The majestic scent of sandalwood stands as the benevolent Hitopadeśa tales of the Far East, a fan of fantasy woven in didactic morals for princes, much like the precious real fans carved out of the prized wood for cooling off in the intense heat of the Indian peninsula; rich, milky-smelling, with a hint of incense and fresh greenery at times, still retaining their scented glamour as decades go by. The intimate, elegant aura of woody fragrances finds its apogee in sandalwood; perfumes plush and collapsingly soft but with the promise of intelligence. Santal Majuscule by Serge Lutens just comes to reinforce this notion as introduced on these pages a while ago, being the perfect sandalwood starter fragrance for those seeking such a thing, but also a welcome Lutensian offering to make me fall again headfirst into his Alice in Wonderland private cosmos I found myself tangled in ever since he issued the sumptuous La Myrrhe. Lutens however remains Lutens: the orient is ever present, but it is the occident which defines his torturing demons. His new Santal Majuscule is an assured step in his Camino de Perfección, modeled after St.Teresa of Ávila whose Latin motto seals the fate of the fragrance: is it the throes of passion or the throes of divine ecstasy that mark the lines of her face? Where does one end and the other begin? Her devotion of silence is symbolic of the enigmatic nature of the Lutensian opus itself.
"Pride must be celebrated. Thus the boy, clad in armor and perched on his horse, along with a terrible princess in full mourning dress, pictured himself arriving at the Coronation Mass to the sound of thundering hooves, just at the moment of the transubstantiation, that very moment when the priest holds the host up to the cross, to the one agonizing on it."
It's not hard to see why sandalwood ~despite having another two in the line already (Santal Blanc recently being moved into the Paris exclusives line to couple with the resident Santal de Mysore)~ was picked yet again as the foundation on which Lutens built his church, to paraphrase another religious reference. Sandalwood is the natural product par excellence, nature's agony and ecstasy: a scent so fine, so rich and yet with a fresh top note, so creamy sweet and so enduring, that it has inspired generations of men and women to harvest its precious, sacred trunk in order to imbue products for personal, religious and public use with its fine aroma. Although as explained in my Raw Material Sandalwood article the Mysore variety is rationed for fear of depletion (hence the wealth of synthetic sandalwood substitutes enumerated), the polished silkiness of the Indian variant could be mimicked creatively only by the choicest wizards of perfumery. And who more excellent than the mercurial figure of Serge Lutens to offer us a vista into the orientalia of a "nouveau sandalwood"?
The maestro revealed to me in an interview (replete with his childhood reminiscences of classroom ennui) that Santal Majuscule is technically based on the Australian sandalwood variety (which smells different), but I can attest the perfume ends up smelling like an radiant attar procured somewhere close to King Víkrama's lion-throne, creamy and luminous in its rose-distillate facets, sprinkled with promise of cocoa and soft spices (cinnamon), silky sheen with a hint of orange blossom honey and sweet incense in the background. After all, Lutens managed to inject a delicious effect of sandalwood in his savory gourmand fragrance Jeux de Peau, where the impression is again built on fantasy.
For Santal Majuscule, perfumer Chris Sheldrake and Lutens weaved the familiar web of woody tonalities which they have composed a thesis and a meta-thesis on, ever since Feminite du Bois (the latter alongside Pierre Bourdon). But whereas their other woody compositions can veer dark and rather brooding (see the patchouli & cocoa fantasy of Borneo) and we know from Iris Silver Mist and Tubereuse Criminelle the master has a taste for the morose and the morbid, here the treatment is smiling; petal-soft, sweetish (but never much) and with an elegance and refined allure that defies preconceived notions. The rose is perceptible, but not "dated", The apricoty tinge gives just the right fruity, almost edible tenderness, an ally to the liqueur-like essence of Damask rose and the creaminess of the woods. But the fragrance is far from his Rahat Loukhoum gourmand quality you can give yourself cavities with, making it pliable enough for people who don't like double helpings of anything.
The composition of Santal Majuscule also defies ~especially upon drying down on the skin~ the familiar, been-there-done-that rose attar model of the Middle East: that traditional "A Thousand and One Nights" melange of rose and sandalwood, as recognizable as Aladdin's cave in the desert. The longer the fragrance stays on skin (and it stays on very long) the more it gains a skin-scent aura of musk and honey, animalic yet elegant, with an addictive character, unisex and inviting; like living, breathing, caressed human skin this close to the throes of (divine?) ecstasy. As Serge says: "Obey what you smell, feel, love. Do not obey what you're told, and do not believe it too much!"[from same interview to the author]
Given all this, I just can't wait for Une Voix Noire, his next installment in the canon.
Compared to the other two sandalwood fragrances in the Serge Lutens line of perfumes, Santal Majuscule is less sweet than Santal Blanc, less daring and austere than Santal de Mysore. Contrasted with that other golden standard of sandalwood perfumes, Tam Dao by Diptyque, I find myself ensnared by the Lutens, mainly because where Tam Dao used to be true and rich, it now boasts a pronounced pencil-shavings cedarwood note which limits its prior rich versatility.
Santal Majuscule is available in Eau de Parfum "haute concentration" (i.e. the slightly pricer than normal black label line of high concentration) at Les Salons du Palais Royal in Paris and online. Starting September 1st 2012 the new "export" fragrance will be sold worldwide.
A generous decant sprayer of the latest Lutens perfume is available for one lucky reader! Please let me know in the comments what you like or not about Lutens and sandalwood perfumes in general.
Related reading on Perfume Shrine: Serge Lutens perfume reviews & news, Sandalwood in Perfumery, Woody Fragrances
pic of statue via thecoincidentaldandy.blogspot.com