If you’re up on your history, you may have read the story of the Empress Josephine splashing her musk based fragrance around the marital apartments so that Napoleon would never forget her perfume after he remarried (for the sake of producing an heir) in 1810. The story was that the scent was so intense you could catch it drifting in the draperies years later. Who knows how it affected Napoleon, but Marie Louise, his second wife, and no doubt the recipient of this pungent challenge, wore violet scents ever afterwards.
True or not, it does raise the core question of musks, whether they are sexy perfume ingredients or simply awful? Supremely come hither scents, or as likely to make the men folk take to their heels as Sadie Hawkins Day?
In the awful opinion camp are a lot of perfumers. Edmond Roudnitska objected to Jean Claude Ellena’s presence when the latter, as a young perfumer, came to visit because Roudnitska could smell macrocylic musk on him. Christopher Brosius of CB I HATE PERFUME writes, “I don’t want to get all temperamental here, but if you want an ‘Eqyptian Musk’ based scent you are barking up the wrong tree.” Josephine would have been out of luck there.
What about the rest of us? To begin with, there is some confusion in my mind about what is meant by musks in the first place? We tend not to torture animals now in order to obtain it and therefore I have no idea what actual musk smells like. I know that I like its synthetic first cousin civet, because that features in a number of old French compositions: Joy, for example, and Mouchoir de Monsieur.
There are clean musks and there are fecal ones. The first group exemplified by Jovan’s White Musk or The Body Shop’s White Musk, and then there are dirty ones, the best examples to my mind being Muscs Khublai Khan and Kate Walsh’s Boyfriend. The problem in either case is that many people can’t smell musks. The molecules are very large and apparently a lot of people simply can’t detect them at all. They are anosmic to them.
Currently musks come at both ends of the smell spectrum: very light and very dark. Which is accurate? Or are both accurate?
There are washing detergent musks: Galaxolide, Globanone and Tonalide. My guess is as good as yours, but probably these are responsible for the “clean” musk, contra-diction in terms that it is. Powdery Musks include: Musk Ketone, Muscenone and Muscone, and then the “syrupy” musks: macrolide and Ambrettolide. (All these categories come from M. Ellena’s little book Le Parfum, by the way.)
So much for the list of likely synthetics, what about the fragrances themselves? They seem to be very popular. Many companies appear to be moving their heretofore chypre categories into the floral woody musk one. Take Chanel – no more talk of chypres, chez Chanel, but their last two releases in the Les Exclusifs line are both FWM’s: Jersey and 1932.
Diane, the Diane von Furstenberg perfume from 2012, is listed as FWM, so is Annick Goutal’s Mon Parfum Cheri, and as for Guerlain, Florale Romantique, L’Heure de Nuit, Eau de Lingerie, and even the Grand Mon Precieux Nectar are FWM’s not to mention Paris-Moscow and Bolshoi Saison 2012: La Traviata. It’s safe to say that Guerlain is big on the musk bandwagon.
But are we? The public still loves Narciso Rodriguez (one of the most popular) it would seem, and when I saw a thread on the subject of favorite FWMs on Fragrantica, frequent mention was made of Kenzo Amour. However, I’m not convinced. For one thing, all these perfumes leave out the salt. That is one of the almost unspoken parts of wood notes (when real) or oakmoss, and these soft concoctions lack seasoning.
I’ll stake an opinion here, and say that I think the clean musk works well enough as a dry down, but that musk is best used in the beastie perfume. If you like your animalic smells, then the stronger, earthier musks are going to fit in fairly naturally. The material in its cleaner aspects may smell too much like fabric softener. Given a choice between Downy and Dirty, I’m down with the dirty every time.