Star rating: 5 stars–outstanding/potential classic, 4 stars–very good, 3 stars–adequate, 2 stars–disappointing, 1 star–poor.
“There are linear, vertical woods like cedar, and others that are horizontal, round, supple and velvet-smooth, such as sandalwood and massoia. With this understanding in mind, I composed this enigmatic, inviting yet distant perfume of milky woods, with its unusual, pungent hints of resin and dried fruit, and familiar smells of dulce de leche and flowers.” This description by Jean-Claude Ellena, the creator behind the newest launch from the Hermès’s Hermessence line, Santal Massoïa, captures the idea of this creamy woody composition. It is unusual and surprising in its treatment of sandalwood, the impression of which oscillates between the characteristic milky rose and sweet fig. At the same time, Santal Massoïa also smells hauntingly familiar and intimate: a mélange of warm skin, cold cream and green tea.
Massoia wood, which the perfume references, comes from Cryptocarya massoia, a tree native to Indonesia. It has a mouthwatering fragrance of coconut and cinnamon, and for this reason, the main use of massoia is in flavors. When I first heard of Santal Massoïa, I envisioned something along the lines of Kenzo Jungle Le Tigre, in which massoia was used in combination with osmanthus—an ingenious pairing, since osmanthus naturally contains the main component of massoia essence, massoia lactone. Of course, coming from the master of the ethereal, Santal Massoia has few things in common with the voluptuous and spicy Kenzo Jungle. It is an etude painted in pastels, and although there are sweet and creamy elements in the composition, Santal Massoia is light and delicate.
The first impression on the skin is of a green fig, vaguely reminiscent of Hermès Un Jardin en Méditerranée. A violet note that sometimes suggests a flower petal and sometimes a tea leaf runs like a soft undercurrent through the whole composition, with coconut and other milky notes creating a soft, hazy effect. A flourish of aldehydes lends a cool touch, which counters the delicate sweetness of Santal Massoia’s main accord. The woody base has a distinctive sandalwood character, but it is not the classical plush warmth of sandalwood, but rather its abstract impression. Those who love sandalwood to be creamy and full-bodied will, no doubt, be disappointed with this pale rendition, but I admit that Santal Massoia is more than the sum of its parts. I love how Ellena weaves an elegant and airy composition out of traditionally heavy materials and evokes a sensation that is both alluring and comforting.
The main drawback of the fragrance for me is its poor lasting power— Santal Massoia lives on my skin for two hours before vanishing without a trace. Still, it gets a full 4 stars from me for its unusual character and memorable presence while it does last.
Hermès Santal Massoïa includes notes of sandalwood, massoia bark, and coconut. It is a part of the Hermès Hermessence line and is available from Hermès boutiques. It is available in 100 ml Eau de Toilette as well as a part of the discovery set–a set of four 15 ml sprays.
Sample: my own acquisition