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Santal de Mysore – The name says it all – New Fragrance Listing, July 6, 2012

Photo - Wikipedia - Mysore Palace at Night - Vijay Pandey, June 13, 2008

You’d expect a perfume named Santal de Mysore to be about the sandalwood note, but this one is by Serge Lutens, so who knows – it could smell like mint. That’s what I love about the art of Serge Lutens – the shiver of anticipation when I put my nose over one of his perfumes for the first time, knowing that I’m going to be surprised or shocked, but also that I’m in for some very serious pleasure.

Santal de Mysore – Mysore sandalwood, Indian sandalwood, the one, the only sandalwood used for centuries to make the scented oil used in perfume, until it recently became endangered from over-harvesting and is banned, protected by the Indian government. Australian sandalwood is used now, which, of course, smells different.  Mysore sandalwood, which Serge Lutens apparently purchased in quantity prior to the harvest ban, smells like – what?

“Like sheer, cream pudding made with wood dust and champagne. It’s both dry-woody and creamy-fresh. Unlike anything else I’ve ever smelled.” (from nowsmellthis comments)

In his uniquely inventive style, Serge Lutens tells his sandalwood story with a twist – no tried-and- true ambery or woody accords, let’s be different, let’s start with the gourmand. Let’s go for a full Mysore feast, a spicy Indian sandalwood buffet of savoury, sweet, and sweaty, suffused with buttery smoky deliciousness.  The notes listed are Mysore sandalwood, cumin, spices, styrax balsam, caramelized Siamese benzoin, and all of these are right there at the top, in the first sniffs. The opening is fantastic, a spiced curry, slightly sweetened with burnt caramel, but which feels light, and floating on coconut rice, subtly seeded with sour cumin. Surprised! Yes, sirree. Thrilled? Absolutely!

As Santal de Mysore warms on my skin, the spice accord is softened by florals, which aren’t listed but which my nose thinks is orange blossom/jasmine/tuberose maybe? – they come and go and then disappear. After fifteen minutes or so, the feast starts to transform from savoury to sweet, from spicy curry to creamy cool pudding, a thin pourable vanilla custard with a hint of anise, like the brightly coloured candied seeds at Indian buffets, which I can never resist.

So far I love Santal de Mysore, but where’s the sandalwood? Here it is now! – creamy, silky, smoky, warm, rich and deep – absolutely sandalwood, with a hint of leathery balsam that keeps the sweetness in check, but absolutely a sandalwood like I’ve never smelled before. Indian sandalwood, wrapped in the smell of India. Gourmand top notes are a faint memory, and I’m in Mysore standing in a sandalwood forest, loving the exotic woodiness that floats from this amazing tree into the warm air. I’m there for hours, and still there in the morning when I wake up smelling the seductive note on my arm.

If you’re looking for a sandalwood but prefer a straight-ahead kind of frag, or you absolutely hate curry, then Santal de Mysore won’t do the job for you - go for Lutens Santal Blanc, or a more conventional sandalwood frag like Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier Santal Noble. If you like  exploring the unconventional side of perfumes, then you should definitely give it a try.

Don’t be put off by the gourmand aspect because the curry accord isn’t heavy or overpowering. In fact, it’s strangely beautiful, like in Lutens’ Arabie or Ambre Sultan which also use this signature mix of dark boozy spices. The weird accord soon fades into the creamy heart so just be patient, and wait, because waiting gets you to the prize behind it all, the marvelously exotic sandalwood dry-down and lingering finish.

Lutens, a true story-teller, builds the intrigue about Santal de Mysore from beginning to end, and saves the best part for last. He sure made me willingly suspend my disbelief  - I LOVE it!

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