Most current perfumes featuring ‘sandalwood’ have what is to me a rather sharp, metallic, ‘endocrinic’ edge, or twang; that synthetic santal preparation that is a boon to the bank accounts of niche perfumery as everybody else seems to love it except me – I still yearn for the real thing, the more mystical resonance of bark.
Most men’s fragrances these days (and they are almost always ‘woody’) have a poreless intensity to them – a ballast of bludgeoning opacity that you, or at least I, contrary to their intended purpose, find myself wanting to flee rather than go up close.
I like a proper sillage, a trail of scent that you occasionally catch on the air, a brain and nasal dialogue with yourself on how much you are enjoying another person’s smell, what it is, what it conveys, the aesthetics.
Some perfumes have a ‘disappearing act’ built into their olfactory DNA. A-now-you-see- me-now-you-don’t, a hide and seek. A guessing game. Not being a perfumer, nor knowing anything whatsoever about chemistry, I have no idea how this is technically achieved, but I do know that possibly the best example of this curious phenomenon was when the D once wore Hermes’ Poivre Samarcande in Berlin; most of the time I couldn’t smell it when I was standing next to him, but could occasionally smell it powerfully across the street: strangers would come up to him in a bar, turned on and intrigued by the almost villainous aroma invisibly circulating around him and wanting to know what it was, and yet it would sometimes disappear, and then reappear, at unpredictable intervals. Up close, though, you would hardly know it was there.
Dariush gave me a bottle, in London, of Acqua Di Parma’s Colonia Sandalo Concentree, a sturdy, almost grave, unsweetened, very dignified, and yet somehow quite mysterious sandalwood scent that is very different from your standard niche contemporary fragrance of this type (all creamy, buttery, sweaty, and ‘sexy’). No – sometimes I really enjoy a more controlled scent that keeps you at a distance, yet draws you in, and I decided on this occasion (redistributing the pleasure), to give this one to D’s father- who wears the original Acqua Di Parma Colonia Intensa very well, as I had an instinctive feeling that with his pale skin type, it would work well on him.
It works marvellously. At the end of our trip, when the family picked us up at Norwich station, I kept catching, even before we got in the car, an orthodox, precise, yet softly sensual, powdered, straight, dark aroma on the air (the sandalwood is mixed with lavender, cardamom, tonka bean and citruses – there is nothing sweet or floral, the overall feeling very English rather than Italian). Up close, from the bottle, I had found the perfume too condensed and powerful – there is an ‘amber’ note in the base that I would never personally take to – but back at the house, too, in the living room as we drank tea and ate cake on the sofa,the scent trail of this perfume was great : every time Rod would go out of or come back into the room, I would catch a drift of a presciently constructed wood perfume that took me back in some ways to my beloved original Crabtree & Evelyn Sandalwood – one of the only sandalwood scents of this genre that I have ever worn convincingly. Di Parma’s Sandalo is very dry, anhydrous – but in a good way. Clean. Blameless. Wholesome, but not aseptic (when I went back into the living room a few minutes after we had gone into the kitchen to have dinner, I even thought that Daphne had possibly lit some Indian sandalwood incense -in the space …….. the scent was floating in the room, in the air, like invisible smoke). Though some may find its formula too conservative, not obviously, nor sufficiently sandalwood, to me, this perfume is a shapeshifting presence, with a quiet, deeply santalian essence at the base that pulls me in : an understated, yet curiously penetrating, exemplar of gentlemanly refinement.