Serge Lutens Santal Majuscule : Perfume Review

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As I described in my post on sandalwood fragrances the other day, I’ve always had a romantic and exotic association with sandalwood. Its perfume of roses and cream–so rich, so haunting, so long lasting–seems like a whiff from some other world. Scheherazade’s palace in the Arabian Night Tales must smell of sandalwood. If so, who would be better placed to create a fairytale sandalwood perfume than the man who made a career out of worshiping beauty–Serge Lutens.

Like a modern day Scheherazade, Lutens weaves one tale after another, with the leitmotif of a fantasy running through the collection. Perhaps it is for this reason that his large range doesn’t feel redundant. Or perhaps I’m too much of a fan of his tales to be tired of them. Whatever the case may be, Santal Majuscule is the latest fragrance to cast upon me the Lutensian spell.

“Sandalwood written in capital letters, full scale and life sized” is how the website describes this fragrance created in collaboration between perfumer Christopher Sheldrake and Lutens. This led me to expect a brooding, serious fragrance with a mile long sillage. Santal Majuscule is none of those things. It’s a romantic and tender scent of warm sandalwood brushed with honey and scattered with rose petals. Never mind Scheherazade’s palace, her skin must have smelled like this–of milk, roses and sweet spices.

At first, Santal Majuscule smells very much like a Middle Eastern rose attar, a traditional distillation of rose and sandalwood, albeit a luminous and refined one. A hint of cinnamon and orange gives it a Turkish delight twist, while the musky sweetness of peach skin softens the woods. There is nothing obviously edible about the perfume, but a subtle gourmand suggestion gives Santal Majuscule an addictive quality. The impressive tenacity means that you will enjoy the fragrance well into the evening, but thanks to the pleasant dryness of woods in the drydown, it feels polished and radiant.

Compared to Santal Blanc and Santal de Mysore, the other two sandalwood fragrances in Serge Lutens’s collection, Santal Majuscule is more approachable. It doesn’t have the syrupy sweetness of Santal Blanc, and it also lacks the smoldering audacity of Santal de Mysore. Admittedly, if you already have these fragrances in your collection, Santal Majuscule may not be essential. But if you’re looking for a good starter sandalwood fragrance, I can’t recommend it highly enough. It is an elegant and alluring perfume.

Unlike big lush florals with their come-hither glamour, woods have a more subtle and intimate aura. For a modern day Scheherazade, who is no longer confined to a sumptuous palace, it’s more appropriate. The reason I fell so hard for Santal Majuscule is because it makes me feel beautiful, without making it seem like I’m trying too hard.

Santal Majuscule Eau de Parfum is now available at Les Salons du Palais Royal in Paris and at sergelutens.com, and starting September 1st 2012 it will be sold worldwide.

Sample: my own acquisition

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41 Comments

  • Zazie: I was waiting for a review on Santal majuscule ever since I received Lutens’ newsletter in my email.
    And your review does not disappoint: beautiful and evocative, it makes me even more curious to try the fragrance.
    I love the feeling you describe: being beautiful, without making it seem like it’s by trying too hard
    On another note: I was hoping Monsieur Lutens continued his tradition to offer one sample of his latest perfumes in the export line to his subscribers – but apparently I will just have to wait for a tester to come by. I suspect I’ll have to wait until september. 🙁 July 20, 2012 at 8:52am Reply

    • Victoria: I’ve received a sample only once, which was a pleasant surprise. But I was also living in the States, and it must be different for those in Europe. Not sure…

      I was prepared to brush off this perfume, because I already have Santal de Mysore. I didn’t see the reason why I need another sandalwood. But it’s just exquisite. July 20, 2012 at 9:31am Reply

  • kjanicki: Oh dear, I’m ready to buy this right now, thanks to your beautiful description.

    I love sandalwood but don’t have a “soliflore” yet. I bought L.Villoresi Sandalo for my hubby, and I steal it sometimes, but a softer floral sandalwood would suit me. July 20, 2012 at 8:53am Reply

    • Victoria: Do give it a try first, K! Just to be sure that it isn’t too much sandalwood for you. But I’m guessing that if you like Sandalo, you will find Santal Majuscule even more wearable. July 20, 2012 at 9:32am Reply

  • Suzanna: I am standing in line!

    Sandalwood always flirts with the gourmand to some degree based on its surrounding notes. It is the wood note that works best on me and your description makes me wish summer were over and September closer–the time when one can purchase a bottle at Barney’s. July 20, 2012 at 8:57am Reply

    • Victoria: Don’t rush the summer! 🙂 I think that SM would wear best in the cool weather. Maybe, that’s why it’s such a perfect match for my cold, rainy Belgian summer.

      I agree with you, sandalwood even in its purest form has a hint of something edible (must be those creamy notes!) I don’t like when it’s too sweet though. Thankfully Santal Majuscule has enough drydown to balance out the sweet notes. July 20, 2012 at 9:37am Reply

  • Lucas: You work in a speed of light! I’m so impressed that you already had a chance to try Santal Majuscule, and befriend it too!

    It sounds like a lovely perfume. The blend of warm sandalwood and rose are very appealing to me. I really like Lyric Man from Amouage for it’s rosy-ness, but it’s to expensive to spend so much money on it. Santal Majuscule might me a good replacement if it smells at least this good as Lyric. July 20, 2012 at 10:09am Reply

    • Victoria: It’s been out for some time already here.

      Lyric Man smells differently to me. Santal Majuscule is really about the sandalwood, but Lyric Man is more blended by comparison. I like them both, but they aren’t exactly identical. It’s best to compare them side by side when you have a chance. And I know what you mean about the price of Lyric Man! July 20, 2012 at 11:01am Reply

      • Lucas: Will sample them together when I get the chance to put my hands on Santal Majuscule and then I’ll share my thoughts. July 20, 2012 at 11:19am Reply

        • Victoria: I look forward to reading your thoughts on comparing them. July 20, 2012 at 1:07pm Reply

    • Maria: My husband sometimes wears Lyric man which I bought for him, he hasn’t a clue. When I received my sample of Santal Majuscule, I loved it. I thought it smelt familiar and it was only after reading this that I now know why. It seems softer than Lyric though, not as spicey.
      Mr Lutens certainly knows how to shoot cupids arrows with this one. September 18, 2012 at 3:29am Reply

  • Carla: As the years pass I become even more of a Lutens fan. I just returned from visiting my in-laws in France. I made my annual “pilgrimage” to his shop at the Palais Royal. He is a genius! I hope he makes La Myrrhe or Rose de Nuit available in the export line soon. Also, last year I thought De Profundis was nothing much, but my nose must have been tired. This year it outshone all the other perfumes sprayed on my arms. It is beautiful! July 20, 2012 at 10:58am Reply

    • Victoria: I hope so too, especially La Myrrhe. That’s such a beautiful fragrance and it smells different from anything else I’ve tried.

      The first time I’ve sprayed De Profundis I had a minor epiphany. It really made me emotional, and I didn’t remember when was the last time I’ve experienced something like this. Some of Lutens’s creations I can live without, but overall, I love the line. There is always something interesting and unexpected about his perfumes. July 20, 2012 at 11:05am Reply

  • Carla: And I must add, I regret not noticing Santal Majuscule at all. De Profundis was still on prominent display as the latest. (I arrived at the shop the day it came out last year!) Anyway, it sounds delicious, can’t wait to try. July 20, 2012 at 11:03am Reply

    • Victoria: Santal Majuscule is this summer’s launch. SL boutique does such pretty windows for its new launch displays. I remember when Jeux de Peau came out, the store window was decorated with baguettes. July 20, 2012 at 1:01pm Reply

  • Irina: Thanks for this great review! I wonder though… what would you recommend for a non-floral sandalwood? Rose doesn’t always work well on my skin. July 20, 2012 at 11:16am Reply

    • Victoria: Oh, I have a few favorites–Diptyque Tam Dao, 10 Corso Como, or Lutens’s other sandalwood, Santal de Mysore. It’s definitely less floral than Santal Majuscule. July 20, 2012 at 1:06pm Reply

  • Daisy: When my mom’s side of the family left China, they had to leave everything behind. Despite losing almost everything, my grandmother managed to sneak about half a dozen sandalwood fans with them. I don’t think fans made from sandalwood are even produced anymore (my mom tells me that they are just wooden fans sprayed with a sandalwood fragrance now). I used to play with these fans as a kid all the time. As a result, sandalwood always has a warm, soft space in my heart.

    Thank you for the review! I am going to add this to my list of must-smell fragrances. July 20, 2012 at 11:49am Reply

    • Victoria: What a wonderful story, Daisy! It’s such a touching image too. Do you still have the fans? Your mom is right. These days, the real sandalwood are impossible to find even in India. They are made out of cheap wood and soaked in perfume (and often not even the real sandalwood oil!)

      You know, when I was packing my suitcase for our Belgium trip (and at that point, I wasn’t sure if it’s permanent or temporary,) I nevertheless packed a few of my priceless possessions. Among them were these recipe notebooks that my great grandmother collected:
      July 20, 2012 at 1:17pm Reply

      • Daisy: I do! My mom has two sisters, so when my grandmother passed, each sister got two fans. She keeps them carefully wrapped in silk and tissue in the back of a wardrobe. Amazingly, they are still fragrant after all these years. I look forward to passing them on to my children one day.

        It is so sad about sandalwood. It just makes the older stuff so much more precious.

        That picture of your grandmother’s notebooks is incredible! Wow. Thank you for sharing! I love things like that. Especially in the digital age there is something about pen and paper that feels so special. I love handwriting too. I always feel like something very personal is being transmitted. You have a real treasure! July 20, 2012 at 5:36pm Reply

        • Victoria: As much as I love my Kindle and my electronic collection of recipes that I’ve made based on various blogs and websites I read, I can’t imagine not having my books and these handwritten notebooks. Sometimes I cook from them, sometimes I use them for inspiration. And I just love old things that have history of their own. Which is why your story of sandalwood fans really resonated with me. Those are the most precious mementos. July 21, 2012 at 1:16pm Reply

    • operaFan: V is right – it’s a wonderful story. I must also ask my mother about her sandalwood fan. (mentioned in the prior sandalwood post.) July 21, 2012 at 7:28am Reply

  • Undina: I love sandalwood so it’s a definite “must try” for me. Thank you for the review, Victoria! July 20, 2012 at 3:02pm Reply

    • Victoria: You’re welcome! Looking forward to hearing what you think about it. I enjoyed writing this review, since the perfume really delighted me. July 21, 2012 at 1:14pm Reply

  • Kerrie: Dear Victoria, time and time again your lovely BdJ brings me so much joy. Tonight I saw your picture of your grandmother’s recipe notebook and it said more than words can convey. Blessed be! July 21, 2012 at 1:09am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you so much, dear Kerrie! It was such a pleasure to share it with you. Some of her notebooks are a mix of recipes and beauty advice. “Use linden tisane as a face tonic.” Sometimes she jotted down random thoughts about life. So, it’s fascinating to browse through them. July 21, 2012 at 1:21pm Reply

  • HB: What a dreamy review! So far in my exploration, woods, in general, are some of my preferred accords to wear – the other notes, whether sweet, floral or dry – are what seem to make the difference between wearable (on my skin) and those to be appreciated only. I think Santal de Mysore may be my starting point from what you describe, but some roses really work well so this gets added too. The one SL fragrance I have tried so far really blew me away – it was De Profundis, based on your review and the notes. Complex and yet so perfectly blended…

    I bet even the thought of sandalwood is keeping you cozy through the chilly summer you’re having. July 21, 2012 at 2:13am Reply

    • Victoria: 🙂 Yes, that’s it. This is the warm sandalwood blanket that hits the spot for me these days.

      Santal de Mysore is definitely more striking, more unusual, so I can’t imagine not having it around. But Santal Majuscule is just a lovely, “little black dress” of a perfume that goes with everything and everywhere. July 21, 2012 at 1:24pm Reply

  • operaFan: Victoria – How does this compare with Tam Dao? I love TD for its true to sandalwood quality but it’s so light it’s hardly noticeable.

    Love reading this. A coworker once brought back some sandalwood oils from India for me (late ’90s). I treasure that little bottle now. July 21, 2012 at 7:37am Reply

    • Victoria: The sandalwood oil, unlike many others, really improves with age. It gets deeper and richer, like a fine wine. You have a treasure on your hands.

      Tam Dao is much drier, with more cedarwood. It really is all about woods, but SM is creamier, softer, with the roses and the rosy accents of sandalwood very pronounced. July 21, 2012 at 1:27pm Reply

  • Naheed: It is the first ever description of the scent of sandalwood, which you wrote in your previous post, that hits the nail on the head. I absolutely cherish the beaded chain of sandalwood of my grandfather and it’s more or less 50 years old.

    I adore the scent of sandalwood, so majestic and so heavenly.

    Thank you for this wonderful review, Victoria!! July 22, 2012 at 1:22am Reply

    • Victoria: Naheed, that’s such a precious memento. I have so much reverence for the old things, since I myself don’t have so many (we’ve moved so much, and through the years our family has been through so many upheavals that much was lost).

      In India I remember visiting palaces decorated with sandalwood carvings. Even hundreds of years later they still retained the perfume! Really incredible. July 22, 2012 at 6:52am Reply

  • JulienFromDijon: Reading the 1001 nights, I fell head over heels to read a quip like this “(To make the atmosphere proper to a romantic encounter) the princess fragranced her room with camphor and musk”. Two ingredients that reeks according to the mind of nowadays people! (moth repulsive and arse)

    And that musk was so precious, that a mosque has had its wall plastered with a coating mixed with musk. Because it’s how people figured out the presence of god should smell like.
    Nowadays, diamond and gold ring precious to our minds, however in the past, musks and spices were enough to trigger the imagination ^_^! July 26, 2012 at 11:33pm Reply

    • Victoria: True, these ingredients had such an exotic appeal, and they were considered quite magical too. July 27, 2012 at 7:54am Reply

  • Dianna: I got a sample from ebay based on your review, Victoria. Today is my second day wearing it Nd the weather has been rainy here. The comfort it gives… The dry-down… So perfect. It is creamy and honey-rich in the beginning; woody in the end. Excellent comforting fragrance, long-lasting too. July 28, 2012 at 1:15pm Reply

    • Victoria: I’m so happy to hear that you’ve enjoyed it, Dianna! Isn’t the drydown such a gorgeous part of this perfume. And luckily it lasts for a very long time. July 28, 2012 at 3:26pm Reply

  • Stacey: A very late comment to this, but I just got my split in the mail today and am in love! You are so right that it is a romantic scent. I’m already falling in love with it, and I prefer it to Jeux de Peau. I find they have a similar feel, but JdP is just a bit too sweet and bread-y compared to the smooth blend of the Santal.

    Also, I want that poster! I’m reading the George R.R. Martin series “A Song of Ice and Fire”(Game of Throne show is based on) and am well into book 4, so it reminds me of that world. And really, Santal Majuscule would fit in just fine there as well. 🙂 Sorry, had to nerd out a bit there. August 1, 2012 at 9:01pm Reply

    • Victoria: Hey, you’re talking to a geek, so no worries. 🙂

      So glad to hear from another Santal Majuscule fan. I’m addicted to it to the point that I carry a small decant in my purse. Such a lush, beautiful perfume. August 2, 2012 at 2:21pm Reply

  • Danaki: A rose by any other name would smell as sweet…and that is certainly the case for this perfume. I’ve been trying out a sample of SM and whilst it might not be ‘sandalwood’y enough for some, it is certainly an exquisite fragrance. The powdery rose and the creaminess left behind possibly from the cocoa or tonka bean is wonderful. I wouldn’t call it Santal Majuscule, maybe Minuscule?, maybe a rose by any other name. May 26, 2014 at 2:51pm Reply

    • Victoria: As long as it smells great to you, it doesn’t matter what’s called, I think. 🙂 May 26, 2014 at 6:01pm Reply

      • Danaki: Certainly. I like it so much I actually bought one this morning! May 27, 2014 at 8:08am Reply

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