Sandalwood is one of the key building blocks of modern perfumery. Its presence has caused several reactions. One is the overharvesting of the precious sandalwood of Mysore in India. This was what perfumers used in the early decades and over time it was taken down to small amounts left. It is now presided over, so it doesn’t return to that state. Nature and perfumery abhor a vacuum which means the perfume oil producers asked their chemists for synthetic alternatives. Along with that there were sustainable sources in Australia. In all these cases there was a seeming attempt to accentuate the creamy and sweet character of sandalwood. Which moved it further away from what it was trying to emulate.
Jeroen Oude Sogtoen
I have a tiny sample of actual Mysore sandalwood oil along with a few treasured vintage perfumes which feature the ingredient. None of those are creamy or sweet. Mysore sandalwood has a much more austere effect. It always reminds me of an ashy coating being removed to expose raw wood underneath. There is an acrid undercurrent in Mysore sandalwood which is what has been engineered out via chemical synthesis. Mona di Orio Santal Nabataea wants to be a perfume which explores what Mysore sandalwood used to mean in perfumery.
Creative director Jeroen Oude Sogtoen and perfumer Fredrik Dalman were inspired by the capitol of the ancient land of Nabataea, Petra. The city was made of sandstone buildings which were more varied than that sounds because there were different colored varieties to be used in the area. If you need a pop culture reference it is the city where the last act of “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” takes place. This transfers to a sandalwood centric perfume as M. Dalman creates a layered effect around his keynote.
This layering is in effect from the first second. M. Dalman uses a mixture of the species of sandalwood from Mysore, santalum album, which has been sustainably grown in Australia. It is supported by some actual Indian sandalwood. This is as close to Mysore sandalwood as we’re going to get in the present day. M. Dalman blends his sources into something which is only tiny shades different than my sample of the authentic source. M. Dalman first calls forth black pepper and coffee to interact with the sandalwood. There is a distinct bitterness to santalum album both notes explore that. The black coffee does it in a richly caffeinated perspective while the pepper picks up on that “ashy” quality I perceive. It moves in the heart to a duo of odd choices in apricot and black currant leaf. There is a kind of urine-like tone to santalum album; the black currant leaf shares that together they find a more pleasant harmonic as the green leaves find more of a presence. The apricot is a fruity contrast. The base accord moves to more traditional ground of opoponax providing a resinous partner to the sandalwood.
Santal Nabataea has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
There is an economic principal called “regression towards the mean”. It means that as the price of something moves further and further to an extreme eventually it finds its way back to the place where it started. As I wore Santal Nabataea it felt like Messrs. Sogtoen and Dalman were providing a perfume equivalent. Santal Nabataea is a regression toward the Mysore.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample I purchased.