They say it all started in New York City. And then it hit Los Angeles and perhaps Austin around 2015. You’d be walking down the street and get a whiff of something unique and intoxicating that was spicy and comforting all at once. It was strong and it lingered, so even if you wanted to ask the delicious stranger which scent they were wearing, they’d be long gone.
It started as the aromatic emblem of American hipster culture, but Le Labo Santal 33 now has a chokehold on people of ages, genders and socioeconomic brackets (I’d keep buying the $7 sample every week, like some kind of fragrance fiend, until I could afford a small bottle).
“It’s a gender-bending scent that defies traditional scent categories, with creamy sandalwood and cedarwood mingling with smoky papyrus and leathery notes,” said Bernadette Lim, a perfumer and fragrance specialist I tapped to better understand what continues to make people so rabid for Santal 33.
The fact that it transcends what we’ve been conditioned to believe smells either “girly” or “masculine” is a huge selling point. The initial challenge of Santal 33, Lim argues, is part of its allure. “This complexity sparks curiosity, inviting a deeper exploration that makes the journey of appreciation more rewarding,” she said. “It develops and evolves on the skin, revealing new facets like the green, floral-woody combo.” Its dynamic nature gives the scent new life with every wear.
Lim made me realize that I love bold scents that embrace the notes and traits that Santal 33 does. I truly believe the fragrance increased our collective thirst for sandalwood, leather, and a heavier scent that lustily lingers.
If you’re looking to diversify your collection, here are 17 decadent scent alternatives that match Le Labo’s complexity and longevity.
Heretic Voodoo parfum
Much like Santal 33, this scent reads like a love spell in a bottle. Sandalwood, oud and black currant make Voodoo Lily both heady and grounding.
Future Society Floating Forest eau de parfum
The magic of this scent is that it tends to evolve during its wear, leading with spicier notes and then mellowing into citrus and earthy florals. Its overall scent is inspired by an extinct flower that gets new life in this unique bottle.
Maison Louis Marie No. 13 Nouvelle Vague eau de parfum
When a scent hits just right, longevity is key. No. 13 Nouvelle Vague will stay with you for the long haul, with notes of Tuscan fig, tonka and coconut.
DS & Durga Radio Bombay eau de parfum
Radio Bombay rivals Santal 33’s ability to warm you up immediately with notes of ambrette and cedar distillates. “The love letter I would write to this scent would be many pages long,” one reviewer noted
. Hot and heavy always wins.
Parfums de Marly Althair eau de parfum
Althair is just as distinct as Santal 33, in the way that you’ll recognize it as soon as it wafts into a room. With warm woody notes characteristic of classically French scents, Althair bends gently to the chemistry of the person wearing it.
19-69 June 28 eau de parfum
Spicy, smoky and, as reviews promise, long-lasting, June 28 is an aromatic ode to queer liberation; the date commemorates the Stonewall Uprising in New York City. The scent is truly genderless, embracing pepper, saffron and patchouli.
Sana Jardin Savage Jasmine eau de parfum
The name says it all. An ode to jasmine rests on delicate notes of clove and musk, making it a more floral yet just as intoxicating alternative to Santal 33.
Lumira Soleil Du Maroc eau de parfum
Soleil Du Maroc starts out bright and citrusy and then eases into cedar and sultry oud, creating an olfactory journey that’s multifaceted and pronounced.
Diptyque Tam Dao eau de parfum
Tam Dao is a universally beloved alternative to Santal 33. “Imagine a Vietnamese temple nestled in a misty mountain forest,” Lim said. “Tam Dao captures that essence with creamy sandalwood, smoky incense and a hint of fresh cypress. It’s complex and calming, evolving beautifully on the skin, and whispers of exotic rituals.”
Gucci The Alchemist’s Garden A Floral Verse eau de parfum
The Alchemist’s Garden, as a collection, is as effortlessly genderless as many of Le Labo’s most popular scents. A Floral Verse, with its base of white musk and black tea notes, evokes spring evening vibes.
Brown Girl Jane Casablanca eau de parfum
While most of the scents in this guide are squarely genderless, Casablanca leans more traditionally femme, resting on notes of suede, amber and musk.
Initio Parfums Prives Paragon eau de parfum
Consider Paragon the witchy, sexy younger sister of this fragrance house’s claim to fame, Oud for Greatness
. Once the scent has been applied and dries down, heart notes of white sage and Palo Santo take over.
Eauso Vert Fruto Oscuro
This fragrance is a celebration of Latine-cultivated ingredients such as Capulin (Mexican cherry) and zapote negro, a sweet, buttery fruit with notes of chocolate. The result is a lingering scent that matches Santal 33’s velvety depth.
The Harmonist Moon Glory parfum
Moon Glory aligns itself with Santal 33 in the way the scent reveals itself over time. Honey and ylang-ylang make it slightly sweet but not cloying — and two sprays will carry you through the day.
13 Stems eau de parfum
This unique, all-season scent comes from the founder
of Thirteen Lune, a beauty retailer specializing in BIPOC-owned brands. It leads with notes of green peppercorn and violet leaf, but also boasts leathery notes we’ve come to love from Santal 33.
Viva La Juicy Sucré eau de parfum
While Juicy’s newest scent leans sweet in more traditional ways — think notes of vanilla, red currant and amber — it deserves to be touted as a complex dessert of a fragrance.
Ex Roll-On perfume
A scent called Ex needs to be at least a little spicy. One of Riddle’s most popular perfume oils truly delivers, with notes of rose, cardamom and musk.
Veronique Gabai Noire de Mai eau de parfum
Much like Santal 33’s travel size, Noire de Mai packs enough punch for a weeklong trip. Ripe with various rose and pepper notes, this smells unique (and incredible) on everyone who wears it.
Arquiste Aleksandr eau de parfum
This scent, very much like Santal 33, is not made for lovers of subtlety. Aleksandr’s strong, sweet leather and balsam notes give dom vibes — so spray once and embrace your newfound power.