eyeliner on a cat

eyeliner on a cat
beauty, scent & style scrutinized for pleasure

Monday, May 16, 2011

Le Labo Santal 33: Switchblade Sibling

Well, the time has come. I've been waiting breathlessly for Le Labo's Santal 33 since I first heard they were taking the concept from their popular Santal 26 candle and tweaking it to create a unique perfume. This moment is the equivalent of my favorite band releasing a new album after a break of several years; I'm at once terribly excited and terribly terrified. What if I hate it? Will I raise my fists to the heavens and curse with tears streaming down my face? As usual, the stress is all for naught. Le Labo has created another very memorable fragrance that I will love wearing during every season, but especially summer.

When first sprayed, I instantly get a couple of things: the intense sharpness of Australian Sandalwood along with cedar to intensify it (good lord, the cedar is stunning), and a cool, camphorous blast. It almost feels cool on the skin too (but there's a chance I'm imagining that because I'm really getting into this). As the heart approaches, you can tell that it's not going to be as overwhelmingly powerful as Patchouli 24 or Oud 27, and that's okay, because I love and own those two perfumes already, I wanted something different.

While the woods and camphor (much like an unlit menthol cigarette) are the dominating notes, I can detect soft violet and iris in the backdrop, adding a rather charming element to the scent. The initial masculinity of the blend is tamed just slightly as the florals emerge and the camphor quiets down. I'm almost certain I smell vetiver as well, and it's lovely. There is supposed to be a smoky element to Santal 33, and I do not get that at all. Another unlisted note is leather, and it's not the leather I expected. In fact, it's more of a suede to me, the kind that often accompanies violet and iris. There's a reason these notes work so well together, and I'm not a perfumer or a chemist, so I'll leave that idea hanging in the air.

The ad copy on this fragrance has to do with The Marlboro Man, and the romantic image of the American West. I don't really get the connection once I'm smelling it on my skin, but I will say this, Santal 33 would smell amazing on a man, I just know it. It's also wonderful for people who love to toy with gender in perfume.

As is standard for Le Labo perfumes, Santal 33 isn't all about sandalwood. In fact, it only really starts to show itself in a familiar form after about 45 minutes of wear. It's not the smooth, creamy almost nutty quality of Indian Sandalwood. Australian Sandalwood (bolstered by cedar and papyrus) will cut you with a switchblade, old-school style. I can say with certainty (and may it be a warning for some of you): if you dislike the smell of camphor, stay away. Stay far away. It doesn't ever go away. I personally can't get enough, and am looking forward to a lot more time with Santal 33 to draw out any other peculiarities that I missed the first time around.

"Switchblade Sue Will Cut You" by Arabella Proffer

Creator Frank Voelkl does it again, two perfumes in a row that I love (the first being Esprit d'Oscar). He's definitely on a roll this year and has created something fresh for Le Labo. Santal 33 is modern, directly in line with the Le Labo aesthetic, and wholly original. My best guess is that Santal 33 will not quite enjoy the popularity of Patchouli 24 or Oud 27, but it will grow to legendary status among a select group. There's just no way to please everyone.

notes list: cardamom, iris, violet, ambrox, sandalwood, papyrus, cedar

Le Labo Santal 33 is available at lelabofragrances.com: 15ml bottle for $58, 50ml for $145, larger bottles also available. 

[bottle purchased by me for my own personal use]


  1. Love it!

    I was enthralled by the imagery preceding the launch of this fragrance (romantic cowboys, check!), and then my lemmings were killed when Victoria reviewed it---her 'read' on the Santal 33 kind of swept away the illusion... but now we're back to lemming again. I can't make up my mind!? I guess I'll sniff it when it makes it's way to me, LOL!

  2. I think it's definitely worth getting a sample- I like to order samples directly from Le Labo, they're 1.5ml sprays, and $5 apiece. Keep that lemming alive!

  3. I have a sample of Santal 33 myself and enjoyed wearing it the first time. I didn't find it as harsh as Oud 27. In fact, I think this will probably be more popular than that. I own 27 and it still shocks me when I put it on.

    I enjoyed your review. I'm a big fan of the brand and am glad to read you are too.

  4. I usually like my sandalwood smooth and creamy and nutty and as comforting as possible, all things this seems not to be, nonetheless, I loved your review and it makes me curious. Le Labo is growing on me, slowly but definitely.

  5. Hi Barney! Thanks for commenting. Oud 27 is my favorite Le Labo, with Patchouli right behind. Their Oud was the one perfume that turned me on to a true passion of mine: smelling harsh and stinky. I love it, can't get enough. Others in that vein that I love, BBoadicea the Victorious Complex, Knize Ten. There is an art to the stink, some have it, some don't.

    Birgit- from what I know of your perfume tastes, I would be surprised if you took well to Santal, but I would like to hear your assessment regardless. I knew I was not going to like Secretions Magnifique, but I had to get a sample of it anyway. I think everyone needs to try it. Santal 33 definitely will not appeal to everyone, but I am just SO excited to wear it when it's hot outside, it cools you off incredibly well!

  6. Great review Carrie. I feel like I really got to know the essence of the frag without even trying it!

    This sounds like a very dry fragrance. Is it?
    I do like a little bit of camphor but a"blast" might be too much for little old me!

  7. I love that "smelling harsh and stinky" bit in the comment above. I sometimes smell perfumes and think "this one is fantastic" and spray it on and realise that they'd be fantastic on a man and now everyone is looking at me very strangely. I wish I'd have the courage to wear those scents proudly, but unfortunately I'm not there yet.

  8. I want to try this one, and will order from Le Labo, I didn't realize that they sold samples. But, I do worry about the camphor. Everything else sounds perfect except for the camphor, despite my love of sniffing unlit menthols. However, I am optimistic. I seeing it all working out.