I was standing in line at The Coffee Bean on West 3rd Street and La Cienega when I smelled it for the first time. I had just moved across the country to start my new job as a beauty editor for Byrdie, and it was literally my third day in Los Angeles. As the girl in front of me walked by, the perfume she was wearing overtook my senses (in a good way). It was such an intoxicating, unique scent that I actually thought to myself, “You will regret it for the rest of your life if you don’t ask her what she’s wearing—you must find out.” Keep scrolling to read what happened next…
Despite feeling incredibly creepy, I approached her and said, “This is going to sound incredibly creepy, but you smell amazing and I have to know what it is.” Thankfully, she was super sweet and told me it was Le Labo Santal. “It’s right across the street!” she said, gesturing in that direction. I took out my iPhone and wrote the details down. Perfect.
Of course, the new job and brand new life in L.A. got in the way of making a pit stop to purchase this alluring new perfume, until a few days later, when I was sent to the DpHue salon in Studio City to try their new services and my scent-obsession was reawakened. I was meeting with Justin Anderson, a renowned stylist who works at the Chris McMillan salon and has given Jennifer Aniston, Miley Cyrus, and Emma Roberts their iconic California-blond color. He’s also a gorgeous, buff man covered in tattoos who looks like a male fitness model, but that’s sort of beside the point. As I sat in his chair and he began playing with my hair, inspecting the color, discussing what we were going to do with it, a powerful smell wafted over me—but I didn’t immediately connect it to the Coffee Bean girl. I pretty much inhaled him to get more of it, and then asked: “What in god’s name are you wearing? It’s incredible.”
“Santal,” he laughed. That’s when it hit me. “Oh my god it’s the same one!!!” I whipped out my phone to look at the note I had created for myself and, sure enough, there it was: Santal. That sexy, mysterious word that sounds like something you whisper to a stranger in a dark club. A secret password to an underground society. Santal.
I couldn’t believe that the girl from Coffee Bean and this masculine celeb hairstylist wore the same perfume, and that it smelled slightly different, but equally amazing on them both. I knew then that I would never get the perfume out of my head—nor did I particularly want to—and I had to get it. I decided it would be the scent to commemorate my move to Los Angeles. I would buy it, own it, wear it, and forever and always associate it with this moment in my life.
That weekend, I went to the Le Labo store on West Third Street and excitedly bought a bottle. At Le Labo stores, they print each customer an individual label, with whatever you want it to say. They even have the ability to print emojis. I chose to get “Alina <3 Los Angeles” in honor of my move here.
It’s funny because coming from the East Coast, I had never once smelled Santal before—anywhere. Even on my many trips to New York, where there is a Le Labo store in Nolita, the heady, spicy, potent smell of Santal had never hit my nose until that morning in The Coffee Bean. Since buying it, I have smelled it wafting through the air on someone, somewhere, at almost every L.A. event and party. And everywhere I go, someone asks me what I’m wearing. The full name is Santal 33, but most people simply say “Santal”—myself now included.