My wife, Mehri, has an amazing palette and sense of smell. A few years ago we went on a truffle hunt at a local truffle farm and one of the owners, Jason an old school friend of mine, passed around a jar of truffles that had shared its confines with a mystery ingredient to infuse its fragrance into the truffles.
Jason’s goal was to see if anyone could identify the ingredient. So around goes the jar and guest after guest throws their hat into the ring as to what the ingredient might be. No one gets close.
It comes around to me and all I can smell are truffles. Useless.
Mehri gets her turn… inhales and casually suggests “Kalamata Olives” …. Jason stops. “No one’s ever guessed that correctly before…” Mehri has a surprised look on her face, like “how is that not obviously Kalamata Olives?” The punch line here is, of course, that she didn’t suggest “olives” but specifically “Kalamata Olives” and no-one is supposed to be able to do that off hand.
To this day I still have no idea what the difference is between kalamata olives and whatever we call regular olives. Put them next to each other, tell me the specific differences between them, put a gun to my head and tell me to smell and taste both. All you’re going to get is a shrug and “tastes like olives”.
It’s the same with good wine. I love wine. Drink a glass every night. Over the years I’ve been fortunate to drink some very good and expensive wines (Grange. Hill of Grace etc) and you could knock me down with a feather if I could pick them out of a line up comprised of those two and half a dozen $15 a bottle imposters from some guy who squashed some grapes he found into a bottle and stuck a label on it. Just like the olives, the best I’ll be able to do is “mmm, wine. I like wine. I would like more wine.”
In this regard and many others I am a cretin, a peasant and a pleasingly cheap date. Always a silver lining.
The reason I explain all of that is because I’m the same with perfumes and fragrances. For the most part, I can’t tell you why I like one thing over another thing and what it is, specifically, about the thing I like. But here’s the rub – when I do find something I love, I really love it. It makes me happy. I look forward to putting it on and I feel instantly at home when I wear it.
That is Santal 33 from Le Labo.
If you want much more from this article other than “it’s really…. really nice, you should buy it” then what follows will be a spectacular disappointment.
If you’re still here, then I can at least give you the background to Le Labo (The Lab) and try to tease out with my insufficient nose some of the reasons Santal 33 has been such a success with me and many others.
Le Labo was started by Fabrice Penot and Eddie Roschi in 2006 as two friends already within the fragrance industry coming together to create the company they had dreamed of. Made in New York, focused on the quality of ingredients, avoiding marketing and letting the product do the talking. They were acquired by Estee Lauder in 2014 yet still retain a large degree of autonomy over the brands direction and new product creations.
Le Labo is not a showy brand. There are no celebrity endorsements or glossy ad campaigns. It’s about the product all the way down until you hit rock.
Their belief is that their products are unisex and no fragrance targets a particular gender. I’d agree with that for many of their fragrances, but I can’t see that with Santal 33. To me, Santal 33 is a superbly masculine fragrance, although there is a slight (very subtle) sweetness to it.
It bears the hallmark of the handful of scents I love and have always gravitated towards. Sandalwood, cedarwood, leather and a hint of smoke.
It’s the first fragrance since Santa Maria Novella’s Tabacco Toscano that has absolutely bowled me over the moment I smelled it.
Finding a new scent which had such an impact on me was not for lack of trying. I’d spent a couple of years trying just about everything I could get my hands on in the hope I’d be able to find a fragrance I could alternate Tabacco Toscano with and nothing came close.
It’s lovely to now have a second fragrance, depending on how I feel on a given morning. Although I’ve been wearing Santal 33 for about 2 months straight, which I put down to the giddy infatuation brought about with finding new love.
The other aspect I love of Le Labo is the personalisation on offer with their products. When ordering both Santal 33 and Santal 26 (their candle with a similar scent) you can enter your details when checking out and a custom label is produced. It’s lovely to have my name, the date and location on the label and personalises the experience beautifully. Such a simple thing to orchestrate, but no one else does it.
Fragrance is such a personal thing, so what will now become a lifelong fragrance in my bathroom cabinet, may not resonate with you. But I can say that if you do like woody, leathery and understated masculine fragrances then there’s a good chance you’ll resonate with Santal 33, along with the authenticity that is so evident from Fabrice and Eddie.