By Kilian Sacred Wood ~ fragrance review

Shiva as the Destroyer of the Three Cities of the Demons

Sacred Wood, along with Imperial Tea, finishes off the Asian Tales fragrance collection from niche line By Kilian (we're still expecting at least one more scent for In The Garden of Good and Evil, and the next series is reportedly to be called Addictive State of Mind). Sacred Wood was inspired by the Indian tale of Savitri and Satyavan from the Mahabharata, and promises "the olfactory impression of an authentic Sandalwood from Mysore".1 As most perfumistas know, real Mysore sandalwood is no longer used in perfumery due to its scarcity. 

Like Imperial Tea, Sacred Wood was developed by perfumer Calice Becker. Sacred Wood opens on citrus-y, spicy wood; it's not a dead ringer for my long-time love, Diptyque Tam Dao, but it reminded me of Tam Dao right away: the opening has that same sheer but wood-focused feeling, at the other end of the spectrum from the more ornately decorated sandalwood trio from Serge Lutens (Santal Blanc, Santal de Mysore and Santal Majuscule). As the citrus burns off, Sacred Wood moves to the middle: it gets spicier and more milky-creamy, but at the same time, the woods get softer and more indistinct.

It's closest to the 'olfactory impression of an authentic Sandalwood from Mysore' in the middle stages. Eventually, it's a mild woodsy blend, reasonably sandalwood-y but without the richness of old-school sandalwood fragrances. If you've never smelled an old-school sandalwood fragrance, that won't matter to you, but if you have one on hand, you'll notice how comparatively thin the base of Sacred Wood is. I wore Sacred Wood next to a drop of Santal Blanc and a drop of Chanel Bois des Iles extrait,2 and the Sacred Wood, smells, well, modern. Obviously, you may or may not prefer it that way.

Of course, Tam Dao also smells modern. My bottle of Tam Dao is old (2003) and it's showing its age — the top notes have deteriorated and even the dry down is starting to take on a vinegar-y edge — and newer bottles don't smell as lovely (it's undoubtedly been reformulated more than once). I once said that Tam Dao "smells like the rough, unfinished interior of a very old carved box made of precious wood"; Sacred Wood is a more polished fragrance, and it doesn't have the same meditative feeling. It's arguably more sophisticated than Tam Dao, mind you, but if you're an old-school sandalwood fiend looking for a fix, it might not hit the same spot.

Verdict: I was expecting a sandalwood-bomb, and Sacred Wood isn't exactly that. It's a lovely quiet woods scent, though, very wearable, and not at all dull — I found it more interesting than Imperial Tea. If I'm not moved to buy, that's partially because my sandalwood needs are covered for the moment. If your's aren't, Sacred Wood is very much worth a try, and if I ever run out of sandalwood (!!) I'll keep Sacred Wood in mind. The lasting power is good, and it's entirely unisex.

If you have another favorite sandalwood, do comment!

By Kilian Sacred Wood

By Kilian Sacred Wood will be available in April, in 50 ml Eau de Parfum ($235 with fancy box, $135 for refill) or in a 30 ml refillable travel spray ($145). The notes include carrot, cumin, geranium, cedar and incense.

1. Via press materials.

2. Holy cow. I always forget how perfect Bois des Iles is in extrait, I don't know why I don't wear it more often.

Note: top image is Album Cover with Shiva as the Destroyer of the Three Cities of the Demons (Tripurantaka) [detail, cropped] via Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Wikimedia Commons. You can read more about the restoration of this piece at Challenges of Conservation: The Mysore Album Cover Project, at LACMA's blog.

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60 Comments

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  1. Omega says:

    I will have to revisit my Chanel sample after hearing your glowing comments of it.
    I think my fave sandalwood scent is Samsara or Tuscany Per Donna.

    • Robin says:

      Good choices!

      And do try Bois des Iles if you can get your hands on the extrait, it’s really incredible.

    • Omega says:

      Thanks, Tuscany doesn’t seem to get as much love as it used to, I hope they never discontinue the scent. The Exclusifs extraits are on my test list, even though I can’t really afford the money for a full 15 mls!

      • Robin says:

        They are darned expensive. My bottle cost far less than what they’re charging now.

  2. Kevin says:

    R, how do you like this compared to TF Santal Blush?

    • Robin says:

      Oh, excellent question. I always forget about Santal Blush, & if I had remembered, I would have tried them together — assuming I could find my sample! If memory serves, SB is darker & spicier than this — and there is “more going on” in SB. I think it was probably the better scent, but guessing many people will find this one more wearable. It has cumin too, but I didn’t even notice it, and it isn’t as masculine as SB.

      • Nightingale says:

        I wore Santal Blush just yesterday…am at the end of my sample and thought it was worthy of the last day of winter! I do love that one…if it wasn’t so pricy I would consider the splurge. Santal Blush reminds me a lot of Tam Dao, except a little sweeter with some incense, and the lasting power is much better.

        • Robin says:

          It’s a great scent. If it was WAY cheaper I might buy it too.

  3. happy888cat says:

    My current favourite sandalwood is Serge Luten’s Jeux de Peau.
    But now that the weather is warming up, I think I need to go for a lighter option and Sacred Wood sounds worth a shot.
    How is it compared to Hermessence’s Santal Massoïa? I find that too transparent for my taste.

    • Robin says:

      Oh, not nearly so sheer as that. And spicier & warmer.

  4. Joe says:

    Funny, but much as I enjoy sandalwood from time to time, a sample of vintage Bois des Ile I tried several years ago did nothing for me. Maybe I need to really explore it.

    Tam Dao has reminded me more of cedar than anything, though I do want to try the edp as several people have mentioned that it’s wonderful. I’m a huge fan of Santal Blanc and Santal de Mysore. It’s funny how even when relatively unembellished, sandalwood frags can either be stupendously comforting to me, or just leave me cold. I do tend to enjoy whatever sandalwood Ava Luxe uses in her fragrances, though I’ve smelled it in blends; I’m sure she must have a near-single-note sandalwood in her collection.

    I don’t even feel the need to go out of my way to try this Kilian — which is basically how I felt about the other tea thingie you reviewed. I don’t even remember the name now. Imperial Tea? I know everything launched is redundant, but these two seem so in the *extreme*. But I assume Kilian is adding to the family fortune daily, so it’s not like my opinion means much. Meanwhile, I’ll be somewhere testing Tam Dao EdP.

    • Omega says:

      Never tried Tam Dao, heard good things about it though. Ava Luxe, I have only sniffed a couple, none sandalwood. Doesn’t she use a lot of vanilla primarily? I forget.

    • Robin says:

      Tam Dao had tons of cedar, and Santal Blanc had, to me, a noticeable cedar pencil thing going on in the base too. This one has cedar, but the wood notes are so mild, and I assume, cleaned up, that I don’t notice it.

      Joe, have you smelled a new bottle of Santal Blanc lately? Kevin tried it fairly recently & did not like it at all, but he didn’t know the old one, so don’t know if he just doesn’t like it or if it’s changed significantly now that Mysore sandalwood is not available.

      • Joe says:

        Robin, I have not tried newer bottles of Santal Blanc. I thought they had put it back in the “exclusive” line/bell jar only?

        In any case, when was it launched? I bought a used bottle around 2008 or so. Gosh, I haven’t worn it in so long I want to get home and sniff it asap. I don’t know that I’ve ever smelled anything with Mysore sandalwood that made my toes curl — I have some 1994 Samsara that certainly doesn’t give me that reaction.

        • Robin says:

          Oh, you’re right, I totally forgot.

          2001. I can’t remember now when I bought mine, but would have been between 2004-2008.

          And should say don’t know that I love Santal Blanc because it has Mysore sandalwood, & for that matter, for all I know my bottle doesn’t! I just love it, and part of that is surely style & not materials. My complaint that Sacred Wood is thin is likewise probably style & not materials.

          • Joe says:

            Just had to report that I’m wearing Santal Blanc today. I needed to. ;-) It smells fantastic.

          • Robin says:

            :-)

  5. Marjorie Rose says:

    For sandalwood, Bois des Iles is my go-to, although I’ve never tried the extrait! Of course, there’s also Champagne des Bois, which I very much like but it is so **B I G** , I don’t find it as wearable.

    • Omega says:

      I see we were both thinking of the Champagne. It is rather big..I see it wearing better in the winter. I tend to like big scents..this one was too big for me too at first try..but I am trying it out a couple more times to see if it grows on me enough to wear it. It is big on first spray..it does settle down after a bit. Sandalwood, it seems, likes to make a big appearance at first, much like when I spray a patchouli scent. Big patches, I can’t do normally.

    • Robin says:

      Seriously, it is one of very few extraits I’ve been willing to pay for. It’s gorgeous, do try it if you can.

      I think Champagne de Bois was too heavy on the aldehydes for me? I like the Sonoma Scent Studio line, but just didn’t love that one.

      • Omega says:

        I can do aldehydes…except for a scent I tried recently..Caline by Patou..dang! That’s a lot of aldehydes!

    • egabbert says:

      Nostalgie also has a really nice sandalwood drydown.

  6. Rappleyea says:

    Thanks for the review, Robin. There’s something about the By Kilian releases that annoys me – I feel that I’m being goofed on by the aspirational pricing for scents that I usually find okay, but not great. Oh, but I would get a nice box with a key!

    Vintage Samsara in extrait is my very favorite sandalwood. There’s so much real sandalwood in it, that it is actually oily on the skin! Bois des Iles is in second place, but it seems thin next to the Samsara.

    • Omega says:

      I don’t think I have tried Samsara extrait! *tears in eyes*, LOL.

      • Rappleyea says:

        Noooo, not tears!! :-)

        Email me at rappleyea11 at yahoo and I’ll send you a bit.

    • Robin says:

      They are so “luxury oriented” and at the same time, I think, WAY more oriented towards attributes that we usually think of as mainstream: pleasant & wearable instead of interesting & risky. Someone on basenotes accused them of being wimpy, and yes, I often think that too. So I guess they annoy me too :-)

      I have never tried vintage Samsara in extrait, will have to see if I can get my hands on some.

      • Rappleyea says:

        Robin, do you want me to send you some? I’d be happy to, although since I love it (and it’s an oriental) I don’t think you will. But you need to try it.

        Btw, I had dinner with Ms. Bourbon Balls last night. (Hmm… that sounds weird). She brought raspberry/dk. chocolate truffles!

        • Robin says:

          No, thank you for the offer, but don’t! I am already in debt.

          And it is sad but true that I’d be disappointed she didn’t bring bourbon balls!

          • Rappleyea says:

            No talk of debt when I owe you for YEARS of entertainment to say nothing of the great friends I’ve made through this site. :-D

          • Robin says:

            That’s sweet, thank you!

    • Joe says:

      D: The Kilian line totally annoys me for some reason, even though I was at an event where he spoke and he’s utterly charming. That was back when the line had a mere six scents or something. Ah, nostalgia.

      • Rappleyea says:

        Nostalgia is right! Anytime an art form turns into a giant industry, something irreplaceable is lost.

  7. Omega says:

    This made me sample some sand scents, the Chanel and Champagne de Bois.

    The Bois has lovely florals and gets nicer and nicer..but I can already tell this is a bit of a fleeter..bummer! Can really dry climates ‘eat up’ perfumes? It seems that is the case for me sometimes. I noticed when I was visiting a more humid place..perfumes seemed to stay on the skin more. Cedar, being pretty dry, is one that puffs off my skin usually..sad cause I do like me some cedar.

    Champagne is an original one, slightly sweet, balsamic…ambery. Sometimes balsamic doesn’t work for me..but I find this scent intriguing. I really need to try more from this line, I would love a sample set.

    • Robin says:

      I think it’s more that humid weather makes it easier for you to smell the scent…sometimes, walking out from an air conditioned house into hot humid weather, you might notice that a scent you thought had faded away is still there. But it also keeps skin moister, and that does help fragrance hang on.

      • Omega says:

        Interesting..makes sense. I haven’t thought of this before but perhaps I will try a drop or few of glycerin before applying..it’s the only thing that helps my chapped skin here really! Deserts are no friends to skin!

  8. mikeperez23 says:

    Great review. I think I want to smell it now.

    You must try the new Tam Dao EdP Robin – it’s much more sandalwood-centric than the EdT (old or new). It is creamy, slightly coconut-y and very linear. I love it.

    I am one of the people that can’t have **enough** sandalwood in my wardrobe. I own real Mysore oil (I bought some from a company called Aqua Oleum (UK) and put it in my dark closet to ‘age’. I also own the oil from Dawn Spencer Hurwitz (more synthetic). I own the diluted oil (in alcohol) from Profumo. it. I own Caswell & Massey (also very synthetic, but nice & simple too), Santal Blanc (my ‘pre-massage scent’), Santal de Mysore, Tam Dao EdP, Bois de Santal by Creed (the disco’d one – sort of like Mouchoir de Monsieur with sandalwood instead of lavender), Sandalo by Villoresi, vintage Crabtree & Evelyn Extract of Mysore Sandalwood (I have 2 bottles – this stuff is fantastic), Santal 33 by Le Labo (my least favorite) & the new Dries Van Noten by Frederic Malle (not really a sandalwood scent per se, but it is supposed to have real Mysore).

    On my To Buy List: Bois des Iles extrait, L’Arbre by IUNX

    Fantasy purchase: Richwood by Xerjoff, 20 year old aged sandalwood oil from Profumo.it (price is like $232 a gram!)

    • Robin says:

      I am glad to hear someone likes the Tam Dao better even after it’s been redone. I might try it. I might not, it might make me cranky.

      20 year old aged sandalwood — wow, did not even know they sold that at Profumo. Amouage used to have such lovely sandalwood in the base of Ubar & Gold Pour Homme; I know the Ubar isn’t the same but now I’m wondering how Gold Pour Homme has fared. Not that I can afford it.

  9. hajusuuri says:

    It certainly sounds like another visit to the By Kilian boutique is in order!

    My sandalwood favorite is Bois des Iles extrait. It had been on my To Buy list for a long time and I finally decided to get it using gift cards (and for me, anything bought with gift cards is FREE).

    And speaking of Bois des Iles extrait, the fabulous thegoddessrena with whom I met today and had a lovely dinner and mini sniffing at Barneys, brought her VINTAGE BdI extrait and all I can say is WOW!

    • Robin says:

      I had a few wee drops of vintage, but now can’t remember if it was a vintage EdP or vintage Extrait. Seriously, my mind is going. Anyway, whatever it was, it was incredible. I think the current Extrait seems a bit less rich, but that might just be because the vintage had aged nicely.

    • thegoddessrena says:

      Thought you’d like it. Vintage Bois des Iles extrait IS the most amazing sandalwood. Am also really loving Santal Exotique right now, especially its exuberant opening

  10. nozknoz says:

    I generally get my sandalwood enjoyment from vintage scents that were made with the real thing, before it became rare and expensive. Mike Perez has made me very curious to try the Via del Profumo sandalwood. I’ll probably try Sacred Wood because I do enjoy Calice Becker’s style very much. Her earlier Kilians are some of my all-time favs.

    • Robin says:

      I’m curious about the Profumo too…but not going to cough up for it!

      • mikeperez23 says:

        Profumo.it has several Mysore’s to sample. 20 yr old oil, 10 yr old oil, recent oil diluted in alcohol…the last one is the one I own and it’s affordable. Shipped super fast from Italy also – I was very impressed

        • Robin says:

          Thanks!

        • ceciliat says:

          Good grief — I had no idea that prices on sandalwood had skyrocketed the way they have. I use to own a small company that made aromatherapy bath and body products, and just looked through my remaining essential oils and found a bottle of Mysore sandalwood EO with a couple of oz. still remaining (label is dated 2/2001 by the wholesale supplier). I always preferred patchouli (gasp!) over sandalwood (and still have maybe 25-30 oz. of patchouli eo that is from the late 90s — it only gets better with age!) so didn’t pay attention to what was happening with prices.

        • nozknoz says:

          Thanks for the info, Mike! I have also found Via del Profumo great to deal with, and I love his fragrances. It’s time to order a treat or two!

    • egabbert says:

      I’m a big Becker fan too, and like a lot of the BK line for that reason. No, they’re not “edgy,” but they’re mostly really beautiful and well-made. A well-made floral is hard to find!

      • Robin says:

        It’s true, and more investment in the materials than you’d get from mainstream brands. I guess I want at least a little more edgy.

  11. Santemon says:

    A big thumbs up from me for IUNX L’Arbre, a wonderful, wonderful (but quite light and sheer) sandalwood… if only it was easier to obtain.

    And also another thumbs up for profumo.it’s Mysore Sandalwood (diluted heavily in alcohol).

    Both smell amazing, but last about – well not long at all.

    My favourite recent sandalwood was Montale Confidential Collection Mysore Sandalwood… just wow, I was transported to my childhood in SE Asia. I have no idea whether it’s available still and I imagine it wouldn’t be cheap (though probably cheaper than Killian). This and the above came from a swag of sandalwood samples from Surrender to Chance.

    Having said all that, still have a huge soft spot for Tam Dao, though I haven’t smelt it for quite a few years now.

    • Robin says:

      Gosh, agree, wish IUNX was easier to get. It’s a shame.

      And thanks for the Montale rec, I should try that one.

    • mikeperez23 says:

      Montale Confidential Collection Mysore is outstanding. I went thru a teensy sample very quickly. Only the tiniest amount lasted 24 hrs. I think they probably bolstered the Mysore with some synthetics but it didn’t smell ‘synthetic’. I haven’t seen it for sale anywhere, but then again I haven’t been to the Montale boutique in France.

  12. Merlin says:

    I recently tried Chanel’s Ego and I liked it the first time, but the 2nd time found it a little on the dirty side. Now, however, I seem to be craving it. When I get the chance I may have to snatch up a bottle!

  13. annemarie says:

    I’d love to love Champagne de Bois but I always get a sort of coconut-y vibe from it. Does anyone else get that? I waved it in front of my son once and he said ‘hmm … chocolate and coconut … ‘. So it’s not just me. I don’t dislike the fragrance but I’d love to get sandalwood in it the way other people seem to.

    • Marjorie Rose says:

      Gosh, I think I’d like to get some coconut from CdB! I like a little coconut, as long as it’s not TOOO suntan-lotion-y. I’m gonna sniff for coconut next time I wear it–which might have to be next fall, since it’s starting to get warmer!

    • egabbert says:

      Oh, interesting! Never noticed that before but now I want to put some on and look for it. Maybe there’s a bit of lactone in it.

  14. egabbert says:

    My favorite sandalwood scent is vintage Egoiste in the Cologne Concentree formulation. It’s SO rich!

    For recent more synthetic versions, I really like Santal Majuscule.

    • Robin says:

      I have smelled old Egoiste, but can’t remember which — wish I had Angie’s luck at finding great vintage perfume.

  15. PetronellaCJ says:

    SL Santal Blanc were one of my first serious flings with niche fragrance. This winter I have come full circle and fell in love with it again.

    • Robin says:

      Nice! I don’t love everything that was an early perfume fling, but still love all my early Serge Lutens fragrances.

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