Perfumer Maurice Roucel
Cistus labdanum is a classic amber material. It’s THE classic amber, in fact. It has many facets and can be used to tease perfumes into an endless number of shapes. I had hoped that le Labo’s spartan approach would lead to interesting results. Unfortunately, Labdanum 18 emphasizes almost exclusively the cloying angles of the material. It starts with an unadorned sweetness and travels quickly to a matter-of-fact powdery vanilla musk-amber. There is a hint of the scratchy or animalic bits that often add dimension to amber, but it is buried under the sugar and it’s an open question how much cistus labdanum or other amber materials there are in Labdanum 18. It might just as well have been called Musk 18.
Roucel is known for his large, involved fragrances like Guerlain Insolence and Hermès 24 Faubourg. Perhaps the problem with Labdanum18 is the poor fit between the art direction and the perfumer’s methodology. Minimalism versus Sensationalism. Le Labo espouses focusing on the highlighted material. Roucel’s strength lies in shaping boisterousness and complexity into almost rococo distinctiveness. Labdanum 18 is the result of a bad fit.
Frédéric Malle’s Editions de Parfums shows the value of art direction and detailed curation. The perfumes are well considered and, importantly, don’t share a set of rules mandating how they are composed. The approach leads to perfumes that carry the perfumers’s signatures literally and figuratively. The perfumers are given the budget to create their dream-perfumes and the direction to support their goals. By comparison, le Labo’s approach seems like a dogmatic, one-size-fits-all article of faith
Roucel’s work for Malle includes Musc Ravageur (2000) which many consider one of his greatest perfumes and the start of a trend of ‘new orientals’. Interestingly, Labdanum 18 (2006) has been likened to Musc Ravageur. Did le Labo wind up with sloppy seconds?