Original Santal (Creed) "Modern Oriental"

Many Creeds are subject to the comparison game, something I've played before on this blog, but I won't play it here. I'll only mention that Original Santal has been endlessly compared to two modern orientals, Joop! Homme and Montblanc Individuel, with many claiming the three are interchangeable. To suggest that a Creed smells like a designer scent is like saying The London Symphony Orchestra's rendition of Holst's The Planets matches what a Casio keyboard emits when a talented soloist hits the "strings" button. We get it: it's the same tune. There the similarities end.

The catch with Creed is, has always been, and probably always will be a matter of ingredient quality, i.e., Creed's synthetic and natural ingredients are top shelf and a few rungs above the competition. Approaching Original Santal with a skeptical mind (it's a fuzzy cinnamon oriental, and I'm rarely enthused about those), I placed a drop on my wrist and inhaled, thinking the top would be, well, warm and fuzzy. It was half that, and half piercing lavender, with an almost-resinous hint of evergreen lurking under piping hot cinnamon. The spice is extremely realistic, with a richness I've never encountered in an oriental anywhere . . . except fleetingly in the first three seconds of Old Spice. If you like the smell of cinnamon, you'll love it in Original Santal.

Five minutes later, the cinnamon recedes, the lavender becomes increasingly aromatic, and the wisp of evergreen resolves itself into juniper berry, with the whole thing sweetened by an arrangement of tonka, musk, and amber - an amiable sandalwood reconstruction. Is Original's sandalwood synthesized well? I'm not a sandalwood expert, but I'd hazard to say it's fair, but not great. It does smell like sandalwood, with that semi-sweet brusqueness that's so refreshing in old-school masculines, but it's reserved, tucked behind an almost-frightening lavender, juniper, and vanilla. Three hours in, the vanilla, edged by lavender and fixed by the sandalwood composition, becomes the reassuring warmth, the pleasant light at the end of the tunnel.

Refreshing too is the absence of the usual Creed ambergris base. Sometimes it's just not possible to conjoin two good ideas into one. Smelling Original Santal and thinking of all the chatter it generates, I can't help but guess that Creed must be hated within the fragrance community, particularly among perfumers who frown on how a brand with so few avant-garde ideas can be so successful, simply by using high-grade materials. When Chanel does fresh amber, they get fruit salad; when Creed does it, they get Green Irish Tweed. Likewise, in Original Santal, the theme has been the same since 1990, but all the players are in perfect lockstep, and bring fluidity and elegance to a vulnerable form. It's a pleasure to wear, and emblematic of all that is right with the folks at 38 Avenue Pierre.

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