Le Labo is a New York fragrance house owned by two French entrepreneurs and fragrance lovers. It's very niche, but also very international, with stand-alone stores in New York, LA, Tokyo and London (as well as the Liberty counter, pictured above). It has a distinctive style of marketing and presenting its scents - each one is made to order at the counter using a mix of oils and ethanol that are hand-blended together. The bottle is then labelled with your name, the date and the place of manufacture. (There's also a "fresh until" date, but Marc at Liberty explained that like any fragrance, how long it lasts depends on how you store it, so provided it's kept out of sunlight, a Le Labo fragrance can last around 3.5 years.) Despite the attentive mixing and labelling procedure, the atmosphere on the counter is very low-pressure. You're actively encouraged to smell and wear the different fragrances at your leisure, with no aggressive sales-pitching or steering from the staff. Bliss!
It was this approach that really allowed me to get interested in the range. Having spent an idyllic half-hour at the counter late last year, I'd ordered up a batch of sample vials from LuckyScent and spent some quality time trying them at home for several months. The scents are all powerful, original and very gender-neutral, and come in clinical-looking but old-fashioned glass bottles. The names are as straightforward as can be - each one is composed of the fragrance's chief note, followed by a number that reflects how many ingredients are in the mix.
I knew pretty definitely that Rose 31 was the scent I wanted to try first. It's a rose designed to be wearable by men. For me, the composition couldn't be more perfect - under a delicate rose top note, there's a heart of spices, woods and smouldering incense on top of a base of light, skin-scented musk. I can definitely imagine a man wearing it, but it's equally suitable for women. In fact, when I met a woman wearing this scent one evening it smelled absolutely divine on her; full, dark and complex but not overly masculine at all.
Liberty's current GWP was the push I needed to take the plunge and buy a full bottle of Rose 31. On offer is a Liberty print makeup bag filled with skincare and makeup miniatures from various high-end brands including ESPA, Ren, Hourglass and Trish McEvoy. The spend threshold is £90. A 50ml bottle of Le Labo EDP costs £90. It was obviously meant to be.
The service I received at the counter was impeccable. Marc, the sales assistant I met, is clearly a passionate fragrance lover and gave impartial but very knowledgeable advice about the range and about fragrance in general. He took obvious pleasure in mixing, labelling and boxing up my Rose 31, flourishing tissue paper as he wrapped the bottle for transit in its personally labelled box. He placed it reverently in a Liberty bag before walking around the counter to place it in my hands and thanking me by name. In a city where sales assistants are often rushed or tied into aggressive sales protocols, it was a real breath of fresh air to get such attentive and gracious service without a hint of pushiness or upsell. I left feeling really positive and happy.
So, I'm in love with my Rose 31 and have been wearing it constantly since purchase. If you get the chance, try it (and the rest of the Le Labo line) at Liberty or in the Le Labo Marylebone store. EDP 50ml is £90, and 100ml is £132. You can also refill your empty bottles at lightly lower prices - from memory, the 50ml refill is £72, and given how much I love Rose 31 so far I think I'll probably be taking advantage of this within the next 6 months.
Finally, a word about the GWP. The contents of the bag do vary, so I thought it may be helpful to show what I received in mine. L-R: Dermalogica daily microfoliant mini, Cowshed Moody Cow body lotion mini, Aesop body lotion mini, Shu Uemura lash application voucher (not sure if this includes the lashes themselves), Korres 2x echinacea facial soap for oily skin, Trish McEvoy eyeliner mini, Bamford bath oil mini, full size Hourglass mascara, Kiehls body lotion mini, ESPA floral toner mini, Ren Rose Otto bath oil mini. (There was also a Malin+Goetz shaving gel mini, but I gave it to a male friend so it's missing from the pic.)