It's funny how our perception of a perfume house can change over the years. Back in 2006 when I first smelled several fragrances by Profumum I was quite annoyed and unconvinced. Everything smelled good. Really good even. But back then an uber-luxury line that focused on what appeared to be single-note perfumes at what seems then outrageous prices (if I remember correctly, Profumum bottles were priced at around $190 for 100ml). Lots of Estee Lauder masquerading as Tom Ford has been spilled since then, and even at their current price of $240 for the same 100ml these are still almost a bargain next to said Tom Ford Private Blend ($210 for 50ml). The single note thing? Everyone is doing that.
But there's a lot more to the Italy-based Profumum. I may not like everything in the line (my biggest nose-wrinklers are still Fumidus and Dulcis In Fondu), but I have a strong admiration for the quality and beautiful ornate compositions. They do wonderful gourmands, figs, and a gorgeous amber, and everything smells impeccable and as luxurious as it should. If I were pressed to choose a favorite Profumum, though, I might have to go with Santalum, because it's so rich and satisfying without feeling like an imitation of more famous sandalwood fragrances.
Santalum has undergone a reformulation since my first encounter with it all these years ago. I'm not sure of the official reason, but most likely because of the need to source out new raw materials (Mysore sandalwood is under strict restrictions nowadays due to over-harvesting that has made it an endangered tree). Never mind. It's still fantastic. The sandalwood may have changed, but it's still playing the familiar game of dancing between a rich dark wood and an almost-oriental perfume.
The fragrance opens slightly sharper than I've anticipated. The spiciness sends you right away to faraway lands and their spice markets. Cinnamon and clove, and perhaps the licorice taste of anise star are all present. The clove note manages to be both medicinal (only slightly and that camphoric touch that will forever remind me of my grandfather who was a dentist is gone very quickly) and floral like garlands of carnations and roses on ancient Buddha statues. Things become significantly sweeter and thicker as rich and thick sandalwood becomes infused with incense. Santalum isn't quite smoky, but there is that incense and myrrh on an altar feel to it. The late dry-down is perhaps where the difference between the old and new versions come into play. Today's Santalum is more ambery than I remembered and not quite as dark. Spraying Santalum straight from a bottle makes it last forever and reach the next room, while a dabbing, even a generous one, keeps things more manageable (and not as tenacious).
Profumum Santalum ($240, 100ml high concentration that's somewhere between an EDP and an extrait) is available from Osswald and Luckyscent. The sample for this review is of the current version and was made for me at Osswald in NYC.
Photo of carved figures of Buddhist angels--Bodhisatva--mounted on the backing screen inside the Byodo-in central pavilion. by a Japanese photographer, from a 1966 portfolio of photos of "The Byodo-in"