Hermes Santal Massoia ~ fragrance review

Santal Massoïa

Santal Massoïa is the tenth fragrance in the Hermessence Collection from Hermès, and like the others, was developed by house perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena. Unless you're new to the collection, you probably already have some idea of what to expect, that is, you know not to expect Santal Massoïa to fit neatly into your idea of a sandalwood (or massoia) fragrance, and you know that this isn't the place to go looking for the functional perfume to last through your 8 hour workday. I've already gone on and on about my take on the collection, and if you've been reading here regularly you also know that there's about a 50-50 chance that I'll want at least a small bottle of Santal Massoïa, and I've said it before but I'll say it again: thank you, Hermès, a million times over, for the lovely little 15 ml bottles.

And I'll save you time and start with the outcome: yes, it's 15-ml-bottle-worthy, no, it isn't going to join Osmanthe Yunnan and Vetiver Tonka in the 100-ml-bottle-worthy category. Given the size of my overall perfume collection, the 100-ml-bottle-worthy category, mind you, is now very narrow indeed, but another way of putting it is that I really like Santal Massoïa but I'm not head-over-heels swooning, although once upon a time I might have said the same of Brin de Reglisse and now I'm in the position of having to replace what I had of it. So sometimes only time will tell.

Santal Massoïa is really awfully close to what Jean-Claude Ellena said it was, so I'll repeat that here:

«There are linear, vertical woods like cedar, and others that are horizontal, round, supple and velvet-smooth, such as sandalwood and massoia. With this understanding in mind, I composed this enigmatic, inviting yet distant perfume of milky woods, with its unusual, pungent hints of resin and dried fruit, and familiar smells of dulce de leche and flowers.» Jean-Claude Ellena

So yes, we have a very soft and sheer milky woods. As with Vanille Galante, it's liberally sweetened, but also as with Vanille Galante, it's sheer enough that it the sweetness doesn't read as overwhelming. It's fruity and crisp in the beginning, and then lightly green and lightly figgy, then as it dries down further the woods take on a toasted-with-vanilla-sugar aspect, but again, it's all 'distant', just as promised. Several others have noted that the dry down has something vaguely in common with the nutty-doughy finish to L'Artisan Parfumeur Bois Farine, and I would never have thought of it but yes, it does, vaguely, albeit without the heavy cedar pencil note that make Bois Farine hard for some people to wear.

If it were slightly heavier and creamier, it would probably qualify as a comfort scent, but it's really too airy to qualify as such. I did not love it the first time I smelled it, but I've liked it more and more on subsequent wearings. If you've smelled it, do comment, and if you haven't, do chime in anyway and tell us your favorite Hermessence.

Hermès Santal Massoïa is available in 100 ml Eau de Toilette, $235, or in a 15 ml bottle sold in mix 'n match groups of 4 (the "Gift set") for $145. Shown just above is the 100 ml bottle with optional leather case, $575.

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  1. perfumey says:

    Thank you for the review . I’ve been waiting to hear about this one . VG is my favorite from this line . I have a sample of Brin de Reglisse & am going to revisit it .

    • Robin says:

      Brin de Reglisse really grew on me. I liked it to begin with, but I never thought I’d “remember” to wear it, and I really do.

      • Lil says:

        Robin, you’ve inspired me to give Brin de Reglisse another chance…will dig out the sample tonight.

        • Robin says:

          Can’t hurt, esp. if you already have the sample!

  2. dee says:

    So far, the Nazgul and Vetiver Tonka are the only ones to really wow me, but I am looking forward to trying this one; I’d like to find four, so that I can fill the mix’n’match set with different fumes! :)

  3. March says:

    Hmmmm…. you are really making me want to seek this one out, as much as most of the collection hasn’t worked for me. No dreaded aquatic notes whatsoever?

    • Robin says:

      None that I can smell. So if there are any, they’re hidden from regular consumers :-)

  4. ami says:

    not interested in this one, but Rose Ikebana is a favorite office scent

    • Robin says:

      I do like that one, probably more than it deserves :-)

    • Lil says:

      It’s a very polite fragrance, isn’t it? But then, I find a lot of JCE’s creations to be well mannered that way.

  5. Abyss says:

    I passed by Hermes last week and brought a sample home and well, I’m still undecided. It’s nice enough but, to my nose, it’s more green, slightly milky fig than sandalwood. Or any wood, for that matter. I think that I-like-it-but-I’m-not-swooning is pretty much spot on for me too. Maybe once I get over the disappointment that it’s not a cozy, creamy sandalwood, I’ll like it more. And, yes, it’s probably my fault for expecting/hoping to smell that type of scent.

    My favourite Hermessences are Ambre Narguile (I think I’m more that half way through my 100ml), Vetiver Tonka and Osmanthe Yunnan which I’d like to own some day when my samples finally run out.

    • Robin says:

      You know, no matter how much I *know* to ignore the name, I still am always surprised by the smell. I wish they wouldn’t put “ingredients” in the names, we’d all have an easier time of it.

      • Abyss says:

        I agree, at least for cases when the contents blatantly don’t match the label!

      • Lil says:

        I always liked Luca Turin’s quip that the name of any given Le Labo fragrance was the one thing that scent would _not_ smell of.

        • Abyss says:

          Ha, yes, I remember seeing that! I haven’t smelled any of them yet but I’m doing a basket dance with a sample of Gaiac 10 as we speak.

  6. kaos.geo says:

    Very interesting! I like the same ones as you do from this collection… so I am tempted of trying this one… I still have not tried Iris Ooky, so this time it will be a two for one….. :-)

    • Robin says:

      I have pretty much entirely forgotten about Iris Ooky, that’s how little I liked it!

  7. Eva S says:

    Really want to try this one! So far I own a 15 ml set with Iris Ukioke, Rose Ikebana, Vanille Galante and Ambre Narguile, those 15 ml bottles really are a perfect size! My favorites are Iris Ukioke and the Nazgul aka Ambre Narguile. Mayby a new set of four, but how to decide which ones?!

    • Robin says:

      Have you tried any of the others?

      • Eva S says:

        Only briefly once at the store. I’m tempted by the descriptions of this new one, Osmante Yunnan and Vetivier Tonka mostly I think. I’ve never seen anyone fond of Paprika Brazil, is tht the least popular one?

        • Robin says:

          There are a few people that are wild about it, but I’d be shocked if it was one of the big sellers. I adore Osmanthe Yunnan, but of course there are people that don’t like it.

          • Robin says:

            Oops…talking about Paprika Brasil!

  8. odonata9 says:

    I haven’t tried it yet and now you’ve reminded me that I need to get to the mall for a sample before Thanksgiving hits and Christmas shopping madness takes over. My favorite Hermessences are Rose Ikebana, Osmanthe Yunnan and Ambre Narguile.

    • Robin says:

      Yes, and the madness will start soon! I was there last night and it already seemed crowded.

  9. Joe says:

    Thanks for the review, Robin. I’m looking forward to smelling this — as I always am with J-CE and Hermès, which is most definitely a favorite house. I’m in on an upcoming split for 5ml, which for me is practically the new sample size. And yes, huge thanks to the house of H for those 15ml sets!

    I was totally surprised that on Facebook the other day, someone compared this to Philosykos, of all things. Do you see any similarity, even slight, there?

    I think all the Hermèssences are pretty nice, though I definitely gravitate to some more than others. I recently acquired my only 100ml bottle of one of them: Vanille Galante, which really has been the only one that I considered a 100ml candidate. The watery vanilla lily just called to me. Anyway, we’ll see how it goes with this Santal Massoïa (I assume that’s pronounced “mass-oh-ee-uh”? I’m intrigued by the essential oil link).

    Sandalwood tangent: today I almost wore a very new decant of the long-discontinued Crabtree & Evelyn Extract of Mysore Sandalwood. Really curious about that one.

    • Abyss says:

      I am not surprised about the Phylosikos mention. There’s clearly something figgy about it so anyone who’s smelled Philosikos or Un Jardin en Méditerranée or Fico di Amalfi might find similarities. I did too although I’d say that this is more… silky in texture.

    • Robin says:

      Oh, I’m curious too…do report back on the C&E!

      Gosh. It’s figgy for a bit, but to me, not so much as Philosykos, and not for as long. I mean, Philosykos is *about* fig, this doesn’t seem to be about fig. Tell me later if I’m wrong!

  10. Lil says:

    Thanks for the review, Robin. I haven’t yet tried SM but was very interested to hear your thoughts. My favorite Hermessence to date is Osmanthe Yunnan, which I bought in the 100 mL. Vetiver Tonka is second, followed by Rose Ikebana. One of those gift sets may be in my future…

    • Robin says:

      The gift sets are so nicely done, too…so nice that they make the 15 ml bottles just (ok, almost) as nice as the 100 ml bottles.

      • Lil says:

        I also appreciate that the per-ounce cost of the 15 mL bottles is barely more than that of the 100 mLs…so unusual to not be punished for wanting just a little juice.

        • Abyss says:

          Gah, I checked UK (why?!?) and noticed that for some reason the gift set price has gone from over £100 down to £88. So now I’m thinking things that I probably shouldn’t be thinking.

          • Robin says:

            Oh, and so would I be!

  11. Janice says:

    I can’t wait to try this one. The only one I’ve really loved so far is Vetiver Tonka—I’m on my second 15 ml bottle and will probably buy the 100 ml eventually. I like Osmanthe Yunnan quite a lot but unfortunately it lasts only about five minutes on me. I also have a decant of Brin de Reglisse but just don’t think to wear it very often… may have to wear it this weekend.

    • Lil says:

      You know, initially I thought the OY was fleeting, too. Then one day I realized it actually lasts at least 6 hours on me — it just stays very, very close to the skin. Which is fine by me.

    • Robin says:

      I do ok with Osmanthe Yunnan if I spray…dabbed from a sample, it’s useless.

      • Merlin says:

        Maybe I would have liked OY then. I really like the opening tea notes and osmanthus but I only had a tiny dab sample and even when I tried to completely wet a spot with it, the smell would last about 7 seconds!

        • Robin says:

          It does much better sprayed, but even then you’re looking at a couple hours, so depends on how much you care about longevity.

  12. cressetma says:

    I look forward to anything by JCE (even an air freshener would be divine I swear) but only Iris Oooky lasts on me, although my heart is given to Vetiver Tonka. The Poivre Samarcande 15ml bought at the same time is almost untouched and I could be (easily) seduced into swapping it, if anyone has a temptation…..

    • Robin says:

      I did not love PS either, although it layers nicely.

  13. eswift83 says:

    Thanks for the review! I’m looking forward to trying this one… currently my favorite is Vetiver Tonka… perfect for fall weather, too!

  14. cressetma says:

    should I say… sorry hazy on etiquette….. alysen at mrsbeaky dot com will find me, and I’m in the UK

  15. Jill says:

    Thanks for the review, Robin — this is a must-try for me. I adore Bois Farine so I’ll be interested to see how they compare on the drydown. My favorite Hermessence is definitely Vetiver Tonka, though I really appreciate Ambre Narguile too as the cold weather sets in.

    • Robin says:

      I really would never have thought of it, and they’re hardly what I’d call alike…more like a reference, maybe?

  16. whitechandoo says:

    I always have longevity issues with the Hermenessance fragrances. How is this one on this aspect?

    • Robin says:

      Oh, it is on the low end, I’d say! So if that bothers you, it’s probably out although it never hurts to try.

  17. Erin says:

    I like many of this line, of course, but there is no contest as to favorite: Osmanthe Yunnan. It’s probably the only 100 ml worthy one for me, although I also have Vanille Galante in the travel set and it’s pretty darn awesome, too. Rose Ikebana is very pretty and a solid third, but I’ve got so many other things on my to-buy list, I’ll probably never own it. I think this one is going to sit fairly comfortably in the middle of the pack, but you never know. I do wish it had more presence – I don’t mind quiet, milky notes, but this one is almost inaudible.

    • Robin says:

      OY is easily my most worn. I have a hard time saying whether I like that or Vetiver Tonka better though.

  18. nozknoz says:

    I wished I like the current Hermes scents better! The bottles are so lovely, and the concepts always sound appealing, but they usually don’t quite work for me. So far, oddly, the Hermessence I’ve like the best is Iris Ukiyoé. So I’ll try this one eventually just in case it also surprises me. :-)

    • Robin says:

      Oh, stay as you are — you’re saving money!

  19. DJ says:

    I find the longevity of hermessences diabolically poor – would spring for 100ml bottles of Vetiver Tonka and osmanthe Yunnan if they weren’t so fleeting. :(

    • Robin says:

      They are not powerhouses, it’s true.

      • Merlin says:

        I’m ok with a perfume not being a power-house, but if it doesn’t last at least 3 hours, then I see it as a dismal performer.

    • Capucine says:

      Your comment is very accurate: is almost diabolical, while the concept, the promise of the construction of the very scent, is the opposite.

  20. dolcesarah says:

    I have no scents by Hermes. Which oneRobinshould I start with? Ivebeen doing some looking around for something my closest place to smell it is Macy’s. I guess I’ll go tonight any ones in particular? Please help????

    • Robin says:

      I can’t remember if Macy’s has anything by Hermes or not. Sephora has a few. Neiman Marcus has more. But none of those will have the Hermessences. Doesn’t matter — try Kelly Caleche and Jardin Sur Le Nil if you see them, and Eau des Merveilles.

  21. helenviolette says:

    Thanks for this review Robin- I have been curious about it! Sounds like it could be a hit or a miss (battleship anyone)…I fell hard early on for Vetiver Tonka- and acquired two 15ml bottles. But at some point, Osmanthe Yunnan snuck in and ousted VT- and it is a scent I wear often and adore. I will get a 100ml at some point, but have gotten by with decants and a 15ml thus far.

    • Robin says:

      I have done the same — gone through multiple 15 ml bottles before giving in & getting the big size!

  22. Andreea says:

    I have been given this with three other 15ml botles and I… detest it. My poor husband.

    It is well done, well worthy Ellena (I have/had most of his scents and I deeply love them) but this one smells like old, eccentric, rich bt not very well groomed grand-dad. Old men indeed. I tried it and tried it but the best think I can say about it is a hint of licirice somewhere. I love Rocabar and Belami so I am finde with those “od men” stuff but this one… meeeh. I surprisingly dislike also Reglisse I confess.

    C’est la vie…

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