Ylang 49 is one of three new scents released last month, in May 2013, by Le Labo. Two of them — Lys 41 and Ylang 49 — will join the permanent collection and won’t be exclusive to any one city. As always with Le Labo, the perfume name (and the number that corresponds to its purported number of ingredients) does not give the full picture. Ylang 49 is a ylang-ylang fragrance, but it is also a chypre — and one with a heavy amount of very fruited patchouli.
I will be honest and confess that it bored me. It bored me to tears and, even worse, felt like an utterly exhausting slog that I just wanted to end. To my surprise, my favorite out of the two new Labo fragrances was the delicately ethereal lily fragrance, Lys 41, while Ylang 49 was barely tolerable. I’m in a distinct minority on that point, however, as Ylang 49 has received endless raves with one highly experienced blogger, the fabulous Non-Blonde, declaring that it may be her favorite out of all Le Labo’s floral scents!
Ylang 49 was created by Frank Voelkl and described on Le Labo’s website as follows:
Ylang 49 is a chypre floral, where Pua Noa Noa (gardenia from Tahiti) completes the floral voluptuousness of ylang ylang… Patchouli, oakmoss, vetiver, sandawood [sic] and benjoin follow to tip the blend into darker sensual undertones…
Ylang 49 is a walk in the woods, a lush floral bouquet in your hand, listening to G. Gould’s well-tempered clavier and realizing that a floral composition can go beyond flowers, in the same way a fugue in D minor is way beyond the D…
Out of the perfume’s 49 notes, the only ones we know about are:
ylang ylang, Tahitian gardenia [or pua noa noa], patchouli, oakmoss, vetiver, sandalwood, benzoin.
Ylang 49 opens on my skin with a definitely old-school, classic chypre profile: citrus notes (probably from one of the hidden, secret ingredients) infused with patchouli and oakmoss. The oakmoss is interesting because it has that dry, slightly mineralized greyness of the real thing, while simultaneously feeling a little fresh, green, bright and rich like the more patchouli-infused modern sort. Seconds later, hints of ylang-ylang and the coconut-y characteristics of Tahitian gardenia start to emerge. They’re subtle at this point, especially the gardenia, and add just an amorphous “floral” touch to the chypre opening.
As the minutes pass, the floral tones in Ylang 49 take more shape and become more distinct. The ylang-ylang takes the lead, but the gardenia dances around the edges. The flower has brief flickers of coconut, but it’s also a lot more gardenia-like than I had expected from the Tahitian variety. I keep getting images of a thick pile of dark green and purple velvet, perhaps because the patchouli is so prominent. It’s very hearty and veers dangerously close, in my opinion, to the purple patchouli that I dread so much. It infuses the ylang-ylang in particular, turning it into something so jammy, velvety and rich that it almost feels like a beefy, meaty, red damask rose. The normally white ylang-ylang flower has taken on the same sort of darkly liqueured undercurrent — to the point that Ylang 49 strongly calls to mind how Amouage‘s Lyric Woman manifested itself on my skin. (Unlike most people’s experiences with Lyric Woman, on me, it was predominantly a very beefy, liqueured, ylang-ylang fragrance.)
Ylang 49 doesn’t morph substantially in the hours that ensue, shifting only in degree as to which note undulates to the top of the heap. Namely, the patchouli which turns stronger, heavier, richer and more painfully fruited. Ylang 49 is essentially just a plush, heavily fruited, ylang-ylang perfume atop a strong patchouli base that is lightly flecked with oakmoss. Occasionally, the fragrance will throw off flickers of coconut or gardenia like a warm ray of light, but its fundamental essence unchanged. The most noticeable thing after a few hours is a softening of the patchouli element, but it’s just an incremental drop and a question of degree. Still, it serves to make the ylang-ylang feel slightly more custardy, buttery and floral in nature, and a little less fruited. It’s all relative…
At the start of the third hour, the flower’s creamy undertone is matched by an equally creamy, beige wood note that subtly adds even further depth to the ylang-ylang. The wood accord is undoubtedly from the sandalwood which feels like a synthetic, Australian, or generic cousin to the rare, spicy, rich Mysore wood that is now almost extinct. Here, the sandalwood is bland and rather nondescript, but I suppose it serves its uses in adding that extremely subtle, amorphous, beige, creamy “woodiness” to the base. At the start of the fifth hour, Ylang 49 turns into a creamy floral fragrance that is somewhat ylang-ylang in nature but also, increasingly abstract. The overall bouquet is infused with the endless (and still fruity) patchouli and hints of oakmoss atop a base of dry, generic sandalwood. The floral part is pretty, but I truly can’t stand the patchouli at this point. I’m also not enthused by the sandalwood which smells faintly sour, a little burnt, and a little too arid to my nose.
As time progresses, Ylang 49 turns more nebulous and vague; Now Smell This accurately describes it as a “hard-to-pin-down presence,” though they notice it after the third hour. It happens to me much later, but particularly around the eighth hour when Ylang 49 becomes a wholly abstract patchouli “floral” with musky overtones and some of that bland, slightly unpleasant, totally unimpressive “sandalwood.” In its final hours, Ylang 49 ends up as an amorphous, dry, slightly bitter woodiness.
All in all, the perfume lasted 13.25 hours on my skin with the patchouli wearing me out for almost the entire length of time. (So much patchouli, and always of the blasted fruited kind!) Ylang 49 had great projection for the first hour, but it dropped soon thereafter. The fragrance started to inch closer to the skin midway during the fourth hour, though it was still very potent if you brought your arm right up to your nose. It became a true skin scent on me around the eighth hour. As a side note about longevity, I obviously have wonky skin because Ylang 49 is said by many to have astounding longevity, with some saying it lasts all-day and overnight. They said the same about Lys 41 which never lasted more than 6 hours on me — and that was with a large dose. Still, for me, Ylang 49’s duration is phenomenally high at 13.25 hours, so I have no doubt it probably could 24 hours on normal skin. (I’m remain unconvinced about the Lys 41, though.)
I suspect that my overall prose about Ylang 49 reeks of flatness and a general lack of bouncing enthusiasm. I can’t help it. I’m trying very hard to be fair, but I’m truly so bored, I can barely write. Much has been made of how the perfume harkens back to a lost, golden, magical time when chypres were really chypres, when classique perfumery had depth, luxurious richness and elegance. Take CaFleureBon whose admiring description of the perfume ends with the words: “Ylang 49 feels like something found at an estate sale in an unlabeled crystal flacon.” Or take the rapturous review from The Non-Blonde which reads, in part, as follows:
Ylang 49 may be my favorite out of all the Le Labo flower perfumes. It has a lot of warmth and a substantial base that surround the tropical flowers and make them more abstract and mysterious. The yellow blossoms are rich and enticing, but they’re also restrained and wonderfully elegant: this is what they mean by calling Ylang 49 a “modern chypre”. I was ready to protest and request that the label “chypre” be retired as were the true perfumes in this category, but you won’t find me kvetching this time. Ylang 49 is as chypery as it is modern. It moves from floral to a recognizable oakmoss-patchouli base; there’s a hint of chypre soapiness, a touch of roasted tea, and instead of the animalic base of yore you get the familiar Le Labo sandalwood enriched with benzoin.
Perhaps CaFleureBon and The Non-Blonde are right. I grant you that Ylang 49 is a very heavy, rich perfume that — if you’re feeling really charitable — is a little like the chypres of yore. (Or it would be, if the old chypres were based primarily on patchouli.) Still, that doesn’t mean Ylang 49 is a great chypre and, in all honesty, I don’t think it is.
For me, ultimately, Ylang 49 lacks the layers, range, or complexity of a good chypre — of any era — because, on my skin, it was primarily a mundane mix of 3 main notes: fruited patchouli, predominantly abstract white florals, and slightly dry oakmoss. You can’t create a stunning symphony with three notes drummed continuously on the same boring cadence. What made the classic chypres so great wasn’t simply the now-regulated oakmoss; it was a hell of a lot more than that.
I can give you a list of places to start if you’re looking for truly good, complex chypres that have ylang-ylang. Check out any of the following fragrances on Fragrantica before heading to eBay to find them in vintage (and only in vintage) form: Ungaro‘s stunning, spectacular Diva by Jacques Polge (now of Chanel); Dominique Ropion‘s famous Ysatis for Givenchy; and either Paloma Picasso‘s Paloma Picasso or her Mon Parfum. They may not be centered solely around ylang-ylang, but that’s because they are not 3-note perfumes (with endless, painful patchouli). As for wholly modern fragrances that are easily available today, Amouage has some stunningly sophisticated chypres. (On my skin, Lyric Woman manifested itself more like a chypre than an oriental, and it was primarily ylang-ylang in nature, though it is generally seen as a spicy rose fragrance. And I think one could argue that Amouage’s ylang-ylang fragrance, Jubilation 25, has some definite chypre attributes as well.) In terms of other houses, Tom Ford‘s Arabian Wood is a gorgeous chypre that has ylang-ylang, along with other florals and significantly better sandalwood.
Interestingly, Now Smell This‘ review of Le Labo’s Ylang 49 specifically warns that some perfumistas will be underwhelmed by the fragrance which it concedes is not “especially challenging[.]” (That’s an understatement.) NST writes:
Although Ylang 49 isn’t an especially challenging perfume, a brand new perfumista might not take to it right away. It’s not overtly pretty or sexy or delicious. It’s not about flash and décolletage. If you’re moved to order a sample of Ylang 49 and on smelling it think, “It’s all right but nothing to get excited about,” I urge you to put the sample away somewhere cool and dark and come back in another year. Keep smelling, keep paying attention. You may never love Ylang 49 — or you might! — but I bet you’ll at least respect it.
I would argue that it has nothing to do with perfume experience or the lack thereof. Perhaps, Ylang 49 actually is much ado about nothing. But if this is what we’re now stuck with in the current IFRA/EU world of oakmoss restrictions and the slow death of the chypre genre, then I suppose Ylang 49 is nice. It’s certainly a scent that would appeal to both men and women, is versatile, and ….. Oh God, it’s too boring to continue. Try Ylang 49, I guess.