I accidentally scented my tarot deck with Le Labo Santal 33 and found it really liked it. Santal 33, however, is a confounding combination of horrifically expensive and embarrassingly basic.

First a papyrus sampler was purchased. Later, a Russian sampler. Confusion and frustration with the papyrus sampler had made clear:

It would take a bracket.

So, with the knowledge of the paradigm being Santal 33, and the desire to land on something else, and the general conceptual guidance of my tarot deck, extremely pain-in-the-ass blind comparisons commenced.


Round One

Parfum D’Empire Ambre Russe vs. Lucien Lelong Balalaika

[Ambre Russe] reminded me of a very luxurious thrift store. [Balalaika] felt more like the secret magic shop in a 90s movie. Balalaika advanced.

Maison Margiela Whispers In The Library vs. Hermès Un Jardin Après La Mousson

[Whispers In The Library] felt like an intimate scent, like you’d be embarrassed to be close enough to smell it on a stranger. [Après La Mousson] had more green to it, vegetal depth. Après La Mousson advanced.

CB I Hate Perfume Russian Caravan Tea vs. CB I Hate Perfume In The Library

[Russian Caravan Tea] struck me as trying too hard to be a Monet painting, with an unpleasant note of Play-Doh. My sample of [In The Library] was lamentably weak; my notes nevertheless record “maybe some library binding in there”. In The Library advanced.

Amouage Jubilation XXV Man vs. Demeter Paperback

[Jubilation] smelled like a unicorn in that it had a certain mystique to it, but also enough animal groundedness to fulfill the horsey part. [Paperback] had sweetness to it, distant, but enough that I had trouble taking it seriously. Jubilation advanced.

Le Labo Benjoin 19 vs. Dolce & Gabbana The One Royal Night

Was [Benjoin 19] Santal 33? No, maybe, but close? [Royal Night] smelled like a guy leaning over you. The top notes were nice, but something going on in the midrange… Benjoin advanced, not just because it so resembled the reason this was being put together, but also because Royal Night just sort of sucked. It gave a vision of a guy with a creepily well-tended mustache.

Comme des Garçons Zagorsk vs. Kilian Vodka on the Rocks

[Zagorsk] struck me as soapy, but with depth. [Vodka on the Rocks] hit me as aquatickish, not unpleasant, but more Calgon than the brief called for. Zagorsk advanced.

Diptyque Tam Dao vs. L’Artisan Parfumeur Timbuktu

My [Tam Dao] sample was just too weak. [Timbuktu] read as an aloof male scent, and advanced because Tam Dao was unsmellable.

Hermès Rocabar vs. Nomenclature Orb-ital

[Rocabar] made me think of soap, harp music, museum gift store scarfs. [Orb-ital] I liked a lot – clearly in the spirit of what we were here for, but perhaps with some additional ambery warm notes? Orb-ital advanced.

Michail Baryshnikov vs. Yves Saint Laurent La Nuit de L’Homme

[Baryshnikov] had some harp music, maybe some depth, but the choice was dominated by [La Nuit de L’Homme] making me feel like I could finally empathize with people describing others’ scents as “choking”. Baryshnikov advanced.

Le Labo Santal 33 vs. Byredo Bibliotheque

I could tell that [Santal 33] was the Santal 33 that had brought me here, though it smelled a little more green than I’d remembered. [Bibliotheque] made me think of something sweet, but also fur – maybe something like beeswax? Bibliotheque advanced.

Dior Dune vs. Escentric Molecules 04

I didn’t get a lot from [Dune]– the concept of plastic packaging, a disposable camera’s shot of a carousel – a trenchcoat you find at Goodwill. [04] gave me the texture of horsehair. [04] advanced.

Elizabeth & James Nirvana Black vs. The Vagabond Prince Enchanted Forest

My sample of [Nirvana Black] didn’t hit me strongly; it seemed a bit gourmandy. [Enchanted Forest] was interesting – fruity, floral… I was interested in it, but not for a tarot deck. Nirvana Black advanced.

Yves Saint Laurent Belle d’Opium vs. Serge Lutens Santal Majuscule

[Belle d’Opium] seemed like a good contender, but didn’t leave a strong impression. [Santal Majuscule] advanced explicitly on weirdness; harshness can be a plus here.

Second round

Lucien Lelong Balalaika vs. CB I Hate Perfume In The Library

In The Library advanced because it was very much the type of thing we want here; its sweetness noted positively in contrast to Balalaika’s soapiness.

Hermès Un Jardin Après La Mousson vs. Amouage Jubilation XXV Men

Après La Mousson’s greenness read as a condiment. Jubilation advanced with a bit of offputting hairiness that I liked.

Le Labo Benjoin 19 vs. L’Artisan Parfumeur Timbuktu

Benjoin 19 wasn’t smelling strongly; my notes captured “like a ballerina’s leotard” and I’m not entirely sure what that meant. Timbuktu just gave me cologne. Benjoin 19 advanced.

Comme Des Garçons Zagorsk vs. Nomenclature Orb-ital

Zagorsk was “fancy landscape at a distance”, and Orb-ital advanced by virtue of being closer to Santal 33’s tarot-ness.

Michail Baryshnikov vs. Escentric Molecules 04

Baryshnikov reminded me of when the music in a movie turns a little mysterious. 04 – well, “I’m barely getting anything on the sample. It smells like just a little bit of water – it might be that molecule one?” Baryshnikov advanced.

Byredo Bibliotheque vs. Elizabeth & James Nirvana Black

Bibliotheque was too fruity; Nirvana Black was just a bit sweet, so it advanced.

Le Labo Santal 33 vs. Serge Lutens Santal Majuscule

Santal 33 was identified as the original, and won over Santal Majuscule. I regret this, sort of.

Third round

Nomenclature Orb-ital vs. CB I Hate Perfume In The Library

In The Library was knocked out pretty explicitly because I didn’t get a good enough sample. Orb-ital gave me a bit of papyrus, a bit of soap, a bit of something tickling underneath, maybe a musk? It advanced.

Amouage Jubilation XXV Men vs. Le Labo Santal 33

Santal 33 won it. “If this is Santal 33 and Santal 33 makes it, I’m going to be so mad.”

Michail Baryshnikov vs. Le Labo Benjoin 19

Baryshnikov was strongly cologney; Benjoin 19 could barely be perceived, but advanced by dint of not being caps lock COLOGNE.

Le Labo Santal 33 vs. Elizabeth & James Nirvana Black

Santal 33 won, half-recognized as such (since you’ll note it had to participate twice for even numbers) though Nirvana Black was marked as more wearable.

Round four

Nomenclature Orb-ital vs. Le Labo Santal 33

Santal 33 was noted as having maybe a touch of soap, but being essentially Santal 33, while Orb-ital had more going on, so it advanced.

Le Labo Santal 33 vs. Le Labo Benjoin 19

Benjoin 19 was chosen without confidence, as it might have had something somewhat other than the Santal 33 going on.

Final round

Nomenclature Orb-ital vs. Le Labo Benjoin 19

Orb-ital took it partially because I was having such difficulty getting a read on my Benjoin 19 sample.


Nomenclature Orb-ital and Serge Lutens Santal Majuscule deserve serious time spent with them.

CB I Hate Perfume In The Library, Diptyque Tam Dao, and Maison Margiela Whispers in the Library need resampling.

One of the above will suit. I am dispensing with Benjoin 19 because… well, it doesn’t really give us the distance from the Santal 33 basic bitch thing that I was hoping for.

Amouage Jubilation XXV Men is good, but ultimately too fleshy for the purpose.

I am embarrassed by being drawn to Iso E Super, but if that’s who I am, that’s who I am.