Carner Barcelona does one thing well. It bring us fragrances that epitomize the leisurely joie de vivre that its namesake city is known for. The company's website says it best:
"Carner Barcelona is a lifestyle perfume brand that brings you the contemporary spirit of Barcelona. We love its Mediterranean soul, its history, culture, art, and design and this is what we want to convey with our fragrances; its spirit, our lifestyle."
This statement is not just an example of a fine copy writing. It also happens to be the truth. Maybe this is why every time I smell one of Sara Carner's creations I catch myself smiling.
Palo Santo is the Spanish name for Bursera Graveolens or Holy Wood. Other popular names for it are Guaiac wood and Champaca. It's a tree native to South America that belongs to the citrus family and has a sweet piney-lemony aroma.
In some native South American traditions, Palo Santo has been used for cleansing mala energia or bad energy. Its aroma is said to bring creativity and good fortune.
On the more practical side the people of Ecuador and Peru have been using the smoke of burning Palo Santo to chase off mosquitoes. The smell of burning Palo Santo is a mix of fresh woody-lemony accords and smoke.
Since the fragrance is dedicated to Palo Santo and its mysticism, it is logical to assume that the main accord in the namesake perfume comes from the tree. No such thing. Palo Santo is a soft milky fragrance with a strong undertone of nutty vetiver. Here is what it smells like.
What Does Palo Santo Smell Like?
The opening reminds me of White Russian. It's a sweet milky accord with an undertone of rum. I don't know if it is the milk or the rum but I find the composition comforting.
Just when I'm ready to curl up and travel to dreamland, a note of vetiver sneaks in. It is the earthy, nutty vetiver that adds some freshness to the composition. If the opening accord makes you think Palo Santo is a gourmand fragrance, the vetiver makes you reconsider. Its appearance pushes the composition in a woody direction. The warmth and sweetness of the milk is still present but it is the soft smoky woods that tell a start telling the story of Palo Santo.
Palo Santo doesn't develop much. It maintains its sweet and creamy character for the remaining eight hours of its life. Soft woods, tonka beans and vanilla are the main players in the dry-down of the fragrance.
Palo Santo has a soft-to-medium projection and that's a good thing. If perfumer Shyamala Maisondieu had turned up the volume any louder, Palo Santo would have become sickening - just like a glass of milk in which you've dumped too much sugar.
Where to Rock It
Palo Santo works best in cold weather. The sweetness of the fragrance can easily become heavy and cloying in the heat. Considering its warmth and coziness, Palo Santo would be an odd choice for spring and summer. Palo Santo is made for cold winter nights spent under the blanket or a steamy coffee shop.
Palo Santo's moderate projection makes it a good choice for a wide range of occasions. Any time you want to convey warmth and happiness, spray it on.
Palo Santo won't be my top choice for an important business meeting, however, I could see myself wearing it on a slow day in the office. Long coffees with friends, brunches with family, and candle lit dinners with someone special is where Palo Santo shines. It will create an atmosphere of the happy coziness the Danish call hygge.
Pretty much anyone can pull off Palo Santo. Its gourmand character makes it a good choice for anyone from their early teens to old age. Even though the fragrance is marketed as unisex, I find that it leans slightly feminine. Men can definitely wear it but I don't see it as a popular choice.
What the Other Frag Heads Think about Palo Santo
Palo Santo leaves Kafka from Kafkaesque perplexed:
"I honestly don’t know what to say about Palo Santo. It has some nice bits, I suppose, and people might enjoy it depending on their nostalgia for childhood treats or their love for gourmand, foodie twists on the woody genre".
Elsewhere in her review Kafka says she finds Palo Santo overly sugary. Ultimately, she decides it is not for her.
Kafka reports the fragrance lasts over 10 hours on her. Read the full review here.
The Scented Hound thinks of "a very happy and content brown bear" when he smells Palo Santo. He says it is a great choice for those who like Guaiac wood and soft creamy scents. Palo Santo gets three out of five bones.
Mark Behnke from Colognoisseur believes that Palo Santo is a deviation from Sara Carner's streak of Barcelona inspired fragrances. He explains that Palo Santo lacks the "vibe and artistry" of the city.
"Instead, Sara Carner has gone into the woods searching for a perfume that represents the mystical." - Mark Behnke
Mark compares the opening Palo Santo to a party night in La Rambla. I don't get the party vibe but La Rambla could indeed be very mystic, especially on a winter night.
Similarly to Kafka, Mark gets over 10 hours longevity. He reports the sillage is below average, which was also my experience.
The Bottom Line
Palo Santo is more than the sum of its parts. Its sweet milky character and nutty smoky vetiver make for a scent that comforts and mystifies at the same time. It's a great choice for a cold snowy day or a gloomy rainy fall.
Would you buy Palo Santo?
It's a fragrance that takes a special mood to wear. Getting into such a mood is a rare occasion for me to justify a full bottle purchase.
50ml bottle of Palo Santo sells for US$130 at the company's website.
Would I get compliments wearing Palo Santo?
This is a fragrance you wear for yourself. Its projection is moderate at best, which makes it detectable only by people close to you. Don't count on getting compliments but if you do, you are doing something right.
What rating would you give Palo Santo?
A 3 out of 5 is a well-earned score. Palo Santo is uncommon scent but I don't find it particularly stimulating.
Milk, Guaiac Wood, Tonka Beans
Vetiver, Vanilla, Sandalwood