Incense and aldehydic myrrh are not what you’d expect from a fragrance called Vetiver 46, but Le Labo‘s perfume names are rarely accurate representations of the scent you’ll experience. In my case, incense is a large part of Vetiver 46’s story, along with soapiness, cloves, and ambered warmth. For some, however, Vetiver 46 is a primarily a woody incense fragrance with campfire notes, spiciness, or labdanum amber. For others, vetiver actually does seem to dominate. In short, with Le Labo, one doesn’t always know what will shows up.
Vetiver 46 is an eau de parfum that was created by Mark Buxton and released in 2006. For those unfamiliar with the house, the number in the title — in this case, 46 — refers to the number of ingredients in the perfume. However, Le Labo fragrances frequently don’t smell like the note that they single out. Making matters a little more complicated is the fact that Le Labo’s note lists often do not include all the elements in question.
In the case of Vetiver 46, only 10 of its 46 notes are mentioned. According to Fragrantica and Luckyscent, they include:
Bergamot, black pepper, clove, cedar, vetiver, labdanum [amber], olibanum [frankincense], gaiac wood, amber, and vanilla.
Vetiver 46 opens on my skin with ISO E Super, more ISO E Super, then smokiness, leather, cloves, cedar, sweet spiciness, earthy vetiver, and labdanum amber. The fragrance has a musky chewiness that smells almost fetid, but also nutty and spiced. I can’t decide if it stems from the cedar or the labdanum, but I suspect it’s a mixture of the two combined with the cloves.
To my relief, the ISO Supercrappy fades to the sidelines after a few minutes, and other notes grow stronger. The cloves, pepper, incense, cedar, and amber all jockey for dominance, and frequently take turns leading the pack. The incense is delicate, but its black tendrils generally seem to tie everything together in a smoky, spicy, woody bouquet. At no time is the vetiver dominant on my skin. When it does appear, I like the fact that it doesn’t smell of peppermints, as vetiver is frequently wont to do.
Vetiver 46 feels almost chewy and meaty in its heavily cloved, cedar woodiness and dark smokiness; and that makes the emergence of a strange cleanliness and soapiness feel very jarring. Less than 5 minutes in, the latter two elements become extremely prominent. I have to wonder if Vetiver 46 contains a lot of myrrh (a type of incense) and/or aldehydes to go along with the frankincense, as both elements can turn extremely soapy. In fact, Vetiver 46 repeatedly made me think of Serge Lutens‘ La Myrrhe, which also turned into an avalanche of lather at one point.
Whatever the actual notes, the overall result on my skin feels like hamster cage bedding, heavily doused with soap suds, followed by meaty cloves, black pepper, earthy vetiver, ambered warmth, smokiness, a hint of sour guaiac wood, and a lot of clean, white musk. I don’t enjoy it. At all. It doesn’t help that the sillage is initially strong, radiating 3-4 inches with the use of 3 smears, though there is slightly less projection when I apply a smaller quantity.
As time passes, several accords vie for top billing, though they are not the ones which initially dominated Vetiver 46. For the most part, the perfume shifts wildly between two, very different, distinct bouquets on my skin. First, very clean soapiness and black incense, lightly flecked with cloves and amber. Second, clean, soapy hamster cage cedar with cloves, smoke, amber, and a touch of earthy vetiver. An intense, clean wave of synthetic white musk is woven throughout both versions. The whole thing feels airy but incredibly strong on my skin, thanks to the synthetics which my chemistry tends to amplify.
By the start of the 2nd hour, I’m utterly miserable. The white musk and soapiness that I hate so much grow stronger. Adding insult to injury, the ISO E Supercrappy makes a comeback, though it is muted as compared to the blast in the opening minutes. Vetiver 46 is now primarily a blend of soapiness, white musk, black incense, cedar, and ISO E crap, with the cloves popping in and out once in a while. The whole thing gives me a constant headache every time I smell the perfume up close for too long. My skin may amplify synthetics more than most, but the white musk and soap combination feels particularly brutal here. I suppose I should feel grateful that Vetiver 46 turns into a skin scent on me at the start of the 3rd hour, but I don’t.
Roughly 4.5 hours into its development, Vetiver 46 shifts again. The amber and smoke return, bringing with them a wave of warmth, as well as spicy sweetness. Vetiver 46 is now a blend of hamster cage bedding, ambered warmth, clove spiciness and incense, all blanketed with soap suds and white musk. The muted vetiver note has disappeared entirely. Taking its place is a rather sickly sweetness which I find rather cloying.
It’s all far, far too much for me, and I’ve consistently had to scrub off Vetiver 46. I’ve tried it 3 times, but I’ve never lasted more than 6.5 hours. There is something about the contrasts which I find unpalatable, even if the perfume were not so synthetic. The mix of the almost meaty, chewy cloves and the cool, dark smokiness with the blanket of soap, dry woods, and the strange nuance of the sweet, vaguely cloying amber is really strange to me. And I don’t enjoy feeling like a hamster. I can’t think of another cedar scent that I’ve tried that evoked that parallel in my mind, but this one definitely does.
When I’m not feeling like a rodent, terrorized by the synthetics, or experiencing a headache, I’m left feeling incredibly bored. Vetiver 46 feels very linear to me, despite the occasional, sometimes fractional nuances. I suppose it’s vaguely interesting from a technical perspective how certain elements weave in and out, or how it can veer wildly between two distinct bouquets at one point, but both of those versions contain an avalanche of soap suds and white musk. When the linearity finally ends with the addition of the strangely cloying amber sweetness, it becomes more than I can take.
On Fragrantica, people seem to really like Vetiver 46, though many commentators find that the fragrance bears a strong similarity to Comme des Garcons 2 Homme which was also created by Mark Buxton and which is a much cheaper scent. I haven’t tried it to know how close the similarities may be, but I’ve heard it contains aldehydes and myrrh incense. The repeated comparison suggests to me that more people are experiencing soapiness than what they’re explicitly describing, but I might well be mistaken. Another fragrance which is sometimes mentioned is Encre Noire, a vetiver soliflore that contains a walloping amount of ISO E Super. You can draw your own conclusions about Vetiver 46 from that comparison.
For some Fragrantica posters, Vetiver 46 is all about smoky incense and spiciness. Others talk about campfire smoke with a leathery nuance. One person said it reminded them of church, which seems to point to myrrh again as that is often a key ingredient in “High Church” scents. For someone else, Vetiver 46 was almost a transcendental fragrance that transported them to Tibet. No-one talks about soapiness, synthetics, or cleanness, so my experience was clearly very anomalous.
In short, the general consensus on Fragrantica regarding Vetiver 46 seems to be along the lines of this review from “kxnaiades”:
Gorgeous, absolutely gorgeous leathery, smoking woods scent. It has nothing to do with a smoky BBQ type of smell, think of roasting posh woods emnating the most glorious, almost incense type of smoke. The smokiness in this must come from the guaiac wood and the earthiness from the vetivier. Vanilla lends an ever so slightly sweet tinge to the composition but only a dab. I can see that ladies who like feminine scents will possibly not warm towards this, to me it is very much unisex. I could well imagine Katharine Hepburn wearing this in “Woman of the Year”. I think it’s wonderful and for anyone wanting a respite from the day’s toil or trouble. SnS was transported to Tibet and ladykarl to a sanctuary. I agree with both of them. Spray this on and take a deep breath, it’s almost purifying! My first Le Labo purchase but definitely not my last.
On Luckyscent, not everyone is as enthused. A few people think Vetiver 46 is too close to the much cheaper Comme des Garcons 2 Man scent: “Le Labo has greater ‘fizz’ and smells greener, but I don’t think I’ll purchase it because I can get 2 Man for half the price.” For another, it was the Catholic church resemblance which was the problem, as well as a synthetic, plastic “band aid” note:
I’m the biggest fan of Le Labo on Luckyscent, I’ve worn every unisex, and masculine Le Labo Perfume, this one missed the spot, for one thing, the dry down is very austere, and not smooth at all, the Oud note seems really out of place to me, it smells like band aids, plastic, very odd. The scent reminded me of Catholic school in Venezuela…not a good memory.
Band-aids also comes up in the Now Smell This review from Robin, though she seems to have liked the scent as a whole:
It opens on the smell of peppered band-aids, slightly singed, brightened by the bergamot and given a generous dusting of dried clove. The medicinal undertones calm for the most part as it dries down to dusky woods, very deep and warm, with a murky quality that calls to mind Yves Saint Laurent M7. The amber and vanilla lend some sweetness without tempering the intensity of the woods; and while it is quite earthy, I would have guessed patchouli rather than vetiver.
It is a considerably stronger and probably less “wearable” fragrance than the Vetiver de Java [from Il Profumo], and while both are masculine, the Vetiver de Java, which smells almost clean in comparison, might be easier for a woman to pull off. All the same I prefer the Le Labo.
For Ayala Moriel, the perfumer, Vetiver 46 was all about the incense and labdanum. Her review on Smelly Blog reads, in part, as follows:
In the case of Vetiver 46, I can smell the other 45 ingredients far more than building block that gave its name. To be more precise, I smell labdanum and incense. The Le Labo website describes Vetiver 46 as the most masculine of the line, and themed around Haitian vetiver. I find this quite surprising, given the woody, incensey, at times almost smoky quality of the perfume that pervades most of its life on the skin.
Opening with labdanum, cistus oil, olibanum (AKA frankincense) and smoky notes of guiacwood and burning cedarwood, the scent gradually softens but remains rather linear and unchanging. Its aroma is rich, nevertheless; yet while I find the combination of notes appealing on its own, I find the persistence of the labdanum and oakmoss here to be leaving more to be desired. [¶][…]
… If you are looking for a vetiver scent, you won’t find it here. If incense is what your heart desires, look no further, it’s here in a juice form. Not a joss stick as pictured, but the resins thrown on a hot charcoal in a censer.
The Non-Blonde agrees, and, in fact, points to that exact review as a good summation for Vetiver 46.
As you can see, my experience was an anomaly and cannot be taken as representative of what you will probably experience with Vetiver 46. I will caution only those people who have serious problems with ISO E Super to take care. For everyone else, if you’re looking for a dark, woody fragrance that is strongly incensed, with campfire notes, spicy cloves, labdanum amber, and minor quantities of vetiver, give Le Labo’s 46 a sniff.