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.