Sandalwood has always been a popular material in perfumery. It has a distinct odour profile that lends, not only a wonderful olfactory character but also a wealth of texture to fragrances. Sandalwood is a class of woods from the genus Santalum. It produces a heavily fragrant oil that varies in odour dependent on its source. Historically, sandalwood from Mysore, India was considered the best, but it is now almost impossible to source due to overharvesting. There are other sources, namely Australia and New Caledonia, but much of what we smell as sandalwood now is a construct of aromachemicals – the likes of Javanol and Sandalore, which bring a sandalwood character to many a composition.
So how does sandalwood smell? I’d describe it as; woody, nutty, creamy, soft, milky, white, blonde, spicy, fresh, and sweet. It’s a complex material that lends itself well to versatility in scent and texture, and over the last few years we have seen a massive resurgence in the use of sandalwood – it’s now cool again and many fragrances are pushing it front and centre with intriguing and novel effects. In this guide, I’ve rounded up three of the coolest, most ‘in’ sandalwoods to show you just how versatile and trendy this ancient material can be.
Juliette Has A Gun Sunny Side Up
I’ve always perceived sandalwood as a material with a warm, creamy quality – one that evokes the idea of skin. In fact, I’m not the only one and many perfumers have used a sandalwood accord to create a hot skin effect. It’s quite magical really and it makes on feel as if sandalwood is not only a rare material, but it’s also quite an intimate one too.
The best idea of sexy, skin-like sandalwood one can find is Juliette Has a Gun Sunny Side Up. Ever the prankster, Juliette presents a beachy fragrance inside a bottle that, looked at from a bird’s eye view, appears like fried egg, playing on the idea that when the summer is really hot, one can cook an egg on their skin. Luckily, the fragrance is more serious than the packaging and there is no sight nor sound (and most importantly – no scent) of an egg in the fragrance, which is actually a supremely unctuous and lavish jasmine-sandalwood that smells just like the salty skin on a hot day. But it’s not all about bronzed beauty here and via the use of the sandalwood material Javanol, Sunny Side Up is able to showcase a remarkable freshness that really challenges one’s idea of what a woody fragrance can be. I know summer is on its way out, but Sunny Side Up will never go out of style.
This is a sandalwood for the sun-loving and fancy-free.
Comme des Garcons Concrete
What do you expect when you hear the word ‘concrete’? Something dense, hard, rocky, rubblesque and man-made, perhaps! These words feel at odds with the idea of sandalwood, which is a material that evokes the idea of softness, warmth, creaminess and comfort. But subverting expectations is what Japanese fashion house Comme des Garçons does best. They’ve always played with the form, whether it be reshaping the human body in huge, cartoon-esque clothing, or the idea of fragrance with novel takes on familiar materials.
Comme des Garçons Concrete is a fragrance of contradictions. The name leads one to expect something harsh and hard, but the fragrance is actually incredibly soft and smooth. The fragrance is actually about rose as much as it is sandalwood, using a hefty dose of rose oxide to bring a freshness to the concept of nature’s most show-stopping flower. Freshness is a key theme, with Javanol raising its head to bring a fresher side of sandalwood, allowing a weightlessness to shine through. Concrete may not be as industrial and brutalist as the name may suggest, but it sure is as fine and beautiful as some of the greatest architectural works!
This is a sandalwood for the unconventional and undefinable.
GUERLAIN Santal Royal
Guerlain’s Absolus d’Orient are western takes on middle eastern perfumery, meaning that they take the woods, the roses, the ouds of the east and process them through a Western filter. The result is three bold compositions that bring a French twist to the ancient art of middle eastern perfumery, where a touch of Guerlain’s signature, delicious flair is added to robust and exotic blends of woods, spices and flowers.
GUERLAIN Santal Royal is the most distinct of Guerlain’s Absolus d’Orient and it is also, rather unsurprisingly, the boldest and richest take on sandalwood in this list. Santal Royal uses its sandalwood heart as a solid, woody foundation, upon which a veritable feast of fragrant delights rest. It starts with an explosion of flesh peaches, accented by the dewy sparkle of neroli, with hints of purple berries in and fiery cinnamon spice in the background. A floral heart of jasmine and rose follows, bringing an intensity to the sweetness that is contrasted by the heft of oud, smoke and leather. The sandalwood lays at the very root of the fragrance, bringing depth and richness with a nutty, oaky character that feels like deep, dark chocolate.
This is a sandalwood for those who are audacious and excessive.