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Notes taken: Le Labo
Field notes from a visit to the brand's physical store in New York.
120 N 6th St, Brooklyn, NY 11249
Hi! Following up on the last post in the series, these are notes from a field expedition to Le Labo's shop in Brooklyn. Following the premise of mystery shopping, we share our thoughts through the lens of brand communication.
Le Labo is a New Yorker brand founded in 2006 by two friends with the intention of competing in the market of nice perfumery. In 2014 the brand was purchased by Estée Lauder Companies, the same company that oversees other influential names in the scent game such as Jo Malone and Tom Ford.
The map of the market in which the brand is included also has Diptyque, Byredo, Maison Margiela, Laboratorio Olfattivo, and many, many more. Le Labo is characterized by being rustic, recognizable, geographically well-distributed, and expensive.
The brand is globally present with several shops in the United States. It is now present in Mexico, South Africa, UAE, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Japan, Australia, and lots of countries in Europe, etc. There are no shops in South America, and I wonder why, as their economic situation didn't seem to prevent other high-ticket brands from entering those markets.
From a typographic perspective, the logotype is clean and works well when pressed on their soaps and packaging. The body text type has an old-school mechanic look that enhances the idea of something handmade, extracted from a bygone time.
The colors of materials and photographic treatments are earthy but cold, and contrast seems to be preferred. Their photography mostly refers to what happens in the store and reinforces the lab system that involves fresh formulation, personalization, engraving, and refilling all in loco.
Lastly, Le Labo has a periodical publication in newspaper format, “Le Jornal”.
Before delving deeper into the visit, I invite you to recreate the space in your mind with some notes of the senses:
Sight: angled and warm light that comes from outside, warming the environment but also illuminating the dust particles.
Smell: the smell of tuberoses, green leaves, seeds, and wood.
Sound: music and conversations in a low, calm tone.
Touch: worn leather, thick glass, unpolished wood to the touch of the hands, wood creaking at the feet.
Keywords: rustic, casual, vintage.
All Le Labo stores I ever visited are on street level—this one is no different. I open the door myself and even though it's bright outside, the interior is much darker as if the sun is on the way out. The light is warm, smooth, and intimate. Immediately I can smell their fragrances in a mix that works well. There is music playing but nothing too mainstream, something of jazz and pop.
There were two salespeople working, and from the window shop, I could see they were having a lively conversation that was interrupted by my arrival. I was greeted with a "Welcome, how are you today?". There's no space for chit-chat and the attendant jumps right on, "What are you looking for? Anything in particular?".
It's common to have a such situation when shopping in the US, where there is a hard separation between salesperson behavior and social behavior. My interaction with the salesperson was very impersonal. She didn't ask for the reasons why I was shopping today and why I was shopping for perfume. No sense of personal engagement.
I said I was looking for a scent with sandalwood or vanilla, and that I needed to learn the brand better. She ran me through two or three options, with generic ingredient descriptions that I could read on the packaging myself.
Fragrance and wine choices are quite similar in complexity. A regular consumer never develops a specific vocabulary to describe tastes and smells accurately. We need help to better link senses with sources and emotions. Brand vocabulary and training would be essential here.
The assortment of products is small and all are displayed mostly on a waist level, inviting one to try themselves. Around then, a selection of vintage-looking furniture, something like you would see in an old school pharmacy that once closed—and the furniture ended up in a general charity center under distress of time and weather and retrieved by Le Labo a few decades later. They're not particularly conserved.
In fact, the interior design choices are as genuine as a strawberry-flavored candy compared to a real strawberry: it tastes good but not like the real thing.
The whole thing is pretty but looks too much like a backdrop.
The same is true for the chairs and sofas spread around, mostly in brown leather. The idea of having sitting furniture is absolutely great, but it seems to be exclusive to the ones that are accompanying the main person shopping, as there's not a lot of reason just sit and stick around. I wish there was some sort of simple anyone-would-like tea or even water. Shopping for fragrance takes time as you have to clean your smell in between tests. It naturally requires time.
Personally, I would like to be able to smell the scent of leather, wood, and isolated ingredients, more than the products. I think that way the perfumes would be less overwhelming and would gain a genuine context.
After wandering around and smelling some products, I went to the brand's cafe which is more or less connected to the store, where I bought a delicious coffee (and my mouth was watering from the pastries). Everything was vegan.
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