Musk perfumes celebrate the animal within

Musk perfumes celebrate the animal within

Musk scents return to vogue and the sultry animalic essence defines both today’s luxury niche perfumes as well as everyday laundry detergents.

Imagine exacting the ultimate revenge by launching an olfactory bomb on your man. That’s exactly what the Empress Josephine Bonaparte did to Napoloeon when he dumped her for another. The crime scene was punctuated by the heady animalic scent of musk oil (the perfume, Rance L’Imperatrice, to be exact) that saturated the wallpaper and porous curtains for years to come. Imagine his suffering.

Musk, this prized ancient aphrodisiac fixative, can modify any fragrance into a lusty, nuanced seducer. The origin of musk as a perfume ingredient can be traced to the male musk deer of the Himalayan mountains, Southern China and Northern India. The musk oil itself, found in a grainy sac on the abdomen, was eventually safely removed leaving the deer unable to mark its territory.

Chinese courtesans actually flavoured their food with musk so that its essence would be emitted during the act of lovemaking; once the scent hit Europe, it was prized by Queen Elizabeth I and Queen Victoria.

The shrinking population of the prized musk deer led chemist Albert Bauer to discover Nitro-musks (a synthetic version of musk) in 1888 by working with—of all things—TNT!

The most commonly used aromachemicals today are Musk Ketone, Polycyclcic and Macrocylcic, and currently, many fragrance development companies (Firmenich, IFF) have registered patents for their musk accords—according to veteran perfume expert, Michael Edwards, there are now 90 different musks currently being used in fine fragrances. As a fixative, musk can modify and throw a fragrance in a particular direction and in fact, some have been developed to be so cost-effective, they are used in personal-care products, such as laundry detergents and infused dryer sheets.

Perfumer Francis Kurkdjian speaks to the versatile, multi-faceted nature of musk: “from cleaner” (Marc Jacobs Cotton musk), “to dirtier” (the original Jovan Musk),  to “sweeter and fruitier notes” or “smoother and creamier” (PG.4.: Le Musc et la Peau Parfumerie Generale). There are also  “dry, almost woody” musks (YSL Mon Paris—a chypre-musk), he says.

Kurkdjian’s Narciso Rodriguez Rose Musc creation combines at least a dozen different musks. In Frederic Malle’s Musc Ravageur, perfumer Maurice Roucel concocted a sultry animal basin for myriad Oriental umbrella notes.

While some prefer the rutting signature of the classic dirty musk once found in classics such as Guerlain’s Shalimar, others prefer a more modern musk that is solar, clean and linear. It’s clear though, musk perfumes our modern day world and is here to stay.

Musks are everywhere in today’s perfume ingredients: white musks, amber musks, dark rich musks.


Marc Jacobs Splash: Cotton, $62 (100 ml),
Yves Saint Laurent Mon Paris, $110 (50 ml),
Pierre Guillaume Parfumerie Generale 4.1 Le Musc & Le Peau, $95 (30 ml), 
Frederic Malle Musc Ravageur, $298 (50 ml),

Take a read about another classic musk fragrance: Kiehl’s Original Musk, which debuted more than 50 years ago.

TW&TR_news_kiehls musk 50 jan2013

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PHOTO: L’Oreal/YSL Mon Paris Ingredients
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This article was written by

Marian Bendeth is a noted Global Fragrance Expert and owner of Sixth Scents based in Toronto Canada. She consults with the general public, fragrance industry, retailers, colleges and media. She is also a six- times award-winning Fragrance Media Editorial Awards fragrance journalist and recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Awards at The Canadian Fragrance Awards.