I Fell for Le Labo's Santal 33 Just Like the Rest of the World and I Don't Care if That Makes Me a Sucker
I mean, even Justin frickin' BEIBER wears it.
Sitting outside in my yard, if I close my eyes and take a deep breath, I can smell blooming fireweed, wet earth, woodsmoke and ripe cranberries. The smells of summer and fall, melded together. I wish I could bottle it!
Demeter set out to do just that with their destination collection—except they chose iconic locations instead of, you know, some hill in Alaska.
Released over the summer, it includes three scents: Cuba, New Zealand, and Great Barrier Reef. They set out to capture three places on the globe, and the result was a bit of a mixed bag.
This scent is complicated—because Cuba is complicated. Especially right now, following the re-opening of the Cuban and American embassies, the U.S. and Cuba are just beginning to untangle political relations. As a result of being cut off from the U.S. rather abruptly and completely for 55 years, Americans have a rather antiquated idea of Cuba and its people, and that is exactly what this fragrance is about: the American romanticism of Cuba.
And it’s pulled off beautifully.
This fragrance unfolds like an old map, layering top notes of rum, spice and even a hint of diesel exhaust with heart notes of warm vanilla, tobacco, leather, and coconut. The base is a round, earthy vanilla, with a fresh linen reminiscent of line-dried Guayabera shirt, and it lingered for hours on my wrist. It’s a vibrant scent that’s classic and sexy; it reminds me of a drugstore scent I wore in college that was essentially just a cheap aphrodisiac.
A scent that evokes the largest reef system in the world is quite an undertaking. Rapidly declining due to climate change and pollution, the Great Barrier Reef lies off the northeast coast of Australia. If you haven’t been, stop everything this instant and get to Google Streetview Oceans; it’s like regular Streetview, except of the world’s oceans—so actually infinitely better.
I was curious how the fragrance wizards at Demeter would approach this scent: from an entirely naturalistic approach? Or maybe something lighter and wearable?
Whatever their plan, they didn’t deliver. With jarring top notes of toilet bowl cleaner and heart notes that I can only describe as generically medicinal, even the sweet touch of lychee is overpowered by water. It lacks the depth and complexity to arrive at an authentic, original scent. Where is the brine?!
It leans on another Demeter scent that I wasn’t impressed with, Salt Air. If you live for CLEAN fragrances, you will love this scent. I will say that spritzed it in my car, it was delightful a few hours later. If you are looking for an authentic ocean scent, though, wander on, child.
I am obsessed with New Zealand—more than is healthy, really. I’ve only visited once, but I bawled when I had to leave. Everything about the country—the land, the sea, the people, the culture, the coffee—I love it. New Zealand is my back-up plan if/when my own country goes to pot. I mean, manuka honey is cheap as chips there, and you can’t swing a possum without hitting a beach or a mountain!
But my undying love for New Zealand didn’t cloud my judgement.
Drawing heavily on petrichor, rain, wet forest, cold, crisp air, slate, and resinous herbs, this fragrance smells like a dense, temperate rainforest just moments after a downpour, mist still hanging in the air. It’s very forward; there isn’t much depth, and I might have liked a stronger mineral or volcanic note, or even sweet and soft like fresh cream or manuka honey to round out the scent.
As it is, the fragrance is very wearable: subtle but distinguished, clean, strong, herbaceous, and layers and wears nicely. I actually like to use it in my living space as a calming room spray, too, since it’s so nuanced.
Nailing a scent that encompasses a place can be tough. I can hardly choose where I’d pick to capture in fragrance form. The Big Island of Hawai’i would be a clear choice: burning sugarcane, wet earth, sulphur and wild ginger flower would make for one hell of a scent!