Le Labo Poivre 23, Musc 25 & Gaiac 10 ~ fragrance reviews

Le Labo Poivre 23 fragrance

Le Labo's "city-exclusive" series, whereby they make a special perfume for each city in which they have a boutique or fragrance counter, and if you live elsewhere, forget about it*, either annoys you or it doesn't. I find it mildly annoying. The perfumes aren't impossible to get — there are ways around everything except death and taxes, right? — so to my mind the biggest annoyance is that they cost considerably more than the "regular" Le Labo fragrances.

That said, I adored their first city-exclusive, the wonderful Tubereuse 40 for New York, and I liked Vanille 44 for Paris as well. Aldehyde 44 for Dallas wasn't my style, luckily. This year, we've got three newcomers to the range: Poivre 23 for London, Musc 25 for Los Angeles and Gaiac 10 for Tokyo.

Le Labo Poivre 23: Poivre 23, developed by perfumer Nathalie Lorson, is exclusive to Liberty of London, and it's one of the few Le Labo scents that really does highlight the note it's named for, at least for a time. The opening is peppered woods (make that heavily peppered). As it settles, add in a light trail of incense and just enough vanilla to make it comforting, but not so much so as to make it foody (it stays more dry than sweet; the other notes include cistus labdanum, sandalwood, patchouli, gaiac and styrax). The dry down is a warm and spicy ambery-patch-woods, and while it isn't what I'd call transparent, nor is it rich or heavy.

I like Poivre 23, in fact, I really enjoyed wearing it. It's very well done, and it's already found lots of love on the fragrance forums. Still, I'm not in love; I did not, even for a moment (as I did with Tubereuse 40) consider coughing up the cash. If you want to cough up the cash, it's £240 for 100 ml. There's also a 50 ml, which is presumably cheaper, and if Liberty of London's website is to be believed, you can go for broke with a 500 ml vat.

Le Labo Musc 25: The city of Los Angeles gets Musc 25, developed by perfumer Frank Voelkl, and yet another in the range that highlights the note in its name. This is a spanking-clean aldehydic white musk (the notes: aldehydes, ambergris, musk, lily of the valley, patchouli, rose, cedar, vetiver and "a synthesized representation of human semen"). There's a twist of something vaguely-sour-but-not-quite-skanky underneath, in keeping with Le Labo's concept of "heavenly white" with a "somber, devilishly dark" core, but unless I get up close, all I notice is the spanking-clean part; it smells good, but it reminds me of some functional product (dryer sheets, maybe, or laundry detergent), and it leaves me entirely cold. As with almost everything that leaves me entirely cold, it lasts just about forever, and then some, on skin. Tom over at Perfume Smellin' Things loved this one, so it's worth going over there for a second opinion. Musc 25 is $260 for 50 ml or $400 for 100 ml.

Le Labo Gaiac 10: For Le Labo's boutique in Tokyo, perfumer Annick Menardo created Gaiac 10, and it just figures that the hardest-to-get would turn out to be my favorite, doesn't it? The opening is bright but intense, and the dry down is wood, wood, and some more wood (the notes: gaiac, cedar, musk and olibanum). It's greenish, more so in the earlier stages than in the later dry down, and it smells like dense, dark wood with citrus peel and a pinch of incense. As with the Poivre 23, it sounds heavier than it wears — I could be wrong, but I'd think you could wear this nearly year-round — and it has a kind of spare, nothing-overdone simplicity.

It's gorgeous. If I had the money to spring for one of the city-exclusives, I'd be torn between this one and the Tubereuse 40. I don't know the price for Gaiac 10, but I assume it's also in 50 and 100 ml for more money than I've got. Now Santa knows what I'd like for Christmas...

Update: a reader reports that the Gaiac 10 is ¥36000 for 50 ml and ¥56000 for 100 ml. Thanks Tyler!

Le Labo Poivre 23, Musc 25 and Gaiac 10 are all unisex fragrances. For more information, see the listing for Le Labo under Perfume Houses.

* I should mention that I've seen reports that some of the Le Labo city-exclusives can be ordered over the phone and shipped. I haven't tried to order any of them, but if you have, do comment on your experience.

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  1. justaguy says:

    Yay, le labo does an LA scent! But– its a clean musk. Bah. I want a dirty skanky offensive musk if I’m going to try and smell like I haven’t bathed. Besides, its silly to have a clean musk, its just oxymoronic.

    • Robin says:

      I know what you mean, but clean musks are “in”!

  2. Robin says:

    The comments from this article were not properly imported when we moved domains in 03/09, so I’m copying them below in one large chunk:

    On December 12, 2008 sarahn said:
    It annoys me greatly. Why do companies do this? It’s hard enough finding a scent to love here in the hinterlands of perfume shopping. Why do they make it so much harder? Don’t they *want* to sell perfume? I was lucky enough to swap for a sample of Iris 39, and of course I loved it. The Iris is easily obtainable on their website, but I’m afraid of sniffing any of the others for fear of falling madly in love and blowing my paycheck on a plane ticket to New York/Dallas/London. Ticks me off.
    On December 12, 2008 sarahn said:
    …And twice as much money as the regular line. That *really* ticks me off.
    On December 12, 2008 NowSmellThis said:
    Are they all 2X as much? I wasn’t sure and didn’t have time to check the prices.
    On December 12, 2008 Dana Cerise said:
    I am not a fan of Le Labo, but Gaiac 10 sounds intriguing (mostly because it’s a creation of Annick Menardo).
    On December 12, 2008 NowSmellThis said:
    I’m a huge fan — I think they’ve done a wonderful job, and they’re one of the few niche lines to launch in the past few years that I think has really done something different.

    But Kevin doesn’t care for the line either.
    On December 12, 2008 VanillaGirl said:
    I’ve tried hard not to sample the other city exclusives, because it would break my heart if I turned out to love them. I went into Liberty to sniff the Poivre recently, expecting to be entertained by something that would smell of roses or immortelle or something quite different to pepper. But I was quite knocked out – it really does smell of pepper, but sweetened incensy pepper as you describe, and extraordinarily wearable. I find myself saying, ‘Gosh, the 50ml is only £120’ and having to remind myself that £120 is an awful lot of cash for one small bottle. It really is A Creation, though. The year seems to have ended on a high note, with these good le Labos and the CdG Stephen Jones, don’t you think?
    On December 12, 2008 NowSmellThis said:
    The Poivre really is well done, I almost feel bad for not loving it more than I do.

    And agree, the year really has ended on a high note!
    On December 12, 2008 joe805 said:
    Grr. I told myself I wouldn’t be tempted into sampling any more “exclusive” ultra-expensive product, but I have *got* to get me some Poivre… and now it seems like some Gaiac too. March did a cute thing the other day where she actually worked out a way in which these LL’s are a bargain… practically free even. Mm hmm.

    Off topic, but how do you compare LL Tubereuse to Carnal Flower, and which would you rather own (assuming the answer isn’t simply “both”)?

    Also, after reading a lot of buzz, I recently sampled Micallef’s Gaiac and like it enough to want it. Have you tried it and how would you compare it to the LL?
    On December 12, 2008 NowSmellThis said:
    The LL Tubereuse isn’t “about” tuberose, although I guess there’s lots of tuberose in the formula. So, no real comparison.

    I have a sample of the Micallef Gaiac that I haven’t gotten to yet…will see if I can do that this weekend.
    On December 12, 2008 bklyn fragrance lover said:
    I’ve recently tried some Micallef’s that I like alot. I will have to try their Gaiac.
    On December 12, 2008 violetnoir said:
    Yes, you can order over the phone, at least for the LA exclusive, and have it shipped. I ordered it for a friend who lives in another state.

    I love, love, love Poivre 23! I just received my decant and am wearing it today. That said, I have heard that the Tokyo one is even better, and now you are saying the same thing. Wow! I can’t wait to get my hands on some of that.

    So, that leaves Los Angeles, my beloved home base. And wouldn’t you know it, I am banking on hating it. It just sounds vile to me. What’s with this “semen” note? LA is a lady, as Sinatra famously sang, so whoever came up with the idea for the LA fragrance knows nothing about her. Humph!! I’ll test it on Sunday and, well, we’ll see if I was right.

    On December 12, 2008 NowSmellThis said:
    R, do come back and comment when you try it, I’d love to know what you think. It doesn’t remind me of semen in the least, nor did I find it vile — my complaint is more that it’s too darned clean. Maybe the skank was lost on me…
    On December 12, 2008 violetnoir said:
    Well, LA can be skanky…afterall, we are the porno capital of the world!

    And taking that line of thought a step further…maybe the semen note is the “impregnation” of all that is dark and “noir” in the City of LA, lol!

    Anyway, will let you know what I think after testing it.

    Is the Tokyo exclusive really, really that good, R? A perfume friend in Paris got to sniff all the recent Le Labo exclusives from a nice SA, and she raved about it, too.
    On December 12, 2008 NowSmellThis said:
    I could be wrong, but my guess is that more people are going to love the Poivre. The Tokyo is very simple, and what I think of as “spare and not overdone” might strike some people as dull. But we’ll see!
    On December 13, 2008 Tom said:
    I got a brief whiff of the Tokyo one when I was talking to the owner when he was in LA last week and it’s brilliant, at least on the paper. I’d love to try it on skin: it’s very Japanese, which is I suppose the point.
    On December 13, 2008 NowSmellThis said:
    Yes, it struck me as very Japanese too. Or, I should say, as very “what says Japanese in Western perfumes”, having never been to Japan myself.
    On December 12, 2008 Mikeperez23 said:
    I can’t wait to try P23 and G10 – M25, I am not going to bother with (I probably won’t be able to smell the musk!?).

    Falling in love with these city exclusives is painful – but I guess my threshold for this kind of pain has been increased since I keep testing them and falling in love (can you say Tom Ford Italian Cypress!!?).
    On December 12, 2008 NowSmellThis said:
    Hey, so the Italian Cypress is wonderful? I have not tried any of the TF city exclusives, and for that matter, haven’t yet even tried all 12 of the original TF Private Blends.
    On December 12, 2008 helenviolette said:
    Ohhhh, I do like the Poivre a lot. (but must be content with the few mls I have) Tokyo! Geez! I don’t have a huge problem with the city exclusive thing but it would be nice if maybe it sold in its excusive city for say 6-12 months and then trickled into the rest of the stores/online…how about a city exclusives discovery set???
    On December 12, 2008 violetnoir said:
    Good ideas! And, in this economy, you would think they would want to sell these fragrances worldwide.
    On December 12, 2008 NowSmellThis said:
    I think that’s a great idea — make them available eventually, at least.
    On December 12, 2008 marchlion said:
    R, I was subjected to the *most ridiculous* presentation of these at Barneys last year. I just wanted to smell them, and the SA insisted on walking me through the line in this tedious oooh/aaah way. I’m not a big fan of LL either… but Poivre I bought into a split on, it’s certainly my favorite of the line, and Gaiac sounds wonderful, although I hope not *too* green for me, you like that more than I do. Musc sounds weird, and of course I’ll be trying it. I wonder if it’s going to turn out to be one of those musks where people have various levels of anosmia? I think Tom found it fairly dirty.
    On December 12, 2008 NowSmellThis said:
    M, I sort of doubt it — it’s awfully strong on me, and I do smell all the components, I just think the overall statement it’s making isn’t all that different from Clean Shower Fresh. Plus, you know, a bit of semen, LOL…but of course I’ve been wrong before, & do see what you think, I’m curious what you’ll make of it.

    And on the presentation — wow, the 2 times I went to the Le Labo counter at Barneys NOBODY could be found, and the 2nd time, we waited a bit and then customers kept asking me if this was the correct way to the bathroom, so I gave up & left. Perhaps a presentation would have been worse…
    On December 12, 2008 bklyn fragrance lover said:
    I’ve purchased several discovery size samples from LL. I own a FB of Rose 31 which I quickly fell out of love with and now is an expensive air freshener. I like the Patchouly 24 and Vetiver 46, but a bit weird to wear to my work environment. I work with girls who don’t appreciate scents out of the “NORM” . They are very Pink Sugar, DG Light Blue, Eclat etc. I am def getting some decants of the Poivre, Gaiac, and Tubeureuse thanks to your review. I’m intrigued by the musc, but I seem to be anosmic when it comes to musc. I can’t smell Escentric Molecules, Mure et Musc, AG Musc Nomade which is a shame because I love the rest of the Les Orientalistes line alot. The questionable note in LL musc scares me though..lol. Hope all is well with you Robin. Ciao!
    On December 13, 2008 NowSmellThis said:
    Oh dear, so sorry about your Rose 31! I love it, but then, I don’t have a full bottle so probably haven’t “tested” my love, LOL…

    Do try the Musc, I don’t think it’s scary, and the tubereuse isn’t either — you could wear it w/o offending a Pink Sugar person. Then again, it’s MIGHTY expensive for what it is. Otherwise, not sure Le Labo is the “go to” line for those sorts of work fragrances though. What do you usually wear to work?
    On December 13, 2008 bklyn fragrance lover said:
    Some of my work favs are Dior Homme, Fresh Cannabis Santal, DG Light Blue, PDN New York. Silver Factory gets some play every now and then. On Saturday when the girls are off, I play with my Montales, TM Pure Coffee, etc. The guys don’t mind seem to mind them like the girls with their OVERLY sensitive noses.
    On December 14, 2008 NowSmellThis said:
    LOL — while the cat’s away…
    On December 13, 2008 kaos.geo said:
    Ok, let’s do this in 1,2,3…

    1.. I don’t usually like heavy pepper on a perfume. It is a nice idea at first, but gives me a headache after a couple of hours. I have never smelled Le Labo so I give them the benefit of the doubt.

    2. Squeaky Clean with a “Synthesized Representation of Human Semen” sound like the tagline for a Zac Efron celebrity fragrance, if you ask me ;-). Bitchiness aside, white musks work on my skin… Is this a lemming in the making??? :-)

    3. R, is perhaps this the holly grial “river of molten woods” that perfumers have been searching for in 2008?? I smelled He Wood some time ago, I expected an avalache of logs and all I got were matchsticks and pencil shavings :-P (I am exagerating here, It wasnt as mild, but I expected more)

    Cheers and have a nice weekend!
    On December 13, 2008 NowSmellThis said:
    P, that’s interesting. I don’t think it still smells like heavy pepper after a couple of hours, but I suppose that doesn’t mean the chemical isn’t still there giving you a headache.

    If you like white musks, you might really like LA. Did you read Tom’s review?

    The Gaiac isn’t “molten” at all, but it’s a whole lotta logs, to me at least. But for avalanche of logs, you also need CdG Sequoia, and something else that WILL NOT come to mind at the moment. He Wood really wasn’t much about wood, yeah.
    On December 13, 2008 kaos.geo said:
    Yes I read Toms review, thankyou.

    I will try to get sequoia, or a sample ;-)
    On December 14, 2008 Zoe said:
    Oh, yikes. Such a timely review… I’m going to London this week. Have been wanting to try the Poivre since first hearing about it, and your description is not helping the craving, I must say. I can’t afford to fall in love, but I think it veeery likely. Must leave all money and saleable objects at hotel.
    On December 14, 2008 NowSmellThis said:
    Zoe, have a really wonderful time in London! Maybe you’ll get lucky and hate the Poivre. I’m dying for a trip to Dover Street Market myself…
    On December 14, 2008 Santemon said:
    I have a friend going to Tokyo after Christmas… hmmm… I wouldn’t like to blind buy Gaiac though, I wonder how quickly I could get a sample from TPC! On the other hand, I just did a quick currency conversion YIKES!!
    On December 15, 2008 NowSmellThis said:
    Yikes is right — it ain’t cheap. Not sure I’d pay that for any perfume.
    On December 16, 2008 cazaubon said:
    OMG I just did a currency conversion on 36,000 yen – that is over $400 USD! Cough. No thank you. I think I will go home and sniff my Micallef Gaiac sample.
    On December 17, 2008 NowSmellThis said:
    The Micallef is a comparative bargain, for sure!
    On December 17, 2008 daruma said:
    I tried the Poivre in London last week and while there was a strong opening note of pepper I thought it dried down to something very similar to Ambre Sultan. I wasn’t that overwhelmed to be honest.
    On December 17, 2008 NowSmellThis said:
    That’s just what Kevin said — I am not a big fan of AS so maybe that’s why I see them as quite different?

  3. baobab says:

    i love Gaiac 10, so beautiful, my fav amongst Lelabo stuff! but…unfortunately, its soooooo expensive! everytime i get to a dept store where it s sold, i sniff , feel good , then say good bye. hope they d cut the price a little more..!

    • Robin says:

      LOL…yes, they need to go on sale! I love it too, no way am I ever going to pay for it.

  4. dolcesarah says:

    I’m so confused!!

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