Le Labo Benjoin 19 (Moscow): Ambered Incense

Source: vk.com

Source: vk.com

The Kremlin in the snow, warm ambered light shining into the darkness of incense from a cathedral, and a dry wind that carries the faintest hints of pine trees on the Siberian steppes. That is one aspect of Benjoin 19, an incense and amber duet from Le Labo that I sometimes enjoyed to the point of surprise, though the perfume also ended up presenting a very different version of itself as well, one that was significantly less appealing.

Source: Luckyscent.com

Source: Luckyscent.com

Benjoin 19 is an eau de parfum that was created by Frank Voelkl, and inspired by Tolstoy‘s famous novel, Anna Karenina. The fragrance was released in 2013 as a City Exclusive for Moscow, sold only in that city, and unavailable anywhere else except during Le Labo’s annual one-month celebrations. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Le Labo’s practices, they have a number of fragrances made solely for a particular city, but one month a year (often in September, but sometimes in November), Le Labo makes their creations available world-wide. The prices are substantially higher than for the fragrances in Le Labo’s regular line, but there is one small compensation, I suppose: you can have your bottle refilled for life if you take it to any Le Labo counter anywhere in the world, regardless of the month. You still have to pay the high City Exclusive price (which is almost $300 for a small bottle), but you’re not locked out for the scent once you have it. For those who truly adore a particular City Exclusive, it may be worth it.

Styrax resin via themysticcorner.com

Styrax resin via themysticcorner.com

This year’s Le Labo global fest begins on September 1st and lasts until September 30th, so it seemed to be a good time to try Benjoin 19. I was motivated primarily by the fact that the word “benzoin” (or “benjoin”) is usually a short-hand reference to a wonderful, dark, balsamic resin that comes from the styrax tree, and which is frequently used in amber or incense fragrances. I love styrax with its smoky top notes, and almost leathery undertones. It is the darkest of all the resins, and used in a lot of my favorite scents. However, I think it’s important to mention that “benzoin” by itself can also refer to something completely different: a white, crystallized compound that apparently has a light “camphor-like” odor and which has absolutely no relation to an amber, smoky resin. In the case of the Le Labo fragrance, the company has not specified “benzoin resin” or actual “benzoin,” but I suspect that both were used.

In fact, Le Labo tells us little about what is actually in Benjoin 19. Its number indicates 19 ingredients are involved, but Le Labo’s official list (as quoted by Luckyscent) says simply:

Olibanum [frankincense], amber, cedar, musks, benzoin, and more…

Anna Karenina movie poster via fanart.tv

Anna Karenina movie poster via fanart.tv

Le Labo’s full description of the perfume is long and spends a lot of time talking about Anna Karenina. Specifically, about a single moment in the book, “the moment when everything changes, when your life topples over, when nothing will ever be the same.” Le Labo then grandiosely adds, “Benjoin 19 is that moment.” I rolled my eyes profusely at that, but I agreed somewhat with the company’s summary of Benjoin 19’s essence:

Benjoin 19 is a comforting blend of resins, soft incense, warm balsamic undertones, never overwhelming but truly addicting.

I disagree with Benjoin 19 being “truly addicting,” but the perfume can be very enjoyable. If you experience the right version of it, that is….

Incense censer. Source: stdavidspokane.org

Incense censer. Source: stdavidspokane.org

Benjoin 19 opens on my skin with a heft amount of incense, along with a dash of what I suspect are aldehydes. The incense is very clearly myrrh with its cool, stony, Church vibe, and it’s trailed by a light amount of sweet myrrh (opoponax) with its toasty, nutty nuances. The aldehydes provide a light shimmer of soapy whiteness, but they last only for a moment before the myrrh overtakes them completely. Its aroma evokes images of a priest swinging an incense censer as he walks on cool stone floors, past the wooden pews and icons of an old Orthodox Church. A fine patina of dust lingers in the air, along with a quiet earthy mustiness, as if the mysterious soul of a church’s darkened alcoves had been bottled together with the incense of a hundred Russian Orthodox masses.

Dormition or Assumption Cathedral at the Kremlin, Moscow. Source: vorotila.ru

Dormition or Assumption Cathedral at the Kremlin, Moscow. Source: vorotila.ru

Underneath them all lies a layer of labdanum which first presents itself as a mere breath of warmness. However, less than 10 minutes into Benjoin 19’s development, it starts to creep up from the base, slowly washing over the cool myrrh. Eventually, the labdanum turns the incense’s somberness into something warm, toasty, and crackling, but, for now, it is only a gentle touch. Small flickers of caramel underlie the resin, but it generally feels like something dark, toffee’d, resinous, and balsamic.

As a whole, though, Benjoin 19’s main bouquet in the opening moments is primarily that of cool, slightly musty, slightly dusty, white myrrh incense atop a tiny sliver of amber. I must admit, I’m not keen on it. As regular readers know well, High Church fragrances don’t bowl me over. Black, Middle Eastern frankincense is my thing, not myrrh with its fusty ancientness and occasional soapy touches.

That is why I was fascinated by the version of Benjoin 19 that appeared on my right arm. I’ve occasionally had small differences in scent occur from one arm to the next, which is why I often test a fragrance on both of them, but I’ve rarely encountered a truly profound divergence. Yet, that is essentially what occurred with Benjoin 19, resulting in what was essentially a completely different opening and fragrance. This one I enjoyed.

Source: hdw.eweb4.com

Source: hdw.eweb4.com

In this version, Benjoin 19 opens with frankincense and a momentary touch of aldehydic soapiness, followed by a rich wave of warm amber that has a hint of caramel sweetness underlying it. The labdanum also wafts its usual, dark, chewy facets, like the ones evident in such fragrances as Mitzah, Tom Ford’s Amber Absolute, or Ambre Sultan and which differ so much from regular amber, ambergris, or the fluffier, softer benzoins in such fragrances as Ambre 114. Within minutes, the labdanum begins to display its characteristic toffee’d, masculine undertones, as well as tiny flickers of its darker, more animalic side. Smoky, black Middle Eastern frankincense is wrapped throughout every inch and seam of it in a way that is very appealing.

On the sidelines, the cedar casts its shadow, smelling both aromatically green and a bit darkly smoky in its own right. In addition, weaving in and out of the base, much like tiny, dancing fireflies in a dark forest, is a definite coniferous aroma that resembles pine or crushed needles. Within 10 minutes, the pine becomes more noticeable, creating a distinct winter woods undercurrent that far exceeds mere cedar alone.

This Version #2 of Benjoin 19 is clearly an amber fragrance from the start. It is infused with frankincense, then lightly flecked by tiny touches of cedar and pine, but the amber is the star of the opening hours. In contrast, Version #1 is all about the myrrh, and pretty much everything else is a substantially weaker element. I’ve tested Benjoin 19 about 3 times now, and it’s the same story each time, with each arm wafting a very different opening. I’d like to say that both versions eventually turn into the exact same thing after a while or at the end, but they don’t. They simply don’t.

Source: journeytoorthodoxy.com

Source: journeytoorthodoxy.com

In Version #1, the frankincense arrives after 20 minutes to lurk at the edges, but it’s a very minor note and the balance continues to be firmly skewed towards a very cool, Churchy, myrrh fragrance until the very end. There is a small, thin layer of dark, toffee’d amber in the base, an occasional suggestion of soapiness up top, and some vague woodiness on the sidelines, but this Benjoin 19 is really all about the myrrh from start to finish. In the final hours, there was a growing soapiness along with a seemingly clean musk that appeared next to the myrrh. And that’s all there is to it. As a whole, this myrrh version of Benjoin 19 is a simplistic fragrance that doesn’t feel very interesting, let alone special. And absolutely none of it feels cozy or inviting to me.

Frankincense. Source: Tumblr

Frankincense. Source: Tumblr

In Version #2, I barely detected the myrrh, and it is frankincense which eventually ends up dominating the fragrance. And this is the Benjoin 19 that I sometimes enjoyed. It is also the version which showed the most nuance and layers. Generally speaking, many of the Le Labo fragrances I’ve tried have been massively linear in nature with very few alterations from start to finish, and certainly none which are major. They don’t twist, morph, or change their core essence, and the Myrrh Version #1 followed that same pattern as well.

Yet, my Amber-Incense-Woody Version #2 showed greater depth and nuance. So, this is the one I’ll talk about in greater detail. After 45 minutes, the labdanum turns richer, deeper, and smoother. There is a growing streak of pine forest weaving throughout the notes, perhaps as a nod to Russia’s great forests. It’s only a small touch compared to the rest of the elements, and nothing about Benjoin 19 screams pine forest liturgies, but its subtle, quiet presence is very evocative. By the end of the first hour, Benjoin 19 is a soft custard of caramel, labdanum amber and smoky incense, drizzled with sweet myrrh nuttiness, dusted with a handful of pine needles, and then nestled inside a tiny Russian forest of pine and cedar. It’s cozy, evocative, and conjures up images of a warm cabin glowing with candlelight and tucked away in some very snowy woods.

Source: wallpapersinhq.com

Source: wallpapersinhq.com

Benjoin 19 continues to bloom, reflecting different facets to its notes as it grows deeper. Joining the sweet myrrh’s toasted nuttiness is a microdot of honey, perhaps from the labdanum or perhaps again from opoponax. The amber feels very rich, and coats the skin like something far plusher than mere cashmere. I keep referencing “warm custard,” but nothing about Benjoin 19 feels gooey, unctuous, particularly sweet, or thick. In fact, regardless of version, the perfume is always a very quiet, airy scent, but this version of Benjoin 19 feels wonderfully fluffy, warm, and rich. It may hover just above the skin after 90 minutes, and turn into a skin scent at the end of the 2nd hour, but it has depth and is compulsively sniffable.

Photo: my own.

Photo: my own.

Things change at the start of the 4th hour. The frankincense no longer trails behind the amber, but overtakes it fully, turning Benjoin 19 into a much drier, darker fragrance. At the same time, the labdanum loses most of its custardy richness, its caramel-toffee’d nuances, and its light sweetness. The woods feel drier and darker as well, and are now devoid of the earlier pine notes.

For the most part, Benjoin 19 is now primarily just incense smokiness infused with a dry amber and a largely abstract woodiness. Once in a while, the amber makes a valiant attempt to take back the lead, but it rarely succeeds. Occasionally, there is something vaguely resembling the cool, fusty, whiteness of myrrh which pops up its head in the background, but it is a muted, squashed note that never holds much sway. Generally, Benjoin 19 is centered almost entirely on black frankincense smokiness with dry woods within a wispy cocoon of equally dry amber. And it remains that way until its very end.

In both versions of Benjoin 19, the fragrance had generally soft sillage and good longevity. I typically used about 3 big smears or the equivalent of 2 small spritzes from an actual bottle, and Benjoin 19 opened with 2 inches of sillage, maybe 3 at best. The fragrance often felt as soft as dandelion fluff floating in the wind, though it consistently grew deeper and less translucent in feel after an hour. Benjoin 19 generally turned into a skin scent on me between the 2.5 and 3 hour marks, but it wasn’t hard to detect up until the start of the 8th hour. In terms of longevity, Benjoin 19 consistently lasted over 10.5 hours. In one case, it was just under 12 hours on my left arm, while, on my right arm, small patches actually wafted gauzy bits of the fragrance around the 14th hour.

Photo: My own.

Photo: My own.

The second version of Benjoin 19 is a rare exception to my feelings about Le Labo. I’m not generally a fan of the perfume house’s fragrances, and most leave me cold with their flimsiness, airiness, discreet nature, linearity, and sometimes synthetic foundation. However, Version #2 of Benjoin 19 was very nice, particularly in its first few hours when it was that truly enjoyable soft custard of amber and incense, with flickers of toasted opoponax nuttiness, pine, and cedar. I actually found it compulsively sniffable at times, and the drydown with its darker, drier, smokier qualities was generally pleasant.

"Inquisitive (2013)", abstract art by T30 on Etsy. (Website shop link embedded within photo.)

“Inquisitive (2013)”, abstract art by T30 on Etsy. (Website shop link embedded within photo.)

I was obviously unenthused with the first version, given my issues with myrrh and High Church scents, but my greatest problem was something else. That version of Benjoin 19 felt wholly unremarkable. It was overly simplistic on my skin, linear, without depth, and lacking any distinctive character. Pleasant, I suppose, and a solid scent, but, ultimately, boring.

In all bluntness, I don’t think either version is worth the hefty price hike that Le Labo has for its City Exclusives. Luckyscent kindly provided me with this year’s American pricing for Benjoin 19: $290 for 50 ml and $440 for 100 ml.

Those numbers are a little less than what Amouage and SHL 777 generally charge for 50 ml of their perfumes, and just under Serge Lutens’ American pricing for his exclusive bell jars. In the case of those brands, however, the fragrances usually have opulence, full-bodied depth, great richness, complex layers, distinctiveness, and/or originality. Absolutely nothing in either version of Benjoin 19 would qualify for any of those terms. The $160 that Le Labo charges for 50 ml of its regular fragrances would be great for Benjoin 19, but $290?! The perfume can be enjoyable at times, but, contrary to Le Labo’s belief, it is most definitely not “the moment when everything changes, when your life topples over, when nothing will ever be the same.”

Source: Houzz.com

Source: Houzz.com

I’m not the only one who has tested Benjoin 19, and found it to be a flawed fragrance that is massively over-priced. Actually, I was a little surprised to see just how many people on Fragrantica dismissed Benjoin 19 with a shrug, and just how simplistic a fragrance they experienced. There is not a single, wholehearted, unqualified rave for the scent listed there thus far. Not one. A sampling of the comments:

  • First impressions of Benjoin are not good. It smells like a base of something I’ve smelled before. The price it’s being charged for is ludicrous [….][¶] I get that it smells like benzoin, a favorite note of mine, but Le Labo is usually not literal, and for the price I wish they weren’t. If it’s a soliflore I would just buy an essential oil, some perfumer alcohol, mix it and I would save a crap load of cash.
  • although nice, it doesn’t stand out from all the other amber musks on the market. The drydown is all cedar. I think this is more masculine than feminine.
  • I liked it from the start, but thought what other reviewers think: nice, but does not stand out. However, by the third wearing I find that this perfume grows on me. It is all about resins and woods. It is a smooth coniferous scent, warm and cosy.
  • Really, not one of the Le Labo Highlights, but at least it smells like the name implies, but doesn’t go beyond it. A standard cozy/sweet/ambery benjoin fragrance with musk and something incensed. Nothing that you really need to know.
Source: alphastoneworks.com

Source: alphastoneworks.com

The most positive comment comes from someone who actually seems to prefer other fragrances!

Wow, I really like this one! Of course, being a city exclusive it’s not available too often but had I smelled this first, I may have bought this and not Wonderwood by Comme des Garcons. They smell very similar but Wonderwood doesn’t have the smoky vibe that I don’t like, so in that way, I prefer Wonderwood. Still, I do like Benjoin 19..so I guess I’m ok about not having a bottle of this one ….yet….
I think if I get some money to burn I’ll pick up a bottle but if not, oh well…I have my beloved Wonderwood….and my Gaiac 10 which also bears a small resemblance to this one….but only small.

Bottom line- if you have anything similar, take a pass. If you love woods, get Wonderwood. [Emphasis to names added by me.]

Source: Wall321.com

Source: Wall321.com

I haven’t tried either of those scents to know how they might compare, but Gaiac 10 with its musk and woods is discussed in the Basenotes‘ entry for Benjoin 19. And absolutely no-one there seems thrilled about the Moscow Exclusive, either:

  • For me it’s vaguely similar to Gaiac 10 (which I wear) with amber thrown in, making it slightly warmer. I was hoping for a phenomenal new scent of incense and amber, being that I love incense frags, however you are correct. I wanted it to be stellar, but it just doesn’t quite reach those heights for me.
  • After receiving mine I applied it and sadly it does seem very flat.(a hint of Amber Sultan though) Theres no real development over time. Longevity is really good, up to 8 hours with no let up.
  • Ugh. So it wasn’t just me? [¶][…] Honestly, when I smelled the compound I thought something was wrong, and that it perhaps would spring to life when blended. In fact, I was surprised by how flat it felt. [¶][…] I’d still love to wear it sometime to really get a sense of what’s going on, but my initial impression of it was that it was a dry musk (similar to their falsely named labdanum 18), with a slightly lactonic benzoin, and something that almost smelled like flour or paste glue. I’m still intrigued, but it doesn’t sound like it lives up to the concept, and certainly not the laughable pricing. [Emphasis to names added by me.]

At the end of the day, pricing is always a very personal, subjective valuation, and Benjoin 19 has enough appealing attributes (in one of its versions) that I could see a few people falling for it. I certainly enjoyed it more than some other Le Labos, and I think it has a polished, uncomplicated character that might also be incredibly cozy on the right skin. If you get Version #2 with its moments of ambered richness, I suspect you might enjoy it quite a bit.

Whether or not you think it’s worth the cost, however, is a whole other matter….

Cost & Availability: Benjoin 19 is an eau de parfum, and will cost $290 for 50 ml or $440 for 100 ml. I have no idea how much its European or British pricing will be this year when it is released worldwide. On its own website, Le Labo generally offers its fragrances in several smaller, more affordable options, with variations in formulation as well. For example, the scents come in everything from perfume oil to Discovery Sets, 10 ml “travel tubes,” 500 ml monster vats, body lotions, massage oil, and shower gels. perfume oil. Le Labo Website Options: On September 1st, 2014, Benjoin 19 should be available on Le Labo‘s website for one month. The company has a variety of different country options for its website, from North America to the U.K., France, and general International. Click on the “Shipping To” sign at the top of the page in that link for you to go to the website for your location. Le Labo World Boutiques: Le Labo has store locations from New York to London and Tokyo, as well as retailers in a ton of countries from Australia to Italy to Korea. You can find a full list of its locations and vendors hereIn the U.S.: Benjoin 19 will be available at Luckyscent. At the moment and until September 30th, Luckyscent has Sample Packs of all the City Exclusives for purchase. Other retailers who carry the Le Labo line are Barneys and Saks Fifth Avenue. You can check those links in September to see if they have Benjoin 19. Outside the U.S.: In Canada, Le Labo is carried in Toronto by 6 by Gee Beauty, but nothing is shown on their online website for direct purchase. Call to order by phone. In the U.K., Le Labo is sold at Harrods’ Designer Department on the First Floor, and at Liberty. In Paris, you can find Le Labo at Colette. In the Netherlands, the line is sold at Skins Cosmetics. In Australia, you can find it at Mecca Cosmetics. Samples: Surrender to Chance sells Benjoin 19 starting at $6.99 for a 1/2 ml vial. Luckyscent sells a 1.5 ml sample for $12.

21 thoughts on “Le Labo Benjoin 19 (Moscow): Ambered Incense

  1. Frankly, I’m not really convinced Le Labo’s offerings are even worth their non city exclusive pricing scheme. I know lots of people adore them, but everything I’ve tried has left me cold and the few I like are very fleeting and sheer.

    I also find their city exclusives a bit gimmicky. More than a bit, actually. I know they aren’t the only house to do that, but it bothers me nevertheless. Especially since they still make it available during part of the year, and then allow you to continue filling it regardless of location. It makes me wonder what the hell the point is in making it exclusive to begin with if you’re going to play so fast and loose with the definition!

    All that said, this sounds nice. While I get that with any perfume a certain amount of pricing is going toward marketing and all that, I can’t help but feel the inflated price of Le Labo is the result of all the gimmicky publicity stunts the line does (filling bottles on demand, city exclusives). I’d rather they do less of the song and dance and focus on making lasting scents worthy of the prices they ask.

    I’m sure I’m being overly critical, and perhaps they aren’t any guiltier than any other house utilizing similar tactics, but it’s Monday and I’m in a bad mood.

    • In terms of “fast and loose” with the definition of exclusivity, I think it is still applies. It is merely that those who buy one of their exclusive scents get the benefit of access for life. In fairness, I think it’s much better that they open up the fragrances once a year than if they never did. If they didn’t, they would get slammed even more than they already do, and it would be the sort of inaccessibility that so many decry about Harrods Exclusives, etc. etc.

      The real issue is whether the Labo Exclusives are worth all this fuss and bother. You’re not alone in thinking that they’re not. (And you’re also not completely alone in finding the brand as a whole to be for tastes other than your own. I’m with you on that one, generally speaking. But we’re definitely in the minority. I mean, think about the worship for Rose 31!!)

  2. I love benzoin, but the reviews on this one are so lukewarm… sad. I enjoy several Le Labo scents (vanille, gaiac, oud, ylang) and was hoping this would be a winner but probably not. What is your favourite benzoin-centered fragrance?

    • I’ll have to think about that. I don’t think I have any loves that are almost pure benzoin soliflores. Rather, it’s always a strong component in conjunction with other notes, but I think SHL 777’s Black Gemstone has a LOT of styrax/benzoin. Again, though, I would not classify it as a pure benzoin-centered fragrance because there are so many other elements as well, from Tolu/Peru balsams, to lemon, patchouli, labdanum, etc. So I’ll have to ponder the issue, as well as how one defines things. Right now, I’m drawing a total mental blank, probably because I’m currently in a world of highly drunken, boozy fruits. 🙂 (And I’m so, so happy about it too!)

  3. Dearest, I have a sample of this and (don’t fall off your chair) I’ve tested it. It reminded me of Gaiac 10 which was decant-worthy. Unfortunately, the parts that did not smell like Gaiac 10 smelled like a wet basement – eek. I may try it again before the City Exclusives go back home again.

    I haven’t had the need to replenish my City Exclusives (Vanille 44 and Cuir 28) but when I do, there is a 15% discount for a refill at Barneys.

    • Heh, are you finally making inroads in your mammoth “To Test” list, or did Benjoin simply shoot up to the top due to the upcoming window of accessibility? 😀 With regard to the actual smell, you got wet basement? Ugh, that’s only a few steps behind the dreaded mildew note. (Please don’t tell me you were emanating mildew as well in that basement!)

      I bet it’s the myrrh which is partially responsible, as it can be such a fusty, musty smell at times. I find it often goes terribly wrong on me. (And let’s not bring up the completely crazy way it is in Serge Lutens’ La Myrrhe. The memory still haunts me.) But I wonder what created the sense of wetness on you? Hm. Doesn’t sound good. Did you get a ton of white musk with it, btw?

      Good to know that Barney’s offers a discount on the refills. That makes it a little more palatable. I’d be curious to know how widespread that may be, and if it is something that Le Labo asks all their vendors to offer. I’ll see what I can dig up when I have the time, but thank you for letting me (and others) know about the Barney’s discount. 🙂

  4. Normally, this would be something I might seek out a sample of as benzoin is the main player and one of my favorite notes. Anna Karenina also happens to be the first classic novel I ever read and loved, adding even more appeal to this fragrance for me. However, I have found myself a little underwhelmed bu Le Labo line. I’ve done a quick sniff of almost all their fragrances, but I can only remember one or two that I felt would be worth revisiting. I find that I “like” a lot of their scents, but I don’t love any of them. Then again, I don’t hate any of them either so I guess they just don’t elicit much of a response from me.

    I’m also still a little disappointed about my own city’s exclusive, Limette 37. I admit it is well done, but I care very little for citrus fragrances as a whole and find lime to be the one of the last notes I would associate with San Francisco. However, that is just my opinion on something that is very subjective. I don’t know about the other city exclusives, but Limette 37 didn’t stand out from the others to warrant the price jump, and I guess I don’t really like the idea of increasing the price of something unless you are likewise increasing the quality of materials (fragrant or otherwise) that go into it. Given all this, and how difficult and expensive if would be to procure a bottle of Benjoin 19 on the unlikely occurrence it becomes the very first Le Labo I fall for, I can’t really see myself even purchasing a sample. Anyways, great review as always, Kafka!

    • I agree with so much of your comment and feelings, Ashley. Particularly, though, your views of Limette 37. Now, I haven’t smelt it because, like you, I don’t particularly like citrus scents, but I lived in San Francisco for quite a number of years. And I would never have come up with lime as a note to represent one of my favorite cities in the world. Not once would lime be the element which would have come to mind. Star Anise, perhaps, for the chinese spices, or woody-salty-sea tonalities maybe. Something involving boozy wine notes as a nod to the further distant reaches of Napa, perhaps, if one isn’t going to be truly geographically specific. But citruses and lime? Bloody LIME???! As you said, it’s subjective, but lime is not my SF and it doesn’t seem to be that of many other people’s SF either!

      Anyway, the whole Le Labo thing seems to be a particularly strange thing in that people either love it or…. have total indifference to it. Usually, it would be “hate” at the other end of the equation, but this is one perfume house where the opposite reaction seems to be complete apathy. It’s somewhat unusual, I think, and I think that says something about the fragrances.

  5. A great discussion, many thanks! The intent of Le Labo’s city exclusives, and similar initiatives from other houses, seems to be to re-instate the idea of ‘exclusivity’ in an age when it feels as if anything can be bought anywhere, any time, over the internet. I imagine the idea is to feed our desire for something that is hard to get because the product is sold in a limited number of places, and/or is very expensive, is a limited edition or unique, is handmade, or created just for you. LL offers a bit of all of that and has been doing so for some time. I suppose the strategy must work overall, even if some of the city exclusives individually fail to make a profit.

    As you point out, many perfumistas are cynical about the approach (but we may not be the target market). Instead, some chase vintage fragrances (and yes, I know a lot of false assumptions float about as to what ‘vintage’ actually is) because vintage fragrances can be truly rare. Many of us love the thrill of an unexpected eBay win, or discovering a source of vintage Dioressence or Magie Noire, or an under-the-radar discounter which still has stocks of Theorema for under $100.

    I only collect vintage in a minor way because there are plenty of disappointments as well as triumphs, but I’m drawn to vintage because the costs of niche and exclusive fragrances are so ridiculous, and the product sometimes mediocre. I mean,how stupid do some of these fragrance houses think I am? 🙂 With vintage, you need to be knowledgeable, discerning and determined, and a bit lucky, but you don’t need to be rich!

  6. I haven’t tried this, but I will have to get a sample of this one. I was raised in the Russian Orthodox religion and incense and amber smells bring back memories. When I was a teenager I asked my mother what was the perfume I constantly smelled in the church and she said it was a Russian perfume which I wish I could remember the name of. She soon later got a bottle for me of that perfume which smelled mostly of amber. Incense, amber, and beeswax candles are the smells I associate most with church and I find I tend to try to find candles and scents reminiscent of these. I got a limited release Trapp candle called Frankincense and Rain and it makes me recall memories of the Easter midnight service when it was raining.

    • I really enjoyed reading about your scent memories with the Russian orthodox church. Lovely. Just out of curiosity, have you tried Oriza L. Legrand’s Relique d’Amour? It has a definite churchy bouquet, complete with incense, stony floors, and beeswax, though there is a lily note as well. If you’re interested, you can look up my review. Samples are available from Luckyscent if you are in the US, or from the company and some retailers in Europe if you’re located there. The samples are affordable, and the scent doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. Unfortunately, it has some body, sillage and longevity issues, but I thought it was a lovely take on a (Catholic) Church aroma. There is also Profumum’s Olibanum which you may want to try if you haven’t already. I’m not very keen on it, but I know a number of people who love incense-churchy fragrances to enjoy it quite a bit. I hope that helps you a little in your search.

  7. Gah. I hate Le Labo: Misleading names (yeah, I *get* the concept. I just think it’s stupid). That weird “It Must Be FRESHLY BOTTLED” thing. The crappy, insulting city exclusive nonsense. Way overpriced. Fragrances that are either unwearably outre* or horrendously dull**. Worst of all in my book, LL’s snooty-seeming attitude.

    (So I’m an American peasant. My foldy green US legal tender converts to nice crisp Euros as well as anybody else’s currency, and I don’t appreciate the snooty.)

    * There are, apparently, people who find Patchouli 24 wearable. Vanilla Ham Smokehouse, really?

    ** Neroli 36. Sorry, did I drift off to sleep for a minute?

    (I admit to having found Aldehyde 44 sort of nice, but honestly? considerably down the list of aldehydic goodies** on my “I might buy this” list, even without the ridonkulous price. My blind-bought decant languishes; I almost never wear it. And Lys 41 was lovely, but I found myself wanting either another bottle of DK Gold, or maybe one of Diane von Furstenberg Tatiana, 1980s parfum. Lord, Tatiana ca. 1984, I loved that stuff.)

    Having snarked at length, I will further opine that your Version 1 sounds rather more up my alley than Version 2, but I bet I wouldn’t get either one of them. I keep passing up the opportunity for a split portion of this, mostly because it’s, you know, Le Labo. It’s not so much that I hate the fragrances – I mean, look, I bought 5mls of Aldehyde 44 – as that I don’t think they’re good enough to justify the house’s marketing strategy. But then, I think that about Clive Christian too.

    File me under CRANKY today. GRR.

    • Heh, I think CRANKY (in all caps, no less) Mal may be one of my favorite Mals of all! 😉 😀 So, so funny. I got samples of some Clive Christians lately. It will be interesting to see how they smell, given house’s marketing and obnoxious tag line about the cost of their perfumes. Given the size of my immediate “To Test” list, though, it may be months before I ever get around to them, but I will think of you when I do. 🙂

      • I am particularly cranky about Clive Christian because he bought Crown Perfumery and promptly axed its offerings, including the lovely Crown Bouquet (which you would truly hate: big smack of galbanum followed by quiet white flowers). GRRRR.

        Looking forward to what you have to say about those CCs! The two I managed to test did nothing to improve my humor, I admit.

  8. Kafka –

    As usual I am pleased to see we are of similar mind in regards to a particular fragrance. I remember reading one absurdly breathless review on CaFleurBon last year and somehow convinced myself to spend $12 on a single sample of this based on that hype, and boy was I ever let down. This fragrance is the most generic, by the books niche nonsense that I ever put upon my skin. The fact that they charge such an absurd amount for what is such a standard, boring, derivative fragrance sets me on edge. They are charlatans and I will never bother with any of their fragrances again. I should add that I smelled the grand majority of the line while in Los Angeles this winter and all of them were hopelessly derivative. They are by far the worst of the “Emperor with no clothes” types that seem to be all over the niche market, if you will.

    In other, non-related news, I have finally managed to try some of the Oriza line, and am quite taken with Foin Fraichment Coupe. I hope to further explore that line, as it seems to be the anti-Le Labo.

    – Hunter

    • So, how do you REALLY feel, Hunter? ;-P LOL. Joking aside, I love your comment. Totally hilarious, and quite accurate, too. “The Emperor has no clothes.” Heh 😀 Let’s not even bother to talk about Benjoin further, and tell me all about the Oriza L. Legrands that you have tried. Is Foin Fraichement your favorite? Have you tried Vetiver Bourbon yet? Also, I’m curious as to how the longevity and sillage is on your skin.

      • So far I’ve only tried Foin and Chypre Mousse. Foin had a moderate level of sillage and lasted for about five hours on my skin. Chypre Mousse is rather odd, I must say. I’m not sure if I like it, but I’m still trying to wrap my head around it so I don’t think I’m quite ready to make any real pronouncements in regards to it’s quality just yet.

        I’m afraid vetiver brings out a nasty allergic reaction whenever I wear anything with it as a focus. I gave a sample of the Oriza vetiver to my mother (who is a big fan of vetiver at large) so I can at least assess it through her.

        I have a sample of Horizon heading my way. I’m excited to try that one as it seems right up my alley.

        • LOL at your bewilderment and ambivalence regarding Chypre Mousse. Don’t worry, you’re not alone in that regard, or in thinking it is an odd scent. It certainly isn’t like anything else around. Period. 🙂

          Horizon is fantastic, but I hope it lasts on your skin more than it does on me. On fabric, though, it endures seemingly forever. lol

  9. So, I sampled this yesterday. It was a pleasant sweetish incense, but thankfully I did not love it as I cannot afford it. If I received a bottle as a gift I would wear it with pleasure but that’s as far as it will go.

    • Well, at least you got the nicer version of the Benjoin! It’s still not worth it for that price, though.

  10. I was able to try Benjoin this year during the annual exclusives month of September. I have to admit that out of the entire exclusives range Benjoin impressed me the most. The resins, pine and vanille is what I get from this fragrance. Has decent longevity and sublime sillage which are both perfect for me in most social settings. As others have already pointed out, the only drawback is, understandibly, the price which is prohibitively high by all standards. Luckily however a half an ounce option is availabe and its price point is more accessible to more folks, especially collectors like myself. You see, I have learned to view these things in abstract. Whether I am buying 50 ml or 15 ml is not important to me. What is important is that I am buying A SCENT for $120 instead of $290. I have other fragrances that I love and wear regularly and Ive had them on my shelf for a few years and its somewhat bothersome to realize that I have barely “cracked a dent” in those bottles. So for me it came down to the question, is the scent “experience” worth $120? In this case, the answer is most certainly -yes-.

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