sandalwood: 15 posts

The Allure of Sandalwood

My mother-in-law rubbed a piece of pink colored wood on a rough stone until it turned to paste.  My husband and I were about to travel back to Europe, and in the Hindu custom, my mother-in-law performed a puja, an act of worship, to ensure our safe journey. She lit joss sticks around the deities and dabbed some of the paste on the figurines of gods arranged on her small altar and then on our foreheads. The fragrance of sandalwood rose in the warm air. Many hours later as I sat on the airplane, the creamy, floral perfume lingered around me, carrying with it the memory of a caring touch.

puja

In Indian paintings you can sometimes spot curious image of snakes curving sensually around sandalwood trees. According to legend, the tree releases such a beautiful scent that serpents are charmed by it. More than a pleasing aromatic, sandalwood is a means to feel closer to the divine, for all creatures alike. This is the reason why Vedic religious rites, from birth to death, are accompanied by this precious wood.

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My Name is Red : Perfumes That Evoke Scarlet

“I’m so fortunate to be red! I’m fiery. I’m strong. I know men take notice of me and that I cannot be resisted… Wherever I’m spread, I see eyes shine, passions increase, eyebrows rise and heartbeats quicken. Behold how wonderful it is to live! Behold how wonderful to see. I am everywhere. Life begins with and returns to me.”

This description of the color of blood and roses from Orhan Pamuk’s My Name is Red, has stayed with me ever since I first read the novel while studying perfumery. At the time, one of the exercises we were doing involved matching scents to colors, and so I started looking for a fragrance that evoked the same intensity as Pamuk’s description.

The obvious suspects like roses and raspberries were cast aside. I was after drama, rather than mere associations. Once while leafing through an album of Indian miniature paintings, I had an epiphany—sandalwood smells red. The 16th century vignettes painted during the Mughal era depicted women making sandalwood paste, and their activity reminded of the time I had spent in India, especially of the bright colors and smells.

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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.

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Dry vs Sweet vs Bitter : Perfume Descriptors (New Video)

What does dry mean when applied to a perfume? In fragrance, dry is used to describe compositions that are not sweet–it’s similar to wine terminology. Since the distinction can be confusing, I made a video comparing and contrasting different woods based on their main characteristics–dry, sweet or bitter.

Examples can be drawn from the whole perfume wheel, but I decided to focus on woods, because it’s easy to see why cedarwood is classified as dry and sandalwood as sweet. There are also many excellent perfumes on the market that fully explore these characteristics of raw materials and make them the key elements of their structure. The creamy sweetness of sandalwood in Serge Lutens Santal de Mysore, for instance, is its hallmark trait. The dryness of cedarwoods gives Cartier Declaration and Hermès Poivre Samarcande their pleasing sharpness.

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Sandalwood Scented Dreams

India and sandalwood. Long before I became interested in perfume as vocation, I knew of this connection. More than a stereotype, it reflects the significance of this wood in India’s traditions, from birth to death, from a wedding to a funeral. Sandalwood makes one’s skin more beautiful and gods more pleased. It smells divine. In my new FT column The Scent of Sandalwood, I explore how Indian and modern European perfumery were inspired by this precious material. Also, I touch upon an issue that rarely clouds the romantic accounts of Mysore sandalwood groves–their overharvesting and near complete devastation.

puja

“My mother-in-law rubbed a piece of pink-coloured wood on a rough stone until it turned to paste. My husband and I were about to travel back to Europe and in the Hindu custom my mother-in-law performed a puja, an act of worship, to ensure our safe journey. She lit joss sticks around the deities and dabbed some of the paste on the figurines of gods arranged on her small altar and then on our foreheads – the fragrance of sandalwood rose in the warm air. Many hours later as I sat in the plane, the creamy, floral perfume lingered around me, carrying with it the memory of a caring touch.” To continue, please click here.

One of my favorite sandalwood perfumes today–it uses a mixture of Australian and synthetic sandalwood–is 10 Corso Como. A niche classic. Do you enjoy sandalwood?

Photography by Bois de Jasmin, all rights reserved

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