While sniffing hundreds upon hundreds of perfumes each year (many of them just plain cheap, ineptly blended, blatantly aiming to appeal to every human on earth), I’m grateful when a solid, good-smelling fragrance appears amidst the junk. I love the weirdo scents, the “characters,” the one-of-a-kind perfumes, but they are becoming rare. (We need a whole new crop of fragrance notes, don’t we? Or a whole new crop of perfumers…?)
Le Labo Santal 33, the aroma, started out as a popular Le Labo candle that I've never smelled: Santal 26. Apparently that backstory is not exciting enough for a perfume launch, thus:
Do you remember the old Marlboro ads? A man and his horse in front of the fire on a great plain under tall, blue evening skies - A defining image of the spirit of the American West with all it implied about masculinity and personal freedom. This man, firelight in his face, leaning on the worn leather saddle, alone with the desert wind, an icon so powerful that every man wanted to be him and every woman wanted to have him...the great American myth still a source of fantasy for the rest of the world... A perfume that touches the sensual universality of this icon... that would intoxicate a man as much as a woman…*
I do remember the old Marlboro ads and the rugged “Marlboro men.” Today those ads don’t fuel fantasy so much as fright — at cancer (of the lungs and skin) and aging (look at those deep wrinkles, the sun spots). I never smelled the Marlboro man, but I’m betting he didn’t smell anything like Santal 33. The “Old West” of Santal 33 is more along the lines of Rupert Everett, circa 1990, playing a romanticized Sundance Kid in a picturesque Merchant Ivory Production: clean, limpid, polite…and a bit drowsy.
Santal 33, developed by perfumer Frank Voelkl, contains cardamom, iris, violet, ambrox, Australian sandalwood, papyrus, cedar wood, leather and musk. Santal 33 opens with leather, wood notes (some entangled cedar and sandalwood with a dash of turpentine) and a creamy accord (smelling a bit like mixed coconut and tonka bean). Quickly, Santal 33 turns food-y, with hints of nuttiness and rice pudding (and a weird, but not unpleasant, dill-like note). So far: enjoyment!
Then, after about three hours of wear, Santal 33’s leather, sandalwood and most of its cedar disappears (along with its early promise) and an inexpensive-smelling, candied, slightly floral musk aroma appears. This musk, powerful and diffusive, sickeningly sweet, and redolent of the laundry room, ruins Santal 33 for me. If only I could “delete” this musk, Santal 33 would have been the solid, good-smelling perfume I was hoping for.
In its opening and mid-development, Santal 33 is a handsome, comforting, smooth/cushiony perfume — buoyant, not dense. Santal 33’s musky base is banal and girly; no Marlboro woman, let alone a Marlboro MAN, would ever wear it.
Santal 33 Eau de Parfum is available in 15, 50, 100, and 500 ml. ($58, $145, $220, $700); it has good lasting power and sillage. For buying information, see the listing for Le Labo under Perfume Houses.
*Le Labo press release.