People often search for affordable facsimiles or “dupes” of famous fragrances. In the case of Frederic Malle‘s Musc Ravageur, one name that comes up is Meharees from the Italian brand, L’Erbolario Lodi. It’s been called the “Musc Ravageur killer” for a fraction of the price, and it’s also mentioned in the context of Hermès‘ Ambre Narguilé as well. A more expensive niche name that comes up in relation to Musc Ravageur is Le Labo‘s Labdanum 18. I love both Musc Ravageur and a bargain, so I bought Meharees blindly, persuaded by the rave reviews and by the company’s description of camel rides through the Sahara and legendary oases filled with undulating date trees. I thought I’d review it in conjunction with Le Labo’s Labdanum 18 to show how they compare to the Malle.
The Kremlin in the snow, warm ambered light shining into the darkness of incense from a cathedral, and a dry wind that carries the faintest hints of pine trees on the Siberian steppes. That is one aspect of Benjoin 19, an incense and amber duet from Le Labo that I sometimes enjoyed to the point of surprise, though the perfume also ended up presenting a very different version of itself as well, one that was significantly less appealing.
Incense and aldehydic myrrh are not what you’d expect from a fragrance called Vetiver 46, but Le Labo‘s perfume names are rarely accurate representations of the scent you’ll experience. In my case, incense is a large part of Vetiver 46’s story, along with soapiness, cloves, and ambered warmth. For some, however, Vetiver 46 is a primarily a woody incense fragrance with campfire notes, spiciness, or labdanum amber. For others, vetiver actually does seem to dominate. In short, with Le Labo, one doesn’t always know what will shows up.
Vetiver 46 is an eau de parfum that was created by Mark Buxton and released in 2006. For those unfamiliar with the house, the number in the title — in this case, 46 — refers to the number of ingredients in the perfume. However, Le Labo fragrances frequently don’t smell like the note that they single out. Making matters a little more complicated is the fact that Le Labo’s note lists often do not include all the elements in question.
Bergamot, black pepper, clove, cedar, vetiver, labdanum [amber], olibanum [frankincense], gaiac wood, amber, and vanilla.
Vetiver 46 opens on my skin with ISO E Super, more ISO E Super, then smokiness, leather, cloves, cedar, sweet spiciness, earthy vetiver, and labdanum amber. The fragrance has a musky chewiness that smells almost fetid, but also nutty and spiced. I can’t decide if it stems from the cedar or the labdanum, but I suspect it’s a mixture of the two combined with the cloves.
To my relief, the ISO Supercrappy fades to the sidelines after a few minutes, and other notes grow stronger. The cloves, pepper, incense, cedar, and amber all jockey for dominance, and frequently take turns leading the pack. The incense is delicate, but its black tendrils generally seem to tie everything together in a smoky, spicy, woody bouquet. At no time is the vetiver dominant on my skin. When it does appear, I like the fact that it doesn’t smell of peppermints, as vetiver is frequently wont to do.
Vetiver 46 feels almost chewy and meaty in its heavily cloved, cedar woodiness and dark smokiness; and that makes the emergence of a strange cleanliness and soapiness feel very jarring. Less than 5 minutes in, the latter two elements become extremely prominent. I have to wonder if Vetiver 46 contains a lot of myrrh (a type of incense) and/or aldehydes to go along with the frankincense, as both elements can turn extremely soapy. In fact, Vetiver 46 repeatedly made me think of Serge Lutens‘ La Myrrhe, which also turned into an avalanche of lather at one point.
Whatever the actual notes, the overall result on my skin feels like hamster cage bedding, heavily doused with soap suds, followed by meaty cloves, black pepper, earthy vetiver, ambered warmth, smokiness, a hint of sour guaiac wood, and a lot of clean, white musk. I don’t enjoy it. At all. It doesn’t help that the sillage is initially strong, radiating 3-4 inches with the use of 3 smears, though there is slightly less projection when I apply a smaller quantity.
As time passes, several accords vie for top billing, though they are not the ones which initially dominated Vetiver 46. For the most part, the perfume shifts wildly between two, very different, distinct bouquets on my skin. First, very clean soapiness and black incense, lightly flecked with cloves and amber. Second, clean, soapy hamster cage cedar with cloves, smoke, amber, and a touch of earthy vetiver. An intense, clean wave of synthetic white musk is woven throughout both versions. The whole thing feels airy but incredibly strong on my skin, thanks to the synthetics which my chemistry tends to amplify.
By the start of the 2nd hour, I’m utterly miserable. The white musk and soapiness that I hate so much grow stronger. Adding insult to injury, the ISO E Supercrappy makes a comeback, though it is muted as compared to the blast in the opening minutes. Vetiver 46 is now primarily a blend of soapiness, white musk, black incense, cedar, and ISO E crap, with the cloves popping in and out once in a while. The whole thing gives me a constant headache every time I smell the perfume up close for too long. My skin may amplify synthetics more than most, but the white musk and soap combination feels particularly brutal here. I suppose I should feel grateful that Vetiver 46 turns into a skin scent on me at the start of the 3rd hour, but I don’t.
Roughly 4.5 hours into its development, Vetiver 46 shifts again. The amber and smoke return, bringing with them a wave of warmth, as well as spicy sweetness. Vetiver 46 is now a blend of hamster cage bedding, ambered warmth, clove spiciness and incense, all blanketed with soap suds and white musk. The muted vetiver note has disappeared entirely. Taking its place is a rather sickly sweetness which I find rather cloying.
It’s all far, far too much for me, and I’ve consistently had to scrub off Vetiver 46. I’ve tried it 3 times, but I’ve never lasted more than 6.5 hours. There is something about the contrasts which I find unpalatable, even if the perfume were not so synthetic. The mix of the almost meaty, chewy cloves and the cool, dark smokiness with the blanket of soap, dry woods, and the strange nuance of the sweet, vaguely cloying amber is really strange to me. And I don’t enjoy feeling like a hamster. I can’t think of another cedar scent that I’ve tried that evoked that parallel in my mind, but this one definitely does.
When I’m not feeling like a rodent, terrorized by the synthetics, or experiencing a headache, I’m left feeling incredibly bored. Vetiver 46 feels very linear to me, despite the occasional, sometimes fractional nuances. I suppose it’s vaguely interesting from a technical perspective how certain elements weave in and out, or how it can veer wildly between two distinct bouquets at one point, but both of those versions contain an avalanche of soap suds and white musk. When the linearity finally ends with the addition of the strangely cloying amber sweetness, it becomes more than I can take.
On Fragrantica, people seem to really like Vetiver 46, though many commentators find that the fragrance bears a strong similarity to Comme des Garcons 2 Homme which was also created by Mark Buxton and which is a much cheaper scent. I haven’t tried it to know how close the similarities may be, but I’ve heard it contains aldehydes and myrrh incense. The repeated comparison suggests to me that more people are experiencing soapiness than what they’re explicitly describing, but I might well be mistaken. Another fragrance which is sometimes mentioned is Encre Noire, a vetiver soliflore that contains a walloping amount of ISO E Super. You can draw your own conclusions about Vetiver 46 from that comparison.
For some Fragrantica posters, Vetiver 46 is all about smoky incense and spiciness. Others talk about campfire smoke with a leathery nuance. One person said it reminded them of church, which seems to point to myrrh again as that is often a key ingredient in “High Church” scents. For someone else, Vetiver 46 was almost a transcendental fragrance that transported them to Tibet. No-one talks about soapiness, synthetics, or cleanness, so my experience was clearly very anomalous.
In short, the general consensus on Fragrantica regarding Vetiver 46 seems to be along the lines of this review from “kxnaiades”:
Gorgeous, absolutely gorgeous leathery, smoking woods scent. It has nothing to do with a smoky BBQ type of smell, think of roasting posh woods emnating the most glorious, almost incense type of smoke. The smokiness in this must come from the guaiac wood and the earthiness from the vetivier. Vanilla lends an ever so slightly sweet tinge to the composition but only a dab. I can see that ladies who like feminine scents will possibly not warm towards this, to me it is very much unisex. I could well imagine Katharine Hepburn wearing this in “Woman of the Year”. I think it’s wonderful and for anyone wanting a respite from the day’s toil or trouble. SnS was transported to Tibet and ladykarl to a sanctuary. I agree with both of them. Spray this on and take a deep breath, it’s almost purifying! My first Le Labo purchase but definitely not my last.
On Luckyscent, not everyone is as enthused. A few people think Vetiver 46 is too close to the much cheaper Comme des Garcons 2 Man scent: “Le Labo has greater ‘fizz’ and smells greener, but I don’t think I’ll purchase it because I can get 2 Man for half the price.” For another, it was the Catholic church resemblance which was the problem, as well as a synthetic, plastic “band aid” note:
I’m the biggest fan of Le Labo on Luckyscent, I’ve worn every unisex, and masculine Le Labo Perfume, this one missed the spot, for one thing, the dry down is very austere, and not smooth at all, the Oud note seems really out of place to me, it smells like band aids, plastic, very odd. The scent reminded me of Catholic school in Venezuela…not a good memory.
Band-aids also comes up in the Now Smell This review from Robin, though she seems to have liked the scent as a whole:
It opens on the smell of peppered band-aids, slightly singed, brightened by the bergamot and given a generous dusting of dried clove. The medicinal undertones calm for the most part as it dries down to dusky woods, very deep and warm, with a murky quality that calls to mind Yves Saint Laurent M7. The amber and vanilla lend some sweetness without tempering the intensity of the woods; and while it is quite earthy, I would have guessed patchouli rather than vetiver.
It is a considerably stronger and probably less “wearable” fragrance than the Vetiver de Java [from Il Profumo], and while both are masculine, the Vetiver de Java, which smells almost clean in comparison, might be easier for a woman to pull off. All the same I prefer the Le Labo.
For Ayala Moriel, the perfumer, Vetiver 46 was all about the incense and labdanum. Her review on Smelly Blog reads, in part, as follows:
In the case of Vetiver 46, I can smell the other 45 ingredients far more than building block that gave its name. To be more precise, I smell labdanum and incense. The Le Labo website describes Vetiver 46 as the most masculine of the line, and themed around Haitian vetiver. I find this quite surprising, given the woody, incensey, at times almost smoky quality of the perfume that pervades most of its life on the skin.
Opening with labdanum, cistus oil, olibanum (AKA frankincense) and smoky notes of guiacwood and burning cedarwood, the scent gradually softens but remains rather linear and unchanging. Its aroma is rich, nevertheless; yet while I find the combination of notes appealing on its own, I find the persistence of the labdanum and oakmoss here to be leaving more to be desired. [¶][…]
… If you are looking for a vetiver scent, you won’t find it here. If incense is what your heart desires, look no further, it’s here in a juice form. Not a joss stick as pictured, but the resins thrown on a hot charcoal in a censer.
The Non-Blonde agrees, and, in fact, points to that exact review as a good summation for Vetiver 46.
As you can see, my experience was an anomaly and cannot be taken as representative of what you will probably experience with Vetiver 46. I will caution only those people who have serious problems with ISO E Super to take care. For everyone else, if you’re looking for a dark, woody fragrance that is strongly incensed, with campfire notes, spicy cloves, labdanum amber, and minor quantities of vetiver, give Le Labo’s 46 a sniff.
Cost & Availability: Vetiver 46 is an eau de parfum, though it is also offered as a perfume oil. The perfume comes in two sizes: 1.7 oz/50 ml for $160, €125, or £105; and 3.4 oz/100 ml for $240, €185, or £150. Cheaper minis or decants are also available directly from the company. Le Labo Website Options: Vetiver 46 is available from Le Labo in numerous forms, from perfume to Discovery Sets, 10 ml “travel tubes,” body lotions, massage oil, and shower gels. The company will personally make up and customize each perfume bottle for a customer. Le Labo has a variety of different country options for its website, from North America to U.K. to France to International. On its North American page, Vetiver 46 is priced as listed above: 50 ml for $160, and 100 ml for $240. Cheaper minis are $70 or $140. I’m assuming they ship to Canada, too, given the website name. Outside the U.S., Vetiver 46 is offered on Le Labo’s U.K., International, or French websites. Lastly, Le Labo has several Sample Programs, from sets to an individual vial for $6. The link above goes to their US sample site, but you can change it to the country best for you using the arrow at the top of the page. Le Labo World Boutiques: Le Labo has store locations from New York to London and Tokyo, as well as retailers in a ton of countries from Australia to Italy to Korea. You can find a full list of its locations and vendors here. In the U.S.: Vetiver 46 is also available from Luckyscent in both sizes (along with many of the accompanying products), and from Barney’s in the big $220 size. Outside the US: In Canada, Le Labo is carried by Toronto’s 6 by Gee Beauty, but not on their online website for direct purchase. Call to order by phone. In the U.K., Le Labo is sold at Harrods’ Designer Department on the First Floor, and at Liberty which offers Vetiver 46 in a variety of different sizes and forms. In Paris, you can find Le Labo at Colette. In the Netherlands, the line is sold at Skins Cosmetics. In Australia, you can find it at Mecca Cosmetics. Samples: Surrender to Chance sells Vetiver 46 starting at $4.25 for a 1 ml vial.
It’s always a bit of an adventure to try a Le Labo fragrance because one frequently doesn’t know what will show up, and Santal 33 is no exception. It is an eau de parfum created by Frank Voelkl and released in 2011. For those unfamiliar with the house, the number in the title — in this case, 33 — refers to the number of ingredients in the perfume. However, Le Labo fragrances frequently don’t smell like the note that they single out.
As Now Smell This once explained:
the number in the fragrance name refers to the number of notes that make up the scent’s composition, and the name is taken from the ingredient in the highest concentration; to take one example, Jasmin 17 has 17 ingredients, with jasmine being in the highest concentration. The names are thus not necessarily related to what the fragrance is meant to smell like.
Making matters a little more complicated is the fact that Le Labo’s note lists often do not include all the elements in question. In the case of Santal 33, only 8 of the 33 notes are mentioned. According to Fragrantica and Luckyscent, they include:
Australian sandalwood, papyrus, cedarwood, cardamom, iris, violet, ambroxan and leather accord.
Santal 33 opens on my skin with… cucumbers. Yes, I said cucumbers. If I remember correctly, the very first time I tried Santal 33 many months ago, there were pickles as well. I cannot tell you how disconcerting that is; watery vegetables are not what one expects in one’s perfume in general, but especially not in a fragrance ostensibly centered on woody elements. However, as you will later see, it’s not an uncommon experience with Santal 33.
Santal 33’s burst of liquidy greenness almost suggests calone, a possibility that seems underscored by the aquatic, fresh, and clean elements which ensue. Infused within them all are creamy, white woods with a milky nuance that is almost fig-like, followed by white musk and a touch of iris. A dewy, floral wateriness hovers about, but it is too hijacked by the other notes to ever smell like pure, distinct violets on my skin. Within minutes, the iris grows stronger, smelling primarily like the bulbous roots, but it is also flecked by a subtle whisper of boiled, sweet carrots. In the background, a green cedar note pops up briefly, as does a tiny dab of cardamom, though the latter does not stay for long.
As a whole, Santal 33’s opening bouquet smells of creamy, milky woods, thoroughly infused with watery cucumbers, watery florals, rooty iris, and cleanness. It’s an airy cloud with great lightness and moderate projection at first. Three big smears created 2-3 inches of projection at first, but that number dropped after less than 30 minutes.
Santal 33 doesn’t change significantly for a few hours. At the end of the first hour, there is a growing sense of woody dryness as the cedar starts to emit peppery and dry undertones at the edges. It impacts the watery accords, sometimes making the cucumber feel much more muted and demure. For much of the first few hours, however, the cucumber continues to be a powerful part of the Australian sandalwood on my skin, keeping it green and fresh. The strength of the iris and the milky, fig-like undertones to the wood also fluctuate, but only to small degrees.
At the end of the 2nd hour, Santal 33 is a skin scent that feels very clean and almost translucent. It continues to be a blend of milky woods with iris, cleanness, and liquidy, green wateriness, though it is not always pure cucumber as it was at the start. The iris has lost a large part of its rooty or bulbous qualities, and now feels more floral in nature.
Santal 33 is an incredibly linear scent, and doesn’t change its broad parameters throughout its short lifetime on my skin. At the start of the 4th hour, the white musk synthetic grows stronger. The green milkiness is still there, but the overall scent is a little too synthetically clean for my personal tastes. Around the same time, a tiny whiff of vetiver pops up in the background, but it is very muted and muffled.
In its final moments, Santal 33 is merely an abstract woody musk with soft, beige woods, some greenness, a touch of indeterminate florals, and great cleanness. It lasts 5.75 hours on my skin. As a general rule, Le Labo fragrances don’t have great longevity on me, unless they contain a lot of ISO E Super, which a good number of them do, unfortunately. Santal 33 does not, so it falls within the category of more fleeting Le Labo scents on my skin.
I found Santal 33 vaguely enjoyable at times as a clean, creamy, woody scent, thanks to the prettiness of the milky streak running through the fragrance. So long as I didn’t think of actual sandalwood (let alone, Mysore), I thought the woods were nice and the scent much better than Kilian‘s recent attempt at a “sandalwood” creation with his Sacred Wood. In the case of Santal 33, I wasn’t enthused by the synthetic musk’s growing role during the drydown, but it wasn’t a terrible fragrance as a whole. There were moments where it was almost pleasant, in fact — cucumber or no cucumber.
I realise, however, that is rather damning it with faint praise. I’m afraid Le Labo fragrances don’t impress me very much with their gauzy wispiness, frequent use of synthetics, linearity, lack of layers, and often indeterminate character. For the most part, they simply don’t feel luxurious, opulent, special, or distinctive to me.
Santal 33 seems to be a rather polarizing scent. On Fragrantica, the fragrance receives sharply mixed reviews, though the majority are negative. A significant number of people talk about a cucumber note, pickles, or the fragrance’s wateriness. A handful compare the scent to hamster cages, due to the cedar, while a few detected an animalic note instead. There are so many negative reviews in fact that one person wondered why there was such hate for such “casual scent.” Well, the detractors are certainly very forceful in their feelings. One chap said he finally understood what it meant to “hate” something passionately:
Now, I know what it means to dislike a fragrance so much, that it actually RUINS other fragrances for you when you detect any similarities between them and it. I hate Santal 33. This may be a first for me. It damn near made me turn my back on every cardamom fragrance I own, which would have been serious b.s.. There are many watery cheap unremarkable fragrances out there which I don’t like, but I also don’t respect them. I respect Santal 33 enough to hate it. There is something about the sheer potency of the opaque SUGAR encrusted sandalwood, cardamom, and leather, that I find to be sickeningly cloying and nauseating. This fragrance is a sillage/longevity beast, so it’s definitely worth the investment if you love it, but for me, it’s a nightmare on wheels. I got it on my mouse and keyboard at work and now I am trying to change jobs. That’s how much I hate this juice.
Other commentators smelled extremely different elements from coconut or “a figgy milky note,” to earthy vetiver, leathery smoke, violets, or, in the case of one woman’s husband, harsh, pungent, pine tree air freshener. One chap is even certain that he smelt mango!
Despite the varying notes that people experienced, Santal 33 does have fans who adore its creamy sandalwood and the fragrance’s greenness, calling it beautiful or meditative. The bottom line, however, is there isn’t a uniform consensus on Santal 33 or what it smells like. Absolutely none whatsoever. The only thing one can say is that the majority of commentators seem to smell either pickles, cucumbers, or cedar hamster cage bedding, and that a lot of people on Fragrantica seem to dislike Santal 33.
It’s a completely different story on Luckyscent where 8 of the 10 reviews rate Santal 33 as a 5-star fragrance. One person thought the fragrance should be called Violet 33, as that was the dominant note on their skin. For another, the fragrance was: “Soft leather and definately wearble [sic] by a woman as well. Light and green like cucumber with a soft saddle grease mixed with rosewood on me. Not amazing lasting power, but good enough.”
For The Non-Blonde, Santal 33 is a “wild ride” with violets, leather and woods that she thoroughly enjoys, even if she smells dill pickles at first:
The opening of Santal 33 is spicy with some of the weird but inviting pickle note. Sometimes I encounter pickles in the opening of high quality ambers, other times it’s attached to certain woods, which I’d guess it’s the case in this Le Labo perfume. I don’t mind it as the dill is short-lived and actually smells almost comforting (blame my mom who used to can and pickle all through the years I lived at home). Once we get that out the way I start smelling the cedar, scorched sandalwood and loads of violet.
This is where the journey begins. Santal 33 changes and expands on my skin in various directions. It’s sweet and it’s not. It’s rough and sharp but also snuggly. There’s something metallic and cold thrown into the pile of aromatic woods that keeps my senses alert to any coming dangers. Sometimes it smells like a girl on a camping trip [….]
It’s the blend of violet, camphor, leather and top quality wood that gets me in its grip. This wild ride last and lasts (and lasts) on my skin, becomes more musky and sweet, and just works magic for me.
The deeply divisive reactions and the incredibly wide range of experiences (including very differing assessments regarding longevity) make it hard to come to any predictive conclusions as to how Santal 33 will smell on you. My guess is that it will be some version of a clean, watery, green “sandalwood” scent, but who knows? It could end up as anything. If you enjoy woody fragrances, then Santal 33 is one of those things that you need to test for yourself.