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Despite snob

snootyducksHi all, sorry I haven’t been posting (if you missed me); I’ve been busy and have to prioritize. I haven’t forgotten about my little survey either; since the point of it was for me to learn how to do a regression analysis, trust me, I’ll be back to it, but not right away.

But that is not the subject of today’s rant.

No, today’s rant is brought to you courtesy of a healthy dose of self disgust.

See, I recently did get a chance to smell Thé Noir 29, which is coming out from Le Labo this month. And I will tell you, it’s good. It opens with a whacking big hit of tobacco, following the tradition of Le Labo scents that don’t smell much like what they claim they are. (Thé Noir meaning black tea, and if you don’t read French don’t worry about it, neither do most Americans and I can’t help but suspect this thing is going to get referred to all over as The Noir, like The Artist Formerly Known as Prince.)

After the tobacco there’s a hint of tea but the rest of it is just plain good – a floral tea scent, which you don’t get often, but very unisex, with a slug of the same woody musk blend in the base as my beloved Gaiac 10, such that the touch of rose in there would never really be noticed as floral. My point is, it’s good, I will have to get some, and when I get some I will wear the hell out of it.

Which annoys me. Because here’s my point: Le Labo pisses me off.

I don’t know where they get their attitude from. I hear they’re big in Hollywood? Or hotels? Or something? Who knows and who the hell cares. This is New York City. It’s gauche here to point at celebrities, and how exclusive can it be to be associated with specific hotels? – the same used to be said of hookers.

Their SoHo store has this faux-industrial thing going on which is very Brooklyn, very appealing – and very done; Brooklyn’s been doing actual industrial for more than a decade now, but whatever – and some of the packaging pulls on the same aesthetic. I admit, I like my stupid steel tube travel case and I will one day give in and get the container for the solids made by the same manufacturer. That lasts-forever industrial aesthetic does appeal to me. And everyone else. That’s why Mason Jars are big these days. It’s not that revolutionary.

Meanwhile the juice is distinctive. And that is no faint praise. In a world where even the indy lines can get to be cookie-cutter, it is true and worthwhile that Le Labo actually has an aesthetic and maintains it. Their dry abstract unisex synthetic combinations didn’t appeal to me at first; then a switch went off in my brain and they did. Le Labos don’t tend to smell like much else but each other (and part of the reason I like Thé Noir so much is its family resemblance to Gaiac 10 which is, I admit, one of my desert island fragrances.)

The juice is distinctive enough that I overlook the Brooklyn-y posturing, the cleaned-up-for-uptown industrial trendiness, and yes, even the stupid pricing on the stupid exclusives that are now available every fall (just in time for gift-giving – how exclusive), where there is supposedly a scent per large city that is only available in that city. For an even higher price per bottle. Except that you can buy them once a year anywhere anyway.

In fact I overlook the ridiculous pricing in general, because even the regular scents are, for the ingredients that they smell of, overpriced. I don’t use the word “overpriced” much, you don’t see it here on the Unseen Censer, because hey, if I want it, and I’m willing to buy it, how overpriced can it be? I might be a sucker but I can’t blame the company if I’m willing to pay for it. And the travel sets are nice in that they let you mix and match scents – a godsend to perfume freaks.

No, I overlook all that. What really fries my beans is that I have never had a great experience in their store.

There’s usually one nice person in there (on Elizabeth Street) but the rest are all “why are you in here you middle-aged suburbanite” – which is a very, very foolish way to treat a customer who spends as much on perfume annually as I do. (One could argue that it’s a very foolish way to treat any customer, but I am hip to the classist divisiveness of the average sales floor, and I would argue that, fair or not, if I get fawned over on the beauty floor of Bergdorf Goodman – and I do – then I do not look like the sort of customer who is unlikely to spend money in a perfume store.)

Not only do they not want to wait on me, but most of the staff don’t even want to talk to me about perfume. This is madness. What does the store sell again?

On this visit they really didn’t want to reveal Thé Noir despite my being there FOR an exclusive sneak peak that the store, presumably, arranged. This just makes me see red. Fake exclusivity makes me insane, especially when it is a product for sale. I like to think that anyone could visit the JAR boutique in Bergdorf’s and be treated to the same experience – it’s exclusive in that you can only buy the JAR fragrances in that boutique, but if you are there, you are entitled to shop. What on earth FBI-level security do they think they need on products that, if not yet available for sale in that store, will be for sale in that store within weeks (and if they want me to take the damn train back down there to see them, they should give me a reason to come back)? Does it really take a multi-person, multi-round discussion to decide to give me the security clearance to smell their new perfume? Do they really only plan to sell to people within a ten-block radius? What is up with that anyway?

The unpleasantness of shopping with Le Labo just makes me mad at myself for liking the scents of theirs that I like. I tend to refer to my beloved bottle of Gaiac 10 as “my stupid Gaiac 10”; when I take out my travel bottles of Le Labo (and I have six) and put one into my steel container, I don’t enjoy it as much as I want to; mostly I feel successfully duped.

This also means that even when I do decide I actually want a Le Labo scent, I generally just order it rather than go down to that off-putting store and check out what else is there. If I decide I want the Rose 31 oil – and I did – I just order it rather than visit. I don’t want Le Labo to sell me anything else; I’m embarrassed enough to be buying the Le Labo I already own.

It’s a dysfunctional relationship, and I’m coming clean about it right now, on the Internet. Actually it’s not even a relationship. I don’t know what to call it. I might buy their stupid scents – but I refuse to claim that it is anything but rather foolish to do so. I lose a little bit of self-respect every time I leave that store.

It’s SO annoying that I don’t even want to explore the other stores. Why risk being sneered at by more than one Le Labo store? Wouldn’t it be an even stupider expenditure of my time?

Actual exclusivity, if that is what drives you, would be perhaps a JAR scent – there are JAR boutiques only in Paris and New York City. Roja Dove’s Pierre de Velay scents, which are only available at Harrod’s. Something from IUNX, which really is sold only in one location in Paris. “Exclusive” means “not in wide distribution, you can’t just get it anywhere”. Not “you have to appease a handful of twenty-somethings to get it”. This short list doesn’t even include things like Christopher Brosius I Hate Perfume, which is really quite hard to find especially since the Brooklyn boutique closed to customers, or one of the natural perfumers like Joanne Basset who are making perfumes from very limited substances that they source or even grow themselves.

If your goal is a store rather than a particular bottle of juice, let me recommend some stores I would be happy to visit any time:

Scentbar in Los Angeles
The perfume boutique at Harrod’s in London
Les Topettes in Barcelona
Atelier Cologne downtown in Manhattan
Twisted Lily in Brooklyn
The IUNX shop in Paris (that guy’s a hoot)
or my beloved Bergdorf Goodman uptown in Manhattan

or, though I haven’t been to the store yet because it just opened, Arielle Shoshana in Washington D.C., because I’ve been waited on by Arielle before and I would be happy to buy more perfume from her.

If you want to SHOP, let me recommend any of these stores to you. These are my actual shopping experiences – places I have enjoyed. (Funnily enough, and probably not coincidentally, all of them have staff that aren’t different every time you visit, as well – so you can actually talk to people and, if you go back again, have the pleasant experience of talking again to someone who was actually nice to you last time.) If you decide you do need Le Labo scents – and you may well not, but if you do – let me recommend mail order. Via the web.

Image is “Snooty ducks” by Roger W, via Flickr; used under Creative Commons license, some rights reserved.

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8 comments to Despite snob

  • anatu13

    I was just going to recommend Arielle’s store as well!

  • Ari

    Oh no! I’ve been to the L.A. Le Labo, and they were super nice- even after I had paid, they took the time to bring out their tray of raw materials and let me smell the oakmoss. Maybe the New York branch just needs a little California sunshine? 😉

    Thank you for the Thé Noir review- I wasn’t sure whether to spring for a sample after the fairly lukewarm Now Smell This review. Now I’m thinking it deserves a sniff!

    • Judith

      I am from CA but haven’t lived there in many years so for me it’s always a mixed bag of “Jeez you people are laid back!” and “Oh yeah, this is what life is like when you’re not around clenched Easterners all day.” I bet the LA store is great.

      I’m still annoyed to report that I really like Thé Noir. Fortunately it’s part of the regular line, not one of the “city exclusives” – I will have to purchase at some point!

  • Maureen Doyle

    I find any poor customer service repugnant (good word?!) and really appreciate sales people who treat you like you are the most important customer they ever met. I, too, love Bergdorf’s and would add Neiman Marcus in the International Mall in Tampa, FL to your list of counters to visit. The Jo Malone and Tom Ford people there make me want to hang out in the store all day. I missed your posts and enjoy your “rants” as much as your regular commentary. Are you sure you can’t squeeze a small book in with all that other writing that you do?? Enjoy all your perfumery and thanks for posting.

    • Judith

      MAUREEN! Good to see you here. Book about what? I would happily write a book for the six of you who would read it. 🙂
      I had that one great shopping experience in Miami, too. I have never worked in retail so I will never figure out what some stores are trying to achieve with their staff – or not. But I do try hard to buy at the places where I like the people. (Actually, it’s not all that hard to do!)

  • Jeannette

    I had the same experience at the Le Labo counter at Nordstrom in Canada. The SAs just stood there with puzzled looks on their faces with one word responses to my questions. I finally left.

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