Category Archives: Sandalwood

THE OLD AND THE NEW SANDALWOOD: : : MOLECULE 04 + ESCENTRIC 04 by ESCENTRIC MOLECULES (2017)

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To reacquaint myself with the authentic Indian Mysore sandalwood extract in order to write this piece just an hour or two ago I gave myself one tiny spray of vintage Guerlain Samsara parfum. Just a small dot or two on the top of my left hand, by far the most natural sandalwood-based perfume in my collection (the original formula contained a massive 20% pure essential oil when it debuted) and a smell that you just don’t really get to smell firsthand in perfumery anymore. Head to head with some eau de parfum on my right, at first the pure perfume seems verging on odourless – compact and demure, without all the hairspray fuss and glamour of the other concentrations, no throw. But this is a sandalwood perfume that really, really enjoys to takes its time: where the eau de parfum concentration is now a delicately balanced, if still very strong, blend of jasmine, iris and sandalwood, the parfum, on me, in its full, later stages, is just the latter. Sandalwood as I like it: creamy, dense, sun-filled, languourous – slow, like liquid gold.

The original Mysore sandalwood essential oil, extracted from trees that were overharvested to the virtual point of extinction and therefore placed under protection by the Indian government, is unlike any other perfume component, in its sheer richness and glint; its anchoring, full-bodied self-confidence, and its laconic, sexual grounding. And while this is not my favourite perfume heart or base note by any stretch – I much prefer vetiver, patchouli, even cedarwood – there is something very ‘splayed open’ and courtesanish, to me, about sandalwood (it doesn’t leave much to the imagination) – it is also very easy to imagine how the trees, the wood and its inimitable aroma could have played such an important role in South Asian culture across millennia, in the form of wooden carvings, temple structures, in euphorical aphrodisia, and as an essential and founding component of Oriental incense.

Although I am not a person who likes ‘woody’ perfumes in general – to me they can feel like being trapped in my own funeral casket, too moisture sucking and weighty, enclosing and solidifying rather than languid and free (like flowers, which are always opening and reaching out towards the light), there are, on occasion, days when I do find myself more in the mood for the more form-fitting strength of this kind of perfume, particularly in winter, when I might use a Bois De Santal body cream that Brie sent me (probably the best sandalwood I have ever smelled; so sweet and spiced and eternally lasting), layered with vintage Shiseido Feminité Du Bois parfum, a divinely beautiful perfume that to me smells as though there must be some natural sandalwood extract buried beneath all that beguiling Moroccan Atlas Cedar, the plum and the spices and niggling base notes of vanilla that linger in the most dignified and elegant manner on the skin for hours.

Other sandalwood perfumes I quite enjoy the smell of are the quite classicist Santal Noble by Maitre Parfumeur Et Gantier, Sandalo by Santa Maria Novella – which has an inspired note of thyme that cuts through the length of its duration – Narcisse Noir by Caron, which I ultimately consider a sandalwood perfume, and Serge Lutens’ collection of sandalwood perfumes, Santal Mysore, Bois De Santal and the last of his sandalwood creations, Santal Majuscule, with its calmly stupefying rose and cacao (although if I am absolutely honest I never entirely really believed in the quality of the sandalwood in that perfume; for me, the Australian or ‘East Indian sandalwood’ just never quite cuts the mustard; too thin and flat and unmysterious. Even if I do find true Mysore sandalwood to be a little too forceful and straight in its blatantly carnal message, I nevertheless still do feel that there is always, underneath, also something timeless and soulful about it that appeals to the heart muscle and soul).

When I was in my early twenties I got through several bottles of the exquisitely pleasing Sandalwood by Crabtree & Evelyn – my ultimate sandalwood and favourite of this genre for all time. If you could still buy this light, rosy, powdery, sunlit composition that was as dreamy and clean as a sunset on a beach then I most definitely would: in fact just writing about it here makes me crave the stuff quite badly – but they discontinued it a very long time ago. Does anyone reading this remember it as fondly as I do? I know I used to find that perfume so calming and soothing – soapy and talcy but also quite enveloping and sensuous… I think this is how I basically enjoy sandalwood best, in the desert-wind lightness of say, L’Artisan Parfumeur’s L’Eau du Navigateur, or else full on oriental and packed with exotica, like Lorenzo Villoresi’s Alamut, a 1001 Arabian-inspired sandalwood that is the holy grail perfume of a Japanese friend of mine and which she smells perfectly gorgeous in (she is also the person who I give all my boisé sample bottles I receive to: as a fan of as-woody-as-you-can-get perfumes like Diptyque’s very literal Asian wooden temple Tam Dao or Comme Des Garçons Kyoto as well as Ex Nihilo’s Bois d’Hiver (2015), a very woody sandalwoody/cypriol scent that she adored so much she brought herself a full bottle from Harrods that summer when the small sample bottle ran out); as the most fiercely independent person I have ever known, Junko smells brilliantly contained in this style of perfumery; a mode of fragrance I personally just can’t get with on my own skin, but which I like to experience closehand as long as I am on the other side of the table).

There is something about Javanol, the synthetic molecule now regularly used in contemporary cutting edge perfumery as a substitute (or, to be honest, now actually preferred by the majority of people to the original, natural, sandalwood oil), that is addictive, sexy and in your face. Many of the scents that Junko has in her collection – aside the aforementioned Alamut, which I do think smells best on her – do contain Javanol (or Polysantol, the creamier variant) and if I hadn’t already found immediate recipients for the two new Escentric Molecules perfume based entirely around this note that I am writing about now here and that I received in the post from a friend, I would most definitely have given them to her as well.

Javanol smells fashionable, current. Sexy, in an urban vacuum kind of way; endocrinic, a bit pheremonal; ‘woody’, but in no way connected to nature or the outdoors. There is a no-nonsense, ‘get to it’ aura around this odour molecule – which is extremely potent and which I am really very sensitive to (if I even imagine I can detect an even hint of the stuff in the base of a perfume, it is what the Americans refer to as a ‘deal breaker’ – this happened with Guerlain’s expensive Spiriteuse Double Vanille and Tonka Impériale, both of which I had full bottle of but became detached from when I realized there might be something there , just hiding in the very base tones, though in truth it could quite easily just been a tiny smidgen of my even greater bête noire, ambroxan).

What Javanol does have, though, to its credit, is a certain dryness; a ‘stripped’ quality, and a strange, oxygenated freshness that is a million miles from the sweaty, almost indecently kama sutraness of the original, and natural, odour material; a Tindr or Grindr social media network hook up down the back alley behind a club instead of an elaborately staged, contortionist’s nightmare on an ancient bed of bleeding roses leading to procreation and a dancing Bollywood finale. It is the smell of the present, of what the new sex smells like, the new genders, the sloughing off of labels and traditions, and Geza Schoen, the perfumer of the very popular Molecule line, does an interesting job here of dressing and disguising the essential element at the heart of both of these fragrances – the Javanol, here, there, always waiting to take pronouncement – and presenting two very contrasting perfumes that go very different routes until they reach similar, inevitable conclusions.

Molecule 04 is very simple and futuristic; airy, almost invisible, citrus-like, with the familiar, fat-free glimpse of ‘woodsy’ featured from beneath, like a lemon-pip trapped inside an ice cube. I immediately thought of my neighbour’s daughter Aiko, who is never averse to a gender-subverting scent or two, and sure enough, she took to it straight away. ‘Nice’, she said, as she surveyed the scent on her wrists. It smells clean, fresh, laundered but wordlessly flirtatious and aura-constructing; a masculine/feminine conglomeration that smells quite hip but understated. Intelligent, quite fashionista.

Escentric 04, a very different beast entirely, was snapped up upon smelling it, somewhat to my surprise, by my other half. He always loves the pepper notes, especially a rambunctiously bracing, nose-tingly top note of pink pepper (he is always shoving whole poivres roses into salads as well, so you crunch down on their dried, crunchy stimulation when you are expecting the smoothness of avocado), and this perfume has a very pleasing initial pepper profusion that grabbed him, when he sampled the bottle, right from the get go. The D also has an inclination for anything rhubarby; berry -like; non-banal fruity that isn’t too sweet, and the fruit-salad accord of this perfume (very, very far from the candy cane syrup of the ethymaltol ‘gourmands’; there is something quite stark and Teutonic about the way that the barbed fruit notes are handled) is a heftier, more fun-packed Javanol perfume that forms a fetching complement to the far more transparent and subtle Molecule: a big boost to the senses of hedione and floral notes (rose, osmanthus, orris) that smell as red and pink and indomitable as its packaging.

Boxy, uncluttered, and of the moment, later – quite a lot later, Escentric 04 dies down to the much more predictable, more instinctual basenotes of pure Javanol, musk, and Ambroxan. Just that smell. Potently. Essentially, therefore, what you put on, is not what you end up with here. D goes out for the evening: spruced, and sprayed happily all over with a new burst of hedgerow, colour-blocked charm. He comes home, hours later, and the whole room is quickly fit to bursting – obliviously on his part – completely, with the inglorious, but involuntarily riveting – and for me, quite conflictingly sexual – smell of pounding, synthetic woods on human flesh.

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Filed under Sandalwood

IN SEARCH OF : : : GOLD by AMOUAGE (1983) + PIRATES’ GOLD by HOVE PARFUMEUR (?) + HABANITA by MOLINARD (1921)

 

 

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Although most of our physical and emotional energy has recently been sucked up by the demands of the school new term on top of the exhausting (but marvellous) complications of making a sumptuous and ridiculous comedy horror movie up in Tokyo, there are still times when a relaxed and quieter weekend here in Kamakura are what the doctor ordered. The other weekend was just that: a Saturday spent just pottering about at home, and the Sunday a walk down into the small but ancient capital of which we are so fortunate to be residents.

 

I had noticed a small bottle of scent that I had somehow become oblivious to. I suppose there are so many perfumes just lying around in various nooks and corners of the house that I sometimes just overlook them. This one, though, I didn’t even realize I had: an extrait sample bottle of Hové Parfumeur’s Pirates’ Gold, that I had received, along with Spanish Moss (now where has that one got to?) when I bought the delightful Vetiver and Plage d’été from that glorious shop in New Orleans back on New Years Eve, 2015.

 

That city still haunts us and we want to return.  This time, in summer perhaps, to drench up the heat and the atmosphere even more – I don’t mind how sweltering it gets; it couldn’t be any hotter or more humid than Japan is in August and we can both handle it fine – there was just something about that place; so spirit-filled and weird, that I think we both have ‘Southern Gothic’ now permanently infiltrated as part of our psychic bloodstream.

 

I had just been reading Daphne DuMaurier’s page turner Jamaica Inn (1936), a surprisingly violent but very exciting thriller set in Cornwall about pirates and all manner of plundering, murdering and generally fiendish devil-doing, and so the sudden sighting of Pirates’ Gold, a small bottle standing on some furniture in the piano room, seemed opportune. Prising open the lid (I don’t think I had ever smelled it, even though it had been there for over a year) I was greeted with a warm, dense, rich and golden smell of aldehydes and spice; of leather and old-fashioned hunk papa and thought to myself yes, this refulgent specimen might make a very nice Sunday afternoon scent for the D – I’ll get him to try it when we go out.

 

And he did. It was glorious on him, (he now keeps the little bottle tucked inside the change pocket of his wallet, which was scented by me with pure patchouli oil and gets people swooning when it is opened; you can see pupils slightly dilating when he gets his money out to pay), especially when then pared, later, with a dose of vintage Amouage Gold Man, a bottle of which is available at a Kamakura antiques shop I frequent for 20,000 yen (about 200 dollars, but she says that it would have originally cost about 100,000; this is a boxed set with soap in the almost ridicuously adorned gold Arabic bottle) and which she allowed us to spray on Duncan even though I wasn’t planning to actually buy it. I think I have bought enough things from her now that she knows that I can be trusted and that when it comes to perfume, I am the real deal.

 

 

We went to a Turkish restaurant. The food in Japan, whatever you eat, is always high quality. Whether you are an aficionado of washoku traditional Japanese cuisine or not ( and I am not, on the whole, I like about half of it), whatever you eat is delicious, fresh and aeons better than anything you can get back home or in the majority of other countries. The French bread is as good as that in Paris, the Chinese food unbelievable, even cheap, basic Japanese eateries incredibly well made and good value, and this is why eating out here in this country is always such a pleasure. The simple fact is that a mediocre establishment just won’t get any customers (as food is basically life here in this culture, to an extent that annoys me if I am truthful), and so to survive, you have to be good and incontrovertibly oishii (delicious).

 

 

And so it was. But what was stimulating my senses far more than the delectable beef in yoghurt and tomato sauce that I was eating along with some very fresh and piquant meze was the smell, from across the table, of Duncan’s combined gold. Amouage is an aldehydic, floral, and very animalic sandalwood, resplendent and regal, that wasn’t quite his actual cup of tea for its rosy, almost ruinous sourness, but which I can tell you from my end where I was sitting, smelled very erotic (was it the civet, the rock rose, the glorious dryness of the blend, whose tenacity was getting on his nerves, particularly when mingling with the male repleteness of the Pirate?) I don’t know. But what I do know was that it made me realize quite profoundly how little perfume is consciously and intelligently used these days as a purposeful object of desire: that a well chosen scent selection can be a genuinely seductive swirl of odours that discombulate the senses and scythe effortlessly through the resistance of the rational; that the inhalation of a beautifully made perfume emanating from the body of a human being can root you in a moment of sensory perception that has nothing to do with politics or logic or the everyday and for a few seconds at least can plunge you into something that feels like eternity.

 

 

The texture and the heft, the dense thickness of these scents with their varying layers of wood and ambered perception then got me dreaming back to Mexico City. We went there about ten years ago before attending a friend’s wedding down south in Guadalajara, and I still remember the joy, after the endless journey from Japan, of waking up in such an unfamiliar – and for a British person living in Japan – very exotic location, in our hotel room, and the pleasure of unpacking and taking out the new perfumes I had brought with me. All perfume lovers know this  feeling. Yes, you have your essential fragrances with you in your suitcase that you know you will wear sooner or later, once you are a few days into your vacation. But what a thrill to arrive in a brand new place and after your first shower of that day to apply something you have never even tried before, a heady collaboration of sense and temporality as the perfume fuses with the sensations you are experiencing as you head out the door and let the new environment just wash over you. I remember on that sun-filled August  morning I was wearing Yerabate by Lorenzo Villoresi, a lovely hay-like green aromatic citrus that was perfect with my morning coffee, but then as the evening wore on I  took out from my pocket the vial of Habanita parfum that I had got from Les Senteurs on Elizabeth Street, London, and which I had saved until this sunset moment, and wore like a cloak.

 

 

The experience of both Golds on Duncan somehow suddenly caterpulted me back to this first wearing of Habanita as we recklessly explored all neighbourhoods of Mexico City, later that evening and night, heedless as to which parts might be more dangerous than others ( if this was even true)  my tobacco-fused vetiver vanilla, dark and a little bit dastardly,  the perfect accompaniment. And on that Sunday in Kamakura, as we sat in the Turkish restaurant by a window overlooking the main town square, my smell brain had strangely brought it back to life so completely I found that I was craving it (anyone else out there love Habanita?): that elegant fusion of smoky, sinewy richness that was so ripe, and alluring, in that new and thrilling Latin context.

 

 

In my view, perfume does not need to be just this tame, thoughtless afterthought that it is for the majority of people who just wear any old cheap commercial rubbish that has no spirit or tangible greatness. It can flood the sky and the air all around you, be the colour that cradles your brain and your day as you three dimensionalize what you are living with sight, and sound, and the memory of smell. With perfumes this sensual and rich, created by knowing perfumers who have perfected their art and filled their languid liquids with intelligence, sensuality and poetry, it can be an anchor.

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Filed under Floral Aldehydes, Flowers, Sandalwood, Vanilla, Vetiver

THE TREE THAT SOOTHES: COCOA SANDALWOOD by SONOMA SCENT STUDIO (2013)

It is exam season in Japan, or as the locals call it, ‘exam hell’: students and teachers cramming and exhausting themselves into high schools and universities; an impressive, if sadomasochistic, demonstration  of Japanese will power and conformity. Some of my colleagues have been working straight since the beginning of November and yes I mean straight: with the exception of January 1st, some of them have been coming into school every day, for at least twelve hours, for about six weeks. This is illegal, but the pressure is so high to get the results that they can really not do otherwise.

And there I am, with my three week holiday at Christmas and New Year, waltzing in to do my bit come the first week of January, but even a month of it has left this indolent foreigner feeling frazzled and debilitated: I came home on Friday night feeling teary and depleted; a husk with his juice sucked out, porous sensitivies over-flooded with tense, heightened Japanese voices. Knowing I would have to be going in on Saturday morning  as well for a whole day of examination interviews, I decided just to collapse in to bed…

But perhaps just a touch of perfume beforehand, something new, before I turn out the lights to let my mind veer…….?..something from those little boxes of samples I had not yet tried that might subdue my humming synapses..?

Yes.

I semi-randomly alight on something called Cocoa Sandalwood, apply it wearily to the back of my hand.

And

 

 

 

 

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suddenly a towering forest of sequoia trees flashes up before my eyes. I can feel them, smell the cool of them, the bark, the dappling light between their trunks, as they soar up into the sky that is blue, and the air that is clear, miles and miles of them out in the Californian country – a synaesthestic mirage that makes my soul briefly snap into place again on a disconnected plane and I find myself wanting to go back down into it all again, back down from the shimmering skyline treetops and back into the forested depths, this time to Hitchcock’s Vertigo and the mysterious redwoods behind which you disappear, somewhere in the heart of deep green………….

 

 

 

 

 

 

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All of which I realize might sound rather exaggerated and forced, but which I did actually experience on Friday night, lying on my futon as something loosened its grip on my psyche and a gentle, alternative universe released me….

I have been finding this recently with natural perfumes. There is something in the essences themselves, the plants’ ‘life force’ if you like, that speaks, that stimulates my nervous system in a very different way to other perfume ( which is perhaps more purely aesthetic). Where I was expecting to just find the usual sandalwood (one of my least favourite notes in perfume as I have always found it so fatty, unmysterious, and splayed somehow), the perfumer (Laurie Erickson) surprised me with a creation that temporarily took me out of myself.

The sequoias I saw originated, I imagine,  in the significant dose of Cedar Virginia that opens the perfume, giving the richer, more oozy New Caledonian sandalwood a solid backbone through which a slow, warm sap of cocoa absolute, cinnamon bark, coffee, rose, clove, vanilla and ginger rises slowly, the sandalwood gradually thickening in generosity, expanding and revealing its wise depths. Soothing, comforting, with an excellent equilibrium between savoury and sweet, the perfume helped me to sleep.

 

 

 

This was my first try of a Sonoma Scent Studio perfume and I am officially intrigued. Cocoa Sandalwood is a very high quality scent, rich and full of energy and soul, and though I would never wear it myself as sandalwood  so emphatically does not reflect me somehow (in the way vetiver, patchouli or even cedarwood do for example), for those looking for an enveloping, woody perfume I can recommend it wholeheartedly.

 

 

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Filed under Cocoa, Perfume Reviews, Sandalwood