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