Genuine Mysore sandalwood oil is a rarity these days, but Ensar Oud offers three different takes on it that are worth trying if you are a sandalwood addict. One is an actual vintage oil dating back to the early 1980s, another is from 30-40 year-old red Mysore heartwood, while the third combines Mysore from Indonesia with centennial Tanzanian sandalwood for something utterly glorious that swept me off my feet.
Mysore 1984 is an actual vintage oil that was distilled somewhere around 1984 and had originally belonged to a collector. The oil opens on my skin with contrasts and contradictions. The first notes smell milky and inordinately green, occasionally even a bit leafy, in a bouquet that is diffuse, diaphanous, and clean. Yet, almost immediately afterwards, a slew of darker, richer, and heavier notes appear that are smoky, spicy, resinous, and quietly smoldering in feel. Lurking in the background are tiny flickers, sometimes smelling faintly floral, but sometimes like charred wood, smoky black tea, spiced brown dust, fresh cedar shavings, and, once in a blue moon, something reminiscent of bitter black chocolate.
The cumulative effect reminds me of marble that is a jade green in parts, ivory in others, and completely crisscrossed with veins of brown, black, red, and gold. Unlike marble, however, Mysore 1984 constantly shifts in the facets it emphasizes during its first hour, so perhaps a better analogy would be to a chameleon changing its hues depending on the elements around it. One thing remains constant: the fundamental essence of the wood which unquestionably smells like milky, clean, authentic, and rather expensive Mysore sandalwood. I know a few of you have seen or owned items carved out of old sandalwood and that you’re aware of how it can quietly waft its particular form of woodiness. Well, this oil resembles that aroma, except it’s deeper, more concentrated, and, at least initially, more resinous in feel while simultaneously being extremely milky as well.
Mysore 1984 changes slowly and in incremental steps. Roughly 90 minutes in, the scent turns even milkier, greener, spicier, smokier, and more resinous. At the end of the 4th hour and the start of the 5th, the darker, spicier, smoky, and resinous notes rise to the top, while the milky buttermilk and greenness change places to become undertones running through the base. The smokiness turns into diffuse wisps that, unexpectedly, bear a strong resemblance to frankincense: clean, piney, aromatic, dusty, churchy, and faintly lemony. As a whole, the bouquet skews much redder in its visuals relative to its opening, and it’s also creamier in its textural feel.
Mysore 1984’s drydown is similar to its opening due to a renewed emphasis on milky, green, and clean tonalities. Thin veins of spice, smoke, resin, and dust run underneath, but the scent is so soft and discreet on my skin that it takes some focus to pick them out. In its final hours, all that’s left is green milkiness with the merest hint of smokiness subsumed within.
Mysore 1984 had soft projection, average to low sillage, and very good longevity on my skin. Using several smears amounting to two small drops, the oil initially projected about 1.5 to 2 inches. At first, there was no scent trail at all, but that changed after about 30 minutes when suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, Mysore bloomed into a diffuse but strong cloud that extended out about 3-4 inches. The cloud shrank at the end of the 2nd hour and start of the 3rd, the scent lingering closer to the body except when I moved my arms whereby it briefly flared out again. Mysore 1984 became a skin scent roughly 5.25 hours into its development, but it was easy to detect up close without any effort if I put my nose on my arm. It required more effort from the 8th hour onward. At the start of the 11th hour, I thought the fragrance was close to dying out but, to my surprise, it lingered, albeit as the sheerest, softest wisp on the skin. In total, using several smears roughly the equivalent of two small drops, Mysore 1984 lasted just over 13.25 hours.
I tested Mysore 1984 a second time using a larger quantity amounting to roughly 3 big drops. The projection was still quite low, but the scent trail was fractionally bigger; the bouquet’s resinous, spicy, red middle phase lasted longer; and the longevity went up to 15 hours.
Santal Royale is made from 30-40 year-old red Mysore heartwood and was distilled in 2013. The oil opens on my skin with notes of smoky black leather, camphor, and a layered woodiness that smells like a fusion of deeply resinous, spicy sandalwood and an animalic, fur-scented oud. Trailing closely behind is chocolate, dark and quietly bitter, juxtaposed against a honeyed sweetness.
Santal Royale changes very quickly. The camphor weakens within two or three minutes, then vanishes completely not long after that. The leather rapidly begins to melt at the same time, turning gentler, then diffuse, before sinking into the wood as though it were merely an underpinning rather than a separate top element.
A mere 15 minutes in, a different set of notes emerges to form the primary bouquet and Santal Royale is transformed. Now, it smells of richly spiced, red-hued sandalwood shot through with bronze, black, brown, green, and gold. The aromas are as wide-ranging and complex as those in a perfume with a long note list: black chocolate; molten honey; green buttermilk; black oud-ish wood smoke suffused with tarry leatheriness; dark musk similar to castoreum or some ouds; a golden muskiness similar to ambergris; and last, but definitely not least, patchouli that is earthy, red, green, inordinately spicy, faintly camphorous, faintly oily, and faintly leafy as well. Sticky resins coat everything, smelling like the sandalwood variety but also like smoky styrax and toffee’d labdanum.
But Santal Royale is not finished yet. A slew of olfactory ghosts appear on the sidelines roughly 25 minutes into the oil’s evolution, waving “hello” before disappearing and then re-appearing later again. Back and forth they go, dancing by, sometimes in short bursts, sometimes for longer, then flitting off but always circling back eventually if you pay really close attention. They vary in scent: a burst of cloves; citrusy brightness; soft, musky fur; and even, on one or two occasions, something resembling indolic, syrupy, fruity jasmine sambac.
It’s a phantasmagoria of olfactory effects, most of which seem to be happening simultaneously, each layer peeling back to unveil another below it. The effect is essentially “Sandalwood PLUS,” and a perfume more than a single oil composed from a single type of wood. On my skin, Santal Royale is firmly and unquestionably rooted in sandalwood, but the patchouli, amber, dark musk, spice, leather, smoke, and oud-ish tonalities swirl around with almost as much force. On my skin, they are as concrete, clearly delineated, and prominent as if they’d been added individually as separate ingredients. I’m very impressed.
Santal Royale’s second phase begins roughly 2.25 hours into its development. The scent turns creamy and thick in texture, like fatty Devonshire clotted cream, stacks of velvet, or heated, satiny smooth skin. Many of the olfactory strains either overlap or have fused together, leaving a multi-faceted spicy, musky, camphorous, smoky, tarry, leathery, ambered, buttery, and incredibly resinous red sandalwood that is enveloped in dark musk. It’s fragrant, complex, warm, and extremely expensive-smelling.
3.5 hours in, Santal Royale is a sea of pure red and gold, separated by soft shadows of black smoke. It’s beautifully spiced and deeply resinous but, above all else, it’s profoundly tactile in feel, like pressing one’s fingers into the creamiest, velvety skin.
Santal Royale changes again at the end of the 5th hour and the start of the 6th. The amber tonalities recede, and a milky, creamy greenness takes their place. It’s basically the same drydown as Mysore 1984, only this one is musky, warmer, and more fuzzy in feel. I tested the two oils side-by-side one day, and I thought Santal Royale’s textural, almost skin-like tactile quality was one of the most noticeable, significant differences. I think the Santal Royale may also have been a hair more resinous and smoky, a hair less green, but I wouldn’t bet money on it. Really, apart from the tactile and musk nuances, the two oils were virtually indistinguishable on my skin during their late and drydown phases. Their final hours were identical as well.
Santal Royale essentially had the same projection and longevity numbers as Mysore 1984 with the same application quantities, but its sillage was greater. The opening scent trail extended about 4-5 inches before growing to about 7-8 inches after 30 minutes. It shrank back down at the 90-minute mark, hovered just above the skin at the end of the 4th hour, and became a skin scent at the end of the 6th hour. It required effort to detect after the 8th hour but, if I put my nose right on my skin, the scent clearly lingered on in very quiet fashion. Keep in mind, though, I used very small quantities of oil because my sample wasn’t enormous and I wanted to do a number of tests. I’m sure I applied far less than most people would with a full bottle. Santal Royale’s longevity was essentially the same as for Mysore 1984: 13 to 15 hours, depending on whether I applied two small drops or three.
Santal Sultan is a twelve-year old oil that was distilled in 2005. According to Ensar Oud, it was made from a co-distillation of two varieties of wood: rare Aceh (Indonesian) santalum album (the type known as “Mysore”) and wild centennial Tanzanian sandalwood. There are other details which explain the special nature of the materials. First, wild Aceh santalum album wood is apparently rare, and extremely old trees rarer still. Here, Ensar Oud found trees that were over 100-years old, so old that they had “gigantic girth,” and he used their roots which he says distillers consider to be the best part. He then combined those ancient white roots with the red heartwood of wild Tanzanian trees that were also a 100-years old, and had his Taiwanese kyara maestro distill them together in the same mold used for his top Kinam ouds. (See Part I for information on “Kyara” and “Kinam.”) The pairing impacted the scent profile of the oil:
Missing in common ‘white’ sandals, red wood adds a distinct sweetness to the scent that for many puts it in a league of its own. […][¶] The lovely jasmine/rose notes in pure Tanzanian sandal get even sweeter, and the mellow animalic profile of rare aged Aceh santal amazingly turns to citrus peel (especially when you wear it outside), in a smell that’s sweet instead of creamy, beautifully floral instead of the buttery profile of traditional Mysores… all with a dab of ambery, frankincense oomph.
It’s an appealing description, but the scent actually surpassed my expectations. Sandal Sultan opens on my skin with even greater richness and spice than Santal Royale. A flood of red-hued cream gushes forth, infused with a wide variety of spice aromas that resemble green cardamom, lemony coriander, red-hot chili peppers, nutmeg, and a touch of clove. Following them is another wave, this time centered on dark chocolate. It merges with the red chili pepper and cream to give a rather Mexican chocolate mole vibe which I find to be both delightful and quite unique. Bright citrus peels lie in fragrant, aromatic curls on top, while patchouli-like spiced earthiness dances on the sidelines next to a honeyed, indolic white floralcy that resembles syrupy jasmine sambac. Tying everything together are chords of sandalwood heart resin, oud-ish wood smoke, and ambered resins. The latter veer in scent between smoky, leathery styrax, the honeyed-toffee aspects of labdanum, and more caramelish ambergris tonalities.
It’s a beautiful bouquet, and it turned my head from the very first sniff. The inordinate spiciness, the visual sea of redness, the perfect juxtaposition of aromatic citrus peel next to smoldering, chili-spiced dark chocolate which, in turn, pairs so perfectly, with the ambered toffee-caramel, jasmine honey, and my beloved patchouli… I’ve never encountered anything like it before, not in any sandalwood oil or blended fragrance, not even back in the 1970s when Mysore was plentiful. This is my ideal, my perfect vision of sandalwood, and what a fragrance centered on it should smell like, not the alleged “sandal” of so many popular creations today, like, to name just a few: the peculiar cucumber-calone-iris concoction in Le Labo‘s ridiculously over-hyped Santal 33; the simplistic one-dimensional base accord that comprises the entirety of Kilian‘s painfully anemic snooze, Sacred Wood; the equally simplistic green buttermilk of Amouage‘s Sandal attar; the Middle Eastern dill-fenugreek dinner plate from Serge Lutens (Santal de Mysore) which is combined, in my opinion, with Ebanol and Javanol instead of any actual Mysore; Guerlain‘s nose-searing, aromachemical hot mess, Santal Royale; or Tom Ford’s abrasive Javanol cocktail, Santal Blush.
Ensar Oud’s Santal Sultan only gets better as it develops. Ten minutes in, the creaminess is replaced with a buttery, calf-skin leather-suede accord that is quietly infused with oud-ish smokiness, muskiness, and a hint of camphor. Something about the combination gives off a castoreum vibe, except this is far smoother, more satiny, and almost fatty, as though Devonshire clotted cream and the best parts of sandalwood heartwood had been slathered thickly over a really expensive piece of baby-soft oud-leather. After 20 minutes, the labdanum, ambergris, caramel, and patchouli notes grow in strength, pushing the lemon, chocolate, and floralcy onto the sidelines where they weave about in ghostly fashion, sometimes disappearing for 15-20 minutes at a time, sometimes returning with such gusto that they ripple out to touch the main notes on center stage before eventually dancing away.
Roughly 35 minutes in, the cumulative effect of these changes is an incredibly rich, deep, smooth, and layered bouquet redolent of red sandalwood heartwood, sandalwood resin, patchouli, molten ambered resins, and creamy suede-leather, all wrapped up in tendrils of smoke, heavily dusted with exotic and fiery red-brown spices, then enveloped within a haze of ambered warmth that is lightly flecked by dark chocolate, citrus peel, and honeyed jasmine floralcy. It smells extremely lavish, expensive, cozy, and sensual, all at the same time, and has a depth of body that I’ve never encountered before.
What’s interesting to me is how concentrated and strong the bouquet is up close, but how paradoxically weightless and beefy the scent cloud is around me. Granted, I generally applied only small amounts, typically only a few smears amounting to 2 drops at most, because I wanted to make my vial last as long as possible but, even with that amount, Santal Sultan felt heavier and richer than its siblings on my skin, particularly as compared to Mysore 1984 (which I’d say was the lightest and airiest of the three on my skin). Yet, despite its potency and depth, the cloud it emitted felt weightless. Not wispy, not diaphanous, and not fragile, but a sort of solid airiness. It’s difficult to explain, but if you’ve tried one of Bertrand Duchaufour’s extraits, you may know what I mean because many of his creations manifest the same hefty weightlessness.
Santal Sultan doesn’t change in any major or significant way during the next 3-4 hours. The notes merely realign themselves in their prominence, order, or nuances. At the end of the first hour, the buttery, oud-ish leather basically sinks into the base, becoming a quiet undertone that isn’t particularly noticeable unless I sniff my arm up close. At the same time, Santal Sultan’s levels of spice, resin, amber, and smoke increase, each taking turns enveloping the sandalwood, or sometimes doing so all at once. Throughout it all, the chocolate and citrus peel come and go, darting minnows in a sea of red, gold, and black. By the start of the 3rd hour, Santal Sultan turns creamier and even more ambered. I’m frequently reminded of a sandalwood caramel flan, infused with smokiness, saffron-like spiciness, patchouli, chocolate, and styrax-labdanum resins.
Santal Sultan changes direction at the end of the 6th hour and the start of the 7th when the focal emphasis turns to pure cream. However, there is still so much spice, resin, smoke, patchouli, amber, and honey that the visuals continues to skew red-gold for the most part, rather than green and white. Tiny flickers of chocolate, lemon peel, dust, incense, musk, and fur dance around the edges, although now they’re noticeable only if I smell my arm up close.
Santal Sultan’s drydown begins in the middle of the 8th hour. Essentially, it’s a simple red-hued sandalwood scent that is sweet-dry and quietly laced with resins, smokiness, spiciness, and a touch of cream. There is a new addition as well: a fine, light dusting of powder sprinkled on top. I have a small amount of 1960s Mysore sandalwood oil which has the same mix of creaminess, dryness, and powderiness, but those elements appear right from the start and the oil is never as spicy, red, resinous, or ambered as this one. As a whole, Santal Sultan is now a soft, hazier, and simpler bouquet, much like the early drydown phase of a once-complex fragrance. There is nothing wrong with that; it’s quite amazing that it took almost 9 hours for a simple oil to turn into a base layer. Plus, it’s a layer that is still more nuanced on my skin than the drydown of many niche fragrances with their generic, indeterminate amorphousness or their obnoxious deluge of laundry musk.
Santal Sultan remains the same until its final hours which consist of a simple, red-hued, dry-sweet, spiced woodiness with a small touch of powderiness subsumed within. In total, it lasted just short of 13 hours with two tiny drops and just a hair over 16 hours with a little bit more. The projection and sillage were in line with that of Santal Royale.
I loved it from start to finish.
PRICES, SAMPLES & CONCLUSIONS:
The oils vary in price. The starting price for Mysore 1984 is $250 for a 3 gram bottle, while Santal Royale and Santal Sultan begin at $350. You can buy individual samples of Mysore 1984 ($29 for a 0.3 gram vial) and Santal Sultan ($39 for a 0.3 gram vial) if you click down on the quantity/size tab on the right hand side of the page, under the price. For some reason, there is no sample option for Santal Royale at the time of this post.
However, if you wish to sample all three oils, there is a Royal Santal Sample set for $149 which consists of 5 items in total. The two additional items consist of: 15 grams of red, 1970s Mysore heartwood granules; and 15 grams of finely ground, 40-year old Mysore powder. You can burn them as you would incense, or you can macerate them in oil to create your own santal infusion, perhaps to layer under fragrances.
The sample quantities may seem small but I managed 2 good wearings and a third, lighter application for each one. Two small drops or even a few decent swipes of the atomizer stick were more than enough to give me a good sense of the character of the oil, although you may need a larger amount if you want to catch some of the more ghostly, subtle nuances, particularly in the later hours.
The sillage and projection were in line with that of regular natural oils or attars, so don’t expect some enormous scent cloud like what you’d find with semi-synthetic, blended fragrances. However, unlike some fragrances, a small quantity application can go a long way in terms of duration. Two small drops typically lasted over 12 hours on me, even if they sat close to the skin after the 6th or 8th hour.
Each person has a different, subjective ideal for the “perfect” sandalwood. Mysore 1984 was not mine, although it had some pretty parts. I’m just not into green, milky, clean, or airy sandalwood. I loved Santal Royale during its first half, but was less enamored when it turned green and milky. Santal Sultan, though, was like Goldilocks’ perfect porridge and bed: every bit of it was perfect for my tastes. In fact, it was better than anything I could have imagined or hoped for, and better than any 1960s or 1970s Mysore I’ve ever tried. It incorporated many of my favourite olfactory elements, and it did so with gusto, oomph, and opulence. For me, this is the end of the search for the sandalwood Holy Grail. I cannot imagine finding something better, although, if there were one person who could create it, it would probably be Ensar Oud.
Because we’re all so different and have different baselines for what’s perfect, my advice is to sample whichever oil sounds most appealing for your personal tastes. If the set is too expensive for your budget (and I know it’s not cheap), then order a solo vial, if that is an option. If your tastes skew towards pristine, milky, clean woodiness, try the Mysore 1984. If your tastes hew closely to mine, jump straight for the Santal Sultan. (I would include the Santal Royale, too, if it were currently offered in solo form.)
Bottom-line, if you’re a Mysore connoisseur and addict, I strongly recommend checking out Ensar Oud’s creations.
Disclosure: My samples were provided courtesy of the company. That did not impact this review. I do not do paid reviews, and my opinions are my own.