Santa Maria Novella is an apothecary located in Florence, Italy with roots that can be traced back to the 1600's, although its roots as a church and Catholic monastary go back to the 1300's. While it's now a privately owned company, they take great care to stick to the old ways of doing things. Their perfumes are not actually perfumes (I assume that's due to concentration), they are colognes.
As a certified herbalist, I am fascinated with Santa Maria Novella's well-preserved history that shows the link between herbal medicine and perfumery. In ancient times and accross many cultures, perfumery fell under the umbrella of herbal medicine. After all, until modern times perfume was made from herbs, roots, bark, resins, woods, leaves and flowers. Stuff like that. Natural stuff. While many-a-perfumista recognizes Santa Maria Novella as a "perfume house", to this day the establishment is first and foremost an apothecary with an incredible repertoire of herbal perparations that range from digestive pastilles to cat shampoos. It's quite a lot to take in!
I love Santa Maria Novella's tradition of crafting cruelty-free, botanical preparations. In their entire history, their product ingredients have never included animal products or bi-products and have never been tested on animals.
The products and colognes aren't always easy to find and especially to sample. Santa Maria Novella maintains limited distribution by several means. One is that they do not allow third parties to sell their products online. If you wish to purchase any products online, you must either buy directly from them, or their US distributor, or make an actual phone call (I know, weird, right?) to order products from a third party boutique such as ZGO Perfumery in San Francisco. I had wanted to sample Sandalo (Sandalwood) for some time, so I made the trip over to the Castro to give it a whirl on my skin.
Before I get to the review, I want to say a word about the colognes on the whole. I am quite familiar with the house's (apothecary's) style. I've owned four or five colognes and sampled many more. I am always struck by their their naturalness, high-quality, simplicity and genuineness. They are never predictable. With simple names like Iris, Jasmine, Carnation etc., one might expect soliflores, but I have found that the colognes are typically fairly complex. Initially they might smell nothing like the note for which they are named, but they will, at some point in their development, yield that namesake note in a way that is so pure and natural. For example, Fieno (Hay) smells like talcum powder for a looooong time, but well into the drydown you end up with the most pure and beautiful note of hay ever. Another example, Melograno (Pomegranate) begins with a top note of tangy pomegranate, but that soon fades, and we end up with a very high-quality, mossy and gorgeous chypre. When sampling Santa Maria Novella colognes, I would say that if you go into it with any preconceived notions of what you are going to smell, just wipe those notions entirely off of the chalk board!
Review of Sandalo (Sandalwood):
Sandalo begins smelling nothing like sandalwood to the point where it's hard to believe it will evolve into sandalwood. From prior experience, I know to wait it out. At first it smells like a really nice, sweet citrus, like the flesh of an orange, but with a transparent, whispy feel. Soon I notice an unexpected medicinal note that I am not too fond of. The more I scrutinize, the more it seems herbal, perhaps like eucalyptus leaves, a note I avoid like the plague. I don't like it in nature, and I don't like it in perfume. Development takes a long time--the herbal heart lasted about two hours. I still can't believe I am saying this because I don't even like eucalyptus, but the longer it was on my skin, the more it grew on me (no pun intended).
Ever-so-slowly, a serene woodiness creeps in, still not sandalwood, and the scent warmed on my skin and projected very clearly, yet unobtrusively, from my wrist for hours. It took 2-3 hours before I began to smell the incredible creaminess of real sandalwood. At that point, I was definitely swooning. While the eucalyptus note ultimately faded into non-existence, the orange did not. The scent of orange remained on my skin, perfectly combined with sandalwood, for the entire 8+ hours the perfume lasted.
Sandalo doesn't smell like incense sticks, and it's not smoky. I highly doubt that sandalwood incense sticks are made with real sandalwood anyway, since the wood is so costly and somewhat hard to come by these days, especially the Mysore variety. I have smelled Mysore sandalwood essential oil. You really have to relax and inhale gently to even smell it. It is not heavy nor intense. The creaminess of real sandalwood seems peanutty, but it's subtle. It's an inherant creminess that does not smell anything like coconut, amber nor vanilla, although perfumers use these notes to give more oomph in a composition. Once it dries down, Sandalo nails the scent profile of Mysore sandalwood quite perfectly, better than any other perfume I know of. It's like sniffing pure Mysore sandalwood mixed with a hint of sweet orange. The base is a soft, woody scent that is completely unisex and lends a feeling of tranquility.
Sandalo smells uplifting because there are no dark notes. There is no oud to darken it into a wood that matches expectations better, no pepper, no patchouli, no incense. In this regard, I find it different from other sandalwood perfumes on the market. I will eventually add a bottle to my collection, but on this particular occasion I left with a bottle of Tam Dao EDP. In all honesty, I wish I had purchased Sandalo.