One Thousand Scents

Saturday, December 31, 2011

I'll Drink to That: Serge Lutens Santal de Mysore


Another year gone! Another thousand or so new scents have whirled past us, and even the most determined of us properly sampled — wore and re-wore and thought about — what, a couple dozen, half a hundred of them? (I didn't even manage that many, I think.) And still they multiply in mad profusion, a few worthy new releases lost in the sea of flankers and copies and reformulations, while all the thousands of old scents remain to be, if we and they are lucky, discovered or rediscovered.

Serge Lutens' Santal de Mysore turns 15 in 2012. It is an old, established scent that is certainly a reformulation (because true Mysore sandalwood is virtually unavailable in any quantity at any cost), probably in large part synthetic, possibly not worth the price being asked for it ($200 for a 50-mL bottle). But it is also pure unadulterated Lutens, as immediately identifiable as a Mozart symphony or a Francis Bacon painting.

It was almost exactly a year ago that I wrote about Lutens' other essay on sandalwood, Santal Blanc, which I loved at first sniff and still love, because it is as beautiful and as rigorous as a mathematical proof. But where Santal Blanc is meant to intrigue and maybe baffle, Santal de Mysore is simply out to gratify: it's much closer in spirit to the luscious, boozy Idole de Lubin, although Idole is a sweet sandalwood liqueur where Santal de Mysore is a slug of spiced rum in a sandalwood cup.

Most Lutens scents defiantly resist classification by gender. Some people consider Santal Blanc to be a women's scent, but it is so strict and austere that I fail to see how it could possibly be assigned a sex: it seems to exist in some rarefied space where gender simply doesn't exist. Santal de Mysore, though, really does seem like a men's scent: it is enormously suggestive of a men's club, all pipe tobacco and wood panelling and suit-and-ties sitting around a cozy fireplace with drinks in hand. There is plenty of spice in it (how Lutens), a little ribbon of caramel sweetness to take the edge off, and much less sandalwood than you might expect (not the only time Lutens has played this joke: Cèdre isn't a cedar scent but a tuberose with a shaving or two of wood at the bottom of it).

As usual — as ever — one of my New Year's resolutions is to not buy any new scents until I have reviewed every single one of the samples and bottles I own, and that is a preposterously large number of which I am both ashamed and pleased. There is, however, a small possibility that I will be going to France next fall, and if I find myself in Paris, and find myself at the Palais Royale, and find myself at the Serge Lutens store, then by god all bets are off, and one of the things I may find myself buying is a bottle of the gorgeous and infinitely wearable Santal de Mysore.

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