The French heritage perfume house Guerlain is no stranger to incredible scents. Founded in 1828, nearly two hundred years ago, Guerlain has created some of the most iconic and enduring classics in all of French perfume history, including such staples as Jicky, Shalimar, Mistsouko, Vetiver, Habit Rouge, and many, many more.
Of course, a lot has changed in two centuries. In the past decade, designer brands like Armani, Louis Vuitton, Prada, and Yves Saint Laurent have all explored the rich world of Middle Eastern perfumery, placing particular emphasis on oud.
Santal Royal (meaning “royal sandalwood”) released in 2014 as the first installment in the Les Absolus d’Orient, is Guerlain’s answer to the oud trend. How does an oud fragrance from the creator of the first modern oriental perfume stack up?
Santal Royal is a deep, rich, and opulent perfume. What it lacks in originality (there are a number of similar fragrances on the market) it makes up for in quality and craftsmanship. It also offers decent performance and high value for money for a niche fragrance.
Want to know more? Let’s take a closer look at Guerlain Santal Royal.
Top Notes: jasmine, neroli
Middle Notes: rose, cinnamon, peach
Base Notes: oud, sandalwood, leather, amber, musk
First and foremost, it should be said that although this perfume is called Santal Royal, it is not really a sandalwood fragrance.
That seems to be a common theme in the Les Absolus d’Orient line: Encens Mythique, after all, has next to no incense; Patchouli Ardent could hardly be called a patchouli fragrance; Ambre Eternel has very little to do with amber in the traditional sense. Only Oud Essentiel, Cuir Intense, and Musc Noble actually smell like their namesakes.
Perhaps it’s some kind of cheeky joke played by the Guerlain marketing team? In any case, it’s extremely confusing.
That is not to say that the fragrance contains no sandalwood. But the sandalwood plays mostly a supporting role, serving to buttress the composition and provide a lush, silky-smooth texture.
On the contrary, what Santal Royal is is an oud-rose fragrance, and a beautiful one at that.
The fragrance opens with a little bit of skank, what smells to me to be a skanky oud accord (there is, of course, no real oud in the perfume, or at least only trace amounts). Or perhaps it’s some indolic jasmine providing the dirtiness, or a rugged leather accord.
In any case, the skankiness is never too much, and serves to roughen up the fragrance just enough to keep things interesting. Shortly after it fades into the background, a mild underpinning of dirt that gives a truly sexy fragrance its edge.
This is rich, opulent, truly regal stuff: leather, smoky oud, amber, musk, cinnamon, creamy woods, and – the crowning glory – gorgeous, ripe, juicy peach, a note that Guerlain has been pulling off with panache since Mitsouko got the ball rolling a century ago. The peach somehow gels everything together; the rough edges are chipped away, creating a dark, sensual blend.
Dark, cinnamon spiced peach syrup, poured over a sleek black leather jacket being fumigated by a bakhoor burner and sandalwood incense. That’s Santal Royal to me.
If you are simply buying the full bottle without any extra accoutrements, the fragrance comes in a simple black cardboard box emblazoned with the name of the house in gold lettering and a golden emblem.
Santal Royal gift sets come in more elaborate packaging. The gift coffret is housed in a large black box with Guerlain’s characteristic bee logo done up in gold. The full 4.2 oz (125 ml) bottle is accompanied by a 10ml travel spray.
I don’t have the original box anymore, so these images come straight from Google.
Santal Royal comes in two sizes: 4.2 oz (125 ml) and 6.7 oz (200 ml).
The 4.2 oz (125 ml) bottle is nice, though I wouldn’t say the nicest I’ve seen. The black (or deep chocolate brown? It’s hard to tell) flacon is crowned with a plastic golden cap imprinted with Guerlain’s bee logo.
A black and gold tassel is flung around the neck of the bottle, which is a nice little touch.
Finally, the black and gold symbol on the box is present on the bottle in the form of a sticker on the front.
As nice as the bottle design is, I had hoped that the materials would be a bit weightier. The cap is light and a bit flimsy, and the tassel comes off easily when the cap is off. The glass doesn’t have much heft, so it’s a very light bottle overall, despite its larger-than-usual size.
The sprayer is adequate, giving you a nice, hefty burst of fragrance with each atomization.
Overall, a nice bottle presentation.
The longevity of Santal Royal is above-average.
Three to four sprays of Guerlain Santal Royal net about seven or eight hours on average, which is more than enough for my purposes on a day to day basis, and, I’d wager, for most people.
If you’re looking for a beastly Middle Eastern powerhouse, this ain’t it. It is, however, a wonderful Middle Eastern scent profile done with Guerlain’s trademark discretion. For those looking for increased longevity, up the sprays, or layer with an authentic oud or sandalwood oil.
Projection & Sillage
This is a fragrance that ultimately errs on the side of French chic rather than Middle Eastern opulence.
While the smell might come straight out of Dubai, the performance is more akin to French standards. Nevertheless, the projection and sillage of Santal Royal is more than adequate.
Three to four sprays give me about one to two hours of solid, arm’s length projection and sillage. After that point, the fragrance gets closer to the skin, and remains there for the rest of its duration. Still, I’ll occasionally pick up whiffs throughout the day, so it doesn’t become a skin scent until well into the wearing experience.
Value For Money
The retail price of Guerlain Santal Royal is $200 for a 4.2 oz (125 ml) bottle, and $260 for a 6.7 oz (200 ml) bottle. That comes out to about $1.60/ml.
Of course, everyone has to make their own determination of how much is too much for a bottle of perfume. For me, personally, I’ve paid more than $200 for perfume on a number of occasions, but for the average consumer that might be a big ask.
In general, though, it’s in keeping with the cost of niche perfumes more broadly, as well as the “luxury” lines from designer houses such as Chanel’s Les Exclusifs and Armani’s Prive.
In fact, you actually get a good bit more bang for your buck with the Guerlain. Compare Santal Royal to Armani’s Rose d’Arabie, a similar rose-oud fragrance. Rose d’Arabie retails for $200 for a 1.7 oz (50 ml) bottle. That’s $4/ml!
Or take Louis Vuitton’s Ombre Nomade, another similar rose-oud. Ombre Nomade retails for $370 for a 3.4 oz (100 ml) bottle. $3.70/ml certainly ain’t cheap.
There is certainly no quality lost when opting for a Guerlain fragrance. Santal Royal is a very high quality fragrance made with good performance and a great deal of craftsmanship. While it might not have the extravagant presentation of an Armani Prive perfume or be refillable like Louis Vuitton perfumes, it’s nevertheless a very solid release in the Western oud world.
Therefore, Santal Royal has great value for money, if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t mind spending money on a quality perfume.
Who Would Like It
Santal Royal will appeal to people who appreciate dark, smoky, and spicy fragrances, as well as lovers of Middle Eastern perfumes.
While it isn’t as polarizing as many blends from actual Middle Eastern perfumeries, it is nevertheless a unique smell in the Western world and should be worn by those who can tolerate bold fragrances.
Those looking for a good gateway drug into the world of oud and Middle Eastern perfumes might find a friend in Santal Royal, as it gives a reasonably authentic taste of the Middle East but keeps enough trappings of French perfume tradition to steer you out of the oudy deep end.
The perfume is completely unisex, and will suit male or female wearers with a taste for opulence.
When To Wear It
Being a smoky, spicy, and dark perfume, Santal Royal is better suited for fall and winter.
Due to its richness, I would say that this would suit more formal, dressed up occasions, rather than casual get-togethers. Something where you’re wearing fancy clothes – a cocktail party, for instance, or a date dressed to the nines (not a first date, please).
You might be able to rock this in a t-shirt and jeans, but some scents have “suit and tie” or “little black dress” written all over them. Dress accordingly.
However much I enjoy Santal Royal, I would never claim that it could win any originality contests.
It is a pretty classic blend of rose and oud, akin to perfumes like Diptyque’s Oud Palao, Louis Vuitton’s Ombre Nomade, Armani Prive’s Rose d’Arabie, Ermenegildo Zegna’s Indonesian Oud, and Viktoriya Minya’s Hedonist Rose.
There are also perfumes that offer a similar scent profile for a (much) lower price, such as Lattafa’s Maahir, Elizabeth Arden’s 5th Avenue Royale, Reminiscence’s Oud, Estee Lauder’s Ambre Mystique, and Dolce & Gabbana’s The One Mysterious Night. Of course, they’re going to come at a trade-off in terms of quality, which may or may not be a dealbreaker for you.
The difference between these fragrances is all about the levels in the mix – many place more emphasis on oud, or rose, or smoke, but Santal Royal is in a sweet spot at the intersection of all three, with the addition of rich amber and sandalwood notes, dusty leather, and juicy peach.
I myself prefer the Guerlain to any of those other fragrances. While some oud fragrances can smell harsh, matronly, conservative, or completely asexual, Santal Royal manages to be an oud-rose fragrances that is appealing, inviting, and even fun.
Of course, I’m a huge Guerlainophile, so I might be a bit biased. But I genuinely think that Santal Royal, although unoriginal, is one of the best oud-rose perfumes on the market.
Pros & Cons
- Rich and opulent perfume with high quality ingredients and craftsmanship.
- Solid performance with 7-8 hours of longevity with around 1-2 hours of decent projection and sillage.
- Compared to similar fragrances, good value for money. 125 ml for $200 as opposed to Armani’s 50 ml for $200.
- Unoriginal scent profile; rose-oud has been done many times before, so Santal Royal might be redundant for some.
- Somewhat animalic, which might turn off some wearers.
- Other fragrances offer a similar scent profile at a lower price point.
Overall, Santal Royal is an excellent fragrance executed with high quality and panache by master perfumer Thierry Wasser.
While by no means a trailblazing masterpiece, it is nevertheless a great option for those looking to dip their toes into Middle Eastern perfumery without veering into skanky oud territory.
Although it is pricey, it offers good value for money at its price point for perfectly serviceable performance, decent presentation, and quality ingredients. Keep in mind, though, that there are other fragrances that offer a similar scent profile at a lower price point.
Personally, Santal Royal occupies a place of honor in my collection, and I treasure it in the autumn and winter months when I want to dress to impress (buy through Amazon here).
★★★★☆ 4 stars out of 5