Le Labo is one of those super famous niche lines with a reputation preceding it, and very problematically at that. Approaching their perfumes, I'm reminded that their fragrances rarely smell like what they're named after. I'm also conscious of their subtler reputations for being a bit synthetic, and a bit weak, and perhaps more damningly, not especially complex. None of this dissuades me from liking Le Labo (Iris 39 is excellent), but it doesn't engender confidence. Expectation is the enemy of enjoyment, and if I expect to be disappointed, confirmation bias becomes a risk.
I needn't have worried with Rose 31. I like it. Not enough to ever buy it, or even to wear it again, but I appreciate what was achieved here. In a perfect world it would be called Vetiver 31, because it strikes me as being a vetiver fragrance with a hint of dry rose. That must be the reputation about names catching up with it. But the vetiver is well done, smelling very rooty and a bit green, with a smooth, woodsy character. Adding to the smooth woodiness are very clean notes of cedar, a hint of oud (synthetic oud, similar to the stuff found in Dirty English), and cool incense. The romance is delivered via musks, greens, and spices: white pepper, carrot seed, cumin, castoreum, and a bit of cold, powdery galbanum balance into a gauzy veil of earthiness, throwing shadow across the bright wood notes.
Poking through it all is the dry, bitter rose note. This is the same rose found in Van Cleef & Arpels PH, but here it's less intense, less prominent, more a suggestion than a statement. If you're a traditionalist about your rose fragrances, you won't care much for Rose 31. If you're interested in the mood that a dry, masculine rose note can evoke, this stuff is for you. I'm neither here nor there. I like or dislike rose frags as they come, and rarely do I find myself pining for this one. Is it too synthetic? It's obviously not natural, but I'm not bludgeoned by harsh aroma chemicals, either. Too weak? Yeah, maybe. Complex? Yes, in a linear way. It's nice, and well worth a sniff.