Sandalwood : Woods Series (New Video)

I’m continuing my woods series and today I’m discussing sandalwood, the most distinctive sweet wood in the perfumer’s palette.
The beauty of sandalwood lies in its sweet and creamy scent that differs from the aromas of other woods, which tend to be dry and sharp.

While I mention a variety of perfumes in this video, such as Serge Lutens Santal de Mysore, Santal Majuscule, Ambre Sultan, Jeux de Peau, Chanel Égoïste, Guerlain Samsara, Diptyque Tam Dao and 10 Corso Como, this is far from a complete list. Therefore, I wanted to supplement it with several other examples of excellent sandalwood perfumes.

I will start with Olfactive Studio Lumière Blanche, in which sandalwood is wrapped in luscious notes of milk, cardamom and tonka bean. The sweetness of sandalwood lends it gourmand interpretations. Serge Lutens Jeux de Peau mentioned above is a good example of a sugary, caramelized sandalwood.

Another option would be Hermessence Santal Massoia, a delicate vignette of sandalwood drizzled with coconut syrup. True to the style of its creator, Jean-Claude Ellena, it remains transparent, despite its sweetness. For a different character but a similar radiant effect, I would suggest Frédéric Malle Dries Van Noten and its blend of sandalwood with spiced, honeyed notes.

If I don’t have a taste for anything overly sweet, I reach for Annick Goutal Sables. Here sandalwood is the tall, dark and handsome stranger that makes this simple blend into a sultry fragrance.

Le Labo Santal 33 is even further on the unsweetened sandalwood spectrum. It’s so dry that it approaches cedarwood, but it retains the rose-reminiscent inflections of the wood. The dry finish is sophisticated, and the impression of the composition on the whole is elegant and understated.

While classics from Chanel Bois des Iles to Guerlain Samsara rely on sandalwood for their bold presence, it’s hard to find a more intriguing interpretation of sandalwood than Caron Nuit de Noël. The beauty of this fragrance is that it manages to retain both the richness and warmth of sandalwood without making it overly sweet and creamy. The secret is in the use of mossy notes and a careful dose of rose. If you can find the extrait de parfum, treat yourself. Wearing it is like stepping into a drawing by Erté.

Want to know more? I have another article on Sandalwood Perfumes in my archives.



  • Anne: What do you think of Tom Ford Santal Blush? I liked it, but is it worth the money? September 18, 2020 at 9:14am Reply

    • Victoria: I think that it’s very expensive, but of course, you’re paying for the brand name too, not just the contents of the bottle. It’s a good quality perfume, however, so you’re getting a well-crafted scent. If you aren’t sure, then maybe just get a sample and live with it for a bit. September 18, 2020 at 9:46am Reply

  • Anne: Sorry, forgot to mention that I like your videos a lot. You explain everything so well. September 18, 2020 at 9:15am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much! September 18, 2020 at 9:46am Reply

  • Noemi: I have Santal Majuscule and is beautiful. I use it during wintertime, when I want to feel protected. It’s like a cup of hot, scented tea. September 18, 2020 at 9:19am Reply

    • Victoria: It does feel comforting, doesn’t it? September 18, 2020 at 9:46am Reply

  • Tourmaline: Dear Victoria,

    Thank you for your fascinating post and video on this versatile wood.

    This morning, I applied no fragrance, because I was planning to make a chocolate cake for Dad’s 92nd birthday tomorrow, and I didn’t want any of my scent to end up in the cake. (As I later commented to Peter, though, I could have worn a vanilla or chocolate fragrance…) After I’d made the cake, I applied some Samsara body lotion to my hands. So far, it is my only version of the fragrance, but I plan to buy a bottle of the EdP later in the year.

    Two weeks ago, on the ABC news, I saw a short segment on Australian sandalwood. Fifty percent of the company mentioned is owned by an Indigenous group. In case you are interested in seeing the clip, which goes for 4m 36s, here is the link.

    Do you think that, if some aromatics were added to Australian sandalwood, that it could approach the creaminess of the Indian product?

    I am fortunate enough to have a booklet printed by Michael Edwards in 1992, called “The Fragrance Directory – Head, Heart and Soul Notes”, which lists the key notes to over 250 women’s and 150 men’s fragrances. I had a look through the list of women’s fragrances, and it is indeed interesting to see the number of fragrances which contain sandalwood as a “soul note”. There is a much smaller group that has it as a “heart note”.

    Here is a list of the 21 fragrances that I own or use that Edwards lists as containing sandalwood. I have put them in order of Edwards’ classification system.

    Paris (Yves Saint Laurent 1983)

    Jontue (Revlon 1975)

    Le Jardin (Max Factor / Dana/H & BF 1983)

    L’Air du Temps (Nina Ricci 1948)

    White Shoulders (Evyan 1949)

    Blue Grass (Elizabeth Arden 1934/89)

    Red Door (Elizabeth Arden 1989)

    Tweed (Vivalis {Lenthéric} 1924/92)

    Murasaki (Shiseido 1980)

    Clair de Jour (Lanvin 1983)

    Chanel No. 5 (Chanel 1921)

    Arpège (Lanvin 1927/93)

    Jovan Musk for Women (Jovan 1972)

    Colors of Benetton (Benetton 1987/93)

    Cabotine (Grès 1990)

    Spellbound (Estée Lauder 1991)

    Ombre Rose (Jean-Charles Brosseau 1981)

    Moschino (Moschino1987)

    Ysatis (Givenchy 1984)

    Samsara (Guerlain 1989)

    Aromatics Elixir (Clinique 1971)

    Of these fragrances, the two that had sandalwood listed among the “heart notes” were Ombre Rose and Moschino. I found it interesting that even scents that are classified as light and fresh can contain sandalwood.

    I hope that I will eventually have the opportunity to smell all of the fragrances you mention.

    It is America’s loss that they have not warmed to sandalwood, although I know that this is not true of all Americans. Maybe Peter will have something to say about this!

    By the way, I like your necklace. It looks like glass, and I love glass beads. Also, I adore the work of Erté, so much so that it is difficult to choose a favourite, although the lady surrounded by stars would be in the running.

    Finally, is the second photo from your wedding?

    Thank you again for your wonderful post.

    With kind regards,
    Tourmaline September 18, 2020 at 10:14am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you for the link, I’ll watch it later. Australian sandalwood is usually blended with other sandalwood aroma-materials to give it more of the creamy Indian style-sandalwood feel. It’s difficult, however. Another option is to plant Indian sandalwood in Australia, and this has been fairly successful, but even so, Indian sandalwood planted in Australia doesn’t quite smell the same as the one from Mysore.

      That photo is not from my wedding, but it was taken in India.

      Happy birthday to your father! September 18, 2020 at 10:36am Reply

      • Tourmaline: I’m sure nothing could ever compete with Mysore sandalwood. It’s a shame about its depletion. The area of sandalwood aroma-materials is interesting.

        Thank you for your good wishes in relation to my father. He’s frail but doing well – as he often says, at his age, he can’t complain! September 18, 2020 at 10:46am Reply

        • Peter: Mahalo Tourmaline for sharing that informative video. What a win-win for the Indigenous community to share their knowledge of the Bush and to create a sustainable business.

          On the topic of American Men not warming up to the sandalwood in Egoiste, it could be that they prefer the more macho drier woods. September 18, 2020 at 7:53pm Reply

          • Tourmaline: G’day Pekolo,

            Yes, it is indeed a win-win for the Indigenous community.

            Yes, perhaps the macho American men are a little afraid of smelling like sandalwood – sweet and creamy! They might see it as a more feminine scent. September 19, 2020 at 1:07am Reply

  • KatieAnn: I love these videos! I hope you continue doing them. I learn so much. I read some reviews that Hermes Cedre Sambac smells more like sandalwood than cedar. Someone even compared it to Tam Dao. I can also see the resemblance. Do you think it is skin chemistry causing this interpretation, or perhaps there is sandalwood in the formula, but it’s not listed? I wish I could smell the jasmine a bit more. Still, it’s a beautiful perfume and I love the drydown. September 18, 2020 at 1:23pm Reply

    • Silvermoon: Hi KatieAnn, after reading your comment about Cedre Sambac, I decided to double check my impression of the woody note in it. I even sprayed it on one wrist and then Bois des Iles on the other (as a side by side comparison of two perfumes that play to a similar mood). I found CS opening notes clearly were cedar (a bit sharp and quite dry). However, 20 minutes later, I did get a more creamy scent emerging and the sharpness certainly mellowed. Compared to BdI, however, I still found much difference in terms of the woody element. So, I wonder if CS does add a tiny bit of sandalwood to mellow the dryness and sharpness of cedar, but different people/noses hone in on different parts of the composition?

      Either way, I an enjoying my woods orchestra! September 20, 2020 at 6:15am Reply

    • Victoria: I think that those people are mistaking the lactonic note from jasmine for the creaminess of sandalwood. To me it doesn’t smell of sandalwood. It smells of cedarwood and creamy, musky jasmine. I think that you’re missing the fruity aspect of a jasmine note, so it doesn’t register as much as you would have liked. Truth be told, I also wish that the jasmine were more pronounced. September 21, 2020 at 4:42am Reply

  • Marium: Love you Victoria and your videos and reviews ♥️ Have been your fan for a long time September 18, 2020 at 1:51pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much! September 21, 2020 at 4:42am Reply

  • Phyllis Iervello: Loved this post and I love sandalwood. I do have several that were mentioned. Fall is the perfect season for sandalwood perfumes, at least in my opinion, but lots of them can be worn all year round. September 18, 2020 at 3:02pm Reply

    • Victoria: I agree with you. They are quite versatile. September 21, 2020 at 4:43am Reply

  • Fazal: I acquired Lumiere Blanche this year and your review had a major influence on my purchase. I must say it exceeded my expectations and I am glad I got it. This is my second bottle from the line. The first one was Still Life back in 2012 or 2013 and that was kind of a disappointment since it did not really feel much different from many other summer options in the market.

    The benchmark remains vintage Guerlain Samsara, especially in parfum and edp concentrations. Lutens Santal de Mysore is one of the most realistic renditions though.

    I also enjoy Dries von Noten and think it should have been more popular in the line. It is my favorite of Malle’s collaborations with designers. One I wish I had smelled but have not is 10 Corso Como. I have tried to get an idea of what it may smell like but the reviews are all over the place and do not help much. September 18, 2020 at 3:33pm Reply

    • Victoria: 10 Corso Como is similar to Tam Dao. I like it, but I wouldn’t buy it blindly or go out of my way to find it. September 21, 2020 at 4:43am Reply

      • Fazal: I guess I can ignore it since I have Tam Dao. September 21, 2020 at 5:26am Reply

        • Victoria: Honestly, you don’t need it. On skin I find them very close, with 10 Corso Como being drier and sharper, perhaps. September 21, 2020 at 5:55am Reply

  • Peter: Mahalo Victoria for another olfactory journey. I do love sandalwood and I own a few of your recommended classics. However, I’m not familiar with the Serge Lutens offerings. I think I should re-sample Ambre Sultan. As you mention, I didn’t give the fragrance time to develop. Jeux de Peau sounds very interesting.

    One lovely sandalwood perfume that wasn’t introduced is Van Cleef & Arpels Santal Blanc. It has a sweet, creamy, tropical facet. September 18, 2020 at 7:30pm Reply

    • Tourmaline: I need to sample that one, too. September 19, 2020 at 1:08am Reply

    • OnWingsofSaffron: Hello Peter, I live in Germany and in the past years Ebay Europe was a real treasure trove for the Serge Lutens perfumes. Therefore, I have collected a lot of them over the years and I guess I have over 20 different ones or so (all for small money, mind you!).
      Anyway, I don’t mean to brag but rather to say that as in most perfume lines, there is a certain DNA which characterises many of the perfumes, and in SL it is quite often that boiled celeriac smell which unfortunately doesn’t dissipate over time (I mentioned it further down). The real culprit in that aspect is his perfume “Mandarine Mandarin”. So don’t blind buy those perfumes but rather try them before. September 19, 2020 at 3:34am Reply

      • Peter: Mahalo OnWingsofSaffron for the advice. I’ve learned my lesson on blind buys. I do skin tests in the stores or I order samples from Luckyscent. I got a nice (3) mini bottle Serge Lutens set around the holidays. However, I can’t say that I noticed a celeriac smell. September 19, 2020 at 6:02am Reply

      • Tourmaline: Hi OnWingsofSaffron,

        I’m just wondering why you would keep buying SL fragrances if so many of them contain a “DNA” that you dislike. After all, no SL perfume could be all that cheap. Couldn’t you try them first? September 20, 2020 at 5:50am Reply

        • OnWingsofSaffron: Hello Tourmaline, that‘s an excellent question! Firstly, perhaps I exaggerated with „all of them“. Obviously La fille de Berlin, Sa majesté la rose, Fleurs d‘Oranger, Bois de Violette, A la Nuit and many others don’t smell vegetale. Secondly, I buy the perfumes in their original, vintage version, i.e. with the Palais logo. There are no shops where you can test those old versions like Mandarine Mandarin, Fumerie turque, Musk Khoublaï Khan etc. And Serge Lutens tampers with / changes the original composition—try vintage Bois de Vanille and the current version. And thirdly, I only buy say under 40 Euros. It takes time and buying the Palais logo versions becomes increasingly difficult, but every now and then I‘m lucky. Fourth, as we say in German: die Hoffnung stibt zuletzt—hope dies last—and perhaps I strike gold. And lastly, well perfumista addiction 😉 September 20, 2020 at 8:11am Reply

          • Tourmaline: Hello again,

            Great answer!

            The only SL that I have is La Fille de Berlin. (That’s quite funny, really. I have German blood on my father’s side, but I still speak only a smattering of German. I plan to change that.) I paid through the nose for it. However, I’d be prepared to pay as much again for the famous Bois de Violette. Perhaps I’ll treat myself for Christmas.

            It must be frustrating and sad, seeing the number of Palais logo versions gradually diminish.

            That’s a great saying. As for my own perfume addiction, it’s well and truly tempered by my budget! September 20, 2020 at 8:34pm Reply

        • OnWingsofSaffron: … and of course there are those wonderful Serge Lutens: MKK, Bois de Violette, Bornéo 1834, Douce Amère, A la Nuit to name but a few… September 20, 2020 at 9:17am Reply

          • Peter: Hello again OnWings. You do love vintage Serge Lutens! I’ve only collected recent versions of MKK, Bois de Violette and Fille en Aigulilles. I’m quite taken with all of them. I wonder what you (and Victoria) will think of his latest Fils de Joie? September 20, 2020 at 7:30pm Reply

    • Victoria: I like Santal Blanc very much! September 21, 2020 at 4:44am Reply

  • Courant: I knew Mysore Sandalwood soap from years ago but after I read your piece on it I bought some from my local Indian supplier. My husband won’t use anything else now; running out brings dismay even if there’s any number of Nesti Dante’s. If you wear No 5 from time to time their Rose Florentina is a perfect shower time prelude, but back to sandalwood, the soap is such a happy combo with many fragrances you have mentioned September 19, 2020 at 12:49am Reply

    • Victoria: It is, isn’t it! It’s a perfect layering soap, since its scent lingers on skin. September 21, 2020 at 4:45am Reply

  • OnWingsofSaffron: Hello, what a coincidence. I was considering getting a Chanel Bois des Iles (edt) on Ebay, and yesterday, after literally months and months, opted to wear Caron’s Nuit de Noël. And then I read your post on sandalwood!
    I have a lot of vintage Arpèges which in the magnificent dry-down have tons of sandalwood.
    Somehow I am not so keen on the Serge Lutens: I own the Santal blanc and Jeux de Peau (also Ambre Sultan, in which I detect no sandalwood)—yet I find all of the Lutens are a bit difficult. Especially JdP. I cannot pinpoint it: something a wee bit too burnt, a wee bit too sweaty, a wee bit too vegetal. They all have this aspect of boiled root vegetables: celeriac or turnips, but not in an especially nice way. September 19, 2020 at 3:23am Reply

    • Victoria: Sometimes it happens that a house’s signature base is too pronounced. I know other people who notice the same herbal accent in SL perfumes. September 21, 2020 at 4:45am Reply

  • Silvermoon: Thank you, Victoria, for a very enjoyable video discussing various sandalwood perfumes. My first SL purchase was Féminité du Bois. I do like it in cooler weather. Also, I really love Bois des Iles for it’s very comforting luminous beauty.

    I love the smell of sandalwood, but I mainly associate it with incense, temples, religious festivals and so on rather than as a personal fragrance (with the exception of soaps).

    Your video made me curious to smell Samsara again. I have not smelled it in a long time and will seek it out next time I get the chance. September 19, 2020 at 6:17pm Reply

    • Victoria: Samsara was reformulated a lot, it goes without saying, but it’s still beautiful and interesting. Worth trying, even in the EDP/EDT versions. September 21, 2020 at 4:58am Reply

  • Aurora: This video is wonderful, so full of information I have to watch it several times. I own a vintage 10Corso Como, th drydown is so smooth. Ialso get quite a lot of sandalwood from No 5. Also, sandalwood powder from India, I think it’s to prepare soothing masks, but I just love to smell it. September 20, 2020 at 5:59am Reply

    • Victoria: I also like sandalwood powder. In India, it’s used for religious purposes too, so I associated with the smells of temples–jasmine, incense, sweets. September 21, 2020 at 4:59am Reply

  • Tara C: I love 10 Corso Como, Mona di Orio Santal Nabataea, SL Santal Majuscule and Samsara. September 20, 2020 at 11:30am Reply

    • Victoria: I haven’t tried Santal Nabataea, but the reviews look good. September 21, 2020 at 5:00am Reply

  • Barine: For me there is something mystical about Sandalwood. It´s smell attunement to my spiritual nature. Your video honors Sandalwood scent in a delightful way. Egoiste is one of my favorite perfumes. It penetrates to my heart! Thank you Victoria for your always wise & unique reviews. September 21, 2020 at 5:49am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much. 🙂
      I also find sandalwood has a nice relaxing effect. September 21, 2020 at 5:55am Reply

  • Maya: Dear Victoria, thank you as always for your eloquent explanations. Recently I purchased jasmine “soap cards” from Lush (Lust is the name) and put it over the Indian sandalwood soap you have recommended in the past. This sandalwood/jasmine combination is probably the most exquisite I have ever encountered. I would love to have it in perfume form. Is there anything that you could recommend? Thank you again and I urge you to try this combination as well. September 21, 2020 at 6:58am Reply

    • Victoria: I’d love to try it too! September 21, 2020 at 1:50pm Reply

  • Maya: Sorry, I just noticed the “Recommend Me a Perfume” post. I will cut and paste my question from above there. September 21, 2020 at 7:26am Reply

  • Neferteria: I also love Annick Goutal’s Heure Exquise, formulated with Mysore Sandalwood and Turkish Rose. I have her vintage edition with one stored away for later! This is a scent that I can wear virtually everywhere and at any time. I am not familiar with the current composition but love this vintage one, which has also held up beautifully. September 21, 2020 at 8:58am Reply

    • Victoria: I also really like that perfume. It’s so perfectly balanced. September 21, 2020 at 1:50pm Reply

  • Kate: Just wanted to let you know how much I have been enjoying your videos! September 21, 2020 at 1:32pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you so much! 🙂 September 21, 2020 at 1:50pm Reply

  • Lari: Sonoma Scent Studio (Hooray! back in business)- Cocoa Sandalwood. Bought a 5ml travel bottle to “retry”. Love. Also a big fan of Santal Majescule SL September 25, 2020 at 12:59pm Reply

  • Catherine W.: I love sandalwood and was once treated to a brief description of its varieties by another shopping in, purportedly, the oldest market in the US importing foods and spices for Indian cooking, Kalustyan’s who steered me to “the best” mysore-based soaps for gifts.. My favorite sandalwood scent is Creed’s Santal Original. Their newer sandalwood seems somehow lacking personality. I also wear Chanel’s Beige which, I believe has no sandalwood but “seems to” to me. I envy you all who can detect and identify and describe scent so well! September 26, 2020 at 7:49pm Reply

  • JulienFromDijon: Hi Vicky! Such a smart move to pick Lutens to showcase the use of sandalwood.
    I’m a bit obsessive with “proper” sandalwood myself. But facing “santal majuscule” and “jeu de peau” I had to admit the prowess done with the replacement materials.

    However, I would have picked “Chergui” over “Ambre sultan”, and “Santal blanc” over “Bois de mysore”.
    For “Santal blanc”, it’s just a personnal liking, I find it more pleasurable. (Though I did not try “Bois de mysore” enough.)
    And “Chergui”, it’s because it’s a good witness for reformulations. Depending of the year, I would love testing it or loathe him completely. I think it’s because it’s half masculine, barbershop scent, half smoothness and butteryness : rose iris sandalwood. My two cent is that the reformulation hit the expensive second part.

    Now I’m questioning if I’m biased, because maybe I veer toward a similar accord with hint of clove ylang-ylang iris, and remnant of heliotropine.
    For me the real stuff is the late stage of Bois des îles (EDT/EDP), and Samsara extrait (or vintage edt edp ones).
    I’ve never worn pure sandalwood oil. I heard recently that old perfumer used to seak a century-old sandalwood quality.
    A friend of a friend tried to blend a new extract of sandalwood in a composition, and ended with an unwanted “brioche” effect.

    Sandalwood is such a tricky topic.
    Giving advice is hard, because one has to be sure the bottle in shop still smells the same.

    “Safran troublant” L’artisan parfumeur. For day to day use, I’d have my fix with the drydown of Safran troublant. It’s a hint of sandalwood, but my hand is heavy. Although people are questioning the realness of the stuff. (discontinued, let’s hope they’ll make it again)
    “No5” EDT. Chanel no5 in EDT can be very good. One year out of three, the rose and sandalwood are stronger, and the magic operates. So it’s the easiest sandalwood to find. (Just remind people to pick a box with the same 4 number code than the tester bottle). And some years no5 edt just smells wrong, like acrid jasmin over aggressive aldéhyde and muscs.
    (And the EDP is a different beast. It’s also easier to over-apply an EDT to amp up the sandalwood.)

    Manoumalia has sandalwood for New-caledonia.
    “Audacious” from Nars of Olivia Giacobetti is a late discovery of mine, and it’s good! It’s like a tiaré sandalwood accord, with a very fine and powerful powderyness.
    I have to try the sandalwood from Perris.
    “Castaña” from Cloon Keen atelier. I bought a partial bottle of this one. It’s very good! It’s as if Bois des îles started directly on the part I like, but with an added creamy nutty facette. (not far away from vintage “Que sais-je”)
    Korrigan -same nose- is a good pick for someone who likes the australian sandalwood -I believe so-, because the late stage is very strong on this sandalwood.
    Speaking of drydown, nowaday Vol de nuit extrait also has good sandalwood late drydown, but it tastes like sips of real green tea, because of the chyprish frame. So it’s not for everyone, because of the taste and price.

    I can’t stand wearing the nowaday Egoiste. Egoiste always had a huge facet of glossy irisy girly lipstick. And one needed the real sandalwood to balance it, because then egoiste got better up close and with time.
    Over Santal Massoia, and even Cuir d’ange, I would prefer the leathery creation from Christine Nagel. Agar-ébène?
    “Nuit de noël” stands for the “too vintage” category of sandalwood. Sandalwood used to be cheap. Very old bottles smell often of the same out of date liquid, a sort of Arpege. Part woody accord -sandalwood-, part mossy chypre, part destroyed top note of peachy aldehyde, and vanilla. October 20, 2020 at 8:46pm Reply

    • JulienFromDijon: erratum : I mean, “nuit de noël” and “arpège” smell good. It’s just that vintage bottles of other brands ruined that kind of sandalwood accord for me.

      It’s a pavlovian effect, I start questioning if my vintage bottle has gone off. Also, I start questioning the laziness of the copies and reformulations.

      How do they achieve a “big fuzzy ball of perfume effect”, that lacks of clarity? When the bottle has aged wrong, the critic of an “everything but the sink” comes back. October 20, 2020 at 9:08pm Reply

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