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Le Labo, Elizabeth Street, Nolita, NYC -

I was trolling around a few fragrance websites a while ago, and I found this article by blogger Claire Vukcevic called ‘The Top Ten Niche Fragrances Every Beginner Should Sample’. It’s a really well-written piece and she makes a lot of good points for why she made the choices she did.

As I read through the article, I realized that Kay and I have blogged about nearly all of them: Absolue Pour Le Soir by Maison Francis Kurkdijan, Incense: Avignon by Comme des Garcons, Black Aoud by Montale, Chergui by Serge Lutens, Knize Ten by Knize, L’Air du Desert Marocain by Tauer Perfumes and Timbuktu by L’Artisan Parfumeur. And now I’m adding another: Patchouli 24 by Le Labo.

Patchouli 24 was launched in 2006 by Le Labo, a New York based niche perfume house founded in the same year by Eddie Roschi and Fabrice Penot. Together these creative directors have worked with some of the best noses in perfumery – Michel Almairac (Ambrette 9), Daphne Bugey’s (Lys 41), Maurice Roucel (Jasmine 17 and Labdanum 18) and one of my faves, Annick Ménardo  who signed Patchouli 24. Each fragrance is built around a dominant note with the number in the name referring to the number of raw ingredients used in the formula.

“Le Labo” translates into English as "the laboratory" and that’s the esthetic of the brand. The stores are sparse – no frou-frou décor or flowery signs or labels with flowing script here. The sales people wear waxed canvas aprons and your juice of choice is mixed right in front of you, giving the impression of a custom-made fragrance. Then your name is printed on the utilitarian label and on the brown cardboard box. It’s all very lab-like and a tad perfunctory, if you ask me.

But the fragrances! There is nothing perfunctory about them.
Each one is built around a dominant note with the number in the name referring to the number of raw ingredients used in the formula. And Roschi and Penot have worked with some of the best noses in perfumery – Michel Almairac (Ambrette 9), Daphne Bugey’s (Lys 41), Maurice Roucel (Jasmine 17 and Labdanum 18) to produce some real stunners, like Patchouli 24, signed by Annick Ménardo.

I have been rolled back on my heels by many a patchouli fragrance – the dirty yet refined Patchouli Impérial, the stylish and sophisticated Patchouli Intense, the resinous and deep Elixir Patchouli and that dirty, dirty Patchouli from Santa Maria Novella, but Patchouli 24 is like a lover that won’t be denied.

It opens with a heady floral accord that yields quickly to the smell of smoke from birch tar. That swirling smoke is captivating and evocative. It’s the smoke from smoldering embers – not a camp fire as in Lonestar Memories, and it lingers and lingers, the way smoke lingers on clothes for days. On me the patchouli is hanging back, but I feel it there, dark and a little sweet.  Then comes the irresistible smell of worn leather and I suddenly feel like I’m sitting in an old leather armchair by a fire in a library. Oh, baby, keep pulling me in! And it does when a whiff of balsam breaks through the smokiness. Then a note of creamy, custardy vanilla rises up from my skin and balances the smoke, the leather and the darkness.

The drydown on me has a little smokiness, but it really is about that vanilla/patchouli accord. The patchouli here is smooth and some of the characteristics that it’s known (and loved for) the dirtiness, the rootiness and the earthiness, don’t stand out here. This is patchouli reimagined by the master of smoke, Annick Ménardo.

As for the ‘The Top Ten Niche Fragrances Every Beginner Should Sample’, well, is it really a list for beginners? I think of it as a list of discovery, because every time I go back and wear the fragrances on it I have the pleasure of rediscovery.

Patchouli 24 is listed in our Decant Store. Decants are $7.00 for 1 ml.

Guerlain Lui bottle, re-designed "tea caddy" 1929 Guerlain bottle

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I’ve learned to skip over perfume marketing hype. I wrote about Odin 09 Posala few years ago, a truly unusual floral with fruit tones and an earthy leathery smokiness from tobacco and benzoin. It belongs to a collection of fragrances by Odin New York, a menswear retailer boldly self-described by the two owners, Eddy Chai and Paul Birardi as “one of the first lifestyle stores dedicated to men”. Really? The first in New York? Maybe the first on that block on that street in New York! I laughed when I read the marketing hype, but it was a different story when I finally got to try the Odin fragrance collection.

I fell for Odin 09 Posala just seconds after I took the cap off the tester and spritzed the back of my hand. Wham! Right into my brain! This fragrance has what I call the ”art part”, that special odd note or combination of notes that makes a fragrance transcend the sum of its components and which, if they weren’t included, would make it smell merely good, nice, or wearable. The “art part” is the olfactory magic created by the perfumer, and the perfumer who created Odin 09 Posala is Delphine Jelk.

We stopped by the Guerlain on Bloor Street a couple of months ago so I could finally buy Jicky parfum. I’d been dreaming about it, my birthday was coming up, and it was time to make this dream come true! We were greeted by enthusiastic staff who insisted we try the brand-new Exclusive Collections release, Lui. We listened politely to the their marketing spiel, how Lui** was “about the idea of a universal perfume… a fragrance for a new gender order, created to be free from the norms of gender…a combination of male and female…created with an ambiguous fragrance trail…based on benzoin…alternately floral, powdery, spicy or woody…”.

It crossed my mind that this wasn’t news for Guerlain, they’ve been creating non-gendered, ambiguous scents for almost two centuries, many of which I love and wear frequently, such as JickyShalimarMitsoukoHabit Rouge EdPHeritage, VetiverDerby, Vol de Nuit. But I’m always up for something new so I held out my hand for a spritz, and wouldn’t you know, the Odin 09 Posola thing happened. Wham! Right into my brain! Lui has the “art part”, and wouldn’t you also know, the perfumeurs are Delphine Jelk, now Guerlain perfumer, and Guerlain Creative Director Thierry Wasser.

So Lui is about benzoin, the comforting sweet balsamic resin from the styrax tree that is similar to vanilla and makes amber smell like amber, smooth soft sweet and rounded. Benzoin is used as a fixative in fragrances, pulling notes together, creating texture in accords and filling in spaces with wafts of soft leather, sweet smoke, sanded polished woods. Benzoin is warm and comforting and powerful.

Guerlain lists the notes in Lui as carnation, balms, and leather but there’s much more going on. Other sites list benzoin, clove, pear, carnation, vanilla, white musk, smoke. The first sniff of my wrist is medicinal and plastic-y but this immediately sweetens with a delicious spicy-but-light clove carnation note, lifted up on a big wave of benzoin with smoky sandalwood facets. Powdery and spicy and floral in the best possible way, Lui settles in on my skin and begins to unwind.

Buttery dark vanilla joins with the spicy clove, adding warmth and texture and a little more sweetness into the heart, so that the carnation comes into full bloom, elegant and controlled, never heavy or sharp. In the dry-down, the carnation fades away when the benzoin kicks in full time, its balsamic nature creating an soft honeyed accord of velvety sueded leather, vanilla and musk, an accord which becomes surprisingly light and almost transparent. Accented with pale wafts of smoke, the sillage is intimate but lasts on skin for hours.

In the past week, I’ve tested Lui on my husband and myself and it definitely passes the non-gendered sniff test.  We both like it – a lot. Lui unfolds in a linear mode, pretty much in the order of the note list, but it’s not simple or boring by any means. A more true description is that the fragrance owns a seamless simplicity, an understated expensive elegance that I find extremely appealing. It has great warmth and smells really good, inviting, and comforting, and radiates a “lean-in” quality that fascinates me.

For Guerlain, Lui isn’t groundbreaking. It joins the long line of classic Guerlain scents that have preceded it in the non-gendered category. It is designed for our times. Not dark, or loud, or polarizing, the elements in Lui are ingeniously tuned to end in a soothing quietly powerful harmony, a little bit of art that I think we should experience frequently in our daily lives.

**Note:  The name Lui is truly non-gendered since the French objective pronoun lui is used to refer to either “him” or “her” as in “Je lui ai demandé - I asked him/her”. 

Lui is listed in our Decant Store. Decants are $7.00 for 1 ml.


Welcome to


"She smelled the way the Taj Mahal looks by moonlight."
                                                                       Raymond Chandler

We are Gwen and Kay, two perfumistas making our scent journey in the cool, clear North.  We are also BFFs - we hang out together a lot, travel together - so we try, buy and share fragrances.
What started out as a shared interest grew into a hobby, and has now become our obsession.

We’ve spent many evenings with a glass of prosecco, a little cool jazz playing in the background, spritzing, sniffing - “How does this smell on you?” and, sadly, sometimes scrubbing.

Over the past few years, we’ve tried hundreds of samples, and when we deem a fragrance ”full bottle worthy” (FBW), one of us has tracked it down and bought it. We now own a lot of really great perfumes, and we continue to buy bottles of what we think is the best of "niche" as new scents are launched.

With so many exciting discoveries, we can’t help but talk about our passion with other friends. Wherever we go, people ask “What is that perfume you’re wearing? Where can I get that?” So we end up sharing a bit of our “juice” with friends. But the circle has grown, so we've started this website to let other perfumistas buy and try samples from our collections, and share their experiences with us, too, through Comments.
We blog
We blog once a week and post an story about a scent from our collections, and add it to our Decant Store. We're not scent experts, so these aren't critical reviews. We love all our fragrances  - that’s why we bought them! But we describe how we think they smell, and share our stories about why we love them - maybe you’ll rediscover an old flame, or fall in love with a new scent.
Or we post "Nose-to-Nose", our conversations about whatever has grabbed our attention over the past week. Or we write about a specific perfume note,  and offer a Decant Pack, which allows you to buy our selection of 3 or 4 fragrances in a special pack at a special discount price.
We sell
We sell 1 ml. decants - .7 ml volume once you allow for the stopper in the vial - filled from our own bottles in our collection because the only way to experience a fragrance is to try it on your own skin. We take the fragrance from its original bottle and decant it into a smaller brand-new, 1 ml sterilized glass vials so that you can try it on your skin to see if you like it.
Through our Decant Store you'll have access to some of the world’s greatest niche scents, hard-to-find fragrances, and classic favourites. 
When you click on the Decant Store tab you’ll find our personal descriptions of each of the fragrances we currently offer from our collection, then you can add them to your Shopping Cart.
Let's be clear (this is a disclaimer!!)

  • We don’t sell full bottles of any fragrance - just .7ml decants. We only sell decants  from the perfumes we've bought.... because we love them.
  • We don't re-sell manufacturers samples.
  • We don’t represent any perfumers or distributors, so we don’t have every scent from a whole line of perfume.
  • We aren’t being paid to promote any product or scent.

If, after sampling a fragrance, you decide that you must have it, i.e. it is FBW (full bottle worthy), and you can’t find it, e-mail us and we will direct you to the best source we know – retailer or online source.

We provide
A place for you to learn about scent, and to share your fragrance experience with others. Click on the section called Resources, under My Perfume Notes (see top right), where  you'll find a Glossary, and fragrance FAQs. You'll also find two great tools we've created - Handmaps and My Sample Perfume Notes - so you can keep track of, and record your own scent experiences.
We hope you enjoy, and visit us often. Leave your preconceptions behind, look around, see what’s on offer, read the Blog, share your experiences and discoveries, and join the circle.

It’s just us.