Le Labo Ylang 49 ~ fragrance review

Le Labo Ylang 49 & Lys 41

Ask me what I think of new fragrances these days, and prepare for a rant. “What happened to real perfume?” I’ll moan. “People used to appreciate smart fragrances. Perfume could be abstract and complex.” At that point I’ll drop my head and stare forlornly in the distance, trying my best to telegraph visions of forgotten Lanvins and Millots. 

Thank goodness I'm so often wrong. For all the old beauties that have fallen out of production, gorgeous new perfumes are still being created. Le Labo Ylang 49 is real perfume. 

Perfumer Frank Voelkl created Ylang 49. It has notes of ylang ylang, Pua Noa Noa,1 patchouli, oakmoss, sandalwood and benzoin. What Ylang 49 doesn’t smell like is an ylang ylang soliflore. The caramelized cold cream aroma of ylang ylang plays only a supporting role. What Ylang 49 does smell like is an honest-to-goodness floral chypre, replete with a furring of musty oakmoss, the better to throw the fragrance’s beauty into relief.

Ylang 49’s chypre structure is evident from the first sniff. Moss, dry sandalwood and the zing of bright citrus — lemon peel? — announce that if you’re looking for a fruity-sweet musk-patchouli number, you can go back to the mall. I wouldn’t be surprised if clean, restrained musk makes up some of Ylang 49’s 49 ingredients, too.

Ylang 49’s floral heart is dry and subtle. The fragrance floats on skin. You know how a gardenia can be big, green, succulent and tropical? Take all that away but a whiff of the fruit and marry it to the flower’s almost gaseous essence, and you’ve captured Ylang 49’s heart. No wet, messy, loud perfume here. Just a hint of the fruit of gardenia — but not enough to make Ylang 49 juicy — hovers with the shimmering, hot part of the flower.

The result is an abstract, elegant fragrance that wafts like chiffon. Ylang 49 lasts all day, with its biggest push in its first three hours, then a real but hard-to-pin-down presence from there. Ylang 49 melds with its wearer to create an aura rather than a definite odor. It’s the sort of perfume that leads you to realize, after spending a few hours with someone wearing it, that she sure smells nice.

One more thing: Ylang 49 shares DNA with another Voelkl fragrance, Le Labo Iris 39. Their chypre scaffolding smells a lot alike, especially in the first half hour of wear. (If this is a Voelkl signature, sign me up for more.) Ylang 49 is more lemony, dry and cloud-like than the ginger-earth-iris of Iris 39, but they’re definitely sisters.

Although Ylang 49 isn't an especially challenging perfume, a brand new perfumista might not take to it right away. It’s not overtly pretty or sexy or delicious. It’s not about flash and décolletage. If you’re moved to order a sample of Ylang 49 and on smelling it think, “It's all right but nothing to get excited about,” I urge you to put the sample away somewhere cool and dark and come back in another year. Keep smelling, keep paying attention. You may never love Ylang 49 — or you might! — but I bet you’ll at least respect it.

Le Labo Ylang 49 Eau de Parfum is $145 for 50 ml and $220 for 100ml. For information on where to buy it, see Le Labo under Perfume Houses.

1. Le Labo’s press releases says Pua Noa Noa is a Tahitian gardenia. A web search of Pua Noa Noa turns up a Polynesian song, but no gardenias. Searching for “Tahitian gardenia,” on the other hand, produces “tiaré flower.” Ylang 49 doesn’t smell overtly of tiaré to me, but I could be convinced.


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70 Comments

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  1. lucasai says:

    Angela, you have just awakened a lemming inside me!
    This perfume sounds so good and so well done, comparison to the style of Iris 39 makes me want to try even more.
    Last week I tried the new Le Labo City Exclusive, Limette 37 and it smelled great on my skin. Now I got to try Ylang 49.
    Hopefully a (perfume posse) fairy will be able to help me with this one!

    • Angela says:

      I was surprised at how much I liked Ylang 49. Not that it’s overtly exciting or anything like that. It’s just so–solid and nice. I could easily imagine it becoming someone’s signature fragrance.

      • lucasai says:

        Will have to give it a try when I can!

      • mitsouko says:

        I pretty excited about this one…must try it. Love ” solid and nice” and also salty ,gaseous ,skin like- sounds wonderful !

        • Angela says:

          Words of a true perfume lover. Isn’t it funny the descriptors that sound intriguing? If it were any other thing (food, painting, whatever) those adjectives could be horrifying!

          • Marjorie Rose says:

            Ok. Don’t sign me up for the luncheon that is salty, gaseous, and skin-like! :D

          • Angela says:

            I won’t be at that luncheon, either!

          • ggperfume says:

            Pork rinds?

          • Angela says:

            That truly is horrifying!

  2. Alyssa says:

    Oh ditto. This has been sounding very good and even though I just–just!–swore I would order no more samples until I had weeded through all the ones I need to use or give away, I am very tempted by both the Ylang and the Iris.

    • Angela says:

      You’re preaching to the choir here. I still want to buy the Baiser Volé extrait, and I’m really, really tempted by Ylang 49, but I have so much perfume (and so many competing demands for $$)! And yes, the sample situation is getting out of hand.

  3. Abyss says:

    Thanks for the review, Angela!

    I’ve been feeling rather uninspired recently but this (and, possibly, Lys) sounds like something that might give my perfume mojo a much-needed kick.

    • Angela says:

      I haven’t tried Lys, but I’m curious about it. I totally understand the lack of inspiration! I had a run of strike-outs of department store samples and was getting discouraged.

      • Abyss says:

        I think that in my case it’s partly due to the lack of interesting new releases and partly because I already bought 3 bottles earlier in the year (which is a lot by my standards) and so I’ve also been feeling quite content with what I have. It’s probably a good thing, actually.

        • Angela says:

          Yes, that is a good feeling. Then you really only need to try the really exceptional fragrances, and not the “kind of nice” ones.

    • Zazie says:

      If you like Lys soleya, Songes, I think you will very much like le labo’s Lys. It is not very original, but I enjoy this kind of fragrances very much!!

      • Abyss says:

        Thanks, Zazie! I don’t even remember if I’ve ever tried Songes but I liked Lys Soleia.

  4. Janice says:

    I’ve been curious to try this one and have a sample on the way. Your comparison with Iris 39 is interesting. I also have a sample of that and didn’t quite fall in love with it, but I need to find it again—it’s been about a year!—and give it another try.

    • Angela says:

      I always find it interesting to return to samples that didn’t grab me at first. If nothing else, I can usually smell something in them I didn’t get at first.

  5. thegoddessrena says:

    Can’t wait to try this as soon as I get around to going into the city. Of course, I already have dozens of unsniffed samples at home so this will be an in-person sniff. Have been wanting to try it since it was first announced

    • Angela says:

      I’d love to know what you think! You’re lucky to be able to do an “in person” sniff, too!

  6. Zazie says:

    I wish I got a chypre feeling out of ylang 49!

    The drydown on me was “generic mall men perfume”: synthetic, screechy, dry and déjà vu!
    Yes, that cheap and that bad! I didn’t dig the big-80s-hair opening, but it was not as bad as what followed!! :(
    What made the fragrance interesting to me was the playful trick of creating an unexpected pairing between name and juice.
    Ceci n’est pas un pipe!
    However, I’d take the Lys over this execrable ylang every day!!!

    • Angela says:

      I’m sorry you didn’t like it–it sounds like we had very different experiences! At least the Lys worked for you, it sounds like.

  7. Angela, so glad you reviewed this and loved it. I find an interestiing saltiness to Ylang 49, and appreciate the unexpected twist of matching it with dark green mossiness. I’ve been reaching for my sample so much that like you, I’m considering a bottle — but like you, I contemplate my out-of-control collection and wonder whether it’s quite reasonable to add another bottle to the chaos!

    • Angela says:

      Yes–saltiness! That’s the perfect description. It smelled hot, almost gaseous, and skin-like, but I think “salt” is exactly what I was trying to get at.

      I do want a bottle, but it’s so hard to justify it when the garage needs roofing and the dog seems to be piling up the vet bills…

  8. maggiecat says:

    I love ylang, but most scents that put it front and center are too sweet and strong to wear every day. This sounds delightfully different – I’ll have to scrounge a sample! Thanks for a great review.

    • Angela says:

      I definitely didn’t find it sweet–but then, I didn’t find it exactly loaded with ylang ylang, either. Do let me know what you think of it!

  9. mercurygirl says:

    Oh my! I was already quite eager to sniff this one, but your description of it has me revving up my debit card, Angela. :)

    • Angela says:

      Do sample it first!

      • mercurygirl says:

        Oh, I will! I’m planning to visit LL soon to check out this one and the Lys. I’m just thinking the odds of my liking Ylang are pretty good, given my love of Iris 39 and my love of chypres.

        • Angela says:

          It does sound like you’re a good candidate to like it!

  10. austenfan says:

    This sounds very appealing. I will have to find out where I can try this in Europe!

    • Angela says:

      That’s one complaint I have about Le Labo. I wish it were more readily available.

  11. buggsie bee says:

    @ austefan ….go Le Labo direct ( how I ordered mine in Germany ) ..or Colette.fr, who have cheaper & faster shipping. They also offer the Le Labo Vanille :)
    @ Angela??
    If you like the Ylang, I think you MUST, MUST try Tommi Sooni Passarelle!! This is a REAL perfume & I cannot believe that anyone would NOT be floored by it.
    The sample from OZ too forever to get to Europe. I’m hoping that the full bottle makes it here faster. I’m dead serious. This is a MUST sniff!!

    • Angela says:

      I think I have a sample of Passarelle around somewhere. I’ll see if I can find it this afternoon. Thanks!

  12. olenska says:

    In Tahitian, “Pua noanoa” means “fragrant flower” (genus not specified). The song is Te pua noanoa i Ahurai — a very beautiful hula which calls attention to the flower ornaments (tiare or plumeria) worn by a female dancer.

    • Angela says:

      Thank you so much for this information!

  13. sinnerman says:

    Le Labo is so ridiculously expensive here in Australia that I stay well away from the counter at Mecca Cosmetica where it is sold . I am so envious of your US prices. I adore the concept packaging but I would rather spend the big bucks on a Chanel as they hold a special place in my heart !
    It’s so nice to hear your joy and appreciation for a well done fragrance in your review today – and I loved the use of the word gaseous ! :)

    • Angela says:

      Le Labo isn’t cheap here, either, but they must be really expensive after shipping them so far.

    • annemarie says:

      Oh Sinnerman – order direct from Le Labo’s website. Do not go NEAR Mecca. I just ordered three LL samples – Santal, Lys and Ylang – at it cost 12,51 Euros, or about $17.50 Australian.(My local Mecca does not carry Le Labo so I have to purchase samples.) Le Labo’s 15 ml bottles are quite reasonably priced, and from what I recall of a purchase one last year, the shipping was reasonable. Le Labo is actually one of the more accessible niche houses I think, especially as Tauer and Sonoma Scent Studio do not ship to Australia any more.

      • Angela says:

        That’s a good tip, and it’s one I’ll remember for other non-U.S.ers who want to try Le Labo.

  14. hajusuuri says:

    I tried Ylang 49 and Lys 41 this past weekend at the Soho Le Labo this past weekend and previous to that at Barneys. Based on paper blotter only, Lys 41 was meh and forgettable whereas Ylang 49 packed a punch (as compared with Lys). I would really have to be wowed by Ylang to buy a FB as I love and own a FB of Iris 39. I will ask for a sample to try on skin.

    For those in the NYC area in September (no date yet), all the Le Labo City Exclusives will be making an appearance at Barneys. I hope they do the 3 x 15 mL sets in 3 perfumes but that was not available at Barneys the last time I checked. They all have to be the same perfume :-(

    • Angela says:

      I’m a fan of Iris 39, too. I was just noticing that my bottle is getting low, dang it. (Still, a low bottle can last a long time in my collection!)

      Do try Ylang 49 on skin. It really does morph over time into an interesting “presence.”

  15. sinnerman says:

    Annemarie , Thankyou for this tip ! I shall keep it in mind – I appreciate your dropping in. I really like the line but nothing has made me go “must have” , it’s nice to be able to sample for free though in the store!

    • annemarie says:

      Yes, I envy you that! On the other hand, Patchouli 24 is so strong that my teeny sample will last months, if not years, and it cost me next to nothing. I cannot see myself up-sizing to even the 15 ml bottle.

      • sinnerman says:

        Patchouli 24 pricked my interest the most ! Loved the smoke . I tested it on paper and had it in my bag for around 7 days, it lasted beautifully on paper and the dry down was promising . Enjoy your stash !!

  16. annina says:

    Great review! You’ve created another lemming here, can’t wait to try it!

  17. Angela says:

    It’s kind of a sleeper, but I liked it more and more over the week I wore it.

  18. nozknoz says:

    Speaking of gardenia fruit, in southern Africa,the fruits of Gardenia volkensii have many traditional medicinal uses. I had one once, but it had a tough, gray skin and I did not try to open it, so I’ve no idea what it smelled like. An interesting article with images comes up if you google Gardenia volkensii. The flowers smelled great!

    It is exciting to hear about a new real perfume, so I’m definitely curious to try this.

    • Angela says:

      How interesting! I have two standard (but relatively hardy) gardenia bushes, and neither produces fruit that I notice. I have heard, though, of people using gardenia petals to flavor cream.

  19. sapphire03 says:

    Wow, thanks for the review. This sounds like something I must try. One question, is the patchouli note very strong or noticeable? I really don’t like patchouli unless it is very very subtle.

    • Angela says:

      I couldn’t smell the patchouli at all, and I tried. It must be pretty danged subtly blended into it.

  20. Joe says:

    Love your review, Angela. I can almost always be sure that when you’re enthusiastic about something, I’ll find it very interesting even if I don’t love it.

    I tend to be a fan of the Le Labo style and their oeuvre and I’m very much looking forward to trying Ylang 49. Thanks again for stirring my curiosity.

    • Angela says:

      You’re welcome for the curiosity stirring, and be sure to let me know what you think!

  21. DeniseH says:

    Fantastic review, Angela, and now I absolutely *must* try this. I also have to keep remembering that LL are experts in mis-direction and while I would probably not embrace a ylang solifore, your list of notes makes this Ylang sound ever so much more inviting.

    You’ve also spurred me to get out the bottle of LL Iris 39 that lives in the back of my bedroom closet and gets very little love and spritz madly while I re-read your review to see if I haven’t been missing something, or lots of things.

    Well done!

    • Angela says:

      Thank you! I probably wouldn’t have got around to the Ylang if not for Robin sending me a sample, but I’m glad I did. It inspired me, too, to get out my Iris 39!

  22. ggperfume says:

    You’re finding too many possibilities for me lately, Angela. My budget is not able to keep up!

  23. TheSnailsPajamas says:

    I just got my sample, and I am HOOKED. It’s like an amazing slightly floral-dirty skin scent on me. At this rate I will drain my generous spray sample in a couple days.

    • Angela says:

      My spray sample is nearly gone, too! Now I’m trying to resist buying a bottle–or at least a large decant.

  24. Jared says:

    I just bought a bottle of this in Chicago over the weekend….I’m really blown away by it. It’s one of the best things I’ve smelled in a long time! I can definitely smell the relationship to Iris 39 (another favorite!), and I agree with you, Angela, on the Voelkl signature – sign me up, too! One of the things I appreciate most about Ylang 49 is the layers – I can’t quite recall smelling a perfume that has an UNFOLDING story in a while, and I am delighted by the journey of this perfume. I’m glad it’s getting the buzz it deserves!

    • Angela says:

      I’m glad you like it, and I’m jealous of your bottle! It’s such a *smart* as well as pretty perfume.

      • Jared says:

        I had to shake my bottle up, though! At first spray I was getting all of the civet in the bottle and it was pretty darn intense…oddly enough, it was very reminiscent of Mona di Orio’s Nuit Noir. It took me a LONG time to warm up to that one, and I’m a big fan of animalic notes. I wonder at their shared DNA…having since shaken the bottle up, the balance is back to normal :)

        • Angela says:

          Yikes! A snoot of civet could be terrifying. Sometimes I think the first couple of sprays of any perfume aren’t representative because of whatever happens to the juice that’s stuck in the sprayer’s tube.

  25. kake718 says:

    Ylang 49 has become my favorite fragrance release this year by far,
    I find it really easy wear, classic in structure, but a modern in feel masterpiece,
    the Tiare and Ylang keep the Moss, Patchouli, and woods fresh, almost in a mentholated way . I get tropical nuances, plenty of Sappy notes, as in the saps of trees and flowers in a tropical, hot and humid climate. after about 10 hours wear, all I get is faint Patchouli, and the Benzoin notes, It kinda reminds me of 31 Rue Cambon at this stage.
    One more thing, this is the perfect scent for a man to wear in the summer. I can’t seem to find any reason to not wear it, it’s a pure pleasure in the hot weather. I find Lys 41 way too feminine for me, Ylang is perfect on a man’s chemistry.

    • Angela says:

      Thanks for the insightful mini-review! You’ve inspired me to wear Ylang 49 today. My sample is just about empty…

  26. jbordeau says:

    Surprisingly, no one has mentioned the vetiver in this. Yes, it has a bit of rose-patchouli magic (where is the ylang?), and it’s overwhelmingly floral and green, but it’s all sitting atop a big, masculine dollop of vetiver. You’ll find that delicious-what-is-that-earthy-nutty-bit? around 30-45 minutes after applying. Once pointed out, it will be hard to ignore. I love it, and I think that is what is making successful fragrances these days: the blending of traditionally feminine and masculine rubrics by the perfumers. Bravo!

    • Angela says:

      Well, you’ve just settled me on what my day’s perfume will be! On goes some Ylang 49, and I’ll sit back for a while as it morphs through its development until I hit the vetiver. Thanks!

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