There is a special beauty to sandalwood from Mysore, India. It’s incredibly rich, smoky, fiery, spicy, buttery, creamy, and undulating with sensuous depth. It’s a vision of red and bronze, and its incredibly smooth, luxurious aroma can’t be replicated by anything. Which is not only a damn shame but a huge problem as well, since the wood is so rare at this point that it might as well be extinct for the purposes of most commercial perfumery. Simply put, few perfumers can afford the real stuff, so they try for substitutes. The most common alternative is Mysore’s cousin, Australian sandalwood, whose creamy beigeness pretty much epitomizes its scent. It’s arid, endlessly beige, generic, and nothing spectacular.
The same description applies to Santal Majuscule, the relatively new, sandalwood fragrance from Serge Lutens, and to its main problem in my eyes. Santal Majuscule is supposed to be sandalwood writ large, with even its name translating to “sandalwood with a CAPITAL letter!” But it’s not Mysore sandalwood, and the beige, chemical-laden, dry, generic woodiness that it does incorporate really isn’t very good at all.
Santal Majuscule was released late in 2012 as a sandalwood alternative for Serge Lutens’ export line, meaning it would be available worldwide. Created by Christopher Sheldrake, it is a scent that is supposed to be all about fairytales with a long video (read by Serge Lutens) about a little nine-year old boy in armour on his horse who brought life to gold, flowers and fire. On his website, Serge Lutens more succinctly describes the scent as
Sandalwood written in capital letters, full scale and life sized!
Oboedi silentiis meis non imperii: “Do not obey my orders, obey my silence”.
Turning powdery under the influence of bitter cacao, the sandalwood plunges deep into a velvety trap.
The perfume’s notes aren’t complicated and, according to both my nose and Luckyscent, seem to be:
Sandalwood, rose, cocoa, tonka bean and immortelle [my addition, and something also noted by a few other blog reviews].
The very first flicker of Santal Majuscule on my skin is of rose. Beautiful, sweet, tender and visually pink, it almost immediately turns a little dusky through a heaping dose of cocoa powder. The latter is glorious and, initially, so dark that it almost evokes a coffee bean or mocha. Quickly, the cocoa-laden rose is joined by immortelle which has a definite maple syrup undertone.
Then, a sharp, acrid, synthetic and very chemical-smelling starts to bully its way in. It comes from the wood, and is harsh, peppered, and ever so lightly touched by ISO E Super. That’s actually not the problem at all. Rather, it’s the damnably acrid, almost pungent, incredibly strange and weird nuance to the sandalwood. I have to wonder if Lutens and Sheldrake used something similar to the supposedly sustainable, new kind of Australian sandalwood that Frederic Malle featured in his Dries Van Noten, because the wood note feels very much the same here: creamily generic, artificial, and reeking of a faintly gourmand sweetness. Here, however, the wood is also infused with a sharply chemical edge. The blog, State of the [Car]nation, had a review very aptly (and amusingly) entitled: “Ceci n’est pas santal – Santal Majuscule by Serge Lutens” in which he wrote:
So this is a spicy woody floral, but the wood is just another conventional accord dominated by the soft textures of cashmeran, iso-e-super and the likes. There is nothing here close to an actual Mysore sandsalwood note.
Now, I understand that real sandalwood is just a perfumista’s pipe-dream these days (unless you opt for Neela Vermeire‘s stunning creations which abound with gallons of the real thing), but the problem with Santal Majuscule is not the absence of Mysore sandalwood so much as it is the chemical underpinnings to the substitutes. I truly wouldn’t be surprised if Santal Majuscule’s Australian sandalwood was supported by cashmeran and similar wood synthetics, as detected by the other blog. Again, there is nothing wrong with seeking out alternatives, but why the hell do they have to smell so unpleasant here?
In those opening moments, the notes flit about like moths around a flame. The glowing light — and the best part of the perfume — is the cocoa powder which sits like a Buddha as the rose and immortelle dance around it. An odd, buttered note creeps in, smelling almost like an incredibly rich, buttered biscuit or cookie. The rose starts to change, feeling almost more like dried petals than anything syrupy or jammy. It has a peppery bent to it, thanks to the incredibly subtle tinges of ISO E Super at the base, and it starts to be a little less of a wallflower.
The most gorgeous part of the perfume, in my opinion, however, is the cocoa. Simply lovely! Though it started out feeling so dark that it almost had a coffee bean element to it, now, the powder is sweeter, richer, and verging on the most expensive milk chocolate. It doesn’t reach that level of sweetness, though — nothing about Santal Majuscule is really gourmand in nature thanks to the dryness — but the cocoa is much richer and creamier than it was at the start.
Twenty minutes in, Santal Majuscule changes a little in the underlying nuances. The wood loses a bit of its chemical pungency, turning sweeter and just barely less dry. Now, it feels like a blob of generic, beige woodiness with some sweet undertones. No, I’m not a fan, and no, it’s not because I’m a sandalwood snob. (Well, maybe just little….) It simply isn’t all that special, and it certainly doesn’t feel like the star of the perfume, let alone warranting the title “Sandalwood with a capital letter.” It’s more as if the sandalwood is a mere accessory to the real stunner in this fragrance: the cocoa powder. In the background, the immortelle loses its maple syrup undertone, changing into its more floral counterpart. The light, almost herbal, dry, woody elements to floral immortelle balances out that flittering butter cookie note, but neither one is very prominent, especially as compared to the sweet, dried roses.
What’s interesting is that the overall combination of notes creates a strong impression of something that almost verges on nutty, gingerbread cake. You know the sort of moist banana bread loaf? Here, it’s a bit like that, only there is a touch of ginger in it, creating an overall moist, just barely sweetened, nutty, bread note. Again, I’m reminded of Malle’s Dries van Noten with its odd, sustainable Australian sandalwood note that was dry, creamy, sweetened, and the foundation for a fragrance that smelled very much like snickerdoodles on my skin. While that perfume had a significantly more foodie, gourmand character to it, there something of the same feel to Santal Majuscule. I chalk it up to the ersatz sandalwood.
Santal Majuscule remains the same rose-cocoa-sandalwood accord for the next seven hours. Only at the end does it change a little, turning into amorphous, dry woodiness. All in all, it lasted just a little over 8 hours on my skin, with initially moderate sillage that turned into a skin scent midway towards the end of the third hour. At no time was I bowled over by any of it. Santal Majuscule isn’t a bad fragrance, but it’s nothing spectacular or very interesting. It’s simple, uncomplicated, and pleasant, I suppose, with a truly lovely cocoa powder element, but that ersatz sandalwood… ghastly. No, it’s definitely not my personal cup of tea.
There seems to be a split in opinion on Santal Majuscule with one half of the reports I’ve read loving it, and the rest dismissing it (for much the same reasons I have). The first thing everyone does is bring up Jeux de Peau, another Lutens fragrance which is supposed to have a few surface similarities. I haven’t tried it, so I can’t comment, but the consensus seems to be that the two perfumes are ultimately nothing alike and that Jeux de Peau is gourmand, richer, more bread-like, and heavier, while Santal Majuscule is drier and with different core elements. Others put Santal Majuscule in the context of Lutens’ other two sandalwood fragrances which are Santal Blanc and Santal de Mysore. I haven’t tried those either, so again I can’t comment, but the conclusion seems to be that Santal Blanc is significantly sweeter and whiter, while Santal de Mysore is more spicy, fiery, smoldering and dark. Perhaps that is why, over at CaFleureBon, Mark Behnke considers Santal Majuscule to be the case of Goldilocks’ sandalwood, fitting in as the perfect middle version.
Other assessments are more ambivalent. There is an even split at Basenotes, where some adore it, while others shrug and say it’s pleasant but uninteresting. Damning with faint praise seems to be the order of the day, even at Now Smell This which asked where the hell is the sandalwood? In a review which finds Santal Majuscule to be perfectly pleasant, but not inspiring much ardent enthusiasm, Kevin astutely concludes:
Overall, Santal Majuscule presents a mix of ‘seasoned’ woods and rose. But, as with Santal de Mysore, I must ask: where’s the sandalwood? There does seem to be a “sandalwood-like” aroma simmering under the roasted woods, rose and gourmand notes, but it never gets a chance to shine (or shimmer). Santal Majuscule smells most like sandalwood two hours after application when the wood turns sweet with tonka bean. I personally like an open-faced sandalwood fragrance in my perfume ‘arsenal’ and Santal Majuscule doesn’t qualify. Still, I enjoyed wearing Santal Majuscule and recommend it to those who want an “ornamented” sandalwood fragrance…accent on the ornaments, not the santal.
I think that the driving issue in how you will feel about Santal Majuscule will be your feelings on actual sandalwood. The people who seem less enthused by the fragrance seem to be those who really love true, real Mysore sandalwood. In the comments to the NST review, a few people didn’t like the “synthetic” or “jangly” edge to the woods used in Santal Majuscule, while others adored how it was softer, “cozy” and uncomplicated. It is indeed all those things, combined. And that’s why reviews on Fragrantica swerve from one end of the spectrum to another. On the one hand, we have comments (with which I fully agree) about the “wood alcohol scream of the sandalwood[,]” and how the “onset of loud, agressive and overall, not pleasant sandalwood ruins it for me.” On the other, there are raves about how Santal Majuscule is a “marvelous sandalwood perfume,” and how its “dryness and woodiness is simply breathtaking and the hint of powdery cacao makes this like a warm and cozy blanket.” There is similar adoring praise for the fragrance at MakeupAlley which rates it at an incredibly high 4.7 out of 5.
Personally, I found Santal Majuscule to be a massive disappointment, but I think the majority of people will love it, especially if you like sandalwood to be a mere side dish to other notes. If you enjoy the element when it’s soft and white, with just barely sweetened touches and some dryness, then you should definitely seek out Santal Majuscule. Those who prefer cozy fragrances with minimal sillage and light airiness that sits close to the skin will also probably find Santal Majuscule to be ideal. It’s a very versatile, wearable, office-appropriate, and unisex fragrance. It’s also an approachable, perfectly inoffensive fragrance that may be suitable for Lutens newbies as a way to start exploring the line, many of which are generally more nuanced, complicated, and complex. However, in my opinion, “perfectly inoffensive” doesn’t equal “fantastic.” If you’re a sandalwood fanatic, very passionate about the Mysore kind, and can also easily pick up the jangly undertones to more synthetic wood alternatives, then I don’t think you’ll be bowled over by Santal Majuscule. But try it, and who knows, maybe it will be your Goldilocks’ version of sandalwood.
Nice review, Kafka, but your experience does not compel me to dig out my sample. The Dries Van Noten turned awfully suffocating on me that any comparison to it just turns me off.
“I’m a sandalwood snob” printed on a t-shirt is a conversation starter… just sayin’
Hajusuuri, you have no idea how much I thought about you (and your Dries Van Noten experience) while testing this perfume. I would not recommend Santal Majuscule to you with a ten foot pole! The Dries Van Noten, on me, was not radiating synthetics or acrid, sharp bitterness, but this one certainly does for a hefty part of its first 2 hours. If you found the ersatz/Australian sandalwood in the DvN to be unpleasant, God only knows what you would think about this one.
As for the conversation starter t-shirt, I refuse to admit to being a sandalwood snob. I won’t do it! 😉 Heh. 😛
You’v really done a wonderful job of making the distinction between those who want sandalwood as a side dish and those who want it as the main dish. I am of the latter school and found Majascule a disappointment but I didn’t quite know why till I read your review. I was expecting so very much….I have never had access to Santal de Mysore but recently sniffed and loved the linear and yet quite amazing Crabtree and Evelyne Mysore Sandalwood (this is very old stuff and discontinued now). I settled in my search for a sandalwood dominated perfume on Tam Dao. But perhps I should be saving up for SL’s Santal de Mysore.
Mridula, I’m so happy to see you again! Thank you for your kind words on the review. I’m sorry your experience with Santal Majuscule wasn’t the most positive one, but I can’t say it’s very surprising. I really wanted to entitle the post: “Whatever the hell this is, it isn’t sandalwood.” LOL. Not technically accurate, as there is creamy, generic Australian woodiness, sure, but a solid sandalwood fragrance dominated and heavy with the real stuff? Not even remotely.
I have a little of the discontinued Crabtree & Evelyn fragrance that you mentioned. On my skin, it’s quite powdery but it’s definitely the real stuff. (And, my word, how it lasts!) If you want to smell the real stuff in modern perfumery, have you tried Neela Vermeire’s fantastic, spectacular trio: Trayee, Mohur and Bombay Bling? The amount of real, almost extinct Mysore sandalwood in those 3 (but *especially* in Trayee) makes me shudder at how much she must have spent. A simply astronomical, bank-breaking amount, no doubt. But every inch of Trayee radiates with the true glory of real Mysore sandalwood, so I definitely recommend it, especially if you like spicy orientals. The others have less, but they have it too.
I’d also recommend Chanel’s gorgeous, gorgeous Bois des Iles. For a perfume that doesn’t claim to use real Mysore sandalwood and makes every attempt to use substitutes, the wood there is gorgeous, feels real, and has the quiet, smoldering purrrrrr of a cheetah. You can read my review of it here: http://akafkaesquelife.wordpress.com/2013/04/20/perfume-review-chanel-bois-des-iles-les-exclusifs-out-of-africa/ And you can also dig up the Neela Vermeire ones if you’re interested, as well, but none of them are pure odes to sandalwood the way the Bois des Iles fragrance is. They have a ton of other (gorgeous) notes and spices, but Bois des Iles was specifically intended as Chanel’s homage to true sandalwood.
As for the Santal de Mysore, I hear it has quite a curry note to go with all the smoldering spices. I haven’t tried it, but I hear the curry reference repeatedly. It’s just something to consider. 🙂 I should probably get a sample of it since Surrender to Chance has a brief sale on all Serge Lutens (15% off) until July 11th, Midnight Central US Time, with the code: SergeEtatByredo. If you haven’t tried the Santal de Mysore and if you’re in the States to get the super low $2.95 shipping, then perhaps you can order a sample to see if it’s to your tastes. 🙂
Yes, I adore all three of the little bottles of NV creations in my possession. I have the discovery set. I cant say I have done enough to appreciate the sandalwood in these. But now I will pay attention. Bois des Iles etd is sometimes water on my skin and sometimes quite lovey. I can’t figure it out. Must be something there to which I am selectively anosmic. But the edp. Oh my! I wish I could afford it. I had a little sample once and now it is all gone. But some day…I do love dreaming. Stil thinking about SL other’s sandalwoods, as well.
Judging by the fact that I like Santal Majescule (tried, liked, bough a decant and wear sometimes), I’m not a real sandalwood fan 🙂 I like Santal Majescule more than Santal Blanc but less than Jeux de Peau.
I’m glad it works for you. 🙂
I second this. 🙂 Although I think I like SM better than JdP.
Another lover of Australian sandalwood. I’m sure it feels much less picked on now. 😉 😛 I’m glad it works for you as well.
I tried Santal Majuscule couple of months ago (featured it in one of the Monday Quick Sniffs episodes). I got my sample directly from Serge Lutens, claimed it via offer sent with a newsletter. I didn’t like it at all, had quite similar impressions to yours.
Still I appreciate that you wrote this long and detailed review for a perfume that you found bad.
See, we agree more often than you think! 🙂 As for the perfume, it’s not that it’s a bad perfume, because it’s not. It’s just not hugely interesting, and that sandalwood was really unpleasant for (at least) the first two hours. Personally, I don’t think they should even call the wood in it “sandalwood” because it’s terribly misleading, in my opinion. But, I clearly seem to be some sort of snob about sandalwood, much as I’m loathed to admit it, and a large number of people seem to think it’s perfectly fine. I’m sticking with the guy whose review was headlined with “This is not sandalwood!” lol.
I know, we’ve got much more in common than we think.
I’m not a big fan of sandalwood really. I know it’s a noble material but for me only a smooth, highly polished version of its woodiness is fine to wear.
I tried this in the hopes that it would smell like an amped up version of 10 Corso Como. It doesn’t. 🙁 That being said I didn’t find it that terrible either. I think the name leads you to expect one thing and then the scent doesn’t deliver as promised. Not knowing French must have helped me at the time I tried it because other than knowing what santal means I wasn’t sure about the Majuscule part. Lol. It did have a little bit of that artificial quality you mention but on me it wasn’t enough to make me cringe like some scents do. I don’t think I’d buy a bottle and call it my main sandalwood scent but it would fit the bill for a nice perfume with woody notes to it. The cocoa in it is really good and more of the star of the show than the sandalwood is.
The cocoa is gorgeous! And, yes, it’s definitely the big Buddha at the center of everything. 🙂
I guess my problem is that the wood here — Australian, chemical-enhanced, or both — simply doesn’t seem like “sandalwood.” It’s something, but it’s not my idea of sandalwood, based on what I grew up knowing and adoring. To be honest, my reaction to most of it in Santal Majuscule was (verbatim and without exaggeration) “WTF is this??!” So, it’s not just that the “Majuscule” part of the name may create certain expectations; it’s more the *Santal* part. Then you get to the issue of how the “sandalwood” isn’t even the star attraction or primary part of the scent, and it just ends up being more of a disappointment (for me). But, it’s obviously a hugely popular, much loved scent for the vast majority of people.
Agreed. It’s not very sandalwoody, just woody. I’m going to guess that a lot of people don’t really know what the real thing smells like.
I am in the camp of it is a nice scent but, nothing amazing. I completely agree that it seems to fit right between Santal Mysore (dry and spicy) and Santal Blanc (boozy and sweet). Since I have bottles of the other two SL sandalwood scents, I didn’t feel compelled to get this one but, the cocoa note is kind of interesting. If you want samples of the other two I am happy to bring them over at the end of this month… 🙂 Save your money for some other samples!
Honestly, I’d be more excited to meet you than to smell the Lutens, BUT, if you are going to bring some perfume with you, I’d love to try a tiny bit of both. On second thought, perhaps just the Santal de Mysore, if you wouldn’t mind. I have the feeling that the Santal Blanc may be a wee bit too sweet and white for me, based on what I’ve heard and the Now Smell This review’s comment that there was no sandalwood in that one, so I wouldn’t want to trash something you love. I feel badly enough about the Nuances already! *cringing in shame* 😉
But forget the perfumes, how exciting it will be to meet up in person. How long will you be in town?
I would love to meet up while I am in town! And don’t worry, I have plenty of both to share at least a few mL of them 🙂 I will be arriving late on Sunday, Aug 4th and leaving Friday evening, Aug 9th. I am coming for training for work so, my days are booked but, I will definitely have an evening free. I will contact you by email to set something up! I can’t wait!
I was all set to check this out and see if I could detect the fake sandalwood, as I’ve probably never smelled real sandalwood, so I reached for my Santal Majascule . . . and I realized I don’t have one. I do have Santal Blanc though, and maybe Santal Mysore. Is it the same sandalwood in each? Can’t wait for my Neela Vermeire samples 🙂 Fragrances are so fun.
I haven’t tried those two, Cohibadad, but I would assume that they’re not centered around Mysore sandalwood and use the Australian kind instead. Tania Sanchez says in her review of Santal de Mysore that Serge Lutens has tried to “cover any gaps with an overpowering coconut-and-caramel accord,” so she seems to have some doubts, I guess. Who knows exactly *what* she means, though. She seemed to be intentionally oblique in this case.
As for real Mysore sandalwood, I know you said you adore Chanel’s Egoiste. If you’ve smelled the vintage version, it has Mysore sandalwood and none of this generic, globbily beige crap from Australia. And, you know, in truth, there are quite a few modern fragrances that can replicate the scent to a good degree, even using the Australian kind mixed with other accords. The problem for me, here, with Santal Majuscule is that the note starts off feeling extremely artificial, synthetic, acrid, sharp and pungent. It has an incredibly weird nuance to it, and then later it’s more like some strangely sweetened bread note with endless beige hues. It simply isn’t what I think of when I think of “sandalwood.” I’m sure some synthetic wood elements were used to try to bolster up the Australian sandalwood, and that’s undoubtedly the cause.
ah, interesting. so vintage Egoiste has it. Now I will have to compare the two. The vintage to me has a softness that the new version doesn’t. Perhaps it is the sandalwood that gives me that impression. I love everything Egoiste, new, old, concentree. Oh, does the concentree have Mysore sandalwood as well?
I haven’t tried the Concentrée, my dear. As for the vintage version, it’s most apparent in the drydown. The softer, richer, deeper, smoother texture overall is due to the lack of so many synthetics that, in the newer version, thins out some of the essential oils. As a side note, I wouldn’t say that Egoiste is purely and totally centered around sandalwood, but it is a strong feature of the fragrance.
If you’ve ever smelled vintage Opium, there is a large presence of Mysore sandalwood there too, as it is in Trayee where it is a *big* part of the top notes from the very start. I simply cannot wait for you to get your hands on that beauty!
I have tried the new Opium, but still need to try the vintage. Is there any similarity?
Similarity? Vintage Opium and the new one? Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha.
Sorry, I just couldn’t help it. Consider it to be mild hysteria born of grief. You’d need to read my review of vintage Opium to understand why that hit me as hard as it did. Bottom line, though: NO similarity at all.
So now I need to find some vintage Opium. I read the review. It sounds great 🙂
More than the “fake” sandalwood issue, the cocoa sounds off-putting. I don’t really like the smell of it (in perfume and otherwise), perhaps Chergui notwithstanding (and I can really only wear that one rarely and in small doses for me to continue enjoying it). Wouldn’t mind giving it a sniff, but with vintage Bois des Iles, not sure how much more sandalwood I really need! 😛
As someone rather obsessed with (real, Mysore) sandalwood, I can never have enough of it! It’s one of my top 2 favorite notes in perfumery! 😀 As for cocoa, there is light, white cocoa powder in Coromandel you adore and dark chcolate notes in the Borneo you own as well, so I think you tolerate the note better than you may think. lol. As for the Santal Majuscule, I don’t think it would be your cup of tea.
I remember the buzz around this launch was almost deafening. So much so that I marched right into the store and sprayed it on my hand without even the intermediary of a blotter. Did I regret it? No. But my first thought was, “WTF, this is Jeux de Peau!!!!!” If Jeux de Peau is a giant palmier, Santal Majuscule was a giant palmier covered in chocolate sauce. Albeit nice chocolate sauce, but I prefer JdP.
(btw, you have a typo in JdP above in the review, an additional letter a. you can delete this part of the comment too if you like).
Thanks for the typo heads-up! I appreciate it. My fingers often have a mind of their own. lol. 🙂
Mine too! But if I had to choose between my iPhone’s mistakes and my own, I will choose my own. Less embarrassing 🙂
I don’t know, I’ve made some doozies in my time. It’s as if I’ve got late onset dyslexia sometimes, combined with my mind’s determination to create whole new spellings for certain really obvious, easy words. I get these things in my head that my fingers type without any sort of conscious recognition, and it’s as if I’m 6 and learning English all over again. LOL.
Omg! I just told a friend that I had late onset dyslexia the other day too! Exact words!
There are a few words that I mess up all the time. I never spell them right the first time: recommendation and embarrass.
(Both of which just got autocorrected just now 🙂 )
Those are two of mine, too!! I have to add “jubilation” to the mix, as well, because my mind is determined to spell it as “jubiliation” with an unnecessary “i.” It became a huge problem when reviewing the Amouage scents by that name. : But “embarrass” is the absolute worst. The WORST! In fact, it is a total embarrassment how I can no longer spell the word properly at all without taking a big pause and making corrections. LOL.
Why isn’t jubiliation a word too? It looks like a word 🙂
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