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.