Le Labo Next Door: The Power of Physical Spaces

These days, I can order my groceries, do a yoga class, buy a new pair of shoes, chat with an old friend, and work an 8 hour day without ever leaving my apartment. Although it is all quite convenient, I still crave the experience of being in different physical spaces. But if I’m going to venture out into the world, I want to go to the most hip and happening places. For the month of February this year, I decided to escape the frigid Chicago winter and be a digital nomad in Mexico. When I arrived at my sunny little Airbnb in Roma Norte, I looked out the window to find a Le Labo store, and immediately knew that I was in the right place. This got me thinking about the power of not only good branding, but curated physical spaces that integrate perfectly into the vibe of their location. What is it about the Le Labo brand that makes me excited to see it from my vacation home window? Because I assure you, I would not have had the same reaction had I looked out the window and seen a glowing blue Walmart sign. In fact, I might have canceled my reservation and gone to scout out a hotel in a different part of the city. But instead, I threw on my sandals, grabbed my purse, and headed off to sniff everything Roma Norte’s Le Labo had to offer.

“Born in Grasse, raised in New York,” Le Labo chose the hip neighborhood of Nolita as home for their very first storefront in 2006. The brand has since expanded to over 32 locations in every chic pocket of the world, thanks to the brand’s exceptional knack for location scouting. A little pattern I’ve noticed as I travel is that if you spot a Le Labo, it’s likely that you’ve made it to THE part of town. The physical experience of a Le Labo store is a key ingredient in the brand’s exclusivity, influence, and cult-like following.

Back to my Walmart example, the environment of a physical store and its surroundings majorly impact perception of a brand, oftentimes on a subconscious level. You’ll typically encounter a Walmart on the outskirts of a city, next to a freeway. And if I had to give the experience of shopping at Walmart a name, it would be something along the lines of “American Midwest Dystopia.” This couldn’t be farther from the in-store experience of a Le Labo, where modern day laboratory meets old-time apothecary and luxury lies in craftsmanship and personalization. It’s important to put a disclaimer here because there is clearly a financial factor at play, and in that regard, comparing Walmart to Le Labo is like comparing apples to oranges. However, I’m a firm believer that price does not (and should not) dictate the quality of an experience. Yes, it’s easier to create an elite experience when you’re charging an arm and a leg for your product, but the point I want to illustrate is that there is something fundamentally missing in chain stores that makes the experience feel common and cliché, save for a few that get it right, aka Le Labo. Other examples that immediately come to mind are Glossier, Aesop, LUSH, and MUJI – none of which carry a luxury price tag.

Anyone who knows me knows that branding is my raison d’être so to speak, and because of this, I am a firm believer that the best brands are the ones that create a one-of-a-kind experience for their consumers. While e-commerce is a fantastic use of technology that has catapulted many brands into rapid success, it simply cannot replicate or replace the allure of a well-executed physical space, especially in brands that are entwined with the senses, like fragrance. So whether it’s getting out and smelling the roses, or in my case this month, the Le Labo bell jar cloches, let’s help each other get out of the house by creating and sharing physical spaces that are evocative, unique, and take us out of the mundaneness of everyday life.