Le Labo was the first niche perfume boutique that I walked into early last year after my conscious decision to delve into the world of fragrance. I was taken by the industrial lab chic aesthetic and the soft, enveloping miasma of Santal 33 mixed with other perfumes that had been sprayed in the store. Most of the scents were deceptively simple, such that I thought they were meant to be layered with each other. After working through their full discovery set, I settled on Ylang 49 as a firm favorite and Lys 41 and Santal 33 tied in second place. To my wallet’s relief, I never liked any of the “city exclusives” enough to be tempted (although Tabac 28, last year’s new offering for Miami, warranted repeat sniffs).
As such, I didn’t expect too much from Citron 28, this year’s new Seoul exclusive. I’d long been warned that Le Labo creations often don’t smell like what it says on the tin—or bottle, as it were. I knew better than to think it would resemble anything like Korean “citron tea,” which is basically yuzu marmalade in a large jar that you stir into hot water for a cozy drink to soothe the throat.
Still, I couldn’t pass up on the opportunity to smell it during the month of September, when the city exclusives “become ethically non-monogamous” as Le Labo’s tongue-in-cheek non-advertisement Le Journal puts it. (This newspaper-lookalike publication is tagged as “the only free thing you’ll get here” in the stores.)
The shop visiting experience was of course quite different. No testers—anything you wanted to try had to be handed to you on a generously saturated blotter by the sales associate, and you had to keep your mask on the whole time inside the store. Despite the dousing, I could not smell Citron 28 through my mask (although I could smell other perfumes), and the sales associate refused to spray some on my (sanitized upon entry) hand to try it on skin.
I took the scent strip outside the store—still not expecting much—and snuck a bare-nosed sniff on the street. WHAT THE… This smelled NICE! Oddly familiar, but intriguing enough to make me turn right back around and buy an arbitrarily overpriced 1.5-mL sample vial for USD$12 (hands down the most expensive sample I have ever bought).
Did I mention it seemed familiar? Given the restrictive conditions, I didn’t have the luxury of re-smelling all the fragrances I thought it might resemble to compare, but from memory, I thought it could be related to Neroli 36 or even the uber-clean Fleur d’Oranger 27. Maybe Bergamote 22 if I could remember it better (it was a runner-up in terms of likes). This also definitely had the DNA of all Le Labo perfumes, whatever that base might be (some comments on Fragrantica suggest tea/musk or cedarwood/musk. Someone also noted a similarity to Another 13, and I think that’s fairly accurate). I find it pleasant and “present” throughout the wear, meaning that it’s concentrated enough to be fleshly and not like a ghost in the air.
Citron 28 opens lemony, but sweet white florals (mostly jasmine) have the citrus on a short leash and appear almost simultaneously to make it absolutely clear that this perfume is not about the lemon. The woody elements of cedar and musk are just as jealous and stay close like bodyguards. It’s a well structured harmony, and I think I smell Ambroxan as a backdrop, although this is not listed. Conversely, ginger is a listed note, and I didn’t recognize it in isolation at first, but I believe it lifts the blend to add brightness and a touch of heat to an otherwise cool perfume. It comes out more distinctly in the day-old drydown on a scent strip.
Overall, I would say Citron 28 is worth trying, but not especial enough for me to consider a full bottle purchase. I’ll make my sample last.