Notwithstanding my mother’s deep and abiding fondness for Tabu, and therefore also her latent appreciation of patchouli which is entirely consistent with being a Hippie-manque, she never liked sandalwood. “Pew! “was, I believe, the descriptive most frequently employed to describe it.
I, on the other hand, liked it a lot, and liked just about any perfume that contained it. We did not see eye to eye nor smell nose to nose on that subject.
Now, of course, I can wear whatever I like so long as it doesn’t annoy Guts, cause the daughter to gag or make the cat light out for destinations unknown. Come to think of it, that’s a bit more restrictive than it used to be, but anyway, Bois des Isles is on the list of things no one objects to. Its major component: Sandalwood.
The trouble is that Indian sandalwood, Santalum Album, is very hard to come by these days. I have a suspicion that perhaps if you go to very high end perfumers in the Middle East, where they have true luxury perfume, you could probably find it, but you would pay through the nose for it. I haven’t, can’t, and don’t, but it is an uneasy realization and all the sandalwood based perfumes these days created outside that magic circle, have to decide on whether to conjure sandalwood’s ghost with Australian sandalwood (Santalum Spicatum), which smells different, or Santalol which also smells different. Neither choice is good. Having smelt the real thing often enough, I do notice that difference, and I wish it weren’t so obvious.
Vintage bottles or older formulae are your best bet. But which fragrances showcase it ? Caswell Massey’s Sandalwood is a good one, and is easy to find, Chanel’s Bois des Isles is another. This latter, however, is an oriental woody and you must like the smell of aldehydes and ginger or it will prove a fool’s errand. Guerlain’s Samsara always had an enormous synthetic note in it that I could never get around, but old bottles will also contain some sandalwood. Old bottles of Estee Lauder’s Knowing might be better, by old I mean at least a decade old, as will old bottles of Lanvin’s Vetyver, or the original bottles of no 10 Corso Como, or you could try vintage Bal a Versailles but it is very powerful and quite dark.
What about all the niche perfumers whose lines carry all sorts of Sandalwood Extracts and Sandalwood Extremes? I Doubt it. Attars (which are the luxurious Middle Eastern amalgam of rose and sandalwood) often contain synthetics, proceed with caution as I have smelled many that do not contain sandalwood.
We will have to wait until sustainably raised sandalwood comes back on the market, but what a very long wait it is proving to be. Who would have thought back in the paisley days of sandalwood bead necklaces that the little wooden knick knacks from India would command such a premium now?