Serge Lutens Santal de Mysore ~ fragrance review

How unlucky for perfume lovers to live in an era when Mysore sandalwood has disappeared from fragrances. Let’s hope the over-harvested and endangered sandalwood trees of India are truly being protected and propagated for future generations. According to Serge Lutens P.R., the company bought its stash of Mysore sandalwood before stringent trade regulations went into effect, and it’s this “legal” Mysore sandalwood that supposedly enriches the Lutens perfume of the same name.

Santal de Mysore was developed by perfumer Christopher Sheldrake and released in 2001. I never smelled “original” Santal de Mysore so I don’t know how it compares to the new, surely reformulated, fragrance. Today’s Santal de Mysore contains, apart from Mysore sandalwood, “spices,” cumin, styrax balsam and “caramelized” Siamese benzoin.

Santal de Mysore starts off smelling edible, with a nougat-y and coconut-cream sweetness emanating from a faint "wood" note. The wood/coconut note is spiced with powdery cumin (not too “sweaty” or “raw”) and perhaps some star anise and turmeric. The first phase of Santal de Mysore smells more like Santal de Bangkok — the scents of Thai curry and coconut custard. (I suspect Christopher Sheldrake is a great cook.)  Slowly, the scent of light and talc-y sandalwood (tinged with vanillic benzoin) comes to the fore.

Santal de Mysore is, overall, a delicate and smooth spicy-gourmand fragrance; it’s not loud, jarring or ‘glossy.’ Santal de Mysore smells “antique.” When I dabbed a few drops of Santal de Mysore on my wrist, it was love at first sniff, and I was about to reach for a credit card when my “Perfume Mentor, BS Detector and ‘Common Scents’ Advisor” (aka: Robin here at Now Smell This) whispered in my ear; she suggested I wear Santal de Mysore next to Serge Lutens Santal Blanc* before making a purchase — just in case I preferred Santal Blanc. I took her advice.

Santal Blanc (brand new bottle) begins with the scents of aldehydes and tropical fruit jam (I’m visualizing soft, orange-yellow pulp); in mid-development, the fruit jam is joined by a “burnt bread” aroma. Santal Blanc’s base notes smell of clean, floral-fruity musk. Floating through the early stages of this fragrance are notes of cedar and sheer (and ephemeral) bleached/ “white” sandalwood. Santal Blanc smells modern, sleek and decidedly feminine; it is LONG lasting on skin and eternal on fabrics — it survived on my skin through three showers in two days and I had to have the wool coat I was wearing on "Santal Blanc testing day" dry cleaned to remove the perfume. I wouldn’t wear Santal Blanc if a bottle fell into my lap.

Serge Lutens Santal de MysoreBut I’m glad Robin mentioned Santal Blanc because searching for and trying that fragrance kept me from making an expensive mistake. As I compared the two Lutens sandalwood perfumes, I no longer “dabbed” but poured on Santal de Mysore. When I wore the equivalent of 7-8 sprays of Santal de Mysore I recognized its flaw — its dearth of sandalwood, the fragrance I desired most of all. Santal de Mysore showcases curry spices and other food-y notes (cream, coconut, vanilla), but sandalwood, of Mysore or any other provenance, is a bit player in the formula. I still like Santal de Mysore but it seems overpriced.

Serge Lutens Santal de Mysore has very good lasting power and mild sillage; it’s $200 for 50 ml of Eau de Parfum. For buying information see the listing for Serge Lutens under Perfume Houses.

(If you’re familiar with both old and new Santal de Mysore please comment; I’m curious if the 2001 version had more discernible sandalwood than today’s composition.)

*official notes for Santal Blanc: white sandalwood, fenugreek, pink pepper, cinnamon, rose, jasmine, orris root, musk, benzoin, copaiba balsam.

Note: Top image is Sri Durga as Mahishasura Mardini [cropped] via Wikimedia Commons. Midway down, images of coconut and vanilla bean also via Wikimedia Commons; cumin seed via Charles Haynes at flickr, some rights reserved.

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51 Comments

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  1. miss kitty v. says:

    Thank you so much for your review. I love sandalwood, and have been wanting to try this, but it doesn’t ultimately sound like my cup of poison.

    • Julia says:

      Do you still want a try? I’ll stick it in your next package.

      • miss kitty v. says:

        After your armpit comment below, I’m not sure!! Well…. throw it in anyway. Now I have to indulge my curiosity.

        • Kevin says:

          Miss K V: indulge and then decide…always nice to sniff something new anyway!

        • Julia says:

          Yes, try it. It smells great on my friend. All yummy and smooth rum/gingerbread/vanilla which is why I jumped in and tried it. . PdN’s Maharahih and L’AP Al Oudh do the same thing on me. I think it is the cumin. Now I’m always weary of Indian type scents that list “spices” because they almost all turn yucky on me. However, I do like the Santal Blanc.

  2. Well let’s see, I used to have Santal Blanc a few years ago but moved it along. Can’t say I remember why. Will have to retry the carded sample I have at home from a recent other purchase. The Santal de Mysore is def some potent stuff. I sniffed it awhile back. Although I loved it, I didn’t wind up buying a FB. Woudn’t mind owning a small decant. Hey Kev…does BS detector mean what I think it means…as in manure? HA! :)

    • PS- I wouldn’t know what REAL SANDALWOOD smells like…if it fell into MY lap? :-(

      • Daisy says:

        I don’t think I would know it either—the only “mysore sandalwood” I’ve any experience with was DSH Mysore Sandalwood….which just smelled like dirty socks….from last months’ gym bag. But I passed it on to someone who loves it. Go figure.

    • Kevin says:

      C: Robin doesn’t allow me to use “bad words” on the blog! HA! The marketing for Santal de Mysore annoys me…they are trying to justify the price ($60-80 over regular Serge Lutens perfumes) with the talk of “Mysore sandalwood”: so RARE, thus, so COSTLY!

      • Robin says:

        HA. I have let you use MANY MANY bad words. MANY.

        • Kevin says:

          R: ok, a FEW! (especially the “A” double-S one.

  3. Janice says:

    I’m glad you also thought sandalwood wasn’t the main player here; I thought I was missing something. I sampled this once and got just a bit of cumin, but mostly it reminded me of Sables, which has put me off trying it again.

    • Kevin says:

      Janice: this one disappointed me when it came to “sandalwood” that’s for sure…but I’d buy it at $120-140.

  4. March says:

    Hah! Unlike many others, on this one you and I will have to agree to disagree. Santal de Mysore smells like some sort of takeout food (Indian?) to me. Santal Blanc I wear a lot.

    • monkeytoe says:

      I get that with Arabie–sometimes great, sometimes Indian takeout leftovers.

      • Kevin says:

        Monkeytoe: if it’s take-out, it’s from a great restaurant…SdM is beautifully blended when it comes to the food notes.

    • Kevin says:

      March: well, we DO agree in a way: AIN’T MUCH SANDALWOOD! (Robin is in total agreement with you on Santal Blanc…)

      • March says:

        That’s certainly true! Santal de Mysore is about sandalwood the way that Cedre is about cedar. ;-)

  5. brandijax says:

    I got a sample from Luckyscent last month and gave it a run. I thought it smelled nice, didn’t get a strong cumin, nor really a strong sandalwood (as I know sandalwood from oils and such). It was more spice, benzoin and some balsam. Definitely more for a guy, but I didn’t really hate it or anything (then again, I am NOT scared to wear CdG Avignon or any other strong fragrance. So…it was OK, but definitely not something I would buy for myself or my man. Good for a test run though. Did last a long time.

  6. Julia says:

    I purchased a large sample when this came out, and it smells like curry scented armpit on me. Apparently I can’t wear anything with cumin as it turns immediately sweaty on me.

    • sharviss says:

      Cumin turns on me too. When I tried this I didn’t get cumin, I got CUMIN!!!!! It was not pretty.

    • hongkongmom says:

      i have that a lot of the time with cumin but
      i adore jubilation 25
      mostly fleur d’oranger does that HORRID cumin thing on me…but on the rare times it doesn;t….it is glorious!
      maybe the sensitivity to the cumin is a mood/chemical thing!

    • Daisy says:

      I always avoided anything with the dreaded armpit cumin in it….then I discoved things like Jubilation 25 (an HG for sure) and realized that not all cumin notes are created equal….I swear, it’s gotten so I almost completely ignore lists of notes! Then in something that barely lists cumin as a footnote, it rears up, grabs your nose..and SHAKES IT LIKE A DOG ***shuddering***

      • sharviss says:

        I love Jubilation 25 and had no idea it had cumin in it until right now. Weird!

  7. monkeytoe says:

    When was the sandalwood regulation put in place? My bottle of Santal Blanc is from 04-05, I think. I wear it pretty often (hi March!) and I never think of it as feminine, but it is certainly less baroque than Mysore. Luten’s SdM always felt like it is from the Samsara family tree.

    • Kevin says:

      Monkeytoe: don’t know that Santal Blanc ever had Mysore sandalwood in it, even in 2005. It certainly doesn’t have it in it NOW…$120.

    • March says:

      Somebody told me they never used actual sandalwood in it (my bottle is approx. the same age as yours).

  8. air says:

    Santal Blanc is one of my most beloved perfumes. I have 2 bottles so that I do not need to worry that I use a lot,! But when I smelled Santal de Mysore I got so surprised, it’s a kind of Santal Blanc but a bit more elegant, les gourmand and with a floral note somewhere far ahead… It’s difficult to discribe how it smells cause it’s quite unique.That counts as well for Santal Blanc. I love it’s special powdery -gourmand accent, and the fact that it’s like nothing else. When I first tried it I thought that there was a subtle similarity to Samsara by Guerlain. Also nice, when I wear Santal Blanc I always get positive reactions. It’s rewarding :-)

  9. Rictor07 says:

    So, if neither of these impress you, what IS your sandalwood go-to scent Kevin?

    • Kevin says:

      Rictor07: I have no sandalwood go-to now…all the ones I liked have been reformulated with Australian or faux sandalwood. Wonder if I’ll live long enough to smell REAL Mysore sandalwood in perfumes again? I hope so!

      • sayitisntso says:

        Kevin, there’s a small shop in NYC’s SoHo neighborhood, named Erbe. It’s mostly a spa featuring their in-house, made-in-Italy skin care but years ago they did a series of edt scents, one of which was ‘Sandalo’. The owner/perfumer says it was Mysore sandalwood and while I can’t vouch for all that, I will say it’s stunning – rosy, milky, sweet, straight-up sandalwood. Because of all the restrictions, it’s no longer made, but I bought a bottle back in ’98 – after I witnessed someone come in and buy 6 bottles. All these years I’ve keep it tucked away in a drawer and knowing that I’ll never own another bottle, I rarely wear it – but every now and again I’ll take it out, just to sniff it and smile.

        • Kevin says:

          Sayitisntso: ‘My god…I didn’t even know Erbe existed anymore…I LOVED their Sandalo!

          • sayitisntso says:

            Yes, Erbe is still around. And you know what? I’d gladly send you the remains of my Sandalo bottle. Why? As a way to say “thank you” for educating us and making us smile with every review you contribute to NST. Consider it a not-so-random act of kindness. The bottle is about 3/4 full. Contact me directly at r j e p p p s atsymbol g m ai l dotcom.

  10. Joe says:

    Kevin, here I think you’re going to say something nice about Santal Blanc then… WHAM. “Wouldn’t wear it if it fell in my lap.” Well, I like it and own it, but I don’t wear it often, and I don’t really think of it as a sandalwood in a category of its own. Quite a comfort scent though, and yes, tenacious.

    I read some comments that stated S d Mysore was basically all about garam masala. You’ve made it sound creamier, but basically, the huge lemming I had for this before Christmas was averted… and good thing at that price.

    I think I’ve mentioned my «Great Sandalwood Quest» of about a year ago, during which I ordered a good 5-6 samples of sandalwood fragrances. Sadly, I’ve still not tried that Profumum I think you’ve praised, but the best one I tried was Lorenzo Villoresi Sandalo. It was almost identical to a small vial of pure Indian sandalwood oil that I own. I’m still thinking about a bottle of that one, and I think I recently saw it on a swap friend’s list, so I may try to wheedle a decant. Highly recommended, that LV.

    • Kevin says:

      Joe: I tried the LV LONG ago I believe when it probably had real sandalwood in it…as did Etro’s Sandalo when it first came out. I did like Profumum when I first smelled it and need to retry that and maybe get a fresh sample. Poor sandalwood…poor me! There used to be sandalwood in SO MANY fragrances of all price points.

      • nozknoz says:

        So true! Recently I decided to do a side-by-side comparison of vintage Schiaparelli Si cologne and a Lanvin extrait on different wrists, but I accidentally layered them on the same wrist. Suddenly, I was enveloped in a deep, soft olfactory fur coat of sandalwood! I had planned to do all sorts of errands that afternoon but all I could do was to laze about savoring the sandalwood and reading…. :-) Great review, Kevin!

  11. robinhoo says:

    Thanks so much for this review, and thanks to Robin for the suggestion to try it alongside Santal Blanc. Sandalwood is one of my favorite notes, it just makes me feel all warm and happy… but I hate Santal Blanc with a fiery passionate hatred: sooooo much cumin/curry, soooooo little sandalwood. I’ll give this one a lengthy testing period before I whip out the charge card to spring for a bottle.

    • Kevin says:

      Robinhoo: you’re welcome…DO try SdM before buying!

  12. maugli says:

    SdM smell of the Australian sandal, not of the Mysore one really. I had a chance to smell both sandals. What Lutens does (sad) is to add a lot of Australian stuff and a tiny bit of (if any) of the Mysore one. The Kiwi sandal is very sweet and straightforward, the Mysore one is tender and complex – vast difference…

    • Kevin says:

      Maugli: someone I trust wrote me to say Etro is using Australian sandalwood in its Sandalo now…and “sweet” it is! (Though I’ll take that over most phoney sandalwoods any day)

      • air says:

        I just came up to the ingredients of Cimabue (Italian Journey no. 8) by DSH perfumes,( http://www.ArtScent.com) and there is a bit of Santal de Mysore in there. Anyhow I will pay more attention to the Etro Sandalo, I passed it by too quickly the other day…

  13. Flora says:

    LOL- when dealing with perfume ad copy, a finely tunes BS Detector is essential! :-)

    I really like Santal Blanc, but It’s not one I would buy unless I had a lot of spare cash hanging around. If Santal de Mysore is short on sandalwood I think i will skip it. Samsara is still affordable even in vintage.

    • Kevin says:

      Flora…looking for a good vintage scent with sandalwood is a good way to get a mysore sandalwood “fix”.

  14. hongkongmom says:

    great article kevin
    there were moments when i though u found it spectacular and then you dropped a bomb….
    guess like i won’t like this one much
    i do like santal blanc tho

    • Kevin says:

      hongkongmom: I did find Santal de Mysore to be a lovely scent and would certainly buy it at a reasonable price. Maybe Lutens will run out of “real Mysore sandalwood” soon and reformulate SdM with another wood note or lesser sandalwood…what I like is the coconut-spices anyway in this one.

  15. This review totally makes me want to have it. And eat rice. And chocolate. And coffee with chcolate.
    I will not spent more then 90euro on perfume.

    Hello perfume industry, hello cosmetic industry, can you please stop ruin us?

    • Kevin says:

      mybeautyblog: I know…if they ruin us they will not be selling many perfumes in debtor’s prisons! HA!

  16. cazaubon says:

    Santal Blanc just smells like paint thinner to me. Wouldn’t wear it if it fell in my lap either. I have a bottle of Santal de Mysore from approximately 2004-2005 (can’t recall) and it does smell like it has some actual sandalwood in it. As for the new export bottle release, I refuse on principle to pay $200 for a scent you can buy in the bell jar (which is 75ml, not 50ml) for 110 euros. Fugheddaboudit. I refuse to be gouged by SL. And anyway, I have 2 bottles of vintage 10 Corso Como and Diptyque Tam Dao that I like a lot better…

  17. Nlb says:

    Most of the time, I’d sniff at elaborate stories about note quality distinctions–usually, for me, the creative artistry of a blend always trumps the ingredients.

    Sandalwood is a different story. There is a distinct difference between older, Mysore essences and newer (Australian?) ones. My grandmother has always been a fragrance collector and she’s given me many special fragrance keepsakes to enjoy. I have some very old, but well protected and preserved Mysore Sandal oil that she recieved years ago from my grandfather (the 60′s or 70′s, maybe? I think it’s even older than that but I’d guess that’s when she got it). It had been stored in a glass vial, in a double wooden box, tucked into her boudoir drawer. It is the most enchanting stuff I’ve ever smelled. Amazing. Like sheer, cream pudding made with wood dust and champagne. It’s both dry-woody and creamy-fresh. Unlike anything else I’ve ever smelled. I think newer Sandal is just as beautiful, but often smells like an entirely different note; more astringent, drier and almost grassy.

    “Santal Blanc” is an interesting take on sandal because it plays-up the skintone quality of Sandalwood, while making it even more intimate by including yeasty/nutty/bready notes in the opening. There’s something about it that makes me think of a very “lived-in” house and bed. It’s a strangely addictive blend, even if not particularily pretty. Very carnal and casual.

  18. Ayala says:

    My first reaction was love and grab a bottle… And then after wearing it a few times at the comfort of my own home – it’s Arabie Lite. I love Arabie, but this one is missing the edge that Arabie has with the accent on the spices; and it’s more about “Mysore” and less so about “Santal”.
    Mysore sandalwood, the true real thing, is really amazing. It’s creamy and smooth and you can’t come by it at all. I smelled some in Grasse and it’s the stuff dreams are made of. Hopefully they will wait 50 years before they chop another sandalwood tree; but they do that when they are only 20-30, and have a slightly sour smell. There is still sandalwood coming from Mysore, but it’s not nearly as beautiful as it used to be :-(

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