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 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.