Le Labo Discovers a New Strategy for Turning Scents Into Dollars

"We're in the business of being felt, not understood." How one entrepreneur created a laboratory for exploring the power and possibilities of fragrance.
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On Manhattan's Elizabeth Street, just south of the blistering traffic of Houston Street and tucked deep among the narrow passageways which slice their way through the blocks of fashionable NoLita, there sits a laboratory. Inside, there are beakers and bottles, scales and pipettes, and tall glass jars containing exotic ingredients from around the world.
This is Le Labo, a laboratory of scent. Co-founded in 2006 by Fabrice Penot, Le Labo is quietly revolutionizing the way that luxury fragrances are produced, marketed, and purchased today.

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Penot's philosophy is rooted in simplicity and transparency. "When you think about it, we never see anything being made anymore," he says. In a competitive market which champions overly poetic branding, celebrity endorsements, and mass production as the irreproachable keys to success, Le Labo has purposefully turned its back on traditional consumerist excess. Scents are blended to order in front of customers' eyes (pictured, at left), and decanted into minimalist glass bottles. The names of Le Labo's fragrances are literal, not literary; each identifies the most prominent note in the formula (for example, rose, sandalwood, or musk) followed by the number of other ingredients. The process puts the individual customer first. That is, the brand's under-the-radar, unisex scents are given meaning through each person's unique experience of them.

"We wanted a one-by-one experience," Penot explains. "It's the idea that the way you discover a fragrance is as important as the fragrance itself."

Le Labo's dedication to honest interaction--a mission that initially inspired short-sighted criticism --has since spawned a minimalist, artisanal movement within the scent industry. Le Labo's boutiques can be found around the world, in every fashionable global capital you can name. The success of Penot and Le Labo proves once again that in order to be successful, one must ceaselessly question the "why" to quell the overwhelming din of "because it's always been that way."

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