Angel Belsey is a Londoner. She owns too much perfume and too many books.

Santal de Mysore

When you find yourself becoming more interested in fragrances, and you start reading perfume blogs, there are two words you start to see over and over again. Those two words are "Mitsouko" and "cumin." The importance of "Mitsouko" becomes apparent quickly. People think of Mitsouko as the queen of fragrances; they write rapturously about it; for some it is their perfume holy grail, and pretty much everyone who knows anything will tell you it's a unisex fragrance that's equally perfect on men and women. Furthermore, Luca Turin apparently praised it to the heavens in Perfumes A-Z (which I still haven't read but WHICH WOULD BE A GREAT BIRTHDAY PRESENT HINT HINT).

I'll talk about Mitsouko here one of these days, but today I want to talk about cumin. For quite a while I was concerned that I was totally anosmic to cumin, which is not really something you want to be unaware of on your skin, because to many people it smells like body odor.

For example: I'd happily try a sample of L'Artisan Al-Oudh and think "hmm, interesting, maybe not for me," then go online to see what others thought, only to read "THIS IS A CUMIN-LADEN BODY-BUILDER'S ARMPIT!" and think "oh dear, I don't get that at all." The next day, I'd wear Amaranthine and think "yes, THIS is where I want to be," but then read that its famous sexiness was all down to gentle wafting waves of cumin.

As mentioned before, I'm quite fond of a little bit of "skank" (perfume world-style), but apparently skank and cumin go hand in hand. I was to the point of getting the cumin bottle out of the cupboard and inhaling it alongside whatever fragrance I was testing. "Cumin bottle: smells like cumin. Muscs Koublaï Khan: um, not really. What is wrong with me?!"

Then, Santal de Mysore came along.

Santal de Mysore is ostensibly actually made from the very rare Mysore sandalwood, but those who know the scent of Mysore sandalwood say they can't really pick it out. But upon first application (again, a wax sample), I do indeed smell a light sandalwood incense. I also get an initial burst of lemon zest, and . . . No! It can't be! Cumin!

It turns out I am definitely not anosmic to cumin.

After half an hour, the sandalwood does fade to the background, while the cumin continues to frolic. Cumin is apparently good friends with coconut milk, because cumin has invited coconut milk over, and they are running around playing tag on my skin while sandalwood is having a nap.

I hesitate to say this, because it could put people off Santal de Mysore, but through the heart of the fragrance it is very much like I've gone down to Brick Lane, ordered a korma, and dabbed the sauce on my pulse points. While that's a reasonably accurate description, it fails to convey how absolutely divine Santal de Mysore is during this phase. It is, in fact, a huffer.

After a few hours, the coconut milk goes home, the cumin dozes off, and the sandalwood starts to tiptoe around again gently. At this point a hint of dates appears, briefly, before everything quietly fades away to powder, and is gone.

Santal de Mysore, Serge Lutens, 1997 Notes: Mysore sandalwood, cumin, spices, styrax balsam, caramelized Siamese benzoin

Nuit de Noël

Tabu (vintage)