Palo Santo (Cremo)

In 2022 it has become clear that spending hundreds on niche fragrances is passé. It's not that the quality isn't there, because it is. It's that you can get close to the same level of quality at a fraction of the price, and the general public won't notice or care about the cost differences. If you poke around you can find a $25 EDT that closely resembles a $200 EDP, and is actually easier to use and more desirable for being so inexpensive. Such is the case with Palo Santo by Cremo, the brand's dupe of Le Labo's Santal 33.

With a brand like Cremo, which targets the men's drugstore shaving and grooming demographic, one expects a middle-ground standard to be met. Their stuff should smell good enough, but there isn't a high expectation that the grade will transcend your premium shampoo with its material quality or longevity. I'm not predisposed to liking anything Cremo has to offer; a few years ago I tried one of their shaving creams and found it to be the most obnoxious chemical goop I've ever had the displeasure of using. Not only did it do a poor job on skin, but it also clogged my sink. It was with trepidation that I tried Palo Santo, which is currently the only Cremo EDT on sale at my local Walgreens. I am pleasantly surprised by it, as it's a decidedly worthy "niche alternative."

Cremo was smart in making Palo Santo. Instead of resorting to a more mainstream precious wood like sandalwood or guaiac, they opted for the lesser known holt of the South American Bursera graveolens tree. It's harvested from naturally-felled branches, often used as incense and in witch doctor remedies, and smells like a cross between Australian sandalwood and most varieties of North American pine. It possesses a distinct lemony-piney quality, but also has an underlying smoothness. By centering the scent on this complex woodiness, Cremo was able to take two excellent halves and conjoin them into something genuinely pleasant and easy to wear. There's the crisp-woody astringency of papyrus, the brightness of lemon juice, and a surprisingly lucid traditional vetiver accord in the first minute of wear, reminiscent of Guerlain Vetiver. Very good indeed.

The vetiver hangs around for at least thirty minutes before opening up and becoming much more expansive, with accents of pine, sandalwood, and eventually palo santo wood, albeit in a hushed tone in concert with the rest. Eventually the fragrance adopts a creamy quality, and a subtle gardenia note is detectable in the far dry-down. Palo Santo smells surprisingly natural for something at this price point, and its vivid nature bears five hours before tapering off into a light skin scent (budget constraints were mercifully limited to concentration, not composition). Classy stuff, and perfect for summertime.