I don't know if it's surprising that Rose 31 is whispered to be Le Labo's biggest seller. I mean, this is a terrific perfume, definitely deserving of the love it gets. But Rose 31 is not only low on the rose, it also has a nice(?) serving of cumin, and last I checked, many people run for the hills at the first whiff of this spice. Even more interesting is that Rose 31 is far from being a typical Le Labo perfume (if such thing even exists. I'm probably generalizing too much). Had I tested it blind five years ago I'd probably have mistaken this as a new Lutens-light.
Not that I'm complaining.
If your idea of a rose perfume is honeyed petals and sunshine, girls in pretty dresses on a June day and a touch of green, you might be taken aback. This is not the one. Rose 31 was released in 2006 as part of Le Labo's original line. These perfumes are famous for playing tricks with the sniffer who innocently expects them to be loyal to their names. Rose 31 opens with a nice and clean burst of dry rose, but it doesn't take long for things to get interesting. The rose thins into an iris-like note (Luca Turin calls it carrot juice but I maintain it's more powdery than juicy and a little chilly, so more iris than carrot to my nose). Then comes the spice rub.
I'm married to a cumin-phobe, but he has yet to complain when I wear Rose 31, so it's not too bad (and obviously not Curry Hill enough to deter me). There's also a slew of other pleasant spices that border on sweet chai mix but never quite get there (I don't smell any cardamom). Still, the nutmeg, pepper and clove are very warm and almost foody, without being too aggressive: Le Labo keep their signature unfussy and almost sparse touch. That's what keeps Rose 31 from being truly Lutensian.
The dry-down of incense and cedar is probably my favorite part. It's sweetened by the faint hint of rose and spice-rack, but there's a lot more than that. A hint of pencil shaving, a whiff of meditative incense, an unmistakable animalic note, perhaps the offspring of skin and cumin. It's sexy in a subtle way, too pulled-together to be a hippie scent, too gossamer to be goth. Some days Rose 31 lacks an anchoring base to remain on my skin for long. Other days it stays with me until late at night. I haven't deciphered all its secrets, and that's what makes this perfume magical.
Notes: Grasse rose, cumin, pepper, clove, nutmeg, olibanum, cedar, amber, gaiac wood, oud, cistus, vetiver and animalic notes.
Le Labo Rose 31 (starting at $58 for 15 ml) is available from Le Labo boutiques around the world, Barneys, Colette in Paris and Liberty London, as well as from LuckyScent and the company's website (store.lelabofragrances.com).
Photo by Paolo Roversi for Vogue Italia, September 2011