Suzanne's Perfume Journal

Le Labo Poivre 23: Dessert, Anyone?

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November 18, 2011:

It seems to me that the best things in life are sweet and creamy, with the emphasis on the latter. I’m the kind of person who can easily resist a piece of chocolate cake, turn up my nose at fudge, and ignore much of what passes for candy at the grocery store. But say the words bread pudding, rice pudding, egg custard and ice cream (from plain vanilla bean to Japanese red bean), and I’m a goner. Now let’s add to this category of “Sweet & Creamy” these things too: Conversation so thick with flirtation you just want to spend the day pushing it around with a spoon, back and forth between the two of you; the fleshy inner part of your thighs that happily persists, no matter how much running you do; breasts that defy gravity without the aid of silicone; cashmere socks, before, after (heck, even during) anything that might take place in a drafty bedroom; and a good sandalwood perfume to scent pretty much everything I mentioned previously in this sentence.

My favorite sandalwood perfume of late goes by the unlikely name of Le Labo Poivre 23—poivre means pepper in French—but while there’s a brisk peppery start to this fragrance, its dominant flavor is that of sweet and creamy Australian sandalwood. (I should quickly note: Le Labo also has a fragrance called Santal 33 that I’ve not tried, but which, from what I’ve read, smells a lot less like sandalwood than Poivre 23 does). Most perfumistas will tell you that Australian sandalwood is inferior to Mysore sandalwood, an aroma-material so over-harvested, it’s rare to the point of being practically extinct in the formulations of modern-day perfumes, even the very expensive ones. This viewpoint places me in the minority, as I’ll plainly admit that I have had so little acquaintance with the Mysore variety that I can’t judge Poivre 23 on that basis. From my point of view (and I know I’m not alone here), Poivre 23’s Australian sandalwood is gorgeous, vanillic and dreamy. It has a gourmand edge to it, yet also enough resins and gentle incense in its mix to keep it grounded in the realm of the sensual rather than the fluffy and overly sweet. It’s a fragrance I would readily identify as unisex, if asked who might wear it better, a man or a woman (and though that question is wearisome to seasoned perfumistas, I mention it because it still gets asked).

At first spritz, Poivre 23 delivers a bold hit of pepper—it smells of both black and green peppercorns—as if the perfumer, Nathalie Lorson, wanted to establish right away that this is a sandalwood fragrance to be taken seriously, or if not seriously, then playfully in that very deliberate way that makes you realize these concepts are not necessarily exclusive of one another. “Crack that whip!”, the opening line to an old Devo song some of you might remember, is the first thing I think of when the fragrance hits my skin, and it’s invigorating if not downright sexy: wherever you are in your day (or evening) when you apply Poivre 23—even if you’re standing in your kitchen contemplating what you’re going to have for supper—this rousing, peppery opening will give you a little pick-me-up, if not make you want to flat out whip it (“whip it good!”).

Before the pepper fades, the sandalwood, vanilla, incense and resinous notes are already swirling into their amber-crème formation. Depending on what kind of bend your mind takes, this formation might recall the sophisticated, flambéed custard you ate at a four-star restaurant in St. Kitts, or it might make you think of the perfect proportions of another favorite adult dessert, but in either case it delivers the kind of deliciousness that won’t make you feel like you’ve got to check your hips (unless you or someone else wants to check them, that is). Poivre’s sandalwood, vanilla and styrax combo smells luscious, curvy and spoonworthy, but what draws the nose in and makes this round base accord so appealing is the fact that it’s kept in check, or contained, by the sharper, leaner facets of the fragrance: cistus labdanum with its herbal leatheriness; incense with its touch of arid smokiness; and patchouli with its earthy gravity. Great perfume has a way of reminding me, time and time again, of the importance of opposites in any great design, as well as the role of proportion—since the ratio in which these opposites are applied is what dictates the form.

And Poivre 23 assumes what for me is the perfect form of a sandalwood perfume: a heavenly body that’s sweet and creamy in all the right places, with its only excess being its seriously playful spirit.

Le Labo Poivre 23 eau de parfum has notes of cistus labdanum, incense, patchouli, gaiac wood, pepper, Australian sandalwood, vanilla absolute and styrax resin. It is one of Le Labo’s city-exclusive fragrances—in this case, exclusive to the city of London—but for the month of November, Le Labo is making all of its city-exclusive fragrances available for purchase at, where a 50-ml bottle is $290 and a 100-ml bottle is $440. My review is based on a spray sample I purchased from LuckyScent as part of the November promotion.

Image: a 1991 photo of model Linda Evangelista taken by fashion photographer Steven Meisel.