Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Le Labo Ylang 49

There's a unifying thread in the some of the work perfumer Frank Voelkl has done for Le Labo, but you'd have to consult another blogger to tell you in any kind of useful way what that is. All I can say is that I smell something in Iris 39 and Santal 33 that seems very much present in Ylang 49, which isn't much help. For lack of a better way to put it, I'll call it a certain kind of damp rooty tenacity, and if you feel Santal or Iris dig a little too deep, you might not cotton to Ylang.

Me, I like it plenty. Like everything else Le Labo produces, Ylang is loosely titled, and a novitiate to the brand might approach it with one presiding question: What ylang? The bigger question for me has to do with categorization in general. Is Ylang 49 aptly classified as a chypre? Seasoned vets have been remarking on the patchouli, the jasmine - but, especially, the oakmoss. I can't identify the latter any more than the ylang. That isn't a problem for me, as ultimately I'm perfectly happy with a fragrance I love, no matter what it's being called or is said to contain, but it does beg a few questions, and the disconnect fits right in with Le Labo's particular way with misrepresentation.

If you do smell the oakmoss, you'll be right on board with those calling this a chypre. Ylang 49 is being praised as a new kind of New Chypre - one that actually warrants the label. We're in a period of perfumery where almost anything can be called a chypre - and is. As in the film industry, where audience pre-awareness is crucial to the success of a new release, so in perfumery. Chypre is something of a franchise, and a franchise is an easier sell than many other things Ylang might be called.

As restrictions on oakmoss make chypres as we know them things of the past, a companion hunger for them metastasizes in those of us who hate to see them, and all their companion memories, go. The word chypre means something to a lot of people; never mind that, as we move farther and farther away from its original definition, it means less and less what it once did. There's every reason in the world for the perfume industry to make the category elastic, not least of which is capitalizing on the nostalgia generated by it being technically obsolete, but for me it's quite a stretch to apply it to Ylang 49, and replacing one memory with another isn't exactly what I'm after when seeking to preserve the past.

Ylang reminds me very much of Elie Saab, a favorite from a few years back. When I first sprayed it, I was amazed no one has compared them. Maybe it's early, or I'm imagining the similarity. If Le Labo's prices are a bit too aspirational for you, I suggest checking out Saab, which is also aspirational, but isn't quite the niche bracket either. I also see similarities to the much more affordable by far La Perla.

Like Saab and La Perla (which is, loosely, a rose chypre), Ylang has something that speaks back to vintage perfumery, which is to say pre-right now perfumery, right now being a fairly feeble, wan moment overall. Ylang has waft, presence, persistence, and richness. Any one of these qualities puts it ahead of the majority of its peers. It's a fragrance you put on to remind yourself why you love fragrance, as opposed to the very popular contemporary style of fragrance, crowding the shelves at the mall, which reminds you that not everyone does.

I agree with those who say that Ylang is simultaneously "there"and not there. It isn't anywhere close to sheer. It isn't anything remotely like a skin scent. You know at all times that you're wearing it, and I suppose others might too. And yet despite its intoxicating qualities, which amount to a kind of heady hothouse feel, it isn't bombastic. In this way, it's more contemporary than vintage. The patchouli, which is not so much a clean patch as a patch of the past, is unmistakable, which is either going to be a selling point or a death warrant, depending on your tastes (or aversions).

Ylang 49 is right up there with my favorite Le Labo fragrances, which include Aldehyde 44, Iris 39, Oud 27, Patchouli 24 (original), and Santal 33. It seems unisex to me, but I wear Poison, so I advise asking someone else.

(Photo:Nina Leen)


Blacknall Allen said...

You're on the opposite end of the current Le Labo seesaw from Mals at Muse in Wooden Shoes. She liked the Lys 41 and couldn't abide the Ylang 49.

Is there a material in here being used as a citrus frag base instead of oakmoss? Is it a milder citrus chypre? The Saab smells nothing like O de Lancome frankly, but I'm curious.

Brian said...

It doesn't at all surprise me that Mals can't abide Ylang. She's not a patch fan, and while Ylang is no head shop, it has enough patch in it to displease those who don't generally get into it.

When I ordered recently from Luckyscent and asked for a sample of Lys I was told it's the "better one" of the latest two. It is very nice. I can abide it. But Ylang is more a boat-floater for me.

I really don't know what the base is. It's typical of Voelkl, whatever it might be, to my nose. It does share something really specific with his Le Labo Iris. I feel like I detect a smidge of neroli, but I can't be sure. I really don't smell oakmoss or anything I regard as oakmoss-like.

Ylang is a very linear scent. So there's no real getting to know it better. Its only hope is instant like, and in my case it's instant love.

I've read about oakmoss substitutes but either they're not being used widely yet or their use isn't being discussed. I'm interested in knowing what they are and how they relate.

Susan said...

Like Elie Saab, eh? But Saab is so.... pretty? clean? not at all like people are describing Ylang 49.

Brian said...

Is it? I find that honey note a little - ever so slightly - not too pretty. And for some reason if you'd presented me with Ylang without telling me who did it or where it's from, removing all clues - I would have sworn it was Francis Kurkdjian. There's just something similar about Saab and Ylang.

Is Saab clean? My nose is so subjective!

Katy McReynolds said...

I find the Saab luminous, maybe not clean, but quite linear and not tenacious on my skin at all. The Saab also reminds me of that excellent Alien flanker you reviewed last Summer and which I subsequently purchased. There is a radiant aspect to these fragrances to my nose. Is the Ylang radiant?

Brian said...

Hmmm...I dunno. I do find the Ylang luminous, I think.

And now that you mention Alien I'm finding comparisons there. I need to be careful with these escalating comparisons. In the dry down it's not much like Alien, save for its position at Jasmine Headquarters. But up top it has some of Alien's weird qualities, something I've never been able to describe.

In the dry down it is VERY much about patchouli, and I suppose, the more time I spend with it, that I can see some of the old chypre in it.

It really does remind me, especially in the dry down, of La Perla and, say, Jil Sander Woman III, so maybe I'm smelling more chypre than I think I am and just don't "see" it, because when I think chypre I think more along the lines of Mitsouko than La Perla.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your refreshing honesty about this fragrance (and about Youth Dew recently; I'm a 43 year-old man and I don't know what will replace that fragrance...). I don't detect oakmoss at all in this scent. It should be classed along with Rossy de Palma and Lady Vengeance Extreme, as well as Perle de Mousse; to me these four are nearly indistinguishable. I get green notes, patchouli, rose, and a bit of some other floral notes, but that's really all. I am NOT a cheeky perfumista, but I sort of feel I've been around the block a couple of times with chypres. If this is a chypre, then that word has lost any clear meaning. Patchouli does not substitute for oakmoss, tree moss...there has to be a material to give it that bitterness and I don't detect it here. I'm grateful you straightforwardly called this fragrance on its claim, and I wish other reviewers would leave the bandwagon and ask after the emperor's clothes...thanks for a great, infrequent blog.

Brian said...

I think it does smell like a chypre to other people. I just can't really smell/see it.

Last night I sprayed on some Oha, and I thought, well, okay, there are some similarities - the problem is, Oha is 2005, a relatively recent iteration of chypre, and most of the chypres I could say Ylang relates to are from around that time.

Chypre is a pretty wide category - green, leather, rose, et al. But what constitutes a true chypre to me in the way I've come to define it doesn't exist any more. I think that's okay. I just think maybe it's time to stop tinkering around with the definition, to try a new word that represents this more contemporary style. Not that anything particularly new is possible at this point, but calling most of these post-restriction fragrances chypres is a little like calling an aquatic a floriental.

Elisa said...

I always thought Elie Saab smelled like a cross between Alien and NR for Her. Haven't smelled Ylang yet, but I requested a sample with a recent Lucky Scent order.

Elisa said...

P.S. LOL at your last sentence

Brian said...

I'll be really curious to hear what you think, E.

mals86 said...

You know, I did not get smacked with the patchouli brickbat with Ylang 49, not at all. I mean, it's *there* but not disturbing me - what did disturb me was the bitterness on my skin plus the "damp rooty" thing, which I generally hate... I mean, I myself would have seen some relationship to the early, swampy Duchaufour stuff rather than FK's work. Don't see an Elie Saab relationship at all - but then I'll admit to not being able to find the white florals in the LL.

I will say, though, that the big drop of Y49 that fell on my wooden desk smelled lovely after an hour. Big smack of oakmoss in it, true chypre quality, without that horrible interaction it had with my skin. To some extent I really think it is a skin issue.

Brian said...

Weird, I wish I smelled the oakmoss. Must be my own skin issue, maybe. I thought for sure the patchouli would have turned you off. There seems to be a ton in it. Maybe when I can finally track down my bottle of E. Saab I can put the comparison to...rest?...the test?

Lisa Rollins said...

Just stopping into this conversation to say that I am amazed by your ability to write so well about what you smell(sorry for the rhyme). Very thought provoking! Thank you! :)

Brian said...

Thanks for stopping by -- and for joining the conversation, Lisa. If you smell Ylang, I'd be interested in hearing what you think.

Carolin said...

I thought this conversation was very interesting to follow, as was your main review! I have become a fan of Le Labo recently and have just properly tested Ylang49 on my skin today.
I am very surprised to read your opinion of it, or I better say the scent that develops on your skin. I also think that it might be a "skin issue" as previously mentioned, since your description is completely different than mine and some others I have read. For example, you describe it as linear, and I feel like Y49 is one of the perfumes in a long time that develops incredibly on me. It tells an entire story from the beginning to the end, and I really love it.
Oh, and I can not for the life of me see a resemblance to the Elie Saab, so weird haha!
I guess it is funny, but also one of the most amazing and intriguing things in fragrances, that they smell so different on everybody and are perceived in so many ways!
Just wanted to add my point of view about this masterpiece of a perfume and thank you for your review and the comments and this conversation!

Greetings, Caro

Duft said...

Very interesting blog, forgive me for also just stopping by. I can't make up my mind about Ylang 49. I have liked, though not loved, LL's Neroli, Santal, Fleur d'Oranger; and loved Gaiac. Ylang 49, however, reminds me of SJP's Lovely, which wasn't bad, but which I wouldn't revisit. Each time I go back to the tester, "department store" comes to mind (not that there aren't great things to be found in department stores...). What should I be noticing/smelling that might change my mind? There is definitely something in common with Kurkdjian's Lumiere Noire pour Femme, it seems...yet I don't have the words to articulate it. Is it something that is also in Serge Lutens' Nuit de Cellophane, which has caused me to dislike only that one of his fragrances?