On a mountain top in Rajasthan grows a Tree of Life whose mighty body is made of smoky sandalwood. Gnarled roots of oak and rosewood dig into patchouli earthiness, while its limbs bear bright, yellow citruses. Higher up, hidden amidst a canopy of more patchouli leaves, lie rosy flowers that drip a dark plummy liqueur. Natives come from far and wide, bearing gifts of incense that they burn in tribute to the magnificent tree that they call “Richwood.”
Richwood is a stunning sandalwood fragrance that grabs your attention from the start with its smoky woods, spicy patchouli, and an aromatic booziness that veers between oak-soaked cognac and plummy liqueur. It is an eau de parfum from the Italian luxury house of Xerjoff (pronounced as “Zer-joff”), which was founded in 2004 by Sergio Momo. Officially called “XJ Richwood,” the fragrance was release in 2010 as part of the XJ 17/17 Stone Label Collection whose name refers to the stone labels on the handcrafted bottles. It is intended to be a more affordable option than the collection’s original packaging which consisted of extremely expensive, limited-edition Murano glass art or quartz. According to Now Smell This, XJ Richwood (hereinafter just “Richwood“) was created by Jacques Flori, the nose behind Amouage’s Opus IV and Jovoy’s Psychedelique, among other scents. And it is really quite something.
On its website, Xerjoff describes Richwood and its notes as follows:
Centers on sandalwood from Mysore, one of the most beautiful–and rare–materials in perfumery. Crowning the sandalwood’s mellow warmth is a halo of crisp citrus. Patchouli and dark rose tinged with cassis lend the fragrance the elegant earthiness of a premier cru Bourgogne.
Just as vintage wine opens in the glass over time, revealing a tale of complex character, Richwood Rose continues to unfold on skin, enticing the nose to return again and again to experience its splendor.
Mysore sandalwood, citrus accord, rose, patchouli.
Richwood opens on my skin with a tidal wave of spicy, brown patchouli infused with smoky wood. The patchouli emits a light touch of booziness, like old wooden barrels that contain cognac, but there is no sweetness or fruitiness underlying its aroma. Rather, it’s dry, a little earthy, and purely woody in nature. Tendrils of black smoke weave all through the top notes. In Richwood’s base, a small ripple of creaminess pokes up its head once in a while. Much more noticeable is the pop of crisp citruses that hover at the edges. For the most part, however, Richwood’s opening bouquet is a fierce blend of smoky, spicy woodiness with patchouli.
Xerjoff says in its description that the wood is Mysore sandalwood, but I’m not personally convinced that it is only Mysore. I don’t doubt that there might be some in there, but I think there is more going on. For one thing, Richwood consistently gives me a physical reaction, a scratching at the back of my throat that I only experience with really arid, desiccated, or powerfully woody aromachemicals. It seems to stem from the smokiness which I find to be quite acrid and raspy, but it is a minor thing that doesn’t really detract from the overall beauty of the fragrance.
Still, I really don’t smell massive amounts of pure Mysore. The aroma is almost like an abstract reconstruction, like very rich woods that simply bear all of Mysore’s characteristics of smokiness, spiciness, creaminess, but which somehow lack that ineffable Mysore “Je ne sais quoi.” Plus, I think there is some oak and probably rosewood included in Richwood as well. My guess is that some quantity of rare, super-expensive Mysore sandalwood has been supplemented by a lot of other ingredients, bridging the gap and thereby amplifying Mysore’s natural, smoky, spicy characteristics.
The first of Richwood’s handful of changes occurs 10 minutes into the perfume’s development. The citruses leave the sidelines and dart onto center stage to dance with the smoky woods and the boozy, spiced patchouli. It’s a combination that feels like a juxtaposition of contrasts: very rich, deep, spicy, earthy darkness against bright, crisp, sunniness. The bridge between the two is the smoke which feels just a little harsh to me and has a tiny, minuscule undertone of something peppered.
The small streak of creaminess is Richwood’s base grows stronger. 30 minutes in, it turns into a wonderful deluge that I can almost taste on my lips whenever I bring my nose to my arm. It’s enormously rich, and evokes images of butter that has been churned with citrus or woods, then piled on in heaps. It’s not unctuous, gooey, or oily — just thick, plush, buttered cream. There is really no other way to describe it. Tendrils of smoke billow all around, sometimes feeling a little sharp but generally providing another layer of depth to the scent. At the same time, the dry booziness grows stronger as well, crashing over the wood as though an aged barrel of cognac in a dark wine cave had tipped over and some of its contents had spilled out onto the spicy patchouli earth below.
The whole thing is one of those head-turning combinations that grabs you with its spicy, smoky richness — and it only gets better. Roughly 90 minutes into its development, Richwood’s intense citruses soften, ripen, as though bergamot had been sweetened by the sun to lie heavy from the tree’s branches. The really pretty thing, however, is the surprising touch of plumminess which appears in the base. It’s not like spiced, cooked fruits or syrupy, purple, fruitchouli molasses. Rather, it’s more akin to plum liqueur, as though a second variation of patchouli had been used, but without the usual cloying sweetness. Xerjoff calls describes it as “cassis” with the “elegant earthiness of a premier cru Bourgogne,” and that fits as well, though I think the note has far more concentrated richness than mere wine.
Whether it’s wine or liqueur, the note works really well here because it adds a darker, more interesting angle to the booziness. The cognac note is still present, but it now feels more like plum brandy or eau de vie that has been drenched in dry, smoky woods. The latter continue to make me think of oak barrels or rosewood. At the same time that the plumminess emerges, the regular brown patchouli feels smoother, more refined, and even spicier. The entire bouquet is wrapped up with smokiness atop a rich, thick layer of butter cream.
At the start of the third hour, an abstract floralcy suddenly appears on the sidelines. It never smells of hardcore, heavy roses, but it does hint at the flowers in a subtle, intangible way. For the most part, it is a subset of the liqueur, rather than a clearly delineated note. Richwood is now a blend of smooth, deep woods with spicy patchouli, cognac booze, and plummy rose liqueur, all tied together with smoke. The latter is the one element in Richwood that I don’t like because it continues to smell acrid and raspy to me. For a while, it is quite a prominent, turning Richwood away from its bright, citrus sunniness in the opening hour to something darker and drier in the perfume’s second stage. I think the aromachemical smokiness is intended to keep the sweetness of the boozy or plummy notes at bay, but what it also seems to do is to undercut the beautiful butteriness in the base.
Richwood’s third and final stage begins roughly 4.5 hours into the fragrance’s development. The smoke softens and retreats a little, thereby enabling the creaminess in the base to flood over the top notes. Everything merges into a smoother bouquet whose layers overlap each other. Richwood is now a seamless blend of buttery woods infused with spices, smoke, patchouli, a touch of boozy liqueur, and endless sweet, golden, ambered warmth. It remains that way until its very end when Richwood fades away as a blur of smoky, sweet woodiness.
Richwood has initially strong sillage that turned moderate, but much less longevity than I would have expected from such a concentrated, rich scent. I tested it twice, using two different quantities. The first involved 4 very big smears, equal to about 3 decent sprays from an actual bottle. In that case, Richwood opened with 4-5 inches of sillage, but the fragrance dropped to about 1.5 inches above the skin at the 2.5 hour mark and turned into a skin scent on me after 4.5 hours. All in all, it lasted just a hair above 10 hours. In the second test, I used half the amount: 2 smears that amounted to about 2 very small spritzes from a bottle. In that case, Richwood opened with about 2 inches of projection, turned into a skin scent at the start of the 3rd hour, and only lasted 8 hours. I was surprised, and really thought that it would last well over 12 hours, even with the smallest quantity.
Richwood receives a lot of praise and raves, even from people who admit that it is astonishingly expensive and would otherwise have issues with its high price. The fragrance costs $645 or €500 — and people would still buy it if they could. In fact, Richwood is completely sold out at Luckyscent. It seems to be one of those fragrances for which a few people would make an exception to their normal pricing issues, simply because it is that rich, “luxurious,” or “beautiful.”
Take Angela at Now Smell This who said that Richwood “elicited the sharp, physical thrill of beauty” when she first smelt it. Her review is actually a joint one for Richwood and its sibling, Irisss, and reads, in part, as follows:
Over the years, I’ve learned that things that are truly beautiful evoke a physical response. Who hasn’t hovered on the brink of tears at a moving piece of music or gasped at a turn in the road revealing a breathtaking sweep of scenery? Even the mundane can be beautiful that way [….] For me, both Irisss and Richwood elicited the sharp, physical thrill of beauty when I first smelled them. [¶][…]
Richwood reflects the sensibility of many of the XerJoff fragrances more than Irisss does. It shares the high quality of Irisss’s ingredients, but is warmer and inflected with amber. Although I might love Irisss just a shade more than Richwood, it is Richwood I get the most compliments on.
To me, Richwood smells like the depths of a winery, underground where the barrels of fruity, deep red wine age. Except, for Richwood the barrels are made of sandalwood — real, sweet sandalwood — not oak. I smell earth and wood stained with port-like, red fruit. Rose lightens the fragrance and keeps it from getting too thick. Still, if you didn’t make a point of thinking of the rose, you might not notice it. As Richwood wears, amber begins to warm its wood. Richwood has terrific lasting power. A spritz before breakfast will last you well into dinner. If you get some on your sweater, you’ll smell it (lucky you) into the next day.
Mark Behnke of Colognoisseur calls Richwood the “single best sandalwood fragrance I own.” His brief summation states:
When I want my sandalwood straight with no chaser this is the one I reach for. Perfumer Jacques Flori uses real Mysore sandalwood at the heart and cassis, rose, and patchouli are present. Those three notes really just serve to draw out the complexity of the real thing. I think it is the single best sandalwood fragrance I own.
On Fragrantica, a lot of comments are adoring and gushing, but there are also critics who dislike the scent, even apart from the fierce debate as to its price. A few call it a scrubber, while others think it is similar to less exorbitantly priced scents. First, some of the positive reviews, at least the shorter ones that aren’t several paragraphs long:
- This thing is seriously the most beautiful scent I have smelled in a long time.Opening a slightly citris,creamy sandalwood ,then I smell a beautiful mix of patchouli and sandalwood that slightly softens with a rosy/fruit smell.I havnt got to the base yet but so far,WOW!!!
- if I had to make a choice on one fragrance for the rest of my life, this would be it. To me, Richwood is a creamy, sexy dream. The “top-shelf” notes are blended to perfection and last for hours. Richwood is balanced and could be worn by both men and women. It’s been moved to the top of my full-bottle wish list (I’ll buy four less full bottles so I can get this one… I mean, what’s the point of settling?). Give yourself a treat and get a sample/decant from someone (or don’t, if you want to save your wallet)… this is quality and artisanship in the truest sense of the word.
- Ohhh what a beauty!!!! And not even i am fan of Patchouli (few options with patchouli as main note i do like – and i do not like Coromandel as i feel it too bitter on my skin, i can not stand to). But Richwood is Rich and this is all about precious woods… It’s lovely and adorable! [¶] The Patchouli is detected more on the beginning, first hours on skin. […] Patchouli here is not overpowered and not even black out the other notes. The roses are beautifully blended and look so soft on skin. [¶] The first minutes i feel the orange-like citrusy accord, so natural and pretty. I could also detect during its first hours on skin a beautiful and unique fruity/citrusy/acid feeling: black currant – it makes everything perfectly done here, the “cherry pie” of this masterpiece.[¶] I could also detect during its evolution a lovely and masculine leathery phase which comes from the labdanum note – so nice! [¶] Going further, i could feel an amazing sandalwood, which is so natural, pretty, smooth and dry (high quality one) till the dry down, where i can find a musky and vanilla ending! [¶] Thrilling & Terrific <3
Not everyone is so enthused, and two people call Richwood a “scrubber,” albeit because of very different elements:
- I was socked in the eye and knocked out completely by the most powerful acidic citrus. I saw a bright light and realized I was in a temporary state of shock. A strong wood base is heavily present, however, this blast of citrus has decided it will not share the stage. [¶] Scrub scrub, scrum, I thought. In the back of my mind I knew that I had to give this nausea inducing fragrance a chance because the sample had been a gift from a friend. Oh I could love this! I could, if only that screaming lemon would back up off of me. Poor sandalwood, poor patchouli, I doth love thee so but I cannot tolerate this blinding lemon that has put me down for the count.
- That opening was pretty fierce, but I didn’t get citrus out of it. I was mentally taken back to when I worked maintenance jobs at Lockheed Aircraft. This smelled like some kind of solvent I used to use. (Methyl ethyl ketone, perhaps.) [¶] Then it turns into a strong, hideous, sickening floral… by then I realized that I’d had enough. [¶] Scrubber.
Somewhere in the middle you have “Alfarom” who is merely bored by the stereotypical luxury and ostentatiousness represented by Richwood:
Another “no, no, no” for the guys at Xerjoff. As many of their other deliveries, Richwood is well crafted with top-quality ingredients but fails to coalesce into an outstanding fragrance due to the strong deja-vu vibe I get throughout its evolution.
A rose/patchouli fragrance laying on a solid sandalwood/iris base that smells rich (maybe too much) and will appeal to anyone who like to ostentate and show off. Strongly perfumey. Stereotyped luxury.
Perfect for anyone attending a charity event on a stretch limo.
There is the same sort of split at Luckyscent where Richwood has three Five Star Ratings, and one each in the Four and Two star categories. One person calls it a better Coromandel with “creamier sandalwood, less aldehydes and powder, and a more natural patchouli.” Another fan says: “Ridiculously priced? Definitely. Worth every penny? Absolutely. This is the fragrance I’ve always been looking for. Just right. Warm, fresh, sophisticated, anytime, and anywhere.” A third gave Richwood Four Stars instead of Five solely because of the exorbitant price, but loved the fragrance itself enough to start her comment with: “OMG. Would someone like my first child? Seriously, I don’t have any kids, and not planning on being Rapunzel, but this stuf [sic] is AMAZING.”
Again and again, this issue of price comes up, and it naturally colours people’s entire perception of the actual scent. I don’t blame them one bit. $645 or €500 gives me sticker-shock, and is certainly far too rich for my blood. Yet, I think it says something that this extremely expensive fragrance is sold out at one site.
The thing one should probably keep in mind is that Xerjoff seems to want the entire experience to be the epitome of luxury, and spends a lot on packaging as a result. I have no doubt that part of Richwood’s high price stems from the bottle, even if it is theoretically “cheaper” than limited-edition, Murano art work or quartz rock. As the Aafkes boutique explains:
Once only available in Limited Edition Murano art pieces, the new XJ 17/17 – 100 ml bottles offer a natural extension to the XJ line. Each bottle is fitted with a hand cut and hand polished stone and each piece contains an exquisitely crafted scent representing mans union with nature. No two bottles are the same.
Personally, I would take a cheaper scent in a less unique bottle, but then I’m not in Xerjoff’s target audience. People who buy Xerjoff are the same ones who buy Roja Dove, and who want the luxury experience. So, again, I’ll bring up what I call “The Roja Dove Rule“: when a fragrance is high-quality and intended to be a luxury item, then pricing becomes a purely personal, subjective valuation. It may be too much for you or me, but it’s worth it for someone else.
Nevertheless, my personal feeling is that none of the Xerjoffs that I’ve tried thus far have felt enormously complex, distinctive, or unique, and that makes their cost a little difficult for me. I can fully understand the high price for several of the SHL 777’s fragrances, even the astronomical ones for Roja Dove’s Imperial Collection (Nuwa and Diaghilev), but I really struggle when it comes Xerjoff, and that includes Richwood. There is just something about it that makes me hesitate, even as I sniff my arm appreciatively. Plus, it definitely has a synthetic element in it that feels acrid to my nose. As a whole, I can’t help but have doubts — more so than for Xerjoff’s other creations. However, several of those are much better priced, so I could fully understand why someone might fall for the bombastic, sweet jasmine, Al Khatt, in the Oud Stars Collection at $310. Same with the honeyed delights of Mamluk. I could even see why the notorious Zafar would be worth it at $385 for those who like that sort of super-animalic, hardcore oud. But Richwood… I’m not personally convinced, and I say that as someone who adores sandalwood and enjoyed the fragrance. Things might be different if it felt like Richwood had endless amounts of true Mysore and no rasping, acrid smoke. That was not the case for me, alas.
At the end of the day, however, all of this is a personal, subjective valuation. The bottom line is Richwood has a beautiful bouquet that I thoroughly enjoyed and that I think is definitely worth sampling, especially for those who are sandalwood or patchouli fans.