Sandalwood

While all of us have heard of sandalwood, few of us have smelled the authentic wood which has a smell all its own, quite unlike that of most sandalwood oils. The best sandalwood comes from Mysore in eastern India where at one time wild trees were cut down for their oil. Now most sandalwood oil from this region comes from harvested trees. Sandalwood also comes from other places such as Sri Lanka, Hawaii, Indonesia, and New Caledonia. While each of these can be lovely in its own way, none have the particular creamy delicacy of the real Mysore stuff.  

As a young child, I discovered a sandalwood fan of my mother’s. It had a distinct aroma that was so dry it was hard to breath. Today, I'd probably call it “powdery.” It took me years of searching to find a sandalwood that captured that aroma—a batch of original Mysore sandalwood from the 1930s. Once I smelled this aroma, and I realized that most sandalwood is but a poor imitation, I set out to make a sandalwood that resembled as much as possible my antique treasure. After some struggle, I think I’ve come up with something pretty good, if not an exact replica of my “gold standard.”

Brooklyn Perfume Company’s sandalwood perfume is designed to amplify the aroma of sandalwood, otherwise quite subtle. Our sandalwood has a deep smell of sandalwood, accented with a small amount of green/blue vetiver (vetiver is an aromatic grass coming from India) distilled in traditional copper stills. (This is responsible for the slightly green hue of the perfume.) This touch of green aroma is characteristic of the best sandalwood.

Sandalwood oil has been used for millennia and is made by distilling the wood of the tree to come up with a viscous, golden, and aromatic liquid. It has a slightly sweet (but never cloying) and balsamic somewhat animalic aroma. The best sandalwood, and that used in Brooklyn Perfume Company’s, comes from eastern India in the region of Mysore. Traditional sandalwood comes from old wild and practically extinct trees, but that used in our perfume is made from sustainable harvested trees. Good sandalwood perfumes—those that actually resemble the wood and not some fantasy of it—are best worn in the evening when their soft toasty aromas can blend with rich surroundings, perhaps scented by perfumes others are wearing."

When I first encountered sandalwood oil, I couldn't smell it. I had read about anosmia--the inability to smell--but never realized that one can be anosmic to particular substances. Even perfumers may be anosmic to certain flowers, musks, woods or chemicals. But I was anosmic to sandalwood and artificial musk, two essentials in the perfumer's kitchen. It was sort of like being a French cook who couldn't taste butter. I felt like some kind of olfactory paraplegic. Convinced I could smell certain things to which I had had a previous blindness, I practiced sniffing bottles of sandalwood and artificial musk for months. Now I can smell them both, and rather well.

Once Brooklyn Perfume Company's Sandalwood was released on the market, it received many insightful and helpful reviews at basenotes.net, the premier forum for perfumers and would-be perfumers. One of the first issues that came up was whether I had indeed used Mysore sandalwood. Well, I had to answer in all honesty that I wasn't really certain. My method was this: I took my 17 bottles of sandalwood, all labeled "Mysore," over to The Twisted Lily where I had Eric (the proprietor) and his colleague Anna, and a couple of friends of mine with good noses smell them all. We just held the bottles up to our noses since these were pure oils and had no alcohol. We eliminated some right away as not fitting in with the rest of the collection, but the remainder were more difficult. It was finally decided that mine was right up there, nearest the gold standard. Now whether it's Mysore or not, in all honesty I can't really say. But who can? I suppose a great connoisseur might be able to but none of my parfumista friends could distinguish one from the other with absolute certainty.