The fragrance is an earthy blend of musks and it’s “very spiritual”, says Penot. “It matches our perception of the Japanese culture. Not the shyness necessarily but the idea of a perfume that would not speak louder than you.”
GAIAC 10 is inspired by the Japanese ceremony of Kodo (“the way of incense”), incense being the earliest form of perfume. In the practice, a story is told with characters introduced along with a scent. At the end of the tale, participants are asked to re-identify the characters based on their fragrance.
Penot and partner Edouard Roschi played the game, before the watchful eyes of WWD and Kodo experts, fearing an embarrassing failure that was, of course avoided. “At that point it was as much lottery as perfumery.”
On LE LABO
The two founded LE LABO (“the lab”) with only their personal savings and a small handful of believers. To this day they’ve no investors and a resolute commitment to “staying great instead of being big.”
Their growth has been entirely organic and LE LABO is still very small compared to competition. “We are remaining that way. It is our goal. When you start to become big it is very hard to keep the quality of your products.”
From pure, rare ingredients to in-store mixing and personalized labels, LE LABO may actually be practicing alchemy.
The fragrances are named for the main ingredient and then the number of ingredients in the formula. AMBRETTE 9 has the fewest elements and VETIVER 46 the most. But, says Penot, “the complexity of a perfume doesn’t come from the number of ingredients. A perfume with many ingredients could be very simple and one with few could be very complex. It’s like with music, you don’t need a lot of notes to create an interesting composition.”
Simplicity, editing and exquisite quality make LE LABO endearing, sincere and sexy.
Though, the exclusivity doesn’t appeal to everyone. Their city exclusive fragrances bring bitterness from clients unable to travel to purchase, and, says Penot, “frankly, make no sense from a financial perspective. GAIAC 10 could easily be a best seller, but to keep it special is part of the spirit of LE LABO. As consumers, we have everything we want right away. Today there is a globalization of luxury that makes everything available everywhere. We think that is boring. We’re not interested in just putting products on the shelves and selling them; we’re interested in telling stories.”
“LE LABO has a story to tell over there. We are so close to Japan even in aesthetic because all of our creations are shaped from the philosophy of ‘wabi-sabi’: the art of imperfection and an awareness of the impermanence of things.”
Hence, also LE LABO’s interior and product aesthetic.
“We believe in the celebration of fragility and lived-in objects. And people.”
On NEW YORK
“It’s terrible and it’s also impossible to leave. What you can do here in a year, will take five … eight years in Paris. I don’t let anybody bitch about New York.”
Penot credits New York with the LE LABO launch success. Their goal at startup was to sell four bottles a day, which was already “crazy”, yet by their first holiday season, LE LABO was bidding adieu to 75 bottles daily. TUBEROSE 40 is the New York exclusive fragrance. The melange of bergamote, meroli, rosemary, orange blossom, tuberose, sandalwood and more is a representation of the diversity and varietal life in the city.
“I can read articles about New York forever without being bored. The experiences of the people here, the hate, the love. It’s not stopping. It’s not going anywhere. The magic is still there.”
“There is a spark, an idea that you want to materialize so that it can take a permanent form. It may come from wood, a book, picture, flower … it can come from anything. Usually for us it’s very conceptual.”
Penot and Roschi act as Creative Directors, collaborating with some of the world’s best perfumers to build new scents.
“Our creations are defined by their imperfections. There were more than 1,000 new perfumes on the market last year and they are all basically perfect. They’ve been over-produced and tested in focus groups and reworked until there is nothing left. The imperfections in our perfumes are the guarantee that they have a soul.”
To unearth that soul, the pair go through scent drafts with the perfumer. That is: consider a scent, return it with edits, ideas and direction for the next draft, and repeat.
The brand new SANTAL 33 counted 417 drafts over the course of three years. The final version has been on Penot’s wrist for the last five months.
“Because the only way to understand a perfume – like a woman – is to live with it, sleep with it, for a long time.”
“It’s not my style to be satisfied. I am always frustrated. But there is a lot of very good news right now. I am amazingly lucky. Where is wood to knock on?”
Laughing, Penot looks around quickly and then pulls a small piece of sandalwood from his pocket, inhales … winks.
Purchase the Tokyo exclusive GAIAC 10 at LE LABO stores or online before May 15th.
100% of proceeds will be donated to the Japanese Red Cross.
Photos exclusive for Trendland by Adam Sinding of Le 21ème Arrondissement.
More information at www.lelabofragrances.com
An exclusive interview with Fabrice Penot, co-founder of LE LABO
On GAIAC 10
“It’s like with children – you can’t choose your favorite but this is a very special scent. The GAIAC – I come back always to it. Always, always, always.” – Fabrice Penot
GAIAC 10 is the Tokyo exclusive fragrance usually available only in the Japanese Le Labo store, but until May 15th will be for sale online and at all retail locations with 100% of proceeds donated to the Japanese Red Cross. The formula is based on the rare Gaiac wood, which legend tells arrived on the Japanese shore, smoking and emitting a captivating scent.
May 19 13 @ 5:16 PMIron & Wine at The Capitol Theatre
May 20 13 @ 5:32 PMTom Petty & the Heartbreakers
May 21 13 @ 5:23 PMMoMA's Annual Party in the Garden
May 22 13 @ 5:37 PMof Montreal at Music Hall of Williamsburg
May 23 13 @ 5:27 PMØDD Spring Sale
May 24 13 @ 5:40 PMYacht at Shea Stadium
May 25 13 @ 5:50 PMJames Murphy and Special Guests at Grand Prospect Hall
May 26 13 @ 5:54 PMOneohtrix Point Never at Saint Vitus
May 27 13 @ 6:01 PMA conversation With James Murphy
May 28 13 @ 5:46 PMNaoaki Funayama: X-don at Ouchi Gallery