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Santal 33 – woody and floral and leathery



I was at the optician’s getting my new glasses fitted a while ago. I’ve known Cynthia for some time now, and while she was adjusting the frames, she said, ‘You write a perfume blog. What do you think of Santal 33?.’ Before I could say anything, she jumped right back in. ‘I just love that fragrance. My boyfriend loves it on me, I love it on me and whenever I wear it people want to know what perfume I’m wearing. You know, I think Santal 33 is my soul-serving scent. Mother used to wear….’  At this point, I confess, I began to think about what to have for dinner but snapped back to reality when she told me how much those fancy-schmancy new frames cost.

Back at home, I was checking emails while I waited for the pasta to cook, when an email from a very close and very dear friend, Beckie, dropped into my ‘Inbox’:

‘In case you haven’t seen….

Two references to the same perfume within an hour of each other? Coincidence, or was the universe speaking to me?

I followed Beckie’s link and was rewarded with an entertaining story of how Santal 33, from niche perfume line Le Labo, came to be.

Fabrice Penot and Eddie Roschi, who had both worked for Giorgio Armani fragrances, launched Le Labo in 2006, with ten fragrances and one candle - Santal 26. The fragrances were well-received, but the candle was not – until hotelier Ian Schraeger discovered it at the time he was renovating the Gramercy Park Hotel and had Le Labo create a smokier version high-end for the hotel lobby. Guests of the hotel noticed the smoky, woody scent and started showing up at the Nolita store asking about it. A room spray followed, but people began wearing that as perfume. And then the penny dropped.

In June 2010 Penot joined a large group of people that were watching the World Cup on a TV screen inside a bar on the corner of Prince and Mott streets. He noticed that the guy standing in front of him smelled terrific. Penot was transfixed by the smell and finally asked the guy what perfume he was wearing. The guy told Penot that it wasn't  a perfume but a room spray that he buys at a little store on Elizabth Sreet - Le Labo.

And that is how Santal 33, Le Labo’s star fragrance was born.

Overcooked pasta aside, the universe was speaking to me and I listened. Now I am a very happy Santal 33 devotee.

A small caveat: the name and number of all Le Labo fragrances refer to the ingredient with the highest concentration – in this case sandalwood - which means that the name of the fragrance might bear little resemblance to what the fragrance smells like. The number refers to the number of ingredients in the fragrance.

This makes breaking their fragrances down note by note challenging (as it can be for most fragrances, truth be told) as it’s the way the ingredients are blended and how they react on the skin, that tell the story, but I’ll give it a go.

On me, Santal 33 opens with the metallic, green scent of violet followed by a dry, woody jolt of Australian sandalwood. I smell cardamom. Its spiciness warms the wood. There’s smoke, sensual and hypnotic drifting over the smell of soft, worn leather. Just when I think this is getting a bit masculine in tone, powdery iris adds a sophistication to the fragrance that changes my mind. Cedarwood extends the woodiness and adds a beautiful, balsamy scent. Ambrox, musky and animalic adds a richness to the blend.

The drydown is like nothing else I own. It has an understated sensuality that beckons and pleases for hours.

Oh, I do like it when the universe speaks to me.

Santal 33 is listed in our Decant Store. Decants are $7.00 for 1 ml.

Image - - Flowers of Indian Sandalwood (santalum albums), Hyderabad, India by J.M. Garg, 20/09/2008