When I first sprayed Le Labo’s latest, I immediately went on Twitter and posted the word, “Wow,” thereby breaking my personal rule about jumping to conclusions. This was India in a bottle, I thought, a warm, opulent presentation of the part-woody, part-smoky and part-milky aspects that make up the unmistakable scent of sandalwood. I closed my eyes and found myself back amongst the colourful stalls in Colaba, with their glittering plastic bangles and iridescent fabrics. As the fragrance developed, the effect became even more evocative. The peppery edge of cypriol appeared, followed by the dryness of cedar, the animalic smoothness of castoreum and perhaps a hint of cardamom for contrast. Now I was on a noisy train, somewhere between Jaipur and Jodhpur, looking through an open window, watching the desert radiate its yellow heat back to the empty skies above.
But I suppose I should’ve known that nothing would live up to such an intensely gripping opening. As the heart faded away, the woody, peppery aspects remained and were joined by the sweaty-herbaceous odour given off by dried dill when it’s been rehydrated by steam. This was by no means a disaster, but it did somehow coarsen the final impact and it certainly erased my pristine Indian mirage.
It would be churlish of me to state that Santal 33 is anything less than a very good fragrance. Indeed, it's undoubtedly one of the most impressive releases I’ve tried so far in 2011. My question is whether it’s ‘merely’ very good or outstanding… and I found some help with getting an answer on Le Labo’s website. It turns out the inspiration for the scent is the myth of the Marlboro Man and his rugged, outdoorsy representation of masculinity and America. In other words: no Colaba, no sparkly bangles and no Rajasthani forts. In this context, the rough drydown makes sense. If Lonestar Memories tells the story of a cowboy who washes away the stench of the day’s toil with a bar of geranium-scented soap, then the hero of Santal 33 keeps his clothes on and allows the smells of the campfire, the worn denim and the dust to seep right into his skin. If that’s an image that appeals to you, then the mirages evoked by Le Labo in your mind may last longer than mine did. But either way, this is a commendable achievement and an absolute must-try.
[Review based on a sample obtained in 2011; fragrance tested on skin. Frank Voelkl is officialy credited as the creator of Santal 33. For more reviews, please visit Eyeliner On A Cat, The Non-Blonde and Perfume Shrine.]