Friday, 24 June 2011

Review: Santal 33 from Le Labo (2011)

When I first sprayed Le Labo’s latest, I immediately went on Twitter and posted the word, “Wow,” thereby breaking my personal rule about jumping to conclusions. This was India in a bottle, I thought, a warm, opulent presentation of the part-woody, part-smoky and part-milky aspects that make up the unmistakable scent of sandalwood. I closed my eyes and found myself back amongst the colourful stalls in Colaba, with their glittering plastic bangles and iridescent fabrics. As the fragrance developed, the effect became even more evocative. The peppery edge of cypriol appeared, followed by the dryness of cedar, the animalic smoothness of castoreum and perhaps a hint of cardamom for contrast. Now I was on a noisy train, somewhere between Jaipur and Jodhpur, looking through an open window, watching the desert radiate its yellow heat back to the empty skies above.

But I suppose I should’ve known that nothing would live up to such an intensely gripping opening. As the heart faded away, the woody, peppery aspects remained and were joined by the sweaty-herbaceous odour given off by dried dill when it’s been rehydrated by steam. This was by no means a disaster, but it did somehow coarsen the final impact and it certainly erased my pristine Indian mirage.

It would be churlish of me to state that Santal 33 is anything less than a very good fragrance. Indeed, it's undoubtedly one of the most impressive releases I’ve tried so far in 2011. My question is whether it’s ‘merely’ very good or outstanding… and I found some help with getting an answer on Le Labo’s website. It turns out the inspiration for the scent is the myth of the Marlboro Man and his rugged, outdoorsy representation of masculinity and America. In other words: no Colaba, no sparkly bangles and no Rajasthani forts. In this context, the rough drydown makes sense. If Lonestar Memories tells the story of a cowboy who washes away the stench of the day’s toil with a bar of geranium-scented soap, then the hero of Santal 33 keeps his clothes on and allows the smells of the campfire, the worn denim and the dust to seep right into his skin. If that’s an image that appeals to you, then the mirages evoked by Le Labo in your mind may last longer than mine did. But either way, this is a commendable achievement and an absolute must-try.

[Review based on a sample obtained in 2011; fragrance tested on skin. Frank Voelkl is officialy credited as the creator of Santal 33. For more reviews, please visit Eyeliner On A Cat, The Non-Blonde and Perfume Shrine.]



  1. I just love hearing different takes on Santal 33, each seems so different from the next. I enjoyed yours thoroughly. I really wished I could have been transported to your Indian mirages, but my mirage was more like a trip to the land of M*A*S*H, where the medicinal and the vaguely exotic come together. I consider Santal 33 a big success. Thanks for the mention, by the way!

  2. Yes, I think Santal 33's success is undeniable. Despite my minor reservations, I think I may have to treat myself to a small bottle.

    And please don't mention the mention ;-) It's my pleasure to link to blogs as well written as yours.

  3. I saw that you posted a review for Santal 33 but didn't want to read it before trying the sample that I had. Now, after I both have tried the perfume and read your review I plan to re-try the perfume: I didn't dislike it, I just completely missed everything you described so vividly in your review... Am I testing the same perfume? (I start wondering if my samples were cross-labeled)

  4. Undina, first of all, thanks for coming back to read the post; I appreciate it.

    As for the fragrance, I guess there's a slight chance your sample was labelled incorrectly, but it's not likely. Did you get it from a reliable source?

    I think what's probably happened is that, for whatever reason, the scent just hasn't made a connection with your personal olfactory biography.

    But let me know what you think when you re-smell it.

  5. The source for Undina's sample was me, so I guess it's up to you and Undina to determine how reliable I am. ;) Joking aside, I'm meticulous when it comes to making samples and labeling them.

  6. Carrie, thanks very much.

    Undina, your sample's the real deal.

  7. Oh, I didn't think it wasn't real! But with 3 Le Labo samples that Carrie generously sent me and this one smelling different from what I read I thought about two vials switched between two labeled (meticulously! :) ) bags. But if Carrie says it's not possible I will be testing and reading again (not that I complain since I like all three :) )

  8. Undina, I honestly think the likeliest explanation is that Santal 33 just 'speaks' to you in a different way.

  9. Persolaise ... I have just smelt Santal 33 . lol 2016 !
    I love the stuff ! This scent is flying off shelves at Le Labo in CA .Witnessed this phenomenon for myself on Saturday . In half an hour , everyone who walked in , wanted Santal 33.

    1. Mimi G, it's never too late :-) And I'm so pleased the scent is doing well in your corner of the world.


Thanks very much for reading my site and taking the time to leave a comment.

Please note that whilst the full range of views is welcome on, comments containing expletives and/or abusive language may not be published.

If you're using Safari on an Apple device, you may experience some difficulties with submitting comments. Please consider using Google's Chrome browser on your Apple device; this may make it easier to leave your comment.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...