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.
I get that dill note sometimes too – in perfumes with sandalwood I think, but I’m not sure. Have you noticed that? I smelled it in Frapin Caravelle Epicee.
I’ve always thought of Tauer Lonestar Memories as a real Marlboro Man perfume.
Kjanicki: I have encountered the “dill” note…it’s often in compositions that have sandalwood or papyrus…investigation needed!
Agreed Lonestar Memories fits that image perfectly.
I’ve only tried (and adored) Rose 31 from the line so far, but would like to give this a sniff since I do like musks in varying degrees of clean and dirty. Could you layer it over a hint of MKK to toughen it up a bit?
AbScent: god, no! I’d imagine a Santal 33/MKK mix as noxious and completely ugly! Try it and get back to me! HA!
Lol. Okay. The musk is a take it or leave it thing. Gotcha. I’d still likely try it, but if it is the screetchy clean variety a la Essence NR’s musk, I’ll just have to steer clear altogether as that one really put me off and I like the original quite a bit.
And sleeping on a perfume purchase can be a good thing especially if it isn’t on sale. I’ve ended up with buyer’s remorce a few times when something smelled amazing on the card, fantastic on my skin but wore out its welcome after only wearing it a few times. I guess that’s where decants come in.
Abscent: the musk IS very clean…one person who smelled it on me compared it to laundry detergent plus pollen: suffocating.
I have smelled this on a few other people and momentarily on myself but really didn’t think much of it. I know a lot of people adore it, but for me it is money saved.
Tama: it’s a lesson I can never LEARN enough. If I had visited a Le Labo store and put this on..even gone to lunch and come back to the store…I would have bought it. The musk arrives later than usual and is STRONG. Money saved here too. Wear something a DAY before buying!
Question: Why would there be a need for a 500ml bottle???
For $700 no less! I can’t imagine….
Raymond: I guess if you ONLY wear Santal 33…and share it with your elephant herd?
I liked it, not loved.
C: I”d like to smell the candle…can’t imagine THAT has the dreaded musk.
Too much dry cedar, too much screechy cardamom, this one got on my nerves in no time. I am giving up Le Labo, they never work for me.
And speaking of weird & wonderful, there is still Comme des Garçons, making character scents far better than Le Labo.
Bjorn: agree…I’d have a large percentage of the CdG perfumes compared to Le Labo’s offerings.
If you think, Le Labo Another 13 is clearly a copy of Comme des Garcons idea of partnering with a magazine to launch a fragrance. I noticed that even CDG is very distant of weird lately. Sometimes their fragrances are solid and beautiful, but what you have seen is a constant recycling of their usual core of wood, dry leafs and incense aromas in different sizes and emphases. Even they seem afraid to try something new…
Rick: true…it’s been awhile since a CdG perfume has thrilled me…
Oh yes, growing up with smoking parents, the last thing I thought of about smoking was ‘sexy’…it was just clearly highly addictive and stunk!
Even as a little kid when it was my turn to do the washing up (long before dishwashers were invented) I belligerently refused to wash ashtrays; literally stomach-turning; even sitting here recalling it makes me feel icky.
So I was really puzzled by the ad copy for this, and hoped Le Labo hasn’t gone over to the dark side were they do all that surreptitious advertising for cigarettes (you know as in Vogue and Vanity Fair when there is ALWAYS a cleverly hidden reference to smoking by some celebrity to make it look cool…and paid for by the tobacco co as they can’t put in blatant marlborough man ads any more. End of rant, but both my parents died of tobacco related disease!
Me, too, Winifreda! What I remember most unpleasantly was the trips in a car full of smoke, getting carsick (perfect operant conditioning for never wanting to smoke). Both my parents died ten years early, and their later years were ruined due tobacco – congestive heart failure, emphysema and blindness from to macular degeneration. If I can figure out how to write to Le Labo to call them out on this, I will!
Winifrieda: in this case the “Marlboro” references are certainly not too relevant.
From what you described, it seems that Santal 33 offers the best at first don’t? I haven’t tried it yet, waiting my decant to arrive, but reading your description, i believe that the sandalwood is very noticeable on you. Some variations of sandalwood, i believe that they are chemical, have this very evident coconut pudding aroma. And the floral musky effect on the base is due to ambroxan, is a pleasant but dull aroma that le labo has been using a lot lately, being the central part of their pointless Another 13 and part of the Structure of Baie Rose.
Rick: I’m not a fan of ambrox in BIG quantity. And some sandalwood “configurations” do remind me of Thai coconut rice…not a bad smell, but not sandalwood, either.
This is a problem with a lot of Le Labo scents. Their bases rely heavily on chemical musks or ambers, so after some hours they lost their identity. I had a interesting experience with Another 13. Found it boring, but it was got me a lot of compliments. It seems to be an aroma that is pleasant to the olfact. I prefer it worked as part of a whole idea like Absolue Pour Le Matin, where the cold iris, the violet aspects and green aromas create a lovely spring t hat turns glowy with the careful dosage of ambroxan on the base. But as an isolate smell, it doesn’t make me mad about it either…
Kevin, maybe noty sandalwood at its best, which is the mysore one…I kind of like this creamy pudding aroma, but if intense it works better on colder days, cause if not i get sick of it…
And i believe that a Malboro Man would wear things like Xerjoff Homme, DSH Cuir Et Champignon or Ava Luxe Kretek – dry things, that aren’t afraid of smell dark and to create a complex aura around darkness.
I find very weird and totally out of the original idea what Le Labo done with Santal 33. After All, if they created the line with the concept of focusing 100% on the materials, avoiding the influence of marketing words, why now doing this? I think that they started to do exactly what they criticized at first.
And this is only an indicator of something which has been happening with almost all the niche brands lately, the dilution of their exclusivity. Constant launches, associations with magazines or cult celebrities, lines of simple fragrances focusing on few notes, niche seems to be going dangerously close to commercial market lately – with the negative part of the more expensive prices.
Rick! GOODNESS. I think a bottle of Xerjoff would be out of reach of a real Marlboro man! HA! (Unless he owns the ranch, of coruse)
I really didn’t have a problem with this one, but I don’t think it’s worth “skin time.” It’s a bit harsh up close, which is funny because I usually love cedar, but all in all, just doesn’t do it for me. I think I’d like it more on other people….
Ol Rait: need to try the candle…I’m guessing the musk will be absent in that…or different.
I really wanted to love this one. I do love sniffing the candle which smells more “sandalwoody” to me but have yet to splurge as it’s spendy and I don’t know how Le Labo candles burn. Anyway. Whatever those 7 further ingredients are (maybe all 7 are various forms of musk?) they ruin Santal 33 for me. To be fair I’m not a fan of the Le Labo Iris which I think is by the same perfumer and I smell a distinct resemblance with the violet leaf and cardamom (which I usually LIKE)in the opening. Thanks for your review, Kevin.
Dona: you’re welcome…only Oud 27 has prompted a purchase from Le Labo so far.