Venice’s Abbot Kinney Boulevard Welcomes the Perfume Commune
LOS ANGELES, CA - The perfume market is a very competitive one. Just brave the beauty floor of a department store and suddenly you'll be doused in three different fragrances before having the chance to breathe, let alone the time to consent. You will then understand the commercial war that exists between most conventional fragrance brands, and it rarely sparks an inspired quest to find the perfect perfume.
This is not what Strange Invisible Perfumes and Le Labo envisioned when creating the first ever "Perfume Commune" located on Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice, California.
While the typical fragrance brand sees only competition in any bottle that does not carry its own name, Le Labo and Strange Invisible Perfumes think in terms of abundance. Their stores now happily co-exist alongside one another with a shared goal: to reintroduce people to the art of perfumery, to live memorable experiences with them, and, ultimately, to have people leave their shops with an experience as original and appealing as the fragrance they walk out with.
Even with their different styles and methods, Le Labo and Strange Invisible Perfumes both revere the original art of perfumery and disregard the current model of marketing and selling fragrances. Both companies place much importance on the perfume itself, questioning the hackneyed, commercial glamor of fragrances sold in airports.
While Strange Invisible Perfumes and Le Labo do not agree on everything, they both insist on a common point: each fragrance is hand-blended and bottled in-house. These are two dynamic, passion-born brands that move wildly against the grain of the fragrance market.
"The personalities of the brands are different; the approach, the esthetic, and of course the perfumes themselves. If our brands were the same, this wouldn’t make sense," says Fabrice Penot, co-founder of Le Labo. "At the end of the day, however, the intention behind our work is the same: to make life more beautiful through the art of perfumery. It is at this level that we connect deeply with Alexandra... and it is a way to support one another in our common quest to deal with the difficult balance of art and commerce."
Both reject the concept of mass-produced perfume and always prioritize quality ingredients and esthetic standards over cost. The creators of both companies also gravitate toward off-the-beaten-path neighborhoods. This is mainly so that they can go to work happy, connecting with discerning patrons whose tastes are as non-conforming as their own.
"Le Labo’s creations are different from mine, yet the two perfumeries are somehow complementary. Suddenly, the art of perfumery seems so relevant on Abbot Kinney with Le Labo and Strange Invisible side by side," contends Alexandra Balahoutis, founder of Strange Invisible Perfumes. "Anyway, being a perfumer can be a lonely business. Very few understand the art itself. If nothing else, it’s nice to have people next door that know what the hell you’re talking about. After all, the visceral art of perfumery is nothing if not a provocative topic of conversation."
Beginning as perfume comrades, Fabrice and Alexandra formulated this counterintuitive notion unwittingly over time and plenty of coffee. Sharing a distaste for the competitive dynamic expected to exist, they discussed their respective scent philosophies and the "Perfume Commune" began to organically take shape.
Once Edouard joined in the enthusiasm, the three decided to collaborate simply through juxtaposition. The resulting fragrance mini-district of both perfumeries is ideally placed in the eclectic, character-rich setting of Venice’s Abbot Kinney Boulevard.
"If one looks at the most prosperous boutiques and brands, they rarely exist in a vacuum. I certainly endorse the idea of selection and the presence of options. Having said this, I do think that ours is a highly discerning marketplace made up simply of two compelling, handcrafted brands," asserts Balahoutis. "I’m delighted to have Le Labo next door, because I see it as more than an interesting perfume company. It’s a sincere and original vision. Where sincerity and originality are concerned, there is strength in numbers, and this idea really resonates on Abbot Kinney."
Strange Invisible Perfumes welcomed Le Labo as their tenant and neighbor in February of 2012, making the shared building an unexpected treasure trove of artistic, handmade fragrances. Le Labo and Strange Invisible offer close to fifty perfumes collectively. All are clearly designed for the individual, rather than being melded in the fires of market research and consumer expectations.
"It’s easy to go into a competitive state of mind and fight for your little share of the cake... but how boring is this? This is not the way we decided to think, and this is not the way we want to live our lives," says Penot. "We prefer the idea of coopetition, and I am glad, for that matter, that we have found a soul that thinks alike in Alexandra. I have no doubt that this is going to be a success commercially. Even if we are wrong, it will have made us happy."
Botanical perfumer Balahoutis founded Strange Invisible Perfumes in 2000. Her vision: to realign the art of fine perfume formulation with an artisan palette of botanical essences. Made with certified organic, wildcrafted, and biodynamic essences, Alexandra’s artfully layered fragrances exact the chemistry between botanical distillates and compelling narratives. They are designed, hand-blended, and bottled within the company’s own botanical perfume laboratory.
Along with heading the Strange Invisible Perfumes lab, an in-house master distiller sources and customizes hydro-distilled essences both locally and all over the world. In fact, many of the company’s most prized essential oils are estate grown and distilled nearby on Alexandra’s family orchard in Ojai, California.
The Strange Invisible Perfumes Boutique, referred to as "an aromatic haven for those who have given up on perfume," houses over thirty fragrances and a remarkably pure bath and body collection. Enlightening the senses to the cosmic beauty and wild perfection of nature, each strange, invisible perfume is reverently designed to court the senses and illuminate the imagination.
"The value of the experience we are creating together is much better than apart from each other. The different education we provide, the unique mindset we share, and the compassion we have for each other have an impact on our client experience," states Edouard Roschi, Penot’s Le Labo partner. "This is not quantum physics (well, maybe a little), but we are convinced that the interaction between our two brands creates more value than the one offered without the other."
In 2006, Penot and Roschi sparked a perfumed revolution when opening Le Labo, a made-to-order Nolita perfumery "born in Grasse and raised in New York." The two fine perfume specialists have always been in love with swimming against the current, so inspired by Mike Mills’ declaration about "fighting the rising tide of conformity," Fabrice and Edouard set out to create a fresh platform for perfumery. They envisioned an individualistic crop of perfumes driven by their wit and defiant sensibilities, and formulated by some of the best noses on the planet.
The resulting perfumes are inspired, concise, and, while complex in their composition, each formula surrounds one headlining essence. The esthetic of Le Labo’s no-frills New York perfume lab references an earlier Grasse, cleverly functioning as a boutique as well. A conviction vital to the brand is that each fragrance be blended, not in batches, but individually by hand at the time of purchase.
Le Labo believes that for a scent to retain its fullness it should be completely fresh, beginning its life as closely as possible to the moment it leaves the shop. The brand currently has boutiques in New York, Los Angeles, Venice, London and Tokyo, as well as several corners within select shops throughout the world. Each location is a place where one can linger, taking the time to touch, listen, see, smell, and learn all about the fine art of perfume making. Full of originality and harmony, Le Labo blends art and sensuality into pure pleasure.
"I’ve had quite a few years as the only perfumer on Abbot Kinney. I’d say that the thrill has certainly worn off," says Balahoutis. "A perfume commune is much nicer to inhabit than a perfume island."
Strange Invisible Perfumes