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Friday, December 02, 2011

The Many Faces of Sandalwood. And a Draw

By Marla

Most perfumistas are aware that the cost of white sandalwood, Santalum album, is skyrocketing. It’s around $400 an ounce, and increasing in price about 25% each year. The key base note in perfumery on Planet Earth is now a very restricted, and diminishing, commodity. It takes about 4 decades for a white sandalwood tree to become harvestable, and the old stands in India, the famous Mysore sandalwood, are either protected or gone. The notes we perfumistas crave are the santalols, which are warm, milky, woody, somewhat spicy molecules. Rather than abandoning the creamy richness of sandalwood as a base for perfumes, farmers and aromachemical companies have been coming up with a plethora of synthetics and naturals to take the place of the sacred tree. Here’s a brief list of the some of the most important things you might find in your perfume when the list of notes includes sandalwood.

Javanol was created by aromachemical powerhouse Givaudan. It’s intense, with powerful sillage and longevity. Givaudan also makes Sandalore (extraordinarily tenacious, and a little “spiky” to some), and Ebanol, probably the strongest of the set. Break a bottle of Ebanol in your living room and your descendants will be smelling it for 3 generations hence! Firmenich created Polysantol (santol pentenol) which has some herbal/animalic touches. Takasago makes Levosandol, which leans toward cedar, and Symrise has Fleursandol, which, as the name suggests, is softer and more floral. These can be blended in various ways to give each perfumer the “sandalwood accord” that they prefer.

Linda from the Perfumer’s Apprentice makes her own sandalwood accord that combines milky laitones with patchouli and several of the aromachemicals above. It’s my personal favorite, and easy for DIYers like myself to buy in small quantities for experimentation.

But the farmers and natural perfumers have been busy, too! The closest to actual Indian white sandalwood to my nose is Vanuatu and New Caledonian sandalwood (Santalum austrocaledonicum). Their oil goes for around $80 an ounce, and they’re grown sustainably, so they’re ethically a much better choice than poached Indian sandalwood. The best batches really can rival the real deal. Australian sandalwood (Santalum spicatum) is sharper and woodier, but it’s getting a lot of fans for its own unique qualities, it’s cheaper, and it’s an excellent fixative.

Leaving Santalum entirely, the Haitians offer Amyris balsamifera, also called West Indian sandalwood. It’s the cheapest, at around $10 an ounce, but also the roughest of the group. However, like the Australian, it makes a great fixative, and some of the latest batches I’ve tried have been much softer in odor, in fact, very pleasant and peaceful. Siam Wood (Fodenia hodginsii), from Vietnam, has a lovely profile which is a cross between Himalayan cedar and white sandalwood.

It’s frightening to learn how many of our most treasured plant species are fighting for their existence on a planet that’s become so difficult for them. But I’m glad to know the squints and botanists, the farmers and perfumers, are working hard on the next generation of basenotes for all of us. I’d love to hear your comments on your favorite sandalwood-sporting perfume, about sandalwood in general, and I’ll pick one of you for a little packet of some of the aromachemicals and botanicals I’ve described above.

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67 Comments:

Blogger Brian said...

My favorite - thus far - is Egoiste (original) - but I feel I need to try many more sandalwood-forward fragrances.

I love The Perfumer's Apprentice and would love to test some of these aromachemicals out! ;)

1:05 AM EST  
Blogger ll graham said...

L'Heure Bleue, Aromatics Elixer, Bulgari Black, Fahrenheit, Dune, all my favorites with sandalwood (according to Fragrantica list of perfumes witha prominent Sandalwood note)
That was a great article.
Please do more on articles on perfumery materials, especially synthetics.

1:34 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like SAmsara for sandalwood as well as Tam Dao. Thanks - Alica - alica@cleis.net

1:36 AM EST  
Blogger joshuaang said...

If it's sandalwood then it's got to be Tam Dao!

Such an interesting article; highly informative and a pleasant read :)

2:40 AM EST  
Anonymous Bellatrix said...

I know the cost of true sandalwood. It breaks my heart (and wallet).

One perfumer said that she wears sandalwood as single note. I guess that says enough of beauty of sandalwood.

I haven't found my fav sandalwood perfume, but the one that I've made with sandalwood, people say it reminded them of sandalo by L. Villoresi.

3:57 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My favourites would be Bois Des Iles(Chanel Les Exclusifs) and Santal De Mysore(Lutens)
Thanks. Yash- yashvijag@gmail.com

5:24 AM EST  
Blogger dukeofpallmall said...

The story of sandalwood is a sad one indeed, of greed and the inability of humans to think ahead, even if it's in their own interest. I have a few mls of old Mysore and agree it stamnds alone as a highly complex scent, a light dair-milky sweet-andtartness, that creamy soft woodiness, every "sandalwood" fragrance I have treid pales before it. My two favorites are Bois de Santal from Creed, long discontinued, a gree, slightly dirty sandalwood which would seem at least partly natural, and Villoresi's Indian meditation Sandalo - as well as Chanel Bois des Iles Extrait, of which I only have a few drops, however.

5:27 AM EST  
Anonymous Holly F. said...

I like Guerlain Samsara and adore Dior Dolce Vita for my sandalwood fix. Great article, thanks so much!

6:49 AM EST  
Blogger Alnysie said...

I've been wanting to try more sandalwood fragrances, but so far my favorite is Tam Dao!

7:01 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brian,
Egoiste is great, I agree. The fun of getting aromachemicals in little vials is that you can build a scent library for a very reasonable amount of money.
-Marla

7:21 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ll graham,
What a great list! Do you prefer the current Dune or the vintage?
-Marla

7:22 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Alicia,
Samsara is one of my favorites. I'd love to try some of the vintage, when they still used the actual Mysore sandalwood....
-Marla

7:22 AM EST  
Anonymous pam said...

I like the current Samsara, but can remember the original as being beyond wonderful. I now enjoy Cologne du 68, which has some.

7:45 AM EST  
Anonymous class flirt said...

wonderful and sad article. sandalwood was my first fragrance love...i trotted around freshman year reeking of the headshop oil. i, too, moved onto tam dao as well as the Lutens but never the same...

7:47 AM EST  
Blogger rosarita said...

I'm a big fan of Dune, and my bottle is from the first year or two of it's release (I have never understood the Turin/Sanchez interpretation of an austere scent; to me it's warm & woodsy.) Thanks for the draw! These articles on naturals/synthetics are fascinating.

7:53 AM EST  
Anonymous maidenbliss said...

I can almost smell your writing! Chanel Bois des Iles, an elegant sandalwood, Samsara, Tam Dao, but my favorite is Santal Noble. I first smelled sandalwood in the 70's - it was more of an experience-it blew me away. I bought a case of about 10 or 12 bottles at a 'headshop'-their whole supply. I wonder now where it came from as it smelled divine! I've never smelled anything like it since then.
Pick me! Pick me! was my first at the word sandalwood. Beautiful article.

8:13 AM EST  
Anonymous chrisb said...

What a very interesting article. I haven't tried many prominent sandalwood fragrances but I have a small bottle of an extrait of new caledonian sandalwood which has a little sharpness to it but is also quite nutty, creamy and addictive. I would be very interested to smell some of the aromachemicals in comparison.

8:23 AM EST  
Blogger queen_cupcake said...

Thanks for this information about the aromachemicals. I know that Mysore sandalwood oil is hard to come by--$400/oz?--oh well. I should love Samsara, but somehow I can't. I do like Dolce Vita, Bois des Iles & Villoresi Sandalo. But my fave is a tiny bottle of sandalwood oil I bought 10 years ago at the health food store. It was costly then, and I don't think they carry it any more so I'm hoarding it carefully!

8:45 AM EST  
Blogger ~elise said...

Samsara and Bois de Iles are my favs! Great article! So interesting to hear more about the chemical side of fumery and sustainability...

8:49 AM EST  
OpenID museinwoodenshoes said...

Favorite sandalwoodies: Bois des Iles and SSS Champagne de Bois. My vintage Arpege parfum is lovely for sandalwood, as well. I was also surprised by the sandalwood-heavy drydown of Tableau de Parfums Miriam, which is just gorgeous. It's not apparent from the notes list or description that this aldehydic floral is so sandalwood-prominent.

I like that Vanuatu sandalwood as well. It's perhaps not as creamy as the "real deal" santalum album, of which I have a teeny tiny sample, but lively and smooth.

9:03 AM EST  
Anonymous Bevfred said...

I love sandlewood. I have an old, special edition bottle of Samsara, which I hoard.
I also enjoyed Dolce Vita back in the day, which I amped up with a good quality essential oil.
Sometimes I just wore the oil and was very happy with it. Note the past tense.
If anyone knows of a lovely essential oil, please share.

9:13 AM EST  
Anonymous RusticDove said...

Sandalwood is a comforting note for me. I have a little vintage bottle of L'Occitane sandalwood oil that is such a warm & cozy scent and a pleasure to wear on its own. They don't make it anymore which is a shame as it's wonderful. I believe Ormonde Jayne Woman has sandalwood and that is a favorite of mine. Bois 1920 Vetiver Ambrato is another favorite. So many fragrances that I love list 'woods' or 'precious woods' as a note and I've wondered if that could sometimes be referring to sandalwood? It would be so fun to play around with the aromachemicals you mentioned!

9:17 AM EST  
Blogger marsha said...

I also just adore sandalwood. Tam Dao is a favorite, 10 Corso Como is a special favorite, I purchased it years ago and I'm hearing that it doesn't smell the same. On days when I can't handle smells too much, The Art of Shaving has a sandalwood line that smells divine to me. Once, during a trip to Las Vegas, my husband and I were walking down the shop esplanade that was built between the Luxor and Mandalay Bay. All of a sudden, amongst all those people, I smelled the most wonderful scent and I stopped dead in my tracks. It was my perfect sandalwood! I looked around to see where it was coming from and the likeliest place I could see was a place called The Art of Shaving. The smell also smelled a tad like aftershave, which I also really like. I found out later they had been going out in the crowd and spritzing the stuff! It certainly stopped me! Please enter my name in the draw and I hope and pray that I am selected!!

9:32 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Marsha,
10 Corso Como has indeed changed. I much prefer the old version which was full of real sandalwood!
-Marla

9:36 AM EST  
Blogger Debby H said...

Bois des Iles for me. Thanks so much for doing the sandalwood research I asked about in your earlier nerd-girl post. Fascinating post!

Any idea whether companies like Chanel or Hermes have stockpiled a bit of the precious old sandalwood materials? I'm assuming that they had to reformulate like everyone else, but just curious.

10:56 AM EST  
Anonymous judy said...

definitely Tam Dao and maybe Fleur de Santal...Serge Lutens sandalwood is good too.

10:56 AM EST  
Blogger lovethescents said...

I adore sandalwood, and find it so comforting as many of you have noted. Adore AL's No 23, Bois des Iles, Dior's Hypnotic Poison, Samsara, and KM's Bois de Santal :-)

11:27 AM EST  
Blogger Elisa said...

Like Brian above I love original Egoiste (been chasing another bottle of vintage cologne concentree), and several Sonoma Scent Studio creations have a nice sandalwood rendition. Would love to smell the aromachemicals you describe.

12:08 PM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, I adore the smell of sandalwood and have been so sad in the past few years, knowing it's becoming a thing of the past in perfumery. I do have a little bottle of Bois des Iles extrait, which does help sate my sandalwood jones, but most of the other sandalwood frags I own just don't do it for me anymore. (For instance, I used to love Tam Dao, but the bottle I got about 4 years ago just isn't the same as the original.) My fav sandalwood scent is the Sandalwood Soap I used to get at Indian stores in NYC. I wonder if it still smells the same or if they no longer make it? I'll have to explore. Please enter me in the draw so I can find a new sandalwood favorite...thanks! Sam - sammidodge@yahoo.com

12:19 PM EST  
Blogger woodgirl said...

My favorites are Bois des Iles, Samsara, which I discovered while looking for my holy grail sandalwood, Vol de Nuit. But I can't pass up any and just discovered a very nice Egyptian Sandalwood attar by Attar Bazaar

12:56 PM EST  
Blogger Datura5750 said...

I recently got a hold of some vintage Crabtree & Evelyn "Extract of Mysore Sandalwood" it was such good stuff...

1:27 PM EST  
Blogger Katherine said...

I like Samsara so much I'm afraid to try the vintage. Thanks so much for this informative article, I am off to look up the Australian sandalwood - never heard of it! Please enter me in the draw. I'd love for my house to smell glorious for three generations. :)

2:23 PM EST  
Blogger Tama said...

Mmmmmm, sandalwood soap - I know exactly that smell. I'll have to see if I can find some again.

I like Bois des Iles maybe the best. I do have a little bottle of sandalwood essential oil I have had for years that I dab on now and again.

I'd love to be in the draw!

2:52 PM EST  
Blogger odonata9 said...

What an informative article. I had a bottle of Samsara, back in my pre-purfumista days. It was the 90s, so it may have actually had some real sandalwood in there!

3:49 PM EST  
Blogger Michael said...

Great article. I have had the chance to smell the naturals you listed, and the austrocaledonicum is definitely the closest, but never quite the same as the white sandalwoods. Its such a shame that they have been harvested to the point they are a rarity. When something is that great though, its not surprising that everyone wants it. I haven't smelled the aromachemicals at all, so thank you so much for sharing your information and impressions of them!

Michael

4:33 PM EST  
Anonymous Smedley said...

I adore sandalwood. Thanks so much for the very informative article. I'm SO sorry that Mysore sandalwood is no more -- and that it's loss is attributable to we humans. Such a sad state of affairs....

Some of my favorites are:
Yardley sandalwood
Guerlain Samsara
Etro Sandal
Bois 1920 Sandalo e The
Ava Luxe - No. 23, Red Tara, Royal Parvati, Palisander
Creed Jasmine Imperatrice Eugenie (yes!.......on my skin this is a gorgeous sandalwood with a bit of jasmine on the side) huh.gif
Chanel Bois des Iles, and Egoiste (not Platinum Egoiste)
Gucci Homme -
Caswell & Massey - Sandalwood
Art of Shaving - Sandalwood
Madini Oils Santal Blanc
Jean Desprez Bal a Versailles - the drydown is a delicious sandalwood

5:05 PM EST  
Blogger Katherine said...

My absolute fave is Bois des Iles parfum. Stunning!

5:39 PM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

rosarita,
I'm envious! Glad you liked the article.
-Marla

7:15 PM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

museinwoodenshoes,
Champagne de Bois is gorgeous, isn't it? It made me realize aldehydes can be OK if the perfumer uses a deft touch!
-Marla

7:16 PM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

DebbyH,
I don't know if there are any stockpiles. If there are, Chanel and Hermes would be my best guesses....
-Marla

7:17 PM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Smedley,
I think with sound government and business policies in India, Mysore sandalwood can make a comeback. It's just that it takes decades for an S. album tree to make that kind of delightful resin, and these days, people are focused on the short term, mainly....
-Marla

7:19 PM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

odonata9,
Yes, your bottle of Samsara would contain real sandalwood, you lucky thing!
-Marla

7:20 PM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Michael,
None of the synthetics come close to the real thing, though they are useful, and sometimes, quite beautiful on their own merits.
They lack the complexity of the original, of course.
-Marla

7:21 PM EST  
Blogger MoonRae said...

I have what's left of a 1/2 oz bottle of oil a Hindu friend gave me in Quartzsite (we were vending at the same show)
He told me back then that Sandalwood was getting "too expensive" and rare....that was 16 or 17 yrs ago and he was pissed to have to charge $70 per ounce....God,those were the days!! I hoard this bottle and it's only gotten better,a true treasure!!
I do like Tam Dao(sometimes)
Thanks for a great article

7:43 PM EST  
Blogger Nancy said...

First perfume I ever got and it was a Christmas present was Arpege....ah to have a vintage bottle of that now.
Please enter me. Thank you.

8:34 PM EST  
Blogger Tammy said...

I get quite a lot of sandalwood in the drydown of Caron's Nuit de Noel,which is one of my HGs.

I was shocked to discover it was sandalwood, as I tend to not like the heavy hitting sandalwoods like Samsara
and Tam Dao.

Really interesting article, thanks!

9:04 PM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm so interested in your discussion of these fragrance notes and their derivation. I especially value the comparison of the current chemicals used to mimic the wonderful natural fragrances. I do read the ingredients on current perfume releases and it is quite interesting to see the chemical stew they end up being.

I have some old Samsara and Nuit de Noel I am hoarding. It's just amazing how our noses can instantly tell what is the real thing rather than a component chemical

10:39 PM EST  
Blogger Liz said...

Tam Dao is tops!
Loved your article today. Thank you!

11:09 PM EST  
Anonymous Maureen C said...

Love lots of perfumes with this note, they have already been mentioned. However there is also a fantastic Sandlewood shower and bath range from Taylors of Old Bond St.

7:04 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

MoonRae,
That bottle is a real treasure! I wonder what it would be worth now.
-Marla

9:18 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maureen C,
Thanks for the tip!
-Marla

9:18 AM EST  
Blogger Madeleine said...

Well, for me it's Samsara, L'Heure Bleu. I've been training my sense of smell and almost getting there. I lost it when I fell from a swing(don't ask)and hit my head on the marmol terrace floor. Imagine my tragic awareness when I failed to taste the sugar in my oatmeal of my first meal after the hospital!Anyway, now I can smell a few notes like vanilla, lemon, and sandalwood! Thanks for the draw, here's hoping:)

11:16 AM EST  
Anonymous maggiecat said...

I love sandalwood - as does DH who is normally not enthusiastic about perfumes. Boise des Iles and Ava Luxe's No. 23 are wonderful (and very different!) sandalwood scents. Please enter me in the draw.

1:24 PM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the article - very interesting. I LOVE Sandalwood. LOVE. <3! My favorite is 10 Corso Como and Tam Dao and I'm looking forward to sniffing the new Hermessence. Thanks for the draw!
-Charlotte H

3:06 PM EST  
Anonymous Kym said...

My favorite sandalwood is also my favorite perfume: PG's Cadjmere. I cannot get enough of this one and to me, nothing comes close. I've tried some of the others people recommend, but they just don't compare. But I'm most interested in trying the aromachemicals! Please enter me in the draw!

3:18 PM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kym,
I LOVE Cadjmere, and yes, the sandalwood note is really gorgeous.
Cheers,
-Marla

4:59 PM EST  
Blogger ahsumaker said...

I used to have a sandalwood fan when I was a child, but I haven't smelled it in over 25 years. I've never smelled straight sandalwood oil, so I don't know how close to the real thing any of these scents with a sandalwood note really are. I would say I don't have a favorite Sandalwood perfume (yet!) -- still waiting to figure that out.

8:22 PM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

maggiecat,
I wonder what Serena uses for sandalwood at Ava Luxe. I remember she had some gorgeous, woody perfumes that seemed to contain some of the real deal. Anyone know?
-Marla

7:54 AM EST  
Blogger Blogbaebe1 said...

Sandalwood was one of the earliest perfume oils I encountered (age 8, Pier One Imports). I prefer my sandalwood straight - it's so calming. Thank you for listing the alternatives to white sandalwood, synthetics included - I'd rather adapt than have something so beautiful destroyed by greed. Please enter me into the draw, and thank you for the article.

1:00 PM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Blogbaebe1,
I encountered sandalwood oil when I was a little girl, and my aunts and parents were in their hippy phase! It was such an amazing scent, and some of the sandalwood carvings from that time emitted the most heavenly smell! You're right, it's better to move on than to lose that legacy entirely.
-Marla

1:37 PM EST  
Blogger civava said...

Tam Dao and Samsara stand out of the bunch I've tried so far.

3:10 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

civava,
Both Tam Dao and Samsara are getting a lot of love in the comments! They're both fantastic.
-Marla

6:00 AM EST  
Blogger The Bourgie Saturday Team said...

Thank you for all of this information! I'm new to all of this stuff, and I find your blog to be extremely helpful. Keep up the good work!

1:36 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

BST,
Thank you so much!
-Marla

7:58 PM EST  
Anonymous Sujaan said...

I love Mysore sandalwood because it's creamier and sweeter. I need to find the right perfume with it, if you have suggestions.

10:12 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sujaan,
I would suggest that you seek out real Indian attars, which, if natural, are flowers and spices distilled with real Indian sandalwood. Other than that, it's pretty much synthetics, which are not the same.
Best,
Marla

6:50 PM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To All Who Named Samsara,
I love Samsara, but I've never found the original. I did try an older version with a mix of real and synth sandalwood. But I've tried more recent reformulations and I'd love to know what you think of them. The current version isn't at all bad, if you have no strong memories of natural Mysore sandalwood.
-Marla

6:54 PM EST  

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