Someone has to say it – stop wearing Santal 33

words by: Alee Kwong
Jan 27, 2021

If you live in a big city, you’ve definitely smelled the cursed scent of Santal 33 before. I live in New York and this is somehow the unofficial scent of many gentrified neighborhoods. Pre-pandemic, there was always AT LEAST one guy at a function wearing this. Like a hound, I could smell this from a mile away and knew immediately who to stay away from. It’s a scent that stays with you for a while and once you smell it, you can never forget it. It’s time we talk about the scent that you either love, hate, or love to hate. Let’s talk a little bit about Le Labo Santal 33 and why it’s time to retire this played out fragrance.


Simply put, this is the scent of the guy who doesn’t text back. It’s the scent of the guy who claims he socially distances but can be found sitting in a packed park on a summer day with his friends getting day drunk. He refers to BLM as “everything that’s going on right now.” He probably works in design, marketing, or sales and manages to muster up enough courage to talk about how much New York has changed. Usually, living in Manhattan and Brooklyn are two separate experiences but the one thing that links them is Santal 33.


This scent, among many other Le Labo scents, was built to be a lifestyle. It’s offered as an eau de parfum, body gel, body lotion, body oil, liquid balm, perfume oil, solid perfume, bar soap, amulet (sounds cult-like but ok?), and laundry detergent. It’s basically offered as everything but a suppository and based on its following, I am positive people would jump at the chance to make their insides smell like Santal 33. It’s no surprise that Le Labo offers so many options considering people have claimed it makes them feel like a million bucks.


The conversation no one is ready to have is how bad this scent actually smells. Now before you say, “Well, scents are subjective and everyone has their own taste.” just give me a second to explain. You’re right. Finding a fragrance is a very personal thing and not only has to do with one’s personal preferences, but also body chemistry. That being said, Santal 33 already smells pretty awful in the bottle, and I have rarely found that someone’s body chemistry changes that.


On the Le Labo website, the tagline for this scent is, “Do you remember the old Marlboro ads? A man and his horse in front of the fire on a great plain under tall, blue evening skies.” Anyone who willingly wants to associate themselves with cigarette smoke ads and finds romance in that is a red flag for me. There’s no romance in smelling like cigarettes and leather. Look, I am a fan of earthy scents and I think musk scents are having a moment that I am enjoying right now. Somewhere along the way, we told ourselves that cigarettes and leather were the sexy musk scent that every guy needed to have at some point in their life. I’ve started to believe that wearing Santal 33 is less about wearing a scent that smells good, but rather wearing a scent that is often associated with being “classy” or “upscale.” It has become yet another item that people have used to form a personality around.


At the end of the day, if you like this scent, then by all means keep wearing it. All I am saying is that it is that this is a scent that is everywhere and in that sense lacks a sense of individuality that I feel like personal scents should have.


Photo via Le Labo