Santal Majuscule Eau de Parfum by Serge Lutens Review
“Hop on the majuscule bus!”My boyfriend, who never seems to tire of this joke, every single time I wear this perfume
Santal Majuscule is one of those deceptively simple perfumes with very few listed notes. Sandalwood, cacao, and rose. Perhaps a hint of tonka bean or rosewood, depending on whom you ask. Nothing more and nothing less.
And yet, somehow, the depth and unique facets of the perfume rival many much more seemingly complex compositions. Each of those three accords is rich, deep, and uniquely photorealistic. The result is a perfume that’s delicate and understated, but comforting, sophisticated, and utterly unique.
It’s a laconic perfume that says a lot with a few simple words. Which arguably makes it the direct opposite of this blog.
The first thing that jumps out at me in Serge Lutens’ Santal Majuscule is the uniquely textured sandalwood. It’s warm, spicy, and completely and utterly dry. Almost astringent.
This is a sandalwood that’s dry with an almost cedar-like texture. It’s more like raw straight wood than the traditional soft creaminess of sandalwood essential oil. This is the sort of sandalwood smell that makes you think of fine polished cuts of wood, of furniture, of the inside of musical instruments with their faint sawdusty texture.
There is some similarity in Santal Majuscule with Serge Lutens’ own Five O’Clock Au Gingembre. A rich, creamy, contemplative sort of sandalwood makes up part of the warm spicy heart of that scent. But Santal Majuscule is much more cut and dry, literally and metaphorically. A smaller bouquet of notes make up its deep complexity, and overall the wood feels like it’s been freshly cut and left to dry, almost like a warm spicy sort of cedar. It’s more wood chips and sawdust and fine polished cabinets than it is creamy.
Santal Majuscule, in other words, is an exquisitely woody sandalwood.
Oftentimes perfumes based in sandalwood don’t feel like they deserve the moniker of “woody.” Sure, technically they have a prominent wood note, but that wood just doesn’t feel… woody enough. It’s rich and soft and creamy, sometimes almost cinnamon-like, a warm spicy rich heart. Not so with Santal Majuscule. This is a sandalwood perfume that feels and smells like real, dry wood.
Sure, it’s still rich, but it’s in a dry way rather than a creamy one. It makes me think of the texture of freshly cut wood grain, so many ridged structures packed so closely together, dense and dry and almost prickly. Running a finger along it threatens a splinter. That’s the texture of the sandalwood in Santal Majuscule.
It’s quite impressive and well done. Nose Christopher Sheldrake has captured a really interesting sandalwood accord here.
When I close my eyes, there’s something in Santal Majuscule that reminds me of incense. Sandalwood incense, for sale in the quirky sort of shop that sells art supplies or strange jewelry or vintage clothing and has a whole rack of crew socks printed with sassy slogans like “world’s okayest dad” and “runs on coffee” and “If you can read this, bring me a mojito.”
About forty minutes in, I start to sense cocoa powder creeping up in the background of Santal Majuscule. My sixty minutes in, it’s at the forefront alongside sandalwood, softening its edges with pillowy bittersweet powder.
By ninety minutes in, cocoa is front and center. It’s softened the dry sandalwood of the opening with its gentle, feathery-light creaminess. At this stage, Santal Majuscule is a faint, incredibly light, gauzy cloak of cocoa powder on a softening heart of sandalwood.
The result is a fragrance that feels vaguely chocolatey, but in a modest, restrained way. This isn’t an all-out sweet gourmand extravaganza. Nor is it a bold spicy chocolate like that of Aether Arts Perfume’s Mayan Chocolate. No, this is gentle, understated cocoa, bitter on one side and sweet on the other and soft all the way down.
The bitter side of that cocoa note is perhaps my very favorite thing about Santal Majuscule. It’s a photorealistic portrait of sticking your nose in a jar of real unadulterated cacao powder. Being a taste, bitterness is quite hard to portray in a perfume, and here nose Christopher Sheldrake does it well.
There’s a faint, buttery, almost black-peppery spiciness to the cocoa note that reminds me for a moment of Mayan Chocolate. Here it’s toned down significantly, a rhyme rather than an exact copy. It’s a vague sense of something spicy and savory, plant-y and almost vegetal, crunchy and full of water in some moments like a green bell pepper.
In Mayan Chocolate I’d blamed something in the pepper accord for this effect, but perhaps some aromachemical commonly used in cacao accords reads as black-pepper-like on my skin.
This sharpness is only truly prominent at odd moments. It’s countered by the infinite powder-pillow softness of the rest of the cocoa accord.
An hour and a half in, here’s what my boyfriend had to say about Santal Majuscule: “Spicy. Savory. Almost vegetal. Chocolatey. It’s like what they pump into the air at the Hershey Chocolate Experience.”
This was slightly unexpected. He hadn’t named the chocolate in the much-more-chocolatey Mayan Chocolate, but he instantly picked it up in this. I suppose it’s because the cocoa here feels softer, floatier, more conventional and easy to recognize.
From here, Santal Majuscule remains a largely linear sandalwood-cocoa perfume through the drydown. In total, the fragrance lasts a solid eight to ten hours on my skin. The projection is rather intimate the whole time, soft and clinging close, but the lasting power is impressive.
Nothing in Santal Majuscule really smells like roses to me until I wake up the next morning in sheets tinged with the perfume. Then, suddenly, I am keenly aware of a certain soft pink edge to the perfume, a whisper of something delicate, feminine, and refined.
For some reason the rose note doesn’t seem to come out at all on skin for me, but on cloth or paper it becomes a significant player. It’s a soft pink, gentle sort of rose, inoffensive and tempered, delicately balanced between the extremes of fresh and powdery. It further softens and smooths the edges of that uniquely rough dry sandalwood as it melts slowly into a large vat of bittersweet cocoa.
Or perhaps the rose really is there the whole time on my skin, but it creeps up so incredibly gradually that I never notice it. It’s like the old adage about boiling a frog alive. If you throw the frog in a pot of boiling water, it will jump out. But if you turn the heat up slowly from room temperature, it will sit contentedly basking in the warmth until it’s cooked.
Perhaps that’s what happened with the rose note in Santal Majuscule for me. There was nothing, nothing, nothing… and then I woke up to find myself cocooned in sheets suffused by gentle rose.
And now, just sniffing the sample vial, I can sense the gentle rosiness of Santal Majuscule. It’s soft, elusive, a faint pink light around the edges of the sandalwood and cocoa. It’s not so much a headstrong rose note as a faint background rosy musk accord, blending with a judicious touch of something like tonka bean to smooth out the later moments of the perfume.
In the first few seconds on the skin, sometimes something in Santal Majuscule reminds me of flowers blooming in a humid green conservatory. Just for an instant, I can sense an addictive potency to the almost indolic Damask roses. That distinctive edge fades into the background, but the rosy depth remains, adding a certain swooning sensual muskiness to the rest of the perfume.
If the dry grain of the sandalwood was Santal Majuscule at its most traditionally masculine, this airy light pink hint of musky rose, most apparent to me in the drydown, is it at its most feminine. Though far less intense, it reminds me of the earnest, boozy, woody, almost witchy pale pink rose of Victoria’s Secret’s underrated So In Love.
Unlike the ridged texture of the opening, the late drydown cocoa-sandalwood-rose muskiness of Santal Majuscule is uniquely soft and comforting, albeit still dry and almost powdery rather than truly creamy. It has a texture that might remind one a little of cashmere. But, most of all, that comforting and uniquely dry musky amber reminds me of the smell of old books.
That’s right. Old books. Santal Majuscule does not sell itself as an Old Books perfume, but the unique dryness of its comforting depths is reminiscent of rich, delicious-smelling old paper. Isn’t paper sort of like very thinly sliced wood? Santal Majuscule is like a delectably dry, cocoa-dusty old book made of sandalwood paper with rose petals tucked between the pages.
No, it’s not a literal book-smelling perfume, but the effect is similar enough that I’d recommend this perfume almost unilaterally to the I-want-to-smell-like-old-books crowd that likes scents like Maison Martin Margiela’s Whispers in the Library and Diptyque’s Eau Duelle. It’s certainly better at delivering that effect than Wallpaper* Steidl’s this-is-supposed-to-smell-like-books oddity, Paper Passion.
Note pyramid listings for Santal Majuscule vary. It’s a deceptively simple perfume: sandalwood, cocoa, and a hint of rose. I’ve seen some say there’s a rosewood note in there somewhere. Perfumer’s rosewood generally being a bit of a fantasy note, I can’t point to anything that particularly looks like rosewood to me, save a general dark, dry, almost boozy, faintly rosy quality of the woody accord.
People are very keen to call this a cocoa perfume and not a chocolate perfume. Chocolate carries its own host of lush gourmand expectations. Still, the cocoa note here does make me think of chocolate at times, especially as the fragrance gets softer, richer, more buttery as it melts into the drydown. That hint of something like tonka bean in the base lends a hint of cocoa-butter-like smoothness, a whisper of sweetness, that does make this feel like a chocolate perfume, albeit a careful, delicate one.
In fact, I’d recommend Santal Majuscule as a chocolate perfume for people who find chocolatey perfumes too heavy and on-the-nose. It’s not an overwhelming sweet gourmand thing. Nor is it the pungent and delightfully weird peppery concoction that is Mayan Chocolate. No, this is chocolate in a delicate sort of abstraction, each of the few notes carefully weighed and balanced. This is a hint of cocoa, a bit of softness, a touch of wood. It’s a perfume reminiscent of chocolate that whispers.
To my nose, there’s a faint trace of warm spices laced through Santal Majuscule. In the first seconds I’m tempted to say something like cumin, but not in the way that reminds people of sweat. It also feels a little like saffron to me, though that’s the sort of luxurious note I’d think Serge Lutens’ marketing would want to list on the bottle.
It’s just a particular spiciness that makes me think of heat and texture. There’s a pepperiness to the perfume that feels to me like a hint of black pepper, as well as what reads as a very faint watery vegetal note on my skin.
Santal Majuscule is light and ethereal. It’s a touch dusty from the dry woods and cocoa powder, but not in a way that’s heavy or sneezy. Instead it’s floaty like a veil of cocoa and roses.
There’s something faintly boozy about it, too. Though light and unsweet, the cocoa and rose accords lean towards liqueur. Especially the rose. There’s a boozy, almost whiskey-like depth to the rose note. Somehow the rose here is declawed of that loud distinctive quality that declares so many rose notes the star of the show. The result is a deep, sultry, almost indolic well of boozy, berry-tinged rose musk.
I wouldn’t have instantly pinned this note as rose if I hadn’t known it was there. Instead, that booziness, muskiness, and depth suffuses the rest of the perfume, seeping through the dry sandalwood and dusty cocoa.
The projection of Santal Majuscule is intimate on my skin. This isn’t a big loud sort of perfume with a ton of sillage. Instead, it clings close all day, lasting some eight to ten hours at a level I can smell and appreciate all around me. I like my perfumes long-lasting and soft-spoken, and for me, this is perfect. I can wear Santal Majuscule all day, basking in its quiet glory.
Understated and gorgeous, Santal Majuscule is the sort of perfume I reach for when I don’t know what to wear without thinking and, perhaps, without appreciating its beauty properly. It’s not a fragrance that shouts, but its whispers are restrained, silky, and delicious.
My favorite daily sort of woody perfume is currently Stash by Sarah Jessica Parker. That one is cooler than Santal Majuscule, both in temperature and temperament. It makes me feel like a cool girl in a movie that came out in 2003, that problematic one-of-the-boys stereotype of a cool girl that can eat seventy burgers a day and still be rail thin and severely gorgeous.
But now that Stash has supposedly been discontinued, perhaps I’ll get my woody fragrance fix from Santal Majuscule more often. It’s a warmer, gentler, more feminine and romantic take on the theme, though it’s still an exquisitely unisex woody scent. It’s quieter, more contemplative, less splashy and bright, almost powdery in places. It’s a dreamy sort of perfume.
In comparison with that other warm woody Serge Lutens that I love, Five O’Clock Au Gingembre, Santal Majuscule is simpler and more reserved. It doesn’t jump out and wow you with a unique intoxicating blend of spices, woods, tea, and a certain quiet majesty.
Yes, majesty. For all its gingerbread biscuits and tea, Five O’Clock Au Gingembre is a much more grand, solemn, contemplative, majestic sort of perfume than Santal Majuscule. I’d assumed the word “majuscule” had something to do with a sense of majesty, but really it’s the French word for an uppercase or capital letter.
Which makes far more sense here. Santal Majuscule is the opposite of majestic. It’s understated, delicate, almost humble. It’s simple, impressively photorealistic, and utterly devoid of bells and whistles. But it certainly is santal sandalwood with a capital S.
I’m more likely to think of Five O’Clock as an intentional, deliberate sort of specific fragrance choice and Santal Majuscule as an “eh, I dunno what to wear” sort of pleasure. I don’t choose Santal Majuscule. I stare uninspired into my box of samples and it chooses me.
Sometimes that’s just what you need.
So go ahead. Put on your best wacky science teacher earrings and hop on the majuscule bus.
Dear readers, please forgive my intermittent absence from the perfume space over the last three months. I have been very busy absolutely losing my mind. I got a new job (and a time-consuming volunteer position, and am currently moving and trying to buy a car) and got overwhelmed and stopped working on the blog daily.
This, as it turns out, was a mistake. Having nothing meaningful to build creatively with every minute of my spare time, my OCD-addled brain threw itself into a number of all-encompassing pits of cognitive hell. Like obsessive decluttering. It’s a bit of a chicken and egg situation, losing my mind because I’m not working on the blog, not working on the blog because I’m losing my mind. But I’m back now and doing my best. Cheers!
Where to Find Santal Majuscule Eau de Parfum by Serge Lutens
You can find samples and decants of Santal Majuscule EdP at Scent Split.
These are affiliate links. If you click on them and buy something, the seller pays me a commission, at no extra cost to you. You can learn more about them here.