Friday, January 15, 2016

Serge Lutens Santal de Mysore-Review

Let's get something out of the way before I launch into a review of Serge Lutens Santal de Mysore-it does smell a bit of some spices that typically show up in Indian curries. That said, to my nose anyway, it does not smell, "Exactly like curry" as many reviews have stated. If you want to smell something loaded with methe leaves, coriander, and turmeric, give Djedi a try. That's a curry scented perfume! Santal de Mysore just has a heavy dose of cumin and caraway at the opening. If anything, I thought it was a tad on the medicinal side in the first thirty minutes.

I admit it, sandalwood was never my favourite note until I ran across Guerlain Santal Royal and promptly fell in love. Oh, I know the reviews were terrible, but when it comes to love you shouldn't pay any attention to what others think-you're the one that has to live with it and thankfully perfume won't leave the toilet seat up or expect you to remember to pay the insurance bill. So screw what your friends think and wear what you love. After Santal Royal, I became a bit more open minded about the note I so strongly associate with incense, hippies, and attempts at covering the smell of pot smoking (Note to pot smokers-it doesn't work). Sure, if I could travel back in time to 1969 and walk into a record store/head shop and the smell of sandalwood hit me, I'd probably be amused and take in the nostalgia. In 2016, it is a bit harder to get away with heavy doses of the stuff unless it is done with a great deal of skill and imagination. I had to try Santal de Mysore.

The opening was a surprise. Styrax, and lots of it! I guess that's the medicinal bit I caught at the start, but in a nice way-like Fisherman's Friend cough drops. Styrax shows up in so many perfumes, but it typically isn't quite so present from the get-go. It does settle down after a bit, but it never quite goes away, which I do think is a positive. To my nose it compliments the spices, but it is that medicinal quality that can make the spices seem curry-like. Cumin, caraway, and styrax standing -in for the other strongly medicinal smelling spice, turmeric can start to evoke dinner if your only associations with those notes come from cooking. I don't think it is crazy to make the curry observation about Santal de Mysore, I can understand it, though I personally don't experience it. To me, SdM smells rich, heavy and outright majestic.

Once the styrax and spices come together the perfume gets a beautiful, deep scent of vanilla. It isn't vanilla according to the notes, but vanilla's dupe, benzoin which can sometimes have a perfumed richness vanilla can't quite achieve without becoming too much. The magic of this combination is how it barely seems sweet at all, but still manages to feel completely indulgent. If you're shaking your head at the thought of cough drops, caraway rye bread, and vanilla custard I'll understand. It really shouldn't work, and for many people it doesn't. I'm considering myself incredibly fortunate to be among those who are able to enjoy it-and what an enjoyment it is! No tie-dyed Deadheads burning incense here-Santal de Mysore is adorned with silks and jewels.

The sandalwood is so beautiful-strong and present, but not overpowering. This has to be the most nuanced sandalwood I've ever run across-it has dimensions. There's a dryness to it-I can almost feel it in my mind, but there's a brightness too, and at various points as the base came through, I could swear I was smelling a faint citrus-not the juice, but the peel, and possibly the pith.

Santal de Mysore works so well on me, it comes as a shock. I have to be careful with cumin notes as they can sometimes turn awful on me, going from slightly dirty to never washed. The cumin in Santal de Mysore is subtle. I have read reviews where people have experienced it as the dominant note, and I believe them, but for me it all came together in a way that didn't feel like any one facet was drowning the rest out. The styrax is loud at the start, but it settles in and behaves nicely for me after the first half hour. At the very end of the wear-an incredible 10 hours for me, the styrax makes a reappearance, or everything else has faded away and it is once more noticeable. Whatever the reason, it arrives to finish things off like the fragrant puff of smoke when a candle extinguishes.

I shouldn't like this perfume, but I do. None of my favourite notes are there, many of my less favourite are. The perfume is expensive, the bottle uninteresting, and the hype mildly irritating. Clearly, I've been seduced by something and my best guess is skilled chemistry. Styrax with sandalwood and caraway? It shouldn't work, but does. For me. This is such a beautiful perfume, and though I can't say it would ever replace Santal Royal for me as they are quite different, but it is a whole hell of a lot easier to get hold of, and in larger quantities. Santal Royal is breaking my heart and my pocketbook. Santal de Mysore is no bargain, but it seems like one in comparison.

I can't drive this home enough-reviews are subjective. There are more reviewers out there that were repulsed by Santal de Mysore than loved it. I can't know what your scent associations are, or what sort of spices spell curry to you. As this isn't an inexpensive perfume, I encourage you to order yourself a decant first. Don't be intimidated by the reviews-dab a generous amount on yourself and give it a chance to develop before rushing to wash it off (which won't be easy because this stuff has incredible longevity). Try it on your skin, because I suspect much of the way it develops will depend on you. On my clothes, it is a much less exciting scent.

The official notes are short and sweet on this one:
Sandalwood, spices, styrax, benzoin, and caraway.

I'm really happy to have found this one, and it will be interesting to see how it works on my skin in warm weather. If I had to rate it? 9/10, and only because perfection is reserved for a few precious loves. To quote Herman's Hermits, "Something tells me I'm into something good." Daaaaaam, Santal de Mysore, you smell good.

Coming Soon(ish) -a review of Lutens Ambre Sultan


Beth Waltz said...

Shall have to try SdM for my summer silks and jewels. You caught my curiosity with the remark that it has that "puff from a candle blown out" -- too many fragrances lack staying power on me.

My occidental imagination associates the smell of spices with the interiors of antique cabinets (my grandmother's Hoosier cabinet) and ancient warehouses. My nose's recollections of the 60s are more about goats, bread-bakers yeast, and even worse, stale Pabst Blue Ribbon beer.

Now you've got me wondering how scent-testers are rated: are they confronted with a rack of vials and required to identify their ingredients? Interesting point about benzoin!

Goody said...


I was thinking about how Hay is a note in perfumery, but to me it always just smells of grass and clover. Real hay smells like clay and cornnuts, but that wouldn't make a good perfume. Now, PBR, rutting goats and yeast could be intriguing!

Bibi Maizoon said...

Sandalwood is interesting. I've smelled actual sandalwood in Nepal & India and the scent varies quite a bit based on where it was grown, how old the wood is, and the age of the tree when chopped down. Some sandalwood smells all sweetness & rich & creamy & dreamy. Some sandalwood has an earthy note to it like cumin or unwashed human ('old sweat') over that creaminess. Some sandalwood has an almost myrrh & frankincense resinous note over a soft creamy base. Some sandalwood has all that going on & then some.
The 60's never left northern California, so patchouli, sandalwood & nag champa shall always be associated with the stench of cannabis, unshorn armpits, & some heavy duty BO.

I've always wondered about the methi/fenugreek note in Djedi. It's not listed as a note but it is definitely in there. I think fenugreek & kewrah/screwpine/pandan are those 'mysterious' notes of 'syrupy, honeyed, decay & earthiness' that people always refer to when describing Djedi. Sotolon is the enol lactone in fenugreek that is responsible for it's musty fusty odor over maple syrup. Kewrah starts out with a rose like floral pleasantness but then devolves into an earthy, almost rank musty note too. The scents of both fenugreek & kewrah would be 'mysterious' & exotic to most western noses, especially in 1927 when Djedi came out.

Meh, Luca's sidekick Tania Sanchez thinks my beloved Micheal Kors Micheal is an 'evil screechy skanky tuberose.' I guess I just like ill behaved fragrances then, I supposed we shouldn't be surprised by that. I find MK's tuberoses rather tame. Speaking of things outre & ill behaved, I think I'll just dab on some of my Versace Blonde today, talk about a nasty tuberose. WHEW!

SL's fragrances nearly all fall into the 'Arabian souk' type scents in my mind (with a few exceptions). I'm not sure if that's because wealthy Arabs & Russian plutocrats are his target market or if that's just Uncle Serge's taste.
There's a fine line between 'Arabian souk' & 'Indian curry' scents. There are a lot of similarities in the spices of both, but you'll not find styrax, sandalwood, cat pee, or various other souk-ish type notes in Indian curry. If you've ever been to an Arabian souk, you WILL notice the presence of cats & a definite prevalent feline urine odor. Cats have a special status in Islam, so their stench & presence is tolerated in souks.

Mim said...

I really like a lot of Serge Lutens perfume, and I love sandalwood, but I've never tried this one. It sounds wonderful!

Goody said...

I think I must have been an Arab in another life. Before I met Mr. ETB I came very close to moving to Morocco. After so many years on a farm with a million cats that used to spend the winter under our porch, or in the storm cellar, I wonder if I would even smell cat pee anymore?

I've never smelled Versace Blonde, now you have me curious about it. Does it smell like Donatella looks?

I was thinking of you today when I was at Marshalls buying up all the discounted perfume nobody bought at Christmas. Next trip to the US make a point of stopping at a Marshalls-you'll love it.