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5 Important Fragrance-Related Questions With The Co-Founder Of Le Labo

Fabrice Penot, half of the duo behind massive cult favourites like Santal 33 and Rose 31, breaks down his process and gives very valuable advice.

Fragrances are a funny thing. You’ll sniff out of a hundred bottles across your lifetime, and somehow only end up liking a handful and truly loving one or two. You’re not exactly sure what it is about these special ones that call out. There is just so much to your chosen one. The different notes, how it smells on your skin, how it changes across the day, how it becomes yours.

For the pickier ones – and you are allowed to be picky in the search for your signature fragrance – the roadmap needs to begin at a place that is already unique, beyond the common. That means nothing you can easily get. That means artisanal brands with an edge like Le Labo.

Based in New York, Le Labo – or “the lab” in French – was founded by Fabrice Penot and Eddie Roschi in 2006. With raw ingredients processed in Grasse, the fragrance capital of France, possibly the world, the pair sought to create fragrances borne out of experiences and fragrances that told stories. Mass production is not their game. It is about the finer things.

Fast forward to a little over a decade, Le Labo is now the indie fragrance label, with an incredible cult following that swear by their brown-bottle creations for life. If you haven’t taken a whiff of Santal 33, you have not lived. Extremely obsessed with fragrances and the science behind it ourselves, we reached out to Penot (left) to find out more about his process and the best advice he has for anyone who hasn’t found a signature fragrance. (Hint: it takes time.)

How does Le Labo keep its fragrance extra one-of-a-kind? What are your philosophies as perfumers?
By a reverence for hand made products. In every perfume we create, we leave a part of ourselves in the bottle. I think people can feel that. All our perfumes are made one by one by our lab technicians, our candles are hand poured individually in Mississippi and our concrete candle vessel is made by craftsmen in California. We make sure that the soul of our perfumes is carried by a soulful process across the board.


What is the process of creating a Le Labo fragrance?
The process starts with inspiration, then you go to the lab trying to shape it with a perfumer by a first draft with several ingredients. It takes a few years of wearing, smelling and various feedback that shape each visit back to the drawing board and tweaking the ingredients. Some of our perfumes required over 400 modifications, while some are less than 50. You’ll never know when the magic will happen.


Who or what inspires your fragrances? Do you have a personal favourite from Le Labo?
A woman, a man, a landscape, a tear, a leaf, a look, a silence. Anything, anytime, anywhere. My personal favourite would be Santal 33, it’s like my second skin now after all these years of wearing.


For someone who is still on the quest for a signature fragrance, what are the steps you think they should take as they embark on the journey?
Just trust your gut. Wear the perfumes you are interested in, use samples, don’t choose on a blotter. If after a few hours you feel that the perfume you have on skin is a fit, wear it for one more day. Is that what you want to smell like? Do you tell the world to view you as this? Does this perfume give you an edge? If the answer is still yes, then commit. Make this process very mindful. It’s quite an important one.


Finally, if you could bottle up any scent in the world, or even bottle up an experience, what would it be?
I’ve already done one: the pot pourri created by all the perfumes being sprayed at the end of the day when you enter our first Lolita store in NYC.  It is Le Labo’s soul “bottled” to me, especially because that’s where we started.


What To Read Next: Conversations: Alessandra Rich On Finding Inspiration In The UnexpectedConversations: Pixi’s Petra Strand Walks Us Through Her Beauty Routine and Conversations: Lev Glazman & Alina Roytberg, The Founders of Fresh | Cover Image: Courtesy of Le Labo

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