When I first smelled Serge Lutens Santal de Mysore, I said to myself, as long as Serge Lutens keeps making this fragrance, I will be happy. If all my other bottles were to be destroyed in a fire, I’d be ok with just this one. Hyperbole? Probably. Just trying to get across how much I love it.
What I value most about it is its dichotomy. It is both wet and dry, and intensely so at the same time. At first, the wet elements come to the nose – a big, spicy red butter curry with blisteringly hot black peppercorns crushed to release their oil, and something green, frondy, and aromatic, perhaps dill or fresh fenugreek. There is a tamarind sourness to it but it is also intensely sweet, as if cubes of salted caramel have been set on top to slowly sweat down into pools of butter.
I don’t understand when people say a perfume smells like a curry like that’s a bad thing? I can think of no better smell than this. My mouth waters at the host of hot spices and aromatics. I slaver like Pavlov’s dog every time I go near the stopper.
Talking of the stopper, sniffing Santal de Mysore from the bottle gives me a jolt of recognition every time, because it smells like real Mysore sandalwood. But on the skin, this impression disappears, as the big building blocks of flavors and spices jostle each other for position. Drawing your nose back from your arm, you notice these clumps of notes magically coalescing into a true Mysore aroma – deep brown, buttery, arid, resinous. Salted butter dried and made into a red dust. Put your nose back to that spot on your wrist, and the Mysore impression falls apart again. This is a fragrance that plays peek-a-boo with its wearer, and it’s mesmerizing.
The wet, creamy curry accord hangs around, but it flips on a switch to dry, aromatic sandalwood dust when you’re not looking. Look again and it switches back to wet and spicy. When I catch glimpses of the dry, dusty facet, it smells like zukoh, a powdered sweet incense that combines camphor, cloves, and sandalwood. The drydown is pure magic, the curry notes fading away to a caramelized sandalwood incense aroma, with hints of honey and amber rounding out the dry woodiness.
Why do I find Santal de Mysore such a gorgeous, satisfying wear? Because it’s not a straightforward representation of sandalwood like Tam Dao or Wonderwood. It takes you to a fantasy Mysore sandalwood destination by way of the Silk Road, weaving through curry spices, aromatic oils, and incense sticks as we go. It’s also a scent that makes your perceptions of it turn on a dime: wet then arid, savory then sweet, creamy then dusty, spicy then herbal and green. Sandalwood in a House of Mirrors – its basic shape remains the same but what we see each time we look is different.
Great review Claire! You inspired me to search for my sample and I found it after rooting around for a while.It was buried deep in my pile of Aedes de Venustas samples.Most of it had evaporated but there were a few viscous drops left at the bottom, a testament to the richness of the oil.The color is quite striking ,a rich rum like golden brown, and in perfect keeping with the character of the scent.When I smelled it years ago the first thing that popped into my head was the scent of the hold of a pirate ship wrecked on some distant tropical shore with the smell of the spices commingling with the fermenting rum and salty humidity.I seemed to detect an almost tropical coconut note but then i realized what it really reminded me of was Massoia bark. I see now that is likely the creamy spice/curry accords mixed with the benzoin that are creating that olfactory illusion.Delicious stuff! I’m tempted to seek a bottle out but with all this reformulation nonsense I’m going to have to test the bottle vs the sample which is probably circa 2007.I also have an once of pure aged Mysore sandalwood that I uncork every once in a while just to luxuriate in it’s creamy goodness. I can’t bear to use it.I’m still enjoying my Contre Bombarde 32 and have recently filled out my incense/amber collection and picked up bottles of Vento nel Vento, Laudano Nero, and Rundholz 03 Apr 1968 all which are divine.I find Vento nel Vento shares some similarities with Olympic Orchid’s Olympic Amber ( there must be a good dose of Hedione in both). I also picked up a few SSS scents including Ambre Noir a beautiful charred woods rose/amber,Fireside Intense, and her new Equestrian which is a gorgeous apple oakmoss/amber.If you love balmy sweet and resinous perfumes seek a sample of that one out.I highly recommend it.Keep the great reviews coming! Btw I read your BN article and it has to be the most authoritative and erudite article I’ve read on Ambergris.I pulled out my ambergris tincture to whiff as I read it 😉
Thank so much, Rob! I am glad you loved the ambergris article – I made all my family members smell various ambergris tinctures and I think they now believe me to be evil. My mother can’t stand anything animalic, and asks me to get out of her car when I am testing various oud oils and ambergris tinctures on the skin. Thank God, my husband loves those stinky, ripped from nature smells!
I love the thought of that attar-like Santal de Mysore! I know what you mean, as I also had a few samples like that, and that ended up smelling so rich and wonderful. I remember in particular a sample of Odoon by Pekji perfumes, which had concentrated into 0.1ml of tichk brown sludge and smelled just incredible, like a whole forest of trees melted down into one drop. Have you ever smelled the Pekji perfumes by Omer Pekji? They are really good.
I am not sure of the status of reformulation, regarding SdM – mine is from new stock and it smells rich and fabulous. I’d say that it is so spicy and rich anyway that any reformulation would be ok, what with those strong, spicy elements masking any lack of Mysore sandalwood – if indeed the perfume ever contained any.
Oh and you just mentioned some of the perfumes I myself have just bought or enjoyed wearing, especially the Vento nel Vento and the Rundholz! Fabulous stuff. I see you like your smoky, resinous stuff too. I have just received some samples of SSS, and both Equestrian and Ambre Noir are in there, so will be testing them with that in mind. My all-time favorite from Laurie just has to be the sublime Winter Woods though – do you like it also?
Pleasure chatting to you, Rob! You must be my scent twin 🙂 Best, Claire
Interesting review, Claire. Now I want to go and smell Santal de Mysore. Tam Dao is one of my favourite sandalwoods but I do admit it is a bit linear.
Since you describe this scent as curry, is it similar to Puredistance M?
Hey Vic! Sorry for the awful delay time in my responses – I am very slow indeed 🙂 Puredistance M is more of a cumin-scented curry to me (although only in the topnotes, as this effect does not last long for me before it becomes the smooth, opulent leather I know it as), and Santal de Mysore is more of a caraway-fenugreek curry, if you know what I mean? Certainly a little greener and more aromatic, almost to the point of being near lemongrass, dill, fennel, and so on. But then there is that searingly hot black pepper note to balance it all out. I find it delicious, to be honest!
I very much enjoyed reading your review of Santal de Mysore, Claire! It’s undoubtedly a controversial scent, because most people expect to experience true Mysore sandalwood in all its glory, not crowded by other notes. But that’s not the case. Yet, why create one more sandalwood forward fragrance? It’s all been done before. SdM stands on its own, with a wonderful variation featuring rich spices that don’t overwhelm the wearer. You do have to enjoy cumin and caraway, as they are unmistakably present. But it’s not an overload, like you’d experience with Guerlain’s Songe d’un Bois d’Ete, which I find a bit overboard on the caraway.
This was my first Serge Lutens acquisition, in the beginning of my fragrance exploration. I bought it blind. And I was a bit disappointed when I got it… not that I didn’t like it, but I was hoping for a stronger Mysore sandalwood impression. I’d dab a little on from time to time just to experience a curiosity, but would always keep this tucked in the back behind other fragrances I use frequently. So I’d forget about SdM from time to time. Then, after enough time passed for me to develop a greater appreciation for complex and unusual fragrances, I returned to SdM and rejoiced. I am so glad I didn’t sell this off! Especially finding someone else who has a strong appreciation for it, as well as a talent and deep experience with fragrances. Thank you, Claire. 🙂