Review En Bref: A Lab on Fire What We Do In Paris Is Secret

My Reviews En Bref are for fragrances that — for whatever reason — didn’t merit one of my lengthy, exhaustive, detailed assessments.

Source: A Lab on Fire's Flickr page.

Source: A Lab on Fire’s Flickr page.

Fluffy, clean, powdery, gourmand, and very young. That, in a nutshell, is the summation for A Lab on Fire‘s What We Do in Paris Is Secret. “What We Do In Paris Is Secret” is a bloody long name, so I’ll just shorten it to “What We Do in Paris” or “WWDIP.” The fragrance is an eau de parfum from the legendary perfumer, Dominique Ropion, long considered one of the most technically brilliant, talented, master perfumers. A Lab on Fire is a new niche brand, created in 2011, and, according to Now Smell This, is a sister house to S-Perfume. According to that NST article, A Lab on Fire’s mission is to create fragrances in collaboration with master perfumers, and to “emphasize the juice over the packaging (What We Do is housed in a plain lab bottle with a smear of black paint and a label, and there’s a ziploc bag instead of a box[.].” Hence, a very utilitarian, minimalistic bottle in a silver bag.

The WWDIPIS bag. Source: Fragrantica

The WWDIP bag. Source: Fragrantica

What We Do In Paris was released in 2012, and is classified on Fragrantica as a Fruity Floral. Luckyscent says the perfume notes are as follows:

Bergamot, honey, lychee, Turkish rose essence, tonka bean, vanilla, heliotrope, tolu, sandalwood, ambergris, musks.

What We Do In Paris opens on my skin with a soft, fragile rose note, infused with powder and honey. It is quickly followed by something chemical with a strong aroma of burnt plastic and a faint undertone of medical astringent. I test What We Do In Paris twice, and the same thing occurred both times. The combination is quickly joined by a light, watery, pastel, fruity note that just barely hints at being sweet lychee, but it is almost completely buried under the chemical element and by the advent of a new arrival. It’s powder. Full-blown powder, bursting on the scene, feeling girly and light, infused with vanilla and an almond note from the heliotrope. The whole thing is bound up with enormous sweetness, though it never feels like honey, and feels very airy, soft, and gauzy.

Vanilla powder and essence. Source:

Vanilla powder and essence. Source:

Within minutes, What We Do In Paris changes. The rose note recedes far to the background, the lychee vanishes completely, and the perfume is reduced to an incredibly feminine cloud of sweet powder scented with vanilla and heliotrope. There is a faint whiff of clean, sweet, light musk at the edges, but that’s about it. The notes are so sheer and minimalistic, I actually doubled the amount of my dose to see if it were a simple problem of application and amount. Nope. What We Do In Paris emphasizes two main notes, and you bloody well better like them. Occasionally, like a ghost, there will be flickers of rose from far recesses of the perfume’s depths, and that lingering trace of burnt plastic chemicals, but generally What We Do In Paris is all about the vanilla, almond-heliotrope powder.

Play-Doh set and station via

Play-Doh set and station via

In the middle of the second hour, the perfume turns warmer, softer, and just a little bit richer. It’s all highly relative for this airy, frothy, singularly limited gourmand confection. The minuscule hints of rose have vanished, and a subtle undertone of amber stirs in the base. The more almond-y nuance of the heliotrope has turned into actual Play-Doh, and the vanilla seems richer.

Around the 4.75 hour mark, What We Do In Paris gains another side. Now, there are the creamy, generic, beige woods that modern perfumery insists on pretending is “sandalwood,” but which smell absolutely nothing like the real kind from Mysore. There’s also a subtle sense of something ambered in the base, though it has no chance of competing with the dominant accords. WWDIP is now a simple blend of Play-Doh heliotrope, vanilla, sweet powder, and ersatz, fake, “sandalwood” creaminess flecked with amber. In its final moments, What We Do In Paris is merely creamy sweetness with vanillic powder. It lasted just shy of 6.25 hours on my skin, and had soft sillage.

WWDIP is far from my personal cup of tea. It’s soft, sweet, and fluffy, though I’m not sure I mean that as a compliment. It’s a pleasant enough scent that skews extremely feminine and gourmand in nature, but is also extremely simple with limited range and a total lack of depth. What We Do In Paris is not fruity or floral enough to merit a “fun and flirty” designation, but it does scream “youthful.” It seems like the perfect sort of innocuous, soft, sweet, powdery scent for a young, female, high school student. It’s so pleasantly and innocuously powdery sweet that it actually seems more like a commercial scent that you’d find at the mall, instead of a niche fragrance that costs $110.

The surfeit of sweetness and the young, safe, fluffy banality bore me, but a lot of gourmand lovers seem to adore What We Do In Paris. It’s a fragrance that has often been compared to the cult hit Luctor et Emergo from The Peoples of The Labyrinths, as well as to Kenzo‘s Amour. The drydown has even been admiringly compared to Givenchy‘s notorious Amarige. I love Amarige, own it, and don’t find a lot of similarities between its lovely, richer, deeper, more appealing amber in the drydown, and the deluge of powdered sweetness in WWDIP. I haven’t tried the other scents to know how they may compare, but Now Smell This and Freddie of Smelly Thoughts found some overlap between What We Do In Paris and other gourmand fragrances, including Serge Lutens‘ Rahat Loukoum and Louve. Like me, Freddie wasn’t bowled over by What We Do In Paris, calling it “slightly immature” and “safe and predictable.” He called it “a perfect blind buy for someone who just likes to smell good but doesn’t care of what in particular.”

If you’re a gourmand lover, however, and are looking for an uncomplicated, completely safe scent, you may want to read the glowing, gushing raves on Luckyscent where many people find WWDIP to be delicious, sweet nectar and utterly addictive. Everyone talks about the powder or Play-Doh, but they generally love it, with only a few dissenters finding the perfume to be excessively sweet or like “baby powder.” One admiring commentator said the fragrance was delicious Play-Doh in “a comforting, loving feminine role-model wearing kind of way. Reminds me of a kind pre-school teacher.” I agree with that last bit. I could definitely see a pre-school teacher wearing WWDIP as a scent that would comfort and soothe toddlers….


Cost & Availability: What We Do In Paris Is Secret is an eau de parfum that is most commonly available in a 60 ml bottle that costs $110 or, generally, around €110. There is also a 15 ml bottle that is sold by some vendors for €24. Both sizes are listed on the Lab on Fire website, but it doesn’t seem to have an e-store offering online purchase. In the U.S.: you can find What We Do In Paris at Luckyscent. Outside the U.S.: In France, I found the perfume in a 15 ml size bottle at Colette which sells it for €24. I couldn’t find any UK vendors, but I didn’t search exhaustively. In the Netherlands, WWDIP is sold at Skins in the 60 ml bottle for €115,85. In Germany, First in Fragrance offers What We Do In Paris for €110, and I believe they ship worldwide. For all other locations, you can turn to the Lab on Fire Stockists list on their Facebook page which lists vendors from Austria to Poland, Greece, Switzerland and elsewhere in the EU. No UK or Australian vendors are listed, however. Samples: I obtained my vial from a friend, but you can buy samples at Surrender to Chance which offers WWDIP starting at $5.99 for a 1ml vial.

26 thoughts on “Review En Bref: A Lab on Fire What We Do In Paris Is Secret

  1. I’m glad you didn’t like the perfume 😉

    I haven’t tried any of the brand’s perfumes and don’t plan to – unless they just happen to be somewhere at a store. Why? [rant on] Because I do not like all that minimalistic cr**. Chanel’s, Dior’s and Frederic Malle’s packaging is minimalistic and you can concentrate on the scent (or perfumer in the latter case). You do not need to put a perfume into a Mason jar to appreciate a perfume over its packaging. I do not want all the brands to be by kilians or xerjoffs when it comes to packaging but $110/60 ml is already a luxury product and it should feel like such.[rant off]

    • LOL! I always enjoy your rants, especially as they’re quite rare as a whole. I think I’m in the tiny minority of perfume heads who rarely thinks about — let alone really cares about — the packaging (with a few rare exceptions). But, I must say, that aluminium, silver Ziploc bag stopped me in my tracks. I actually did a few head tilts like The Hairy German, and blinked at it repeatedly in some confusion. For me, though, the far greater sin is $110 for a fragrance that smells like it belongs in Macy’s. Nothing wrong with those scents, but not at $110. Honestly, this really felt like a super high-end, luxury version of a scent from Victoria’s Secret or Bath & Body Works — and, for me, that makes the $110 far too much. I’m rather floored that Dominique Ropion created this.

      • I liked the visual of you tilting your head in a disbelief 🙂

        I do not always care to get the bottle, for many scents a 10 ml decant in a plain not leaking glass spray atomizer would be enough for me. But I want to know that there was some attention to details in that area as well – just in case I do want to add a bottle to my collection and as a sign that, in general, a brand takes care of details.

    • Really?! We so rarely have the same perception of a fragrance. The only times that happens is when something is really bad or really bland….. *grin* That obviously says something about What We Do in Paris! 😛

  2. There are worse things out there. There are better things too. I like a little more than a ziploc bag at that price point too. I have a few mls. of this and that’s more than enough. It’s not something I’d buy. I’m rather indifferent towards it.

    • I couldn’t help but grin at the very dry, rather curled lip involved in “I like a little more than a ziploc bag at that price point too.” Heh. 😀 This seems too fluffy and girly a scent for a woman who loves her churchy incenses, so I must say that I don’t see you wearing WWDIP *at ALL*!

      • You saw that lip curl? I was hoping you,wouldn’t notice. 😉
        I like a little fluff and girly stuff now and then. I am a poodle person you know. Ooh, perhaps I should give them a spritz of this. That might work wonderfully…

    • That seems to be the common theme here, with one exception. Indifference or actual dislike. Honestly, I’m just struggling with the fact that Domininque Ropion made this! Ysatis, Carnal Flower, Portrait of a Lady, Amarige, a gazillion other very complex, famous, or beloved classics… and then this. *shakes head*

  3. Leaves me cold too. I had high hopes, but I found it pretty generic and unmemorable (as it seems you did as well). The name makes it sound so alluring, and yet…it just didn’t live up to the hype for me.

    • The hype — which is bloody enormous — makes me realise that gourmand lovers must be the dominant group who write about this and that everyone else (people like all the ones replying here) are simply too bored to even bother saying how much the perfume leaves them cold. Because, seriously, judging by the comments, this is the best fragrance EVER! Er….. no. Absolutely, no! There are worse scents out there, but this is hardly the Be All/End All that the comments on places like Luckyscent would lead one to believe.

      • I’ve found LuckyScent reviews in particular, broadly, are very much the opposite of my taste! Maybe I just notice it more because there are far fewer reviews there than in places like BaseNotes or Fragrantica, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen eye-to-eye with a single customer review there!

  4. When I tested this, I had it on one arm and had Keiko Mecheri’s Loukhoum on the other. Now I can never think of WWDIPIS without thinking of Turkish Delight. Of the two, I think that if I were to go back, I would consider Loukhoum to be the better crafted fragrance. Unfortunately, it was so, so, so, sugary sweet that it gave me a headache and needed to be scrubbed off.

    WWDIPIS did not need to be scrubbed off, but it wasn’t for me. If I want a good almond-y fragrance, I would reach for Tardes instead.

    (on a side note, I didn’t think WWDIPIS was anything like Luctor et Emergo, that one was so evocative of my childhood that I was almost moved to tears. No joke!)

    • I have a sample of Keiko Mecheri’s Loukhoum, have never been inspired to try it, and your comments leave me even less enthused! As for WWDIPIS, I’m relieved you’re not passionately in love with it since I got my sample from you, and I was a bit worried I’d offend your feelings. I’m very relieved!

      • Rest assured, dearest Kafka! I love the name (I really do), but the fragrance leaves me indifferent — which is worse than hating I it, I think.

  5. Powder, Play-Doh, and pre-school teachers, huh?

    Sounds awful (even setting aside my personal issues with powdery notes). And I’m with you and Undina and Poodle – if I’m paying niche prices, I want packaging that doesn’t make me think of either high-end dried fruit or medical waste.

    • Oh, lordie, now I’m laughing even more. “High-end dried fruit or medical waste” is not only painfully funny, but rather accurate! You’re smart to stay away, though, Stina, simply because of how badly powdery notes can transform on your skin. This one would probably make Guerlainade look like child’s play…. 😉

  6. I love the fact that Paris is the city that many perfume brands choose for one of their scents. I also think that naming a perfume after Paris is a very clever marketing strategy since it will instantly become interesting in the eyes of many women. That said the packaging is strange, it looks like something that would have food in it, like a Ziploc bag that has a sandwich inside 😛 that is weird and not too elegant…I´m one of the people that cares about packaging even if, in the case of perfumes the scent is more important. Speaking of packaging I can´t take out of my mind that perfume bottle that looks like a guillotine, I remember seeing that one here and can´t forget it, I will definitely have to look for it now, but that is out of topic I guess :P. I personally don´t mind commercial fragrances but I can´t imagine a perfume that smells like Play doh, has plastiline changed since I was a kid? (about 12 years ago) I don´t remember play doh smelling particularly appealing.

  7. Dear Kafka, I am again in the minority. I happen to like WWDIPIS, a lot. I loved the simplicity of the packaging — the whoosh of the air escaping the vacuum pack, the frosted bottle nestled within a single newsprint sheet, the protective black sponge protecting the atomizer head, the cable tie wrapped around the lower third of the bottle, the engraved metal label, the flame logo and best of all, the perfume itself – powdery elegance (definitely young which I much prefer to “old ladyish”).
    I have a date with WWDIPIS tomorrow 🙂

    • You’re usually in the majority, dear Hajusuuri, especially amongst your two other perfume twins. This seems to be a marked exception to the rule! (Now you know how I feel sometimes on the blog. LOL.) 😀 😉

  8. Pingback: Diptyque, Al Haramain, A Lab on Fire & Etat Libre d'Orange - Kafkaesque

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