How unlucky for perfume lovers to live in an era when Mysore sandalwood has disappeared from fragrances. Let’s hope the over-harvested and endangered sandalwood trees of India are truly being protected and propagated for future generations. According to Serge Lutens P.R., the company bought its stash of Mysore sandalwood before stringent trade regulations went into effect, and it’s this “legal” Mysore sandalwood that supposedly enriches the Lutens perfume of the same name.
Santal de Mysore was developed by perfumer Christopher Sheldrake and released in 2001. I never smelled “original” Santal de Mysore so I don’t know how it compares to the new, surely reformulated, fragrance. Today’s Santal de Mysore contains, apart from Mysore sandalwood, “spices,” cumin, styrax balsam and “caramelized” Siamese benzoin.
Santal de Mysore starts off smelling edible, with a nougat-y and coconut-cream sweetness emanating from a faint "wood" note. The wood/coconut note is spiced with powdery cumin (not too “sweaty” or “raw”) and perhaps some star anise and turmeric. The first phase of Santal de Mysore smells more like Santal de Bangkok — the scents of Thai curry and coconut custard. (I suspect Christopher Sheldrake is a great cook.) Slowly, the scent of light and talc-y sandalwood (tinged with vanillic benzoin) comes to the fore.
Santal de Mysore is, overall, a delicate and smooth spicy-gourmand fragrance; it’s not loud, jarring or ‘glossy.’ Santal de Mysore smells “antique.” When I dabbed a few drops of Santal de Mysore on my wrist, it was love at first sniff, and I was about to reach for a credit card when my “Perfume Mentor, BS Detector and ‘Common Scents’ Advisor” (aka: Robin here at Now Smell This) whispered in my ear; she suggested I wear Santal de Mysore next to Serge Lutens Santal Blanc* before making a purchase — just in case I preferred Santal Blanc. I took her advice.
Santal Blanc (brand new bottle) begins with the scents of aldehydes and tropical fruit jam (I’m visualizing soft, orange-yellow pulp); in mid-development, the fruit jam is joined by a “burnt bread” aroma. Santal Blanc’s base notes smell of clean, floral-fruity musk. Floating through the early stages of this fragrance are notes of cedar and sheer (and ephemeral) bleached/ “white” sandalwood. Santal Blanc smells modern, sleek and decidedly feminine; it is LONG lasting on skin and eternal on fabrics — it survived on my skin through three showers in two days and I had to have the wool coat I was wearing on "Santal Blanc testing day" dry cleaned to remove the perfume. I wouldn’t wear Santal Blanc if a bottle fell into my lap.
But I’m glad Robin mentioned Santal Blanc because searching for and trying that fragrance kept me from making an expensive mistake. As I compared the two Lutens sandalwood perfumes, I no longer “dabbed” but poured on Santal de Mysore. When I wore the equivalent of 7-8 sprays of Santal de Mysore I recognized its flaw — its dearth of sandalwood, the fragrance I desired most of all. Santal de Mysore showcases curry spices and other food-y notes (cream, coconut, vanilla), but sandalwood, of Mysore or any other provenance, is a bit player in the formula. I still like Santal de Mysore but it seems overpriced.
Serge Lutens Santal de Mysore has very good lasting power and mild sillage; it’s $200 for 50 ml of Eau de Parfum. For buying information see the listing for Serge Lutens under Perfume Houses.
(If you’re familiar with both old and new Santal de Mysore please comment; I’m curious if the 2001 version had more discernible sandalwood than today’s composition.)
*official notes for Santal Blanc: white sandalwood, fenugreek, pink pepper, cinnamon, rose, jasmine, orris root, musk, benzoin, copaiba balsam.
Note: Top image is Sri Durga as Mahishasura Mardini [cropped] via Wikimedia Commons. Midway down, images of coconut and vanilla bean also via Wikimedia Commons; cumin seed via Charles Haynes at flickr, some rights reserved.