There are certain scents I am able to put my finger on as soon as I smell them. I count Maison Francis Kurkdjian Baccarat Rouge 540, Glossier You and YSL Black Opium as some of the perfumes I can instantly identify if they're being worn by someone in close proximity. But the one I consider to be the most distinguishable of them all is Le Labo Santal 33.
With a loyal fan base that includes Alexa Chung, Justin Bieber, Jodie Comer and Brad Pitt, it has fast become one of the most defining genderless scents of the last decade. TikTok has most certainly helped in further bolstering its popularity, and the #santal33 hashtag has racked up a whopping 33.4 million views. So what exactly is it about this fragrance that has so quickly earned it a spot on the vanity shelves of everyone from A-list celebs to Shoreditch hipsters?
"Firstly, it smells great and suits the majority of people," says Suzy Nightingale, fragrance writer and co-host of the On the Scent podcast. "Woody, creamy and musky scents seem to meld with your body chemistry somehow. It's that whole 'your skin but better' vibe, but if you naturally smelled soothing yet sexy. Santal 33 lasts a long time on the skin and projects really well, meaning that passers-by can smell your 'sillage'—aka the olfactory trail you waft as you walk—which, of course, adds to its appeal, acts as a compliment getter and helps its iconic status."
For award-winning perfume expert and author Dariush Alavi, it's the particular combination of papyrus, leather and spices that gives it tremendous personality and tenacity. "It's bold, assertive and room filling, but without resorting to sweetness or vanilla or 'spiky' amber notes. When it emerged, it felt like a breath of fresh (if balmy!) air," he says.
It's worth highlighting that "santal" is a translation of "sandalwood," a note that has long been associated with masculine fragrances in perfumery due to its smooth, woody aroma and earthy nature. However, it is also milky and slightly sweet, which widens its appeal.
Opting for a trending scent like Le Labo Santal 33 is often how many people pick their next perfume. "The huge variety of fragrances on offer mean many people can feel overwhelmed—particularly younger consumers or those who don't know where to begin looking for a scent that suits them," says Nightingale. "An iconic fragrance has already been pre-crowd-tested on social media, so you're buying into that popularity." However, if you still want in on the action but would rather wear something a little less popular, I've got you. Keep scrolling for the 10 trending fragrances that are just as good as Santal 33, recommended by myself and the experts.
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Shop our favourite trending fragrances:
1. Parle Moi de Parfum Milky Musk/39
"It's hugely soothing—like a big hug that surrounds you all day—with pools of soft musk lapped by that milky sandalwood," says Nightingale. "It projects brilliantly and lasts for hours on skin, meaning you keep noticing how great you smell all day."
2. Diptyque Tam Dao
A combination of woody, spicy and floral notes, it has an equally as earthy base with sandalwood and cypress, but it comes with a soapy freshness that will have your nose returning to your wrist time and again.
3. Zara Olfactive No. 01 Energetically New York
This scent is part of Jo Malone's latest fragrance collection for Zara. "In my opinion, this smells very similar to Le Labo's cult-favourite Santal 33," says Who What Wear UK beauty editor Eleanor Vousden in a recent article about high-street fragrances. "It has notes of expensive-smelling sandalwood and smells fresh and aquatic to me, much like a clean-smelling fragrance." Plus, the price alone is pretty appealing.
4. Clean Reserve Sel Santal
This has a fresher and more citrusy vibe than Santal 33. Notes of sandalwood, violet and mandarin work alongside nutmeg, fig and amber for a spicy yet fresh finish. All of the Clean Reserve collection uses sustainable farm-to-fragrance ingredients, ethically sourced and blended into your next signature scent.
5. Tom Ford Santal Blush
I find that all Tom Ford perfumes project exceptionally well. Creamy sandalwood is the star of the show which is further enhanced with exotic Eastern spices, florals and woods. The result? A beautiful blend of sweetness, spice and all things nice. It's Alavi's number one pick for something similar yet different to Santal 33.
6. La Collection Privée Christian Dior Santal Noir
If you lean more towards sweeter fragrances, I'd definitely suggest giving this a try. It's not too masculine or too feminine and has a lingering combination of ambrette, sandalwood and rose. Prepare for people stopping you in the street and asking what perfume you're wearing.
7. Maison Margiela Replica Jazz Club
"If Santal 33 is your day scent, this is about to become your go-to for the evening," says beauty editor Shannon Lawlor. "It's marketed as a men's fragrance, but it makes for the perfect option if you're a big fan of smokey, woody notes. The bottle is also pretty much made for Instagram, so there's that too."
8. Miller Harris Peau Santal
Here's the ultimate skin scent. Cosy up with the creamy richness of sandalwood, cashmere, vanilla and saffron.
9. Serge Lutens Santal Majuscule
Another top pick from Alavi is this creamy and warming blend of sandalwood, Turkish rose and cocoa. It's so good it almost smells edible.
10. Maya Njie Nordic Cedar
"If you fancy swapping out sandalwood and trying cedar—which is drier and more redolent of walking in the heart of a forest—I can't recommend this enough," says Nightingale. "It's incredibly grounding yet sexy and feels like you've pushed the walls back and let nature in. Plus, she does discovery sets and affordable 'try me' sizes."
After completing internships at Grazia, Look, Cosmopolitan and Stylist, she landed her first writer role at Superdrug's Dare magazine. Mollie then joined the Harrods content team as a beauty writer before being promoted to the deputy beauty editor. There, she developed the content strategy, tone of voice and creative identity for H Beauty—Harrods's standalone regional beauty stores. When she wasn't interviewing the likes of Gigi Hadid, Miranda Kerr and Regé-Jean Page, you'd find her on a live broadcast, hosting an event, shooting video content, reviewing the lastest beauty launch on social or crafting a magazine feature. She has also hosted and contributed to the LuxeGirl by SheerLuxe YouTube series.
When Mollie isn't writing about beauty, you'll find her talking about it on a TikTok shop, dancing to pretty much anything with a beat, reading a crime thriller or performing a solo rendition of "One Day More" from Les Mis.