by Ruby Thiagarajan, Shawn Hoo,
Jo-Ann Yeoh & Samuel Mak
Photography by Kevin Fee
Art Direction by Clifford Loh
Le Labo’s Thé Noir 29 is a dense fog settling on the skin. It’s a late morning in November, barely stirring, silent and overcast. Soft light is faintly filtering through the clouds.
A gentle breeze comes through the window and lifts pages of books you don’t remember owning. Outside, a stray gust of wind snags on a corner and a trio of leaves are caught in a miniature whirlwind. The fire you lit last night is in its final stages, still smouldering in its pit.
Thé Noir 29 opens with cedar, bay leaves and fig—not lush and green but dry. Almost medicinal. It’s shot through with a strong bergamot, reminiscent of a robust Earl Grey. This isn’t a freshly brewed pot, however. It’s twenty pots worth of your best, in loose leaves sitting pretty in a heavy glass jar. On either side of it rests a wooden case of your father’s best tobacco and a metal bowl filled with dried rose petals. Also in the mix are vetiver and peppercorn. It skirts around tea; tea exists in the negative space here. Cat Stevens plays softly in the background.
It hums close to the skin but doesn’t stick to it. It caresses rather than embraces. It’s a dance on tiptoes through a house you haven’t lived in for years. Every nook is simultaneously a discovery and a rediscovery.
Some smells are familiar and trigger fond memories, but some of them you’re sure you’ve only experienced in dreams. Glide past old furniture and sit by the window. The light is fickle and hard to nail down. Look out at the sprawling vista in front of you. Have you been here before?
By Ruby Thiagarajan
You held on to people
You held on to people the way you hold on to water: a pondskater’s outstretched skim, as if over a large mirror that you’re unwilling to ripple, your arms rowing moons away from intimate knowing, settle for surface. a light glide over skin, as if to plot a meniscus enough to know of human contact outside friction, you trace a fiction fragrance leading from note to note to its source lessness. on that trail, mystery invests that draws me in: a whole lake turned one knob clearer, white noise transformed into night; crickets; timber standing like dark chimneys, your endlessly perfurming trademark.
By Shawn Hoo
Featuring Aventus by Creed
The Sea. Rain. Lemons. Grass. And Old Spice aftershave, the kind his father used.
Whenever she walked into the room, all these clean, sharp smells would march in with her. He’d take a long, deep sniff and hope she wouldn’t notice. And when she leaned over his desk, to correct an error in his homework, he’d hold his breath at first and then quickly inhale. Bliss.
Over the years, he’d sniff at other women, hoping they wouldn’t notice either, hoping even more to smell that scent again. The sea. Rain. Lemons. Grass. Old Spice.
Sometimes there would be a whiff of something close—there would be rain and lemons, but mixed in with something floral and banal. Once and only once, there was the sea mixed with rain and grass—oh, so close—and something else he couldn’t place. He asked her out, and after three dates he realised it was grapefruit. He never called her again, but he often thought of that scent. So close.
He’d loiter in the perfume section in department stores, waiting for the salesgirls to pounce. Something for the wife, sir? Here, try this... very popular, very easy to wear. But he wasn’t looking for something easy to wear—he wanted to smell that smell again, of the very first woman who had had the power to make him comb his hair carefully and check that his teeth were clean. He would leave the store with a fistful of little paper strips, all bearing the latest fragrances. Wrong, all wrong.
And then it happens one night—in a crowded bar, a drunk, giggling girl spills her drink down the front of his shirt. Mortified, he grabs a napkin and begins to dab furiously at the stain. And stops. And sniffs. And sniffs.
It all rushes at him—the sea, the rain, the lemons, the Old Spice, the heart-shaped face of the woman who ruled his six-year-old heart with a gap-toothed smile and an odd perfume.
He laughs, long and loudly. The lovely Miss Chiang had smelt of gin.
by Jo-Ann Yeoh
Featuring Amazing Green from Comme des Garçons
A remembered past, an echo
An evening on a rooftop bar, lights dimmed. Cold breeze skirting around tables. The day is vaporising. The rain will come again bearing considered sentiments. Meanwhile, make good the moving air. Glide while space is bountiful. Mistake a stranger’s drink for your own. Pay everyone’s bills and go. Enter cool doorways. Enter cool spaces. Follow the itinerary of an unplanned voyage. Cradle the false adventurer. He is the one who will seem to be and thereafter the one you will not know. The lieutanant in the corner has something to say with his eyes. The lieutanant flirts seriously. Belle, a frenchman worships his girl. The barman pours her a cauldron of infant crystals. Waterfalls blossom from the flute.
Have faith in the trajectory of wind. It ebbs and flows, doctors the light, privy to some faint knowledge realised in hindsight. Reign in the sunday nights flowing into soulless mondays. Overhead hangs a pinnacle to aspire to.
Someone reaches out gently, lying supine on outer skin, mellowing, a nondescript wunderkind excelling at his game. Draped over the banister is an adept chess player, patching holes in a winter coat, rethreading the frontlines, routinely nestling between pleats, tunnelling under stained cuffs, around barricades of hasty defence. Creeps upon your knights and waits for you to give in. The master rooster draws a modish outline upon himself and his posse, azure and malleable while spurning porosity. The ambivert lurks. He is the only one that catches your eye.
Look for a trail of terminable connections. Look at me in detail. Like a good samaritan who sends a pretty young thing home. Fallen boys adjust their facial symmetries, pushing noses into place as we depart with a swirl, nap in your old madza with the ragtop roof and pop-up headlamps before speeding off, vibrato, vodka funneling furiously inwards.
by Samuel Mak
Featuring L'eau from Serge Lutens