One Thousand Scents

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Box of Tricks: Serge Lutens Santal Blanc

Oh, the plans I had for 2010! I was going to focus on a particular perfumer or line or note every month and really investigate that, at least two posts a week and probably three, and it's already fallen into disarray. I don't know why I even bother to plan anything.

I was going to do nothing but Serge Lutens in January, since I have a whole pile of samples (eight or so, with more on the way some time this month), and I have sort of become obsessed with Lutens in the last few months, but that's already ruined (since I started the month with a Comme des Garçons). Anyway, January might not be all Lutens all the time, but today is.

Santal Blanc was launched in 2001, which tells you right off the bat that it's been reformulated, because it's nearly impossible to get real Mysore sandalwood any more: we basically fished it to the brink of extinction, as we have a way of doing with anything that's wonderful or useful (goodbye, Newfoundland cod fishery). Nevertheless, olfactory chemists are always coming up with clever new workarounds, and while the synthetic sandalwoods might not be exactly the same as the real thing, they'll have to do.

There is, bien sûr, a hint of the usual Lutens stewed-fruit-and-spice in the very top, just to let you know that you are smelling a Lutens scent, but it's restrained; mostly what you get is a glossy, furniture-polished wooden box. It is outstandingly lovely--instantly familiar, yet abstracted onto a higher plane: some have compared it to the smell of a pencil, and that's not far from the mark, but of course it would be an idealized, perfected pencil.

The overwhelming woodiness of Santal Blanc reminds me a bit of Jacques Fath Pour L'Homme (something else which has certainly been reformulated*), another colossal wooden object. They go off in very different directions, though; just because two compositions are in the key of C Major doesn't mean they have to sound anything alike.

Santal Blanc has a faint bitterness which keeps it from becoming one-note and cloying, and also a subtle, pervasive sweetness in the end stages. It's not the most complex treatment of the theme you can imagine (Lutens scents rarely are), but it's interesting: it makes you think at the same time that it's making you wordlessly happy, and that really is the cornerstone of the line. (Even the Lutens scents I despise, such as Louve, make me think: I can't deny that. They just don't make me think good thoughts.) Santal Blanc is not the most accessible fragrance in the world, because not everybody wants to smell like a pencil or a polished wooden coffret, but I would have to call it one of the most accessible of the Lutenses, because almost from the outset it lays all its cards out for you to read; a bit of yumminess, a bit of sweetness, a bit of bitterness and of spice, and at the centre of it, gorgeous wood. How could you not love that?

* I read descriptions of Pour L'Homme a while ago that had me doubting my own memory, because they were literally nothing like what I knew the scent to smell like; it finally dawned on me that these people had to be talking about a reformulation. Even the bottle's been changed; why wouldn't the contents, particularly now that proper sandalwood is so hard to come by?

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