How Le Labo disrupted the fragrance world to become an instant cult hit

Le Labo fragrance bottles
Cassie Steer,-Beauty Editor At Large

One of the coolest brands around, Le Labo has earned cult status. Here’s how two friends created something truly original

‘Disruptor’ is a term that’s bandied about a fair bit in the beauty world these days, but when it comes to cult fragrance brand Le Labo, it’s a badge of honour that’s very much befitting. Conceived by friends Fabrice Penot and Eddie Roschi back in the noughties, this trailblazing brand first burst onto the fragrance scene with the opening of their shop in 2006 in the trendy Nolita area of New York, and it hasn’t looked back. A bastion of cool from the outset, the shop offered something totally different from what was on the market at the time – namely unisex, artisanal perfume with a touch of irreverence – and it hailed a welcome antidote to the mass-produced, identikit olfactory offerings people were used to.

‘The world has changed in the last 13 years,’ says Fabrice Penot. ‘Back then, there was very little choice in perfumery for those people who were tired of the marketing tricks played by designer brands and who wanted a great, creative, high-quality perfume. We wanted to propose an alternative – in the perfume itself, but also by sharing the backstage of perfume creation, showing the craftsmanship behind a true fine fragrance. By using the best ingredients in the world, by blending every fragrance to order, by a permanent reverence to craftsmanship, we decided to challenge the perfume status quo.’

Perfumer mixing fragrance

And challenge it they did. The now cult classic Santal 33 (the number in the name refers to the number of notes in each composition) was an unexpected hit, stirring the senses of fashionistas, celebrities and scent snobs alike. Inspired by an old Marlboro advert, this leathery, musky ode to the great American cowboy is still a bestseller.‘In every perfume we create, we invest the same amount of time, creation, trials and love,’ says Fabrice. ‘Each time, I expect the next perfume to move people the same way it moves me, although obviously it doesn’t happen every time. But Santal 33 is another level of success. As a perfumer, you always secretly hope but you never expect to have such an impact – it happens once in a lifetime, if you’re very, very lucky. Our Santal 33 clients are split 50/50 between men and women, proving that magic is genderless.’

Le Labo Santal 33

Indeed, the brand has been resolutely unisex long before it became a marketing ploy. And it’s this authenticity that ensures Le Labo continues to stay relevant. Cruelty-free, and in the case of its new skincare line, paraben and colour-free too, it’s the commitment to doing things with meaning that continues to set it apart from its peers. This is especially important now it’s vying for space in the skincare arena, with body, hair, face and men’s grooming products. 

‘We wanted to do something which had the right intention and which made a difference, but it took a while,’ explains Fabrice. ‘Doing simple things is probably the hardest thing to do, but when you reach that form of simplicity that we were looking for, it all of a sudden makes sense.’  

This translates as a core collection of 16 unisex perfumes (the friends met when they were both working at Giorgio Armani fragrances in Paris, so fragrance is second nature to them), nine soy-based wax candles and a city-exclusive collection of 11 scents, only available in the metropolises they’re intended for. ‘The future of luxury lies in craftsmanship,’ says Fabrice, and we here at John Lewis & Partners couldn’t agree more.

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