Sandalwood: Multi-faceted, Enigmatic, Irresistible

When I was a boy, I played with a fan my grandmother got in India in the 1920s. It was made of sandalwood and had an entrancing smell, woody and very dry. When I first smelled sandalwood essential oil, I was surprised it didn’t smell like the fan; it smelled better.

In our first edition of Sandalwood, I wanted to use the best Mysore sandalwood from East India. So, I set about ordering sandalwood from suppliers all over the world, many who claimed to be selling the authentic stuff. When I had 20 different samples, I selected the best example for my perfume. Because it was so outstanding, I assumed it was the real stuff. Now, I don’t think it was.

As I’ve smelled a lot of different sandalwood, I’ve become more discerning. One of my samples, especially, has a dimension the others don’t have. It’s a little medicinal with a reverberating center, wild, but enigmatic and difficult to define. It is extremely complex, green, and lactonic at the same time. 

Pure sandalwood’s smell is understated and best appreciated up close. Synthetic imitations, while some are very convincing, never replicate the beautiful shimmering magic of the authentic oil.

My Sandalwood contains a ruinous amount of sandalwood, sandalwood I now think is from Indonesia. While it isn’t Mysore, it’s made from the same species and is very beautiful; it’s just a bit more direct than Mysore. To reinforce the impression of sandalwood—especially the greenness—Sandalwood contains a good amount of fragrant Indian vetiver. The vetiver, as well as a gorgeous balsamic frankincense, reinforces the sandalwood associations and underlines the woody aspects. There are also spices—fenugreek is especially good—and musk. 

Because sandalwood has so many effects, I’ve represented it more than once on the last of our Paul Jellinek-inspired Odor Effects Diagram.