Barely There – Hermès Santal Massoïa Perfume Review

Santal Massoïa

I am a great admirer of Jean-Claude Ellena, I find his ‘minimalist’ style of perfumery intriguing, and I think he has done some great scents for Hermès’ (there is a ‘but’ coming) but I have to admit that I struggle slightly with the Hermessence Collection. I know that this confession may serve as some form of perfume heresy but I can’t help it. It’s not that I actively dislike the collection at all, I just find the ‘barely there’ approach frustrating and I’ve only come across one or two that I really like. That said, any new Jean-Claude Ellena fragrance is worth a sniff and I can appreciate his style (and talent) without being madly in love with it.

The Hermessence Collection, which Hermès describes as “A collection of olfactory poems, with sobriety and intensity, which freely explore new facets of emotion.” [1] is a line of fragrant watercolours, of which Santal Massoïa is the latest addition. Like others in the collection, Santal Massoïa is a light, transparent interpretation of one of perfumery’s most glorious ingredients – sandalwood.

“There are linear, vertical woods like cedar, and others that are horizontal, round, supple and velvet-smooth, such as sandalwood and massoia. With this understanding in mind, I composed this enigmatic, inviting yet distant perfume of milky woods, with its unusual, pungent hints of resin and dried fruit, and familiar smells of dulce de leche and flowers.”

Jean-Claude Ellena [2]

The Notes

Sandalwood, Milk, Sugar, Massoïa and Dried Fruits [3]

How Does it Smell

Santal Massoïa opens with Ellena’s instantly recognisable blend of damp, peppery woods, it is at once fresh, rich and deep. The peppery woods are complimented by a light, sweet violet, which sits very comfortably at the top of the composition. Underneath the wood and the violet, is a milky undercurrent that runs throughout the entirety of Santal Massoïa’s development. What I find most interesting about the top notes is that there is an almost vegetal or mineralic green tone that pairs with the wood, florals and milk perfectly.

Man in Boat

Sandalwood is one of my favourite perfume ingredients, it is richly textured and displays a multitude of fragrant facets; woody, warm, spicy, creamy etc. The use of sandalwood in Santal Massoïa is surprisingly sheer, Ellena chooses to focus on the creamier aspect of the note and at the same time has created a transparent version of what is usually a full and complex ingredient.

Santal Massoïa is in Jean-Claude Ellena’s typical style and as you would expect it starts to soften, become lighter and more mineralic with time. Whilst it leaves you with a pleasant peppery/woody aura, it does become impossibly light and pale after about an hour and I struggle to detect it. This is yet another attack of the ‘barely there’ style of perfumery that I find so frustrating! I’m left wanting more oomph!

I think Santal Massoïa is a very pleasant, well-made fragrance, it has a very casual feel to it that makes me think of a soft, comfortable fabric, but it leaves me slightly cold and I can’t help but think that it’s just perhaps a bit too ‘beige’ for my tastes. I love the opening and find that the blend of sandalwood, florals and milk intriguing, but unfortunately the magic of the first 20 minutes doesn’t hold strong for the rest of the development. That said, I can see that it would appeal to those who like lighter, woody fragrances and if that’s your kind of thing, and you fancy a big ticket splurge, then perhaps Santal Massoïa would be worth checking out.


Santal Massoïa is available in 100ml Eau de Toilette with or without a ‘Moss Gaucho-Bull Calfskin’ leather case, prices range from £150-£361.


This review is based on a sample generously donated by Nick of Fragrant Reviews, thanks Nick!

[1] & [2]

Image 1
Image 2 


24 thoughts on “Barely There – Hermès Santal Massoïa Perfume Review

  1. I was afraid of this! Perhaps it was too much to hope for another Nazgul… Well, I still hope to try it one of these days, even if “mineralic” turns me off slightly.

  2. I sprayed this on skin in the shop yesterday, and from that very limited experience I would not be surprised if it would be in my top 3 of the Hermessences. Although it’s done with a light hand, it doesn’t feel as transparent to me as some of the others, and it’s not watery (one of the qualities that really bothers me in some of the others). I think your take is right on, and this seems like the perfect image for Santal etc. (These names are killing me. Nothing that requires special keyboard characters, please! 🙂 )

  3. Damn, this is a disappointment! I’m not a huge sandalwood fan – aside from in Egoiste, which I’d hoped this would resemble given the dried fruit note, although it appears not – but I thought all the stops would’ve been pulled out to make this a benchmark sandalwood. Shame.

  4. You know, I am a big fan of the barely there school of perfumery, but even I have to admit that this one hardly lasts on me either. It doesn’t quite bother me, but it is borderline! That said, I just blagged yet another sample of it in Paris – it felt justified because you have to do apply it so frequently. : – )

  5. I’m a fan of JCE so I will definitely try this one, and sandalwood is a favorite note. Doubt I will want a FB but am planning to get another set of travel sprays, I love those! I already own Ambre Narguile (favorite!), Vanille Galante, Iris U. and Rose Ikebana. Perhaps Santal Massoia, Osmantus Yunnan and Vetivier Tonka but I haven’t been able to decide on the fourth one…

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