Yes, We Candle

Renegade perfumery Le Labo’s latest spritz.


Perfumemakers Fabrice Penot (above left) and Edouard Roschi of New York’s Le Labo are often described as the rebels of the fragrance world. The duo, who opened their first boutique on Elizabeth Street in 2006, shun the standard practice of using focus groups, relying instead on intuition and personal taste to craft their scents. They forgo evocative names in favor of plainspoken titles like Patchouli 24 and Jasmin 17 (the numbers refer to how many notes each contains). Their only rose-based fragrance, Rose 31, is, in their description, “an assertively virile fragrance for men.” And they’re so iconoclastic that they host Sell Nothing Days, during which no purchases can be made in any of their four boutiques. (Instead, customers are encouraged to learn about the ingredients in the products and how they are made.)

It’s not surprising, then, that Penot and Roschi are commemorating Le Labo’s fifth year in business with an unusual move: releasing an eau de parfum based on a scented candle. (At every other fragrance house, of course, it’s the other way around.) Santal 33, a sandalwood blend, was inspired by their best-selling candle, Santal 26. “People order that candle by the hundreds, so we knew there was potential to capitalize on the addiction,” Penot says. “One client was wearing the home fragrance on himself,” Roschi adds. “When we smelled it, we were like: ‘This is so good! Is it one of ours?’”

The journey from wax to spritz was more difficult than one might imagine. It took more than two years, and upwards of 400 prototypes, to arrive at the perfect blend. “Fragrance has a sensuality you don’t need in a candle,” explains Penot. “And fragrances have to tell a story that reads on skin for a few hours.” To that end, they added seven new notes, including dry, woodsy papyrus and warm, milky coconut. And in typical fashion, they’re releasing the smoky, sensual scent in May, a time of year when light, beachy brews are the norm. Roschi’s logic: “No one is going to refrain from telling me how sexy I smell just because it’s summer.”

Perfume, candle: Hannah Whitaker. Portrait: courtesy of the subjects.