I'm in a Passionate Love-Hate Relationship with a Perfume

I’d only ever had a love-hate relationship with a man before. I’d never had one with a fragrance.
Publish date:
December 15, 2015
perfume, le labo

As a certified perfume junkie, I’ve smelled and purchased and given away countless bottles. Some of them make me recoil immediately (a certain celebrity’s perfume gives me hives of horror) and others have grown on me. Some I wear for a year straight and then never want to smell again; others I wear faithfully, take a break and come crawling back.

But I’d never found one that made me so emotionally and olfactorily (I made that word up) confused as Le Labo’s Ylang 49.

Ylang 49 is centered around — you guessed it — ylang ylang. This tropical flower can smell very hot and sexy or a little sharp and tangy, depending on what you blend it with. Ylang 49 is less tropical and more old-school chypre, and the sample I received had me both intrigued and kind of disgusted at the same time.

It was so loud and sharp! I’d wear it and hate it at first, but then catch a whiff on a sweater and wonder aloud what that intoxicating aroma was. The little sample on my dresser was like, “Me, you dummy. It’s me!”

A chypre is a fragrance with a tension between its citrusy top notes and woody, animalic base. It doesn’t smell natural; it smells like perfume. Chypres are often built around bergamot or patchouli notes and can be described as smelling “green” or “woody.”

Our noses have gotten so used to bland, clean and pale florals because excessive testing and market research say that’s what we as consumers want with our fragrances. We think the old classics smell like grandmas, but they don’t. You’re just used to smelling these classics on older women who chose their signature scent in the ultimate era of perfumery. They smell absolutely beautiful; it’s just a matter of rethinking what you’re smelling and trying to conceptualize scent outside the confines of what’s sold at Sephora.

Le Labo is a line that does this well. Many of their scents are accessible and wearable, but they’re interesting and complex, too.

Ylang 49 plays on a blend of chypre notes like patchouli and vetiver but pairs it with the sensual, voluptuous ylang ylang and a little bit of gardenia to smooth out the rough edges. I’m a huge fan of the big, white floral fragrance family, though I’d consider Ylang 49 to be a cousin, not a sister.

It was this masculine-feminine back and forth that kept me so intrigued. I loved it, I hated it, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. It’s bold, it’s sexy, it’s a little complicated. It’s modern and old-fashioned at the same time.

I kept coming back to Ylang 49 like an ex-lover I wasn’t quite finished with. It was making me work for our romance. I liked the chase.

Finally, when I was in New York for work, I wandered over to one of their locations and bought a bottle.

“Oh, get ready to turn on everyone on the street,” said the perfumer after I made my choice.

At Le Labo, they blend, hand-pour and bottle each scent just for you so it feels extra-special. I think buying perfume is always a special event, but especially when it’s as grand as this. Now that I had taken the plunge, I knew that Ylang and I were meant to be.

This stuff smells like me: a little sharp, a little feminine, and a little complex. It’s the perfect fragrance for my late twenties.