Hermes Hermessence Santal Massoia : Perfume Review

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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

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20 Comments

  • Ines: Massoia smells of coconut and cinnamon? I’m sold! :)

    I’m not a huge fan of Hermessence collection but it seems to be slowly growing one me – there are times and occasions when they fit the bill.
    I will definitely try this – maybe it will be the first Hermessence I get a wish to buy. :) November 15, 2011 at 4:36am Reply

  • karin: Sounds delicious! I wore the new TF Santal Blush the other day, and I kept thinking “beach”. It has a bit of that coconut vibe, too. Wondering if it’s the jasmine in it. Though it’s nice, it wears me. I bet this one would be better. Need to try it. Thanks for the review! November 15, 2011 at 7:32am Reply

  • Safran: Loved the start, but on my skin, it’s gone after half an hour, too sad. November 15, 2011 at 9:10am Reply

  • Victoria: Massoia bark smells amazing, and you can even use it in cooking. Here, it is just an impression of it, mostly evoked by the coconut notes–delicate and sheer in classical Ellena’s style.

    Do try it, but if you did not like other Hermessences, I am not sure if it will be a favorite. If it lasted longer, I would have liked it even more. November 15, 2011 at 12:52pm Reply

  • Victoria: While it is less sandalwood than some etude on sandalwood theme, I like Santal Massoia much more than Santal Blush. It smells unusual. November 15, 2011 at 12:53pm Reply

  • Victoria: It is short-lived on me too, although it lasts longer than 30 min. Still, I wish it were more tenacious. November 15, 2011 at 12:53pm Reply

  • sweetlife: Hmmm. Now I want to smell a)massoia, b)le tigre, and c) Santal Massoia. In exactly that order of urgency. Happy to have another Hermessence to try as neither Vanille Galante nor the latest iris rendition suited me at all.

    Thank you for the delicious review, as always, V. November 15, 2011 at 1:18pm Reply

  • Victoria: I did not care for those two either. I had a brief fling with VG, but it bored me after a while.

    Jungle Le Tigre is worth seeking out! It is such a fantastic fragrance, and if you love floral orientals, it is a must-try. November 15, 2011 at 1:21pm Reply

  • GrtPumk: I’m a big fan of their Poivre Samarcande, and this one sounds like something I’d like also, but I too wish they lasted longer! Thanks for another great review! November 15, 2011 at 2:28pm Reply

  • Amer: I have experimented with massoia but got really frustrated. The coconut comes in a special offer package along camphor and burnt cardboard and a minty lactone like vetyver’s or wintergreen’s only much more nostril searing. The radiance of the camphor-mint is nuclear bomb like and doesn’t fade but becomes slightly mellower over the hours and hours of drydown. This facet however, when paired with sweeter and juicier essences creates the illusion of fig-leaf. Strange stuff. I want to smell santal-massoia and see how it was treated there.

    Octavian wrote that there is no trace of real santalwood in it. What do you think? November 15, 2011 at 3:16pm Reply

  • Vanessa: I tried and loved this recently, and you deconstruct its facets so much better than I ever could! I agree that it was very elegant and airy, and milky in a pallid way. And it didn’t last any time at all on me either, but it ticked my twin boxes of “quiet” and “affecting” very nicely! November 15, 2011 at 7:19pm Reply

  • karin: I’ve been wanting one of those travel sets for awhile…maybe it’s time to get one. :-) November 15, 2011 at 8:56pm Reply

  • Lynn Morgan: Now I am curious…. some “wood” scents can end up smelling like the inside of a hamster’s cage; it would be interesting to find something more elegant. November 16, 2011 at 5:25pm Reply

  • Victoria: They are very convenient, well… for travel (and more!) :) November 17, 2011 at 10:29pm Reply

  • Victoria: I also wish that they were more long lasting. It is really a frustrating aspect, but I still love wearing them. November 17, 2011 at 10:30pm Reply

  • Victoria: Seems more like JCE’s impression of sandalwood than anything else! Massoia is also a suggestion. Overall, it is a pastel toned etude. November 17, 2011 at 10:31pm Reply

  • Victoria: This one definitely does not, although from what I can gather reading your comments, I do not think that this perfume is really up your alley. Not enough oomph! If it had more of it, I would be ready to give it 5 stars. November 17, 2011 at 10:32pm Reply

  • Victoria: Quiet and affecting is a perfect way to describe it! An elegant, polished composition. November 17, 2011 at 10:32pm Reply

  • Amer: I think JCE must have used a fractionated oil of massoia that only contains the milder non irritant fractions. I was just wandering about sandalwood because I wanted to know if there is at least one creation out there that contains the real deal November 18, 2011 at 7:11am Reply

  • allison: I tried this yesterday and it was haunting me for hours why it felt so familiar… very similar to the defunct Iunx line of candles by Oivia Giacobetti, especially the Galanga scent. She had an amazing array of wood based scents that were quite complex and wonderful, so sad the line did not make it. Really brought me back a decade! December 1, 2011 at 11:14am Reply

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