If you read the Wall Street Journal this past weekend, you may have noticed an article about the poaching of sandalwood from the plantations that now dot Western Australia (Illegal Loggers Tap Australian Prize). It’s becoming a big problem with so much sandalwood clumsily poached (branches sawn off anyhow, stumps left in the ground) that the illegal export is beginning to hurt the legal trade.
So, alright, this is a not too pretty story of thugs stealing for profit, and how does it affect the rarefied world of high end scent? One way is clearly that the prices for sandalwood-centric scents like Samsara and Santal Majuscule will remain high. If a formula really and truly needs that hit from sandalwood and nothing else will do, then you will still be paying for it, through the nose.
The other implication is that IFRA rules and regulations are doing nothing to stifle global demand for the real thing. It seems that elsewhere in the world, outside the magic circle of the EU, people just aren’t too concerned with allergenic materials or protecting endangered species. Nope. They want a certain substance and are willing to pony up the cash. And so we have poachers.
Maybe production will ramp up enough to make this crime less attractive. I hope so. Cutting down trees and leaving shredded remains behind is pretty awful. But I am a bit torn here myself. You see, I like sandalwood a lot, and the Hub likes his Caswell Massey Sandalwood soap. Do we forgo all of these in the hopes of starving an illegal trade?
In fact, we do, but does it have any impact? Unfortunately, it seems unlikely. None of our efforts would make much difference, and that probably includes everybody who is a perfume enthusiast. As a group we are simply dwarfed by the rising Indian middle class, and other potential consumers.
Anyhow, I’ve never liked any of the sandalwood substitutes that came along. Even the natural ones made me wrinkle up my nose. When at the height of the sandalwood shortages of the last decade Chanel was evidently reduced to using what I guess to have been Australian sandalwood in Bois des Isles, I noticed the substitution at once.
This was because in my own desperation for sandalwood, I had ordered a bunch of different essential oil sandalwoods from Eden Botanicals, and the distinctive light smell of the Australian (Santalum spicatum) was easily picked out at the Chanel counter by my snoot. What is the world coming to when a perfume like Bois des Isles loses its thick richness and becomes instead medicinal and reedy? Nothing good is the answer. Fortunately, a year or so later I sniffed BdI again and the Australian stuff* was gone. Who knows how, and I wonder if sales had fallen off during the interim?
There you have it in a nutshell. The trouble with sandalwood, no matter how many people say, “Oh, you can always substitute patchouli (no), or cedarwood (No), or a nice synthetic (NO NO NO)”, in fact you just can’t. Sandalwood, once you know the scent and you love it is inimitable; like P.G. Wodehouse’s prose, or real truffles, or Fred Astaire’s dancing: unique.
So for the moment, this chainsaw massacre will probably continue.
* Meaning the Santalum spicatum was gone and Santalum album was back. The white sandalwood probably was itself Australian. What Chanel had done I think was to switch species.