Le Labo’s niche, omnipresent global blockbuster Santal 33 has had a big impact on the world of perfumery. Warm, synthesized sandalwood notes have become a legible handle for the person unsure of what non-mainstream perfume to buy while still wanting a product that is considered modish, and this scent is now the go to for many people for its ability to mould itself differently on the individual – the freshness of its papyrus and green fig milk iris contrasted cleverly with the fluidity of its Australian sandalwood. I would never wear it myself, but I did experience this scent on a friend at our 25th anniversary a couple of years ago; Yuta, a sculptor with a cheeky Scottish accent having lived in Glasgow when he was a student and picking up the dialect quite convincingly, sidled up to me at the party in some kind of hessian tunic and he smelled quite amazing.













Many budding independent perfumeries as well as mainstream cosmetic companies have followed suit with rivers of wood perfumes that now exist, many of which I find dull as dishwater personally   – about as exciting as chopping a log – and I don’t really know why I bought Comme Des Garçons’ Concrete when I know that neither of us likes buttery sandalwood (which this basically is, despite its concept of ‘cracked santal’ : getting into the heart of the sandalwood subject and reconstructing it olfactorily from the inside. (or something)).




But I do love the bottle. And I bought this, along with Black Pepper, in the same shaped flacon as a thank you to D for helping me with the book during the mad rush of editing and writing in the summer of 2018 : liberated, we had gone to Tokyo to let loose one Saturday afternoon and he had sprayed them both on together, at the Aoyama boutique, one on each arm, and we were enjoying the combined smells as we walked along, mingling with the perfume of the city. Black Pepper – which is intensely strong, and smells so completely of black peppercorns it blows people away, is still used on rotation, but Concrete now just sits on my desk. Sometimes I spray it into the lid as I quite like the scent that it leaves in the room, but in essence, this was a mistaken purchase (how many of those have you had yourselves, I wonder? And would be so profligate again now? …)




Asphalt Noire – I can’t be bothered to look into the reasons for the optional ‘e’ on the end of the name – but presumably to make the noun either masculine or feminine and therefore ‘unisex’, is quite a nice addition to these warming, sawdusty sensations that everyone seems to love so much. With its notes of cedar, tonk, amber, birch tar and narcissus, this is an airtight but soft woody scent with a certain je ne sais quoi, vaguely reminiscent of the sweet wood of L’Artisan Perfumer’s Bois Farine, which I always quite liked (the absorbency of wood can be quite fortifying when all you want to do is cry bitter tears) ; with its the musky, sandalwoodish base, I was reminded a little of Bulgari’s cult classic Black. The perfume is pitched at just the right octave – a little higher than boisés of  late – is easy to wear, and might be worth a sniff if you like these blonde-wooded confections that in fashion terms you can’t really go wrong with.





Talking of appearance, I am about to iron my work clothes and get in the shower, put on my face mask ,and go back to work. At my new desk. Not knowing what it is going to be like; whether I will panicked in some corner trying to keep a lid on things; whether my co-workers will be cold or just as normal; what the lessons will be like, how they will pan out – it is all rather daunting. I am nervous. Even the city I work in itself, Fujisawa : I find it so dull. I was so glad to be away from it. Because of its location, educational establishments, convenience, (very plain) beach, and restaurants – the place is thought of as an ideal place to live, especially for families (personally if I could never see it again I would be happy. Maybe in twenty years or thirty I might have a flicker of nostalgia, if I am still alive – but I would so much rather be staying here in Kitakamakura. At least I know that Kamakura is still here, though, to come back to each evening; cracked roads with plants and weeds and wild flowers everywhere; overgrown grass, magnolia trees, the woods; the temples..). Constructed just in time for the cancelled Olympics  – the island of Enoshima is close by and was going to be the host place of the sailing events – Fujisawa City recently decided to redo the ‘park’ in the centre, by the station, and every time I see it I feel angry. Aesthetically. Aesthetically furious.There was too much asphalt and stone there before as it was: now, although it has been expanded and has a lot of useful seating areas for citizens  – old people, students, the unemployed, the crazy  – to lounge around on  – they are done in a hideous, flecked fake marble effect, the rest of the ‘recreational area’ made out of plastic, stone, brick – a hideous hodge podge of failed design ideas, with a proudly presented centrepiece of newly brushed astroturf. Not even grass. My old/new ‘concrete’ reality.


Filed under abstract moderns, Sandalwood

29 responses to “LE LABO SANTAL 33 (2011) + CONCRETE by COMME DES GARCONS (2017) + ASPHALT NOIR(E) by THE SOCIETY OF SCENT (2020)

  1. Apologies for the negativity – I DO realise I am lucky to have a job etc etc in these terrible times. Just felt like a moan.

    • Robin

      And an interesting and enlightening one.
      You deserve a good moan, I think.

      I have more mistaken purchases than I would ever admit to.

      • It’s such a waste of money though when you are buying a full bottle of niche. Often I will give things away, but for some reason I feel like I have to hold onto this one even though probably neither of us will ever wear it!

    • Robin

      Sometimes I have given stuff away only to regret it.

      • Robin

        Just thought of how that might sound! I don’t mean I regretted giving it to someone I thought might enjoy it. I mean realizing I’d like to have it for reference, because it has become iconic and I feel I might have been too hasty in my dismissal, or the new formula is shite, or I realize I love it after all or would at least want to explore it more. I’m thinking off the top of my head of the original Dior Addict.

      • I am exactly the same. I sometimes want to smell something again and think…..damn.

      • Robin

        A couple of true collectors.

  2. Liz | wannabeliz.com

    Hi Neil! Will you please email me? Thank you so much!

  3. Robin

    I hope it goes well back in the saddle.

  4. matty1649

    I hope all goes well for you back at work. Let us know how you got on.

  5. Tara C

    Haven’t smelled Asphalt(e) but was nonplussed by the other two. I do like CdG Artek Standard, which comes in a gray rectangular bottle that looks like a small block of concrete, and Bulgari Black.

    As a collector I have lots of mistakes as well as things I sold and regretted later. My latest regrettable purchases were Mendittorosa Archetipo and Nettuno. They seem to have some unpleasant synthetic note which I didn’t notice using the dabbed samples, but when sprayed from a full bottle is offputting. Expensive of course. Will probably sell on ebay.

    Thinking of you as you head back to work, I hope you wore something soothing and your colleagues didn’t give you the stink eye.

  6. OnWingsofSaffron

    I can relate to your just fury regarding the ugliness of public—and more often than not private—building projects in the world. I could weep at the horror of the magnitude of abysmally horrid constructions here in Germany! Cologne for instance, was destroyed over 90% at the end of WWII and the rebuilding ever since defies all description! Sometimes I feel physical pain at the sheer ugliness!

    • I am so pretentious in this regard that the wrong building font can send me into a dark abyss. My hometown, Solihull in the West Midlands, has many, many examples of fuck ugly brown pseudo classical red brown buildings with beyond hideous lettering, mounted on colours that rend my eyeballs livid…..but I know that my reactions are ridiculous. There are so many problems in the world, and I go to pieces over fonts (but seriously – a font could determine the city I live). Japan has MUCH ugliness too, but signage is better and at night the neon is divine. When I look at , say, a sign like A Holiday Inn, or somewhere like that, my heart dies.

      This is why I love Schoeneberg. The houses are beautiful, and you have lovely old stations nearby with admittedly slightly Third Reich-ish but beautiful old lettering. Many of the restaurants have dubious signage which for me lets everything down, but on the whole it is not too bad.

      So glad I can ‘come out’ over my ludicrous hypersensitivity in this regard. I could talk about it all day.

      What are your particular bete noires ? I think people don’t actually realise how important architecture/ aesthetics are. When I reached the park yesterday I thought it was even worse than I had imagined. SUCH a waste of possibilities – they could have planted way more trees, and not had road like yellow stripes going across concrete and hideous signage and nothing harmonious to the eye. JUST PRACTICAL.


      My personal horrors are shopping malls/ business parks……oh my god how my soul dies in them. I have watched D’s spirit diminish rapidly also when we went to Yokohama Queen’s Square – he really doesn’t do well in such spaces and will be reduced to a miserable silent wretch in no time at all.


    • I shall never forget the expression ‘just fury’ in this regard, by the way!

      When I go to Fujisawa again today, those words shall flash up in my inner screen as my peepers survey the moronic shit before me

      • OnWingsofSaffron

        It was a bit queeny on my side though, but I do love the operatic Italian “un giusto furor” or the gravitas of Latin “mox ira” (in German btw “der gerechte Zorn”). I know it’s more or less a killer word like “common sense” but so what!
        My bete noires (just a few):
        – Houses covered with wall tiles that look like bathroom tiles;
        – Backyard gardens which have been stripped of all living plants and laid out with large rectangular concrete paving tiles and/or with grey gravel;
        – Houses with too few and especially too small windows;
        – Flower tubs in pedestrian zones made out of concrete with mock-pebbles on the sides in which plants die a slow death next to rubbish.
        Believe me, I could go on…

      • Oh I believe it. ‘Flower tubs in pedestrian zones’ – this is why I can’t bear daffodils. In themselves, in a forest, say (though I far prefer the appearance of the narcissus), perhaps by a river, the yellow could be quite pretty. But the fact is, that yellow, like the orange of marigolds, or the purple of pansies, when combined with ‘grey gravel’ (and worse, ‘wooden’ criss-cross patterned ‘garden features’). Such colour combinations make me want to jump from a high building without a second’s consideration. I HATE gravel. And Duncan introduced some in the front garden to make a ‘path’. Now, it has overgrown slightly and looks quite nice. I just hope he doesn’t try to refresh it.

        This is the thing: you will see some house or ‘property’ featured in a film or programme that you are supposed to be oohing and aaahing over, a billionaire’s retreat in Tahiti, but to me – I will just see the wrong font on the sign, or plastic white gates or something and think: HIDEOUS

      • And please do go on. It is very soothing for me in these stricken times when all I can see is teachers gasping for air like just caught fish under their masks and plastic beekeeper visors

  7. I do hope your first day back went well, it must have been so challenging.
    I understand what you were saying about the redone park, sometimes the aesthetic of an area or building can just gut me; I am hypersensitive to my surroundings, as I know you are.
    Now onto the fragrances. Santal 33 is a global blockbuster for Le Labo, but it leaves me feeling uninspired. The only santal scent I really love is Samsara by Guerlain, it is just awe inducing. All of these other pseudo woody scents are just meh to me. I hate to sound precious about it, but vintage santal in a scent is beyond sublime. I guess this is why I am the queen of vintage.

    • And I am your King. I agree – nothing can touch real sandalwood, and in the majority of niche wood scents it is more like being in a home furnishings store browsing kitchen tables. For me, Samsara oversteps the mark into something TOO baroque and dripping in gold, but I have a bottle of extrait and sometimes can’t resist a crafty spray because the sandal base note is so amazing. I think we both want SANDALWOOD, not sawdust.

      • Robin

        I remember when Samsara first came out, and I was so happy there was a new fragrance release — back then, they were comparatively infrequent and momentous occasions — and I really, really wanted to buy a bottle of parfum. But I just couldn’t. I sampled Samsara probably every week or two for ages, trying to love it. But it was not to be. I felt it was just too thick and sweet for me, like sandalwood dripping with butterscotch. I couldn’t get over my resistance to the smell of it. Now I have a bottle of vintage edt I quite like, as it has gone dry and lean with time, and a bottle of the current edp, which is a bit of a Meh for me and something Ric doesn’t like on my skin, so.

        But mostly I wanted to chime in to say how I relate to getting bent out of shape about ugly or soulless things. To me, what my eye would go to when I saw that billionaire’s retreat in Tahiti would be THE CHEAP WHITE PLASTIC OUTDOOR CHAIRS FROM THE LOCAL HARDWARE STORE!!!!!! I see it all the time. Gorgeous — or rather, huge and expensive and over-the-top so-called-luxurious — homes with cheap outdoor furniture. It’s like they ran out of money at the end, fifty bucks left for the seating on the patio. It’s so, so sad and miserable and pathetic. And tacky, because they probably did have the money but those kinds of details are irrelevant to people who aren’t aesthetically attuned. They wouldn’t see them. They’d be thinking of the square footage surrounding them and the custom drapes. Speaking of which, those awful droopy, loopy drapes that some people have on each side and across the top — argh, valances!!! — of every single window on the property — you know, the ones that match the sofa, with the reverses done in some awful garish contrast colour, all trimmed in ugly metallic cord and tassels: I shuddered just typing that. Also, green spaces with dreary annuals in clashing colours and little plastic 8-inch high fences that are leaning this way and that with some sections kicked over. I want to grab a shovel! Oh, my heavens, what a tirade. I make you sound positively mellow.

      • LOVE IT !

        We all need release whenever we can get it right now, even if it venting our hatred of plastic garden furniture. What supercilious snobs we all are on this marvellous thread ( even though my house is a slovenly dive )

      • Robin

        I’ve been so kind and understanding and patient and serious and politically correct and brave and positive and careful and sincere and sensitive and caring and helpful and hopeful throughout the past many, many trying and scary weeks that it just feels SO GOOD to vent about completely superficial shit like cheap patio furniture. Whoo hooo. Thank you!

      • ( laughing out loud at Fujisawa station )

        : PRECISELY !!

      • Exactly!! “Sandalwood, not sawdust”!! I am tired of woodsy fragrances smelling like a lumberyard, rather than real wood notes!!!
        I have copious amounts of Samsara, I adore it. It really sings on my skin.

  8. Great post, Neil! Santal 33 is still a beautiful scent, despite its ubiquity. Have you tried Comme des Garcons Copper? It’s a really well-executed concept.

    • Yes, we both quite liked it actually – a bit complicated and slightly too creamy for me, but definitely a good overall impression. They continue to be a great perfume house.

  9. Robin, I totally understand your point on wealthy people who have so much money and so little awareness of the cheap and tawdry details in their palatial homes. It proves what my Mama always said, “Money does not buy good taste, nor attune the eye to detail.”

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