Since its inception in 2006, the Le Labo brand’s luxury perfumes and candles have gained a cult following across its native New York City – and not because Beyoncé burned two of its candles in Lemonade. Well, not only, anyway.
The niche brand has opened up 40 boutiques across 14 countries – its Melbourne store is the latest. For those who haven’t yet stepped into a Le Labo boutique on their travels across the northern hemisphere, the first thing you’ll notice about the brand’s Australian boutique on Gertrude Street is its austerity.
For a luxury brand, Le Labo’s aesthetic direction is atypical. Its products sit in a shell of a building (formerly the Title Records store), surrounded by peeling walls, stripped-back wooden ceiling beams, and weathered shelves.
The design decisions are a product of Le Labo’s time. When the brand’s founders Edouard Roschi and Fabrice Penot launched over 10 years ago, they were railing against the glossy, exaggerated marketing surrounding designer perfumes.
Instead, Le Labo philosophy is stripped back, driven by wabi-sabi – the Japanese aesthetic concept of beauty in imperfection, impermanence, roughness and simplicity.
The brand’s biggest selling point is its “fresh fragrance” method. Once you’ve settled on one of its 15 genderless fragrances, you can watch the assistant blend the scent on the spot, compounding eau de parfum oil with an ethanol component and, depending on the recipe, a little distilled water. The final touch is a customisable label to affix onto your bottle. Most people get their name or a special message printed, but emojis are now also an option.
Keep in mind that this is not a bespoke fragrance service. Roschi and Penot take at least two years to release a fragrance – even then, additions to the 15-scent collection are rare. In past interviews, Roschi has remarked that the brand “probably will share with clients 10 per cent of what we work on”. “It strikes an emotional chord in you [when] you know that it’s right,” Roschi says. “It’s a lot of trial and error, fine tuning, and mix of creative emotional impact and technical performance.”
“The aim is to shock a little bit,” says Le Labo’s retail operations manager in Australia, Sueanne O’Leary. “At Le Labo, we have an irreverent approach to a lot of things, so some scents can be a bit polarising. We want people to have a reaction rather than no reaction.”
Le Labo’s fragrance names correspond directly to their content. For example, the Patchouli24 is so-called because its principal ingredient by weight is patchouli. The number next to the name refers to the number of ingredients in a scent.
At the Gertrude Street store, you’ll find the full Le Labo range. Along with fragrance, there are accompanying body-care products, and even laundry detergent. There are eight unique home fragrances, also replicated across the candle range. And in case you were wondering, Beyoncé was burning the Santal 26 in her Sandcastles clip.
183 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy
03 9417 1522
Monday to Saturday 10:00 am–6:00 pm
Sunday 11:00 am–5:00 pm