MAK­ING SCENTS

Prestige (Malaysia) - - Beauty -

Fif­teen years ago, Edouard Roschi and Fabrice Penot opened an in­de­pen­dent per­fume “lab” in New York’s Nolita. They turned the in­dus­try so com­pletely on its head, writes elle kwan, that even if you’ve never heard of Le Labo, there’s no way you haven’t smelled their con­coc­tions

A Decade And A Half Ago, no one wanted to fund a niche per­fume brand. To­day, any­one who knows scent knows cult fra­grance maker Le Labo. Founders Edouard Roschi and Fabrice Penot had al­ready spent years work­ing in the in­dus­try for big names, no­tably L’Oréal, the li­censee of Gior­gio Ar­mani Beauty. Roschi had over­seen Ac­qua di Gio, a state­ment fra­grance if ever there was one. At that time, per­fumes were sup­posed to shout loud and came with funky brash pack­ag­ing in showy ad cam­paigns. Who re­mem­bers Ver­sace Red Jeans and Gucci Rush?

Le Labo is the op­po­site of all of that. Its hushed store opened with lit­tle fan­fare in 2006, amid gal­leries and chic cafes on El­iz­a­beth Street in New York’s Nolita (north of Lit­tle Italy) neigh­bour­hood. White sub­way-tile walls and dark-wood shelv­ing gave the bou­tique the feel of an old­world apothe­cary and felt deeply dif­fer­ent from depart­ment-store beauty halls. Just a hand­ful of bot­tles and one can­dle formed a core col­lec­tion.

The ven­ture was the cou­ple’s ul­ti­mate vi­sion of free­dom, though they couldn’t get fund­ing. “Peo­ple would say, ‘Great idea, but we can’t back this right now.’ And we’d tell peo­ple they were mak­ing a huge mis­take,” Roschi says.

Yet, some­thing clicked.

The store rep­re­sented a real chance to buck cor­po­rate pres­sure. There was zero mar­ket­ing and very lit­tle press. The pair launched new prod­ucts as and when they wanted. Of­ten, Roschi re­calls, Penot would fi­nalise a scent and re­ceive oils on a Fri­day, and they’d make the prod­uct avail­able the next Mon­day. There were no Mother’s Day pro­mos. No Valen­tines. Not even scents mar­keted to fe­males or males. Just for in­di­vid­u­als.

Some­times they held No Sale Days. On Black Fri­day – the day fol­low­ing the US Thanks­giv­ing hol­i­day and Amer­ica’s big­gest shop­ping oc­ca­sion – con­sumers knock them­selves out for hot deals and dis­counts. Le Labo wanted none of that. They painted the win­dows with “No Sale Day” slo­gans, though many missed it.

“Peo­ple would walk in and say, ‘I love this, can I get a bot­tle?’ and we’d say, ‘ No, you’ll have to come back to­mor­row, we aren’t sell­ing any­thing to­day,’” says Roschi, who to­day is dressed in a khaki hoodie, jeans and train­ers – and nurs­ing jet lag. He’s in from his home­town, Lis­bon, and has been zip­ping across Asia launch­ing the new fra­grance, Tonka 25 – of which more later.

Peo­ple would ask, ‘ Then why are you open?’ And we’d say, ‘ Well it’s our store. We can open when we want, but we don’t have to sell any­thing.’”

Roschi laughs, gen­tly. In hind­sight, he ad­mits it all sounds a tad elit­ist. “It was just a re­minder that you can’t al­ways get what you want, when you want, all the time.”

But by 2011 it seemed in a cer­tain neigh­bour­hood as if the very air New York­ers breathed smelt like a sin­gle Le Labo scent. Early on, the brand’s Rose 31 had be­come

EDOUARD ROSCHI

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