Aesthetically, Le Labo is one of the coolest brands out there. Everything they do looks hip, from the typewriter font of their labels to the industrially crushed cans that hold their candles. But Le Labo isn’t a case of style over substance – they actually have style and substance in spades, and many of their fragrances have something interesting to say. The coolness of of Le Labo has made them a brand with a cult following so it’s no surprise that their first fragrance in almost three years (refreshing when every other niche brand is launching multiple fragrances a year, let’s be real) is causing quite the stir…
That new fragrance is called Tonka 25 and it is composed by none other than Daphné Bugey, the perfumer behind the likes of AURA by MUGLER and L’Artisan Parfumeur’s La Botanique collection. Le Labo describes Tonka 25 as “an addictive, dark fragrance” that “evokes the smell of warm skin and resinous wood”. This is a fragrance of contrast – one that celebrates the sensual nature of exotic woods and pairs it with a gourmand twist to highlight exciting new facets.
Orange Flower Absolute
How Does it Smell?
If you’re familiar with Le Labo, you will know that the name on the bottle relates to the highest proportioned ingredient whilst the number references the number of ingredients in the formula. Surprisingly the names don’t necessarily reflect the nature of the scent. For example, Patchouli 24 is more of a guaic than patchouli, Vetiver 46 is more incense than vetiver, and Ylang 49 is a furry chypre rather than a tropical floral. So where does that leave Tonka 25? Well, Tonka 25 is more Cedar 25 in my mind, but I definitely do detect a facet of the billed tonka, even if it isn’t the key theme.
Tonka 25 opens sharp and spicy. With citrus, spice and anise, it creates a sharp image of a forest, with spiny greenery, strong trunks of grey wood and something ‘other’ in the air. I find it to be particularly androgynous and angular, crossing the boundaries of the green and wood olfactory families, using a bridge of spice to connect them. The surprise is the twist of anise which brings an unusual liquorice vibe that shoots sugary tendrils into the base, hinting at the sweetness yet to be revealed.
The underpinnings are much warmer than that pointy opening. Cedar, which is an incredibly multi-faceted material with nuances of sweat and pencil shavings to name just two, sits at the very foundation of the fragrance, drawing down all of the spice of the opening like a magnet. It is shrouded in the toasted sugar of tonka, which has a caramel effect and a hint of marzipan. Balance is key though, and never at any point does the sweet section feel boisterous or dominant, in fact one would never call it gourmand – instead this is spicy woods with a sugar sheen.
Tonka 25 is great. Yes, it’s actually a spiced cedar and not particularly tonka-centric, but the fact that the scent does not align with the name does not lessen its impact, nor is it a surprise – this is the way Le Labo works and I enjoy how one doesn’t quite know what to expect when trying one of the brand’s offerings for the first time. I’m intrigued by how the refreshing nature of spice is contrasted by a warm base of woods varnished in a caramel-coloured glaze of maple. Tonka 25 is an effortless fragrance for any day, any outfit, and any occasion. It’s just the thing I feel like throwing on when I don’t know what scent to wear. Whatever my mood, Tonka 25 just seems to fit.
Tonka 25 is available in 15ml (£55), 50ml (£125), 100ml (£180) and 500ml (£689) Eau de Parfum.
Sample, notes and quotes via Le Labo. Images are my own.