Le Labo Vanille 44 : Perfume Review

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It’s vanilla! It’s expensive! Strike that; it’s very expensive! And it’s very, very good.  Bad news: It’s only occasionally sold in America.  Occasionally means three times in five years*. It’s Le Labo Vanille 44, an ultra-smooth vanilla pod with woody kick from the trendy Le Labo line whose price ($290 for 50 ml; $440 for 100 ml) jumps out because, well, I can’t afford it and neither can any of my friends.  On second thought, maybe one friend can, but he’s a movie producer and can also afford a five-bedroom home in the Malibu Colony.

Le Labo is the dual-citizenship Grasse-New York house that in addition its regular line of perfumes has a set of City Exclusives whose number supposedly mirrors the number of ingredients that enter into the composition and whose fragrances are only available in the cities that bear their name.  These cost more than the regular line. First-class travel always does. To that end, they issued Tubéreuse 40 (New York); Aldehyde 44 (Dallas); Poivre 23 (London); Gaiac 10 (Tokyo); Musc 25 (Los Angeles); Baie Rose 26 (Chicago); and Vanille 44 (Paris).  To celebrate the recent opening of their Paris boutique, Le Labo made Vanille 44 available in the US for one month via their website and Luckyscent, which gave me a chance to sample this perfume.

Vanille 44 is not really vanilla. It’s a dry vanilla pod that explores the woody angle of the pod, leaving out the sugary cupcake aspects that have mostly defined vanilla in the last decade. In its place is what Le Labo describes as “vanilla disguised,” and that it is, by incense, guaiacwood (smoky rose), hedione (jasmine-like, for luminosity) and pipol (tarry, smoked tea).  Primarily it’s a woody frankincense spun around a subterfuge vanilla.  It does smell different enough to arouse not just interest, but excitement, among those of us who like vanilla as a woody, but not as a dessert, element.

Vanille 44 is just inventive enough; it stops shy of being creatively awkward.  Moreover, Vanille 44 is restrained.  There’s no real development, so the first spray is pretty much it, except for a brief and enjoyable bergamot near the top that vanishes when you try to track it down later, like an olfactory bloodhound.

So, how does Vanille 44 compare to other vanillas?  Although it explores the same woody facets of the pod as does L’Artisan Havana Vanille (now called Vanille Absolument,) it’s more cold-cream vanilla.  Parfums de Nicolaï Vanille Tonka has more citrus and frankincense and the vanilla is more recessive. Guerlain’s Spiritueuse Double Vanille has a floral (rose) component that makes it farthest away from Vanille 44.  Serge Lutens Un Bois Vanille is more outright gourmand and sweeter.

Now that I have finished my two-week fling with the sample, I am going to have to leave it at that.  It’s a love I cannot justify, so it will have to remain frozen in time, a nearly perfect vanilla scent celebrating in 44 notes an ordinary ingredient in an extraordinary presentation.  I’d go through it in two months and then would have to resort to mashing up and percolating my own vanilla beans in ethyl alcohol in an attempt to recreate it. I might blow something up.

*Le Labo did wide-release availability of its City scents in 2009 and in 2011.

Photography (1st image) by chinogypsie via Flickr, some rights reserved

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26 Comments

  • Sylvia: I love the marriage between eloquence and knowledge in your writing. October 19, 2012 at 7:33am Reply

    • Suzanna: Thank you so much, Sylvia! October 19, 2012 at 11:50am Reply

  • Ferris: I love a great vanilla scent, reminds me of cakes and cookies baking in the oven during the holidays. Vanilla is one of those very comforting scents that makes you forget all your troubles, for a little while at least. It is wonderful that Le Labo has placed vanilla on the pedestal it deserves. Good for Le Labo, but bad for me, since I could never afford such a luxurious scent. Until somebody can reproduce a cheaper alternative, I will have to fantasize about this ellusive Vanilla 44 by Le Labo. October 19, 2012 at 9:38am Reply

    • Suzanna: Don’t think for a second that I can afford it either, Ferris! Ultimately it became a frustration for me because it was so lovely and so unaffordable! October 19, 2012 at 10:54am Reply

  • elizabeth: I’m waiting for a small decant of this to arrive, and your review has significantly upped my excitement!

    I wonder how it compares to my current favorite vanilla, the dry, smoky, and gorgeous 7 Billion Hearts by CB I Hate Perfume. Time will tell! Both are sadly beyond my budget in full-bottle form, so decants will have to do for now…until you finish percolating *your* vanilla beans, perhaps! October 19, 2012 at 10:57am Reply

    • Suzanna: I was wondering about that CB scent, Elizabeth, and haven’t tried it due to price.Too bad! October 19, 2012 at 11:50am Reply

      • elizabeth: Oh, I would say you *must* try it, but I don’t want to add another “love you cannot justify” to your list! It’s just the dreamiest in fall, though–I’ve been trying not to drain my sample too quickly, but I can’t resist. I look forward to finding out if I feel the same way about Vanille 44 (even if it does get added to my own ever-growing unjustifiable list). October 20, 2012 at 2:18pm Reply

        • Suzanna: Thing is, Elizabeth, I’ve been sampling fragrances for years and there’s always something new and exciting, so I don’t feel left out. I have a wishlist of about three items and the vanilla on it is Vanitas, from Profumum! October 20, 2012 at 2:57pm Reply

  • Anne Sheffield: Oh i am really into vanilla at the moment. And this sounds divine!!!! At the moment I am sampling eau Duelle de Dyptique! It is lovely! Not hugely memorable, but I enjoy the dry, woody, vanilla scent. October 19, 2012 at 12:01pm Reply

    • Suzanna: Thanks for mentioning that one, Anne. It’s something probably more people can access and enjoy. October 19, 2012 at 12:08pm Reply

  • civava: I can’t resist vanilla in any form. This one is really something special. It is very well blended and if I haven’t tried a bunch of vanilla scents before, I wouldn’t even know this is something extra. It is hard to describe what it is because it’s just a sligh nuance and it makes the scent so different from the others. I think it is the right balance between sweetness and woodyness and all the other ingredients. Now I have to stop thinking of it, because I can’t afford it. October 19, 2012 at 1:20pm Reply

    • Suzanna: Civava, I agree completely. I have also tried a lot of vanilla scents and there is something that sets this one apart. It is a tonal thing to me–it’s all very smoothly done, but with definite woody aspects that keep it interesting. October 19, 2012 at 1:32pm Reply

  • Undina: I’m not a big vanilla fan. I do not mind it but I get tired of too much vanilla in a perfume.
    When I tested Vanilla 44 for the first time I thought it was very nice. But later I had a chance to test it in parallel with Diptyque’s Eau Duelle and I remember thinking that while I thought V44 was slightly nicer I didn’t think it was four times nicer – and that was exactly the difference in price. October 19, 2012 at 3:28pm Reply

    • Suzanna: Fascinating observation! I must check out Eau Duelle, then! October 19, 2012 at 4:26pm Reply

  • silverdust: Sounds close (at least a tad) to Bois de Vanille. I’ve only tested the dupe, but it’s gorgeous. Would you say 44 is similar since they’re both billed as “woody vanillas”? October 19, 2012 at 5:12pm Reply

    • Suzanna: silverdust, Le Labo is more discreet than the Lutens, and does not have the strong gourmand notes. Overall the Lutens is a much louder, bigger, frag (I do love it, though, so this is not a swipe). It’s also sweeter. October 20, 2012 at 12:55am Reply

  • Andrea: Suzanna, Now my interest is perked! I will have to track down a sample. If I like it, I may begin to keep track of who tempts me to spend more money, you or V!:-)

    Is this fragrance considered to be for men and women? I typically prefer more feminine scents; would this qualify? I do like Duelle, but it has a note that is “jarring” to me, if this is missing that note, I will love it!

    I’m glad you won’t be blowing up anything, we would miss you! October 19, 2012 at 9:48pm Reply

    • Suzanna: Andrea, this is a unisex scent. However, it isn’t strictly feminine, but that shouldn’t stop you from trying.

      I’m a fragrance enabler, I know. October 20, 2012 at 12:53am Reply

  • JCParodi: I fell hard for this one, my first Vanilla centered scent, the magic in this scent is the captivating silage. It envelops you in soft woods, hints of insence mandarin , and a breathtaking vanilla note that is sheer, never potpourri like, or syrupy. The scent radiates and whispers to you all day. It wears well in any occasion, or season. It can go from the gym to the club. NOW the price, yes the almost 500.00 inc tax hurt. and the fact that it’s all I wear when not at work, ouch on the pocket book. However, Refills at any Le labo are 350.00, and I don’t smell it on anyone else. Plus I’m not spending hundreds on mediocre scent, Vanille 44 is the best vanilla scent in the world. period IMO.
    Now let’s talk about, Gaiac 10, the ONLY scent I wear to work……… October 20, 2012 at 1:47am Reply

    • Suzanna: JCParodi, perhaps we will tak about Gaiac 10! And thanks for weighing in with your thoughts about Vanille 44. October 20, 2012 at 8:09am Reply

  • Monica H.: So glad to see a review of this beauty Suzanna =) Vanille 44 is the one scent that I get strangers asking me what i’m wearing, even sales people from Roger Vivier! I’m a fan of the entire Le Labo line and JCParodi, I ADORE Gaiac 10 as well! October 20, 2012 at 7:57am Reply

    • Suzanna: Thanks for sharing your experience, Monica!I’m glad to hear from Vanille 44 wearers! October 20, 2012 at 8:08am Reply

    • JCParodi: Thank you. that’s so sweet. Blush. October 21, 2012 at 11:19pm Reply

  • Ariadne: This one sounds like an absolutely intoxicating blend…a tap of bergamot and then smoky tea? Yowza! I wonder if the same expression could be had by layering a few other perfumes though? I am Yankee frugal and enjoy the invention of less expensive as much as the quest of the sublime. October 22, 2012 at 7:22pm Reply

    • Suzanna: Ariadne, I don’t know anything else like it, but (a BIG but), you can take cues from it and build something special all your own. In many ways this is better, don’t you think? October 22, 2012 at 9:50pm Reply

  • Shaye: I sold some perfume to buy a decant of this stuff. I was overwhelmed by its beauty. I was also overwhelmed by its price-tag. Thank goodness for decants and facebook! October 2, 2015 at 1:44pm Reply

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