Whenever I plan to spend a weekend working, I always think, “Here’s the time to finally get loads of stuff done.” I plan to write heavy tomes, set up an immaculate folder system on my computer, tick things in my diary and then that little whisper inside me says, “Pssssst, what about all the other things?” Then I’m faced with the vision, that in the past no matter what amount of hard work I did, I constantly ended up losing (egg and spoon races, x-factor style singing competitions, gymnast of the year). But better surely that these moments are remembered now in the safe knowledge that the sting has been squeezed out of these experiences by the weight of time. For what is life if not a laboratory where one can experiment and make mistakes and eventually be a winner? Like Charlie Sheen.
So what has me talking about losing when this bottle of Le Labo Rose 31, the first fragrance I had specially mixed for me, the fragrance that you can have specifically mixed for you, quite clearly looks like a winner? Well the day I nipped gingerly through Liberty London’s doors I was in full losing face mode in preparation for The Lovie Awards later that evening. Spotting the Le Labo counter and remembering that I’d turned down an invitation extended to me to try out this service in the past because truthfully, I was too preoccupied lusting and (WO)man handling Liberty london’s leather goods and stationery, I decided to maybe give it a go. They said it was a unique experience and the juice would last a year and seeing as Liberty London is my favorite London department store and… well you understand.
At this point I approached Jovana Kalkan, master mixer at the Le Labo counter and asked tentatively who her customers were. “People who want a personalized fragrance with their name on it,” she said. “And people who want to make a statement through their perfume.” I can’t honestly place myself in the second category, but having ones name on something is kinda cool so on we went. I liked Jovana a lot. She was honest, didn’t try to make me take anything I didn’t want (or need).
First she explained that the different fragrances came in three sizes. 50ml, 100ml juice and a gel/balm stick which came in a tube not much bigger than a lipstick. Do you think I should think about spritzing the perfume before I leave the house and then bring about the gel stick in my bag for top ups? I asked. “No,” she said. “Why would you do that? I’d use it more for air travel,” she added. Good idea. The other point about Jovana is she’d been mixing Le Labo a good while at Liberty so it seemed reasonable to turn the entire decision-making process over to her. And what a lot of decisions there were to make.
Flowers. Did I like flowers? I said yes but rarely as a fragrance, too pretty. I like dark, rich, rolling smells like a warm little wild animal, curled up on an old leather chesterfield, living in an abandoned library. Jovana said she understood and that Rose 31 would suit me, it was a man’s scent with a dark underbelly, but not too heavy. The fragrance notes are Grasse rose, pepper, olibanum, clove, cumin, nutmeg, cedar, amber, gaïac wood, oudh wood, and vetiver. I spritzed a tester and I was charmed. On my woolen sleeves Rose 31 was deep, dusty and dry, earthy, like I let my arms traipse through heavy undergrowth on a wet day in blooming woodland. Anything else?
Well before all these choices, of course, came my nerdy obsession with science. Professor Trygg Engen, a professor of psychology at Brown University, found that people recall smells with 65 percent accuracy after a year and that olfactory recall is much more reliable than visual memory. And while the grownups were busying themselves with life my little childhood nose was sniffing about in the Irish countryside, sniffing the aroma of wood burning fires, the incense at church, sniffing wet little wild animals, horses, leather boots and it being Ireland wet woods, wet grass, wet gloves from climbing wet trees.
Therefore the categories of perfume I most like now are either the musks, leathers or the woods. Wood is a perfume category most popular for mens fragrance and I especially like the ingredient vetiver. Over time I’ve tried a vast number of vetiver scents and the one which I’ve found which suits me most is Sycomore from the Les Exclusifs line by Chanel. It’s a great big whopper of a bottle (200ml) and has become my signature fragrance, (until they decide to stop making it of course). I like Chanel Sycomore because it smells of bark and trunk and charred burnt things. Like fresh branches burning in a temple. There’s something comforting and welcoming about it so I WAS already a fan of woody scents.
“Yes,” Jovana agreed and explained that the duo behind this French company Le Labo (Edouard Roschi and Fabrice Penot), wanted the customer to experience this type of recall as much as possible so they created these lab-like boutiques in London, Los Angeles, Tokyo and New York plus a host of Le Labo “corners” all around the world like this one in Liberty London’s beauty hall. Jovana also explained that she was specially trained to mix each scent in front of me to a secret recipe. She then hand-poured and mixed the juice and sealed it all within full view.
While Jovana went through all of this, I had to write my name down (see above) so she could get the spelling correct on the customized bottle and box. (Both bottle and box can be labelled with a name or message of your choice.) I apologised for my writing but I was genuinely fascinated, cocking my head side-ways watching the process unfold, unaware that rainwater was dripping from my coat, camera and pen. Sorry for the fat writing I said. Jovana smiled, much too polite to use the f-word. How did she put it? Oh yes, “I’ll make allowance because you’ve just come in from the wet outdoors.” Nice. While Jovana customized the bottle and the box….
….A couple beside me at the counter spritzed one of Le Labo’s other fragrances. “You look confused,” Jovana said. You’ve got that right, I replied. Birch tar (smells like burnt wood) I love it, I suggested tentatively. Jovana nodded. And (this one took me ages)… is that vanilla in it? She nodded again. The mix is rare, leathery, smoky birch tar and soft vanilla and a little patchouli all in the one bottle. It had a bit in common with another fragrance I wear from the leather family of fragrances called Cuir de Russie by Chanel. But this Le Labo leather smell was smokier and darker like charred wood and 50′s car seats. And I guessed it would have long staying power on wool. Jovana gave me a look. “Yes this is all very true,” she said. So what do you think I did next?
Yup! More mixing, more customizing and more boxing up. A 100ml bottle of Patchouli 24 was added to my collection.
Later that evening back home, pre awards ceremony the spritzing and layering of new perfume continued as a calming mechanism… one last spritz as I practiced my loser face before going out the door and despite everything I’d done wrong in the past, the evidence a few hours later was that I was accidentally holding two awards (and this time I wasn’t minding them for anybody else). So with no powers of foresight, but with a generous dollop of hindsight one never really knows do they? And heres a warning… I’m no one to copy. The funeral pace of my own learning curve is infamous in certain circles. “Hey wouldn’t it be quicker just to get someone else to do all this research for you” someone recently said while watching me stab away at my notebooks with a pen, tongue stuck out in concentration while someone concocted yet another amazing new thing. Nah! I explained. I’m fine. I like learning things myself, even if it means asking loads of questions and making tons of mistakes. It’s made me forgive the mistakes that others inadvertatnly make.
So you might consider having a bottle of Le Labo made up in Liberty London or at the many stores they have dotted about the place. It’s a beautiful Valentines gift idea or maybe just simply buck the trend this year and just reward yourself?