - not at all what I meant! I was just being cynical about perfumers thinking that they are being original, when I almost believe that there is nothing new under the sun. Absolutely anything you say is gospel as far as I am concerned, oh Great One!


  6. Jilie,

    don't you worry honey, I'm not that easy to get offended! :-)
    I know you weren't being picky with me. And you do have a point; so little is original these days.

  7. Oy! The eyeball photo makes me cringe!

  8. TFC,

    wait till you see the actual movie, then! *evil wink*
    It's not gross or anything, just a surreal dreamscape imagined by S.Dali.


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