Tom Ford Santal Blush ~ perfume review

So when I reviewed Tom Ford Violet Blonde last month, I said that I may be nearly alone among perfumistas in preferring Tom Ford’s Signature Collection to the Private Blends. I like Oud Wood, but I like Yves Saint Laurent M7 better, and I've never been more than lukewarm about the rest of them. If anything, my interest in the collection has decreased over the years, and it pretty much hit rock bottom with the release of the White Musk collection.

The Signature Collection fragrances strike me as generally better thought out and better executed — Tom Ford tends, in general, towards loud, but the polished elegance of the Signature Collection stands in stark contrast to the blunt force of some of the Private Blend scents, especially the early ones (I still remember wondering, when I first smelled the Private Blends, if some of them weren’t maybe unfinished mods for Black Orchid). The three Signature fragrances fit together nicely; they don’t smell the same but they have a similar style, and as such they lend a sense of cohesiveness to the Tom Ford Beauty line that is notably missing from most mainstream designer perfume houses.

The Private Blends, on the other hand, seem like a mishmash. There are the brash ones, as mentioned above. There are several nice but relatively plain summer-y citruses — and mind you, the collection as a whole strikes me as overpriced, but $195 for 50 ml of summer citrus (even a gorgeous one) strikes me as some serious aspirational pricing. Then there are the four White Musk scents, which likewise seem ludicrously priced given that clean and inoffensive is pretty easy to come by for a fraction of the cost.

And now we have the latest two, Jasmin Rouge and Santal Blush. They tend towards the lighter side, so much so that for a brief second smelling them on paper I thought they might belong with the White Musks — but no, they're not as bland as all that. Still, I had virtually no emotional reaction whatsoever to Jasmin Rouge, although it's pretty enough; it's now languishing in my purgatory basket. Santal Blush I liked right away, although weeks later I'm still not sure exactly how much I like it, or perhaps a better way to put it is that I'm not at all sure that I need it — a moot point, since I'm not likely to cough up $200 for it in any case.

But I do like it, and I like it more after multiple wearings. It's a dry sandalwood lightly decorated with Indian spices (cumin-o-phobes: it is noticeable on me, but not a sweat-fest. Your mileage may vary). For a minute or two after it hits skin, Santal Blush is strong and fruity, but it settles quickly into something soft and nearly sheer, more milky than creamy, with a darkish, almost-leathery (but still clean) undertone. The flowers soften the wood without being assertive; it's being marketed as unisex but it probably tips the scales a hair towards masculine.

I've seen it compared to quite a few sandalwood fragrances, but I do think Victoria at Bois de Jasmin comes closest to the mark; she calls it "an elegant twist on the woody theme reminiscent of Diptyque Tam Dao". As implied by the 'elegant twist', Santal Blush is more sophisticated than my dear old friend Tam Dao, and not as raw (or as meditative).

Verdict: Santal Blush joins Oud Wood in the short list of Private Collection fragrances that I like. It also joins the ever-expanding list of niche fragrances that I would have trouble resisting if they'd kept the price under $100. I am sorry it costs so much, but I don't think I'm going to lose any sleep over it. Time will tell.

Tom Ford Santal Blush was developed by perfumer Yann Vasnier; notes include sandalwood, cinnamon, cumin, fenugreek, carrot seed, jasmine, rose, ylang ylang, benzoin, agarbois (Givaudan captive molecule) and musk. It is available in 50 ($195) or 250 ($475) ml Eau de Parfum. The lasting power is quite good.

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63 Comments

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  1. AnnieA says:

    I’ve actually found an SA at Holts in Vancouver who has opinions and knowledge about perfume (!). At her suggestion I tried Santal Blush, which I liked a lot EXCEPT for the lingering, sweaty cumin note. I also tried an Hermes, but it disappeared in 1/2 hour, as they usually do.

    • Robin says:

      Ah, so it *does* have too much cumin for some, good to know!

  2. maggiecat says:

    I tried this as well and liked it – but did think it skewed masculine. I think it will end up in my “Honey-try-this” basket.

    • Robin says:

      It’s awfully dry. If they’d added a bit more floral I think it would be closer to the middle.

      As it is, for anyone who is worried, it is certainly no more masculine than Tam Dao and just maybe it’s a bit less?

      • Haunani says:

        Hmmm… if it’s a little more feminine than Tam Dao, and a little more refined, I might really love it. Will have to try. Thanks for the review!

  3. AnnS says:

    Robin: I found Santal Blush to be really, technically, well executed. I loved the floral, jasmine, and sandalwood parts, but the cumin was a total dealbreaker. As time passed when I was testing it, the musk and cumin combo made it terribly clausterphobic for me. It was like the sensation of wearing a too tight, too itchy mohair sweater – lovely but I couldn’t wait to get it off. It is a solid fragrance in his line, but not for me.

    • Robin says:

      Interesting then — that’s two votes for too much cumin. I think the last time I reviewed something with cumin, the same thing happened — it bothered me less than it did other people. So perhaps I have finally grown accustomed to cumin then.

  4. Lil says:

    Wonderful review, Robin. I like that you deliver your perspective on the whole line, not just the individual fragrance in question. For someone like me with little familiarity with the Tom Ford oeuvre, it’s very helpful and edifying to hear how his lines cohere (or don’t, as the case may be).

    • Robin says:

      Oh, but do bear in mind I’m the odd man out on this line — I do think others think it’s a much better collection than I do.

  5. Karin says:

    Uh oh. I have a decant of this that I haven’t even tried yet…and I’m a cumin magnifier. It’s not looking promising! This just reinforces my vow to stop purchasing decants unsniffed. I keep thinking it’s a deal to get 5ml of an expensive fragrance for $15 or so. But if I don’t like it, I just wasted $15! And that adds up quickly! Another lesson in the perfumista path of progress…

    • Robin says:

      Oh, do let us know! Perhaps I am no longer a reasonable barometer of cumin :-)

      • Karin says:

        I detect cumin in Violet Blonde, and it ruins it for me. I’ll report back on the Santal Blush!

        • Robin says:

          Yeah, right — don’t think you will like Santal Blush!

        • Julia says:

          I’m curious about your reaction to it. I’m not able to wear anything with even the least bit of cumin without smelling like curried armpit. I suspect this is part of the reason I have so much trouble with B. Duchafour compositions (let us never speak of Al Oudh again). I want something spicy for fall. Something with cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, coriander, etc. but cumin is often thrown into the spice mix of “orientalist” fragrances rendering them unwearable on me. I do like the clear bottle.

          • Rappleyea says:

            Julia, have you found your rubber scent yet? OT, but I’m curious. :-)

    • donanicola says:

      Karin I feel exactly the same! I bought a decant unsniffed based on Octavian’s review. I am also a cumin magnifier and although Santal Blush isn’t too cuminy for me I don’t like it that much, probably because of the suggestion of those indian spices which smell wonderful in a curry on my plate but not on my skin. I am sure it is different for others. So no more unsniffed decants for me either.

  6. austenfan says:

    Sometimes I enjoy my prejudices. I have a strong dislike of Mr. Fords’ visual style, so feel no inclination whatsoever of trying any of his perfumes.
    Which is all to the good as they seem to be so very expensive.

    • Robin says:

      I sympathize — I don’t really care for him in general (just everything I know about him, which granted, is not much) and the once or twice I’ve seen him speak on video, I was completely turned off.

    • Sombreuil says:

      Same here. The whole thing just leaves me cold.

    • Rappleyea says:

      “Sometimes I enjoy my prejudices.”

      Well said, Austen Fan!

    • Julia says:

      Same here. And his makeup line irritates me to no end.

      • SmokeyToes says:

        @Julia, have you seen TF”s new makeup line? Some of the product names are more than a bit offensive.

  7. The now-defunct Velvet Gardenia was the only Tom Ford I felt moved to buy — I still think it’s the best gardenia out there, and that siliconed TF style suits that type of diva-ish note perfectly.
    I’ve been testing a sample of Santal Blush for two days running now, and what I like about it best is that metallic iris opening, a great foil for the sandalwood and spices. But I find it a little subdued, which may be deliberate because otherwise the notes could be overwhelming.
    Like you Robin, I’m not bothered by the cumin, but there is a bit of that “I’ve been sweating out the curry I’ve eaten” aspect to it at times.

    • Robin says:

      And actually can’t remember Velvet Gardenia, so possibly I never tried it.

  8. naomi77 says:

    I’m a member of the group Robin alluded to – those who love this line. That said, I wasn’t wowed enough by this to shell out money for a FB (full disclosure: I own a FB of Noir de Noir and am on bottle 3 of Black Orchid).

    I thought it was love at first sniff but after I spent some time with the sample I’ve come to the conclusion that on me it’s a bit too dry and I definitely pull too much cumin from it. This is in contrast to Violet Blonde – a fragrance I was unimpressed by when I smelled it but decided to give it a second chance, and am now really liking.

    • Robin says:

      Now I’m beginning to wonder if I’ve actually become anosmic to cumin, LOL….

      But seriously, I should try Rochas Femme again.

  9. Meg says:

    I think you are missing a corresponding note to the footnote! The oft sarcastic little quips down there are a favourite of mine. I think I’ll try Tam Dao first.

    • Robin says:

      Oh thank you! I was going to say something about how all the TF fragrances are loud, but I moved it into the main sentence. I will go remove that stray footnote.

      I don’t see how Tam Dao can be what it was — back when I bought it, everybody was still using real Indian sandalwood. But hopefully it’s still worth smelling.

  10. Joe says:

    Hi Robin: I keep meaning to wear my decant of this that I received about a week ago. I should say that I’ve spent time with very few of the PFs and am not quite in love with any*, though I’m glad I have a small decant of Champaca Absolute. So many seem to love Moss Breches, but it doesn’t make me swoon. (*I will admit that I recently bought a large decant of Jasmine Musk at almost half retail price because I actually quite like it.) I’m not a huge fan of Violet Blonde — it’s nice — but I like Black Orchid quite a bit more. So I have no real notions about TF’s different lines.

    I have hopes for Santal, but wasn’t interested in Jasmin Rouge at all (I’ll smell it someday, somewhere). My fave Santal may be SL Santal Blanc. Upon repeated sniffs, Tam Dao to my nose is way more about cedar than about sandalwood.

    In any case, I appreciated the review, and if I wear/test this in the next couple days, maybe I’ll add further thoughts. Oh, and I concur that at that price for 50ml, none of the Private Blends have grabbed me so strongly that I’m craving a bottle. Love the bottle designs, though.

    • Robin says:

      Agree about Tam Dao — lots of cedar. And I love Santal Blanc too! But have not tried any of the SL sandalwood scents recently, and don’t see how they can be as good as they used to be.

      $195 is silly, IMHO. I’m used to the fact that to some extent, all fragrance pricing is aspirational pricing, but at these levels it’s insulting.

  11. nathanthomas says:

    Have to admit i also LOVE many of this line & have even splashed out on 250ml decanters of about 9 of them, but this is due to the joy of eBay where i recently picked up 250ml decanters of the beautiful Velvet Gardenia & Moss Breches for £125 ($200) each which at that price im more than happy to splash around with wild abandon. The only ones i would consider buying at FULL price would be Tuscan Leather (which looks like a bargain compared to the copycat Clive Christian ‘C’ at almost double that price) or Tobacco Vanille which i adore

    • AnnieA says:

      I too like Tuscan Leather the best, and bought a bottle with my mum’s Christmas money.

    • Joe says:

      Oh, yes. Tobacco Vanille. I forgot that one. Something I’d always like to have a bit of in my scent repertoire. It’s fantastic. Probably the one I consider TF’s best scent, though not for everyday wear.

    • Robin says:

      You’ve done well on eBay!

      • nathanthomas says:

        Where would i be without eBay! The TFs dont seem so bad when you get lucky & can get more than 50% off ! 250ml for the same price as a standard retail 50ml bottle in stores allows me to use it less sparingly than i would at retail prices!

  12. SmokeyToes says:

    I love the TF line, especially Moss Breches, Oud Wood and Purple Patchouli. I tried Santal Blush but it was a meh for me. And at that price point, it has to be absolute love. My holy grail for my jasmine and sandalwood fix is still Samsara.

    • Robin says:

      Afraid to smell Samsara again — it can’t be the same (?)

      • SmokeyToes says:

        It’s different for sure. When I was a fragrance SA, I had tons of the stuff, and gave it all away. Silly me!

        • donanicola says:

          Victoria at Bois de Jasmin recently reviewed Samsara, both vinatge and current, and gave it a thumbs up. Sure the current is different but emboldened by her review I tried the current EDP the other day and it was lovely.

          • Robin says:

            Good to know, thanks!

      • Rappleyea says:

        The good thing about Samsara is that the vintage-ish (pre-LVMH) bottles are still easily available on the auction site for less than the new free. I bought an ounce of parfum for $50, shipping included.

  13. Thanks for the review Robin. As you know, I’ve long been a fan of TF. Santal Blush, unfortunately was just ok. Jasmine Rouge I really liked a lot. The one that really had me doing cartwheels was the upcoming Lavender Palm. I sampled it and will be a FB for me.

    • nathanthomas says:

      i liked Jasmin Rouge at first sniff but then the person next to me turned to her bf and said that all she got from the initial hit was bubblegum & since then i cant get bubblegum out of my head when i smell it – EXPENSIVE bubblegum!

    • Robin says:

      And I have not smelled Lavender Palm. Then again, I’m not a huge lavender fan. Will certainly give it a shot though.

  14. AnnS says:

    Since everyone is dishing about their fav TFs…. I’ve only tested a few : Black Orchid, Champaca Absolute, Tobacco Vanille and BO Voile de Fleur. Black Orchid Voile de Fleur is my favorite of all his fragrances I’ve smelled, enough that I got a small bottle. I think it’s discontinued?

    • Robin says:

      Can’t remember now if that was a limited edition or not, but either way I think you’re right that they’re not still making it.

  15. nozknoz says:

    Robin, I know I’ve gotten less sensitive to cumin over time. For example, the cumin in Amouage Jubilation 25 put me off at first, but the rest of it was so wonderful and folks here kept raving about it, so I kept trying it. I found a discounted bottle on ebay and was able to spritz more generously. When I wore it yesterday and didn’t notice the cumin at all. :-)

    I think cumin can be a turn-off at first because it smells like food, and that seems wrong, but after a while one gets used to the idea that it can also be in perfume.

    • Robin says:

      See, to me it is not because it smells like food, but because it smells like sweat — perfumes like Cartier Declaration & Rochas Femme used to smell like sweat to me. Wonder if they still do!

  16. KRL says:

    Thanks for reviewing this one. I adore sandalwood, so I might check this out soon. Have you tried Hermes’ new sandalwood?

  17. donanicola says:

    I don’t like this one much. The curry spices bother me. And gosh doesn’t it hang around. Give me the rawness of Tam Dao any day!

    • Robin says:

      I am not always fond of fragrances that hang around forever. Tam Dao is a very old favorite, and hope it isn’t ruined now.

  18. Abyss says:

    Huh, with the word “blush” in the name and those soft colours I was expecting something entirely different. Dry, masculine and with prominent curry spices (fenugreek could potentially bother me more than cumin) are killing my lemming pretty quickly. I’ll still try it when I get the chance but my expectations are much lower now.

    • Robin says:

      I expected something dewy, for lack of a better word. Not sure it’s well named.

  19. Rappleyea says:

    Great review, Robin. Like Austen Fan, I’m not a TF fan, and I probably won’t try this, but I always enjoy reading what you write. :-)

  20. mikeperez23 says:

    IMO Santal Blush + Jasmine Rouge = Samsara

    I’m just saying

    • Robin says:

      Interesting, although a diss to Samsara maybe, LOL…

  21. KRL says:

    Hey, looking again at the photo, this ad says “made for him, but she’ll want it, too,” Wasn’t there a huge ad campaign ages ago that was along the same thing? Really rings a bell for me…

    • Robin says:

      The Jasmin Rouge ad is the same but reversed.

      I’m sure you’re right, but can’t think of what it was!

  22. sweetgrass says:

    I smelled this today at Neiman’s.. just on a card, not actually on me. I don’t know, maybe it’s because I’m on the downhill side of a cold and maybe my sense of smell isn’t quite right even though I can breathe just fine, but I didn’t smell cumin in this. Actually, and I think maybe it’s the fenugreek, what it really reminded me of was Pacifica Mediterranean Fig.

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