Domesticated Animal Musks

Sargeant portrait of the dog Pointy

Sargeant portrait of the dog Pointy

Has anyone else noticed the stealth growth of musk in perfumery?  Musk is everywhere these days, particularly in the base of floral perfumes.  It’s getting so that you have to go to  great lengths to find a flower perfume that doesn’t end in a puddle of musk.

I don’t hate musk.  Although I do  dislike the huge old heavy macrocylic musks (Globalide, Muscone) whose molecules lumber past your nose like mastodons on the extinction march.  I’m one of those people who always have free and clear detergents in the laundry room, because I can’t stand the battle of different scents fighting for dominance over one sillage. Musk always wins.

Actually musk is an amazingly enduring fixative.  Utilized in the

Sargeant painting of a woman fumigating her robes possibly with bukhoor

Sargeant painting of a woman fumigating her robes possibly with bukhoor

traditional bukhoor , burned in incense braziers to perfume the house, or sometimes clothing, on special occasions in the Arab world.  This is musk used to do what it does very well,  lend suavity and longevity to other materials.

If you move out of the realm of the floral detergent musk to the dirtier or woodier musks you arrive at the heart of french perfumery.”One realizes that Jacques Guerlain loved musks…”* as one French blogger has it, and this is true. There are hardly any great French compositions without the rounding effect of musks, particularly nitro musks, but even with the nitros excised, you get such wonderful creatures as Montana’s Parfum de Peau from 1986 where the triad of sandalwood, patchouli and musk stay on skin for hours and hours.  I’ve had PdP drop off on a wrist for an almost twenty four snooze. If longevity is what you want in a fragrance then this is one to live with, and you will cohabit with your large warm unseen companion, tattered chew toys and all.

Bal a Versailles is another intensely animalic fragrance.  Curiously, for all the perfumes latterly touted as animalics, like Muscs Koublai Khan, many don’t actually contain much musk, and to clip the beastly effect on its leash, you have to go back either to older compositions, or else  attempt to domesticate  even wilder ones.

Bal a Versailles, the sophisticated result of breeding down the bloodline  of Tabu, is one of the most animalic fragrances you will ever come across. A silky purebred in a bottle, just as warm and sensuous as any Maltese puppy.  Perhaps someone uses Bal in summer, but I can’t say that would occur to me, something this furry would suffer in the heat.

Parfum d'Empire's Musc Tonkin in original release bottle

Parfum d’Empire’s Musc Tonkin in original release bottle

Then there are attempts to bring musk back from its misleadingly clean associations.  You get such things as Parfum d’Empire’s Musc Tonkin, which like Kingdom for Sandalwood, or Eau des Merveilles for Ambergris, is an effort to let people smell by reconstruction what they can’t smell anymore in ordinary commerce.

Tonkin musk used to be considered the highest grade of musk, probably what Josephine doused the drapes in her bedroom with when she was divorced from Napoleon.  Musc Tonkin therefore is a daring resuscitation of dead elegance.

I haven’t been able to snag a sample and not being a perfumer have no clue what Marc Antoine Corticchiato might have used.  This was one of those limited perfume runs,  only just added back to the regular line in Parfum d’Empires.  The single ingredient listed on Fragrantica is musk, but I don’t credit that.  Several of the crack reviewers at Basenotes were confused by MT’s ingredients, They all detected flowers, but  while some said jasmine, others rose, and others again swore up and down that ylang-ylang and tuberose or orchid were in the composition, no one seconded anyone else’s guess.

They all agreed that there was a depth and a dark indolic quality to MT that made it almost fecal…? This also made Tonkin challenging to wear. Now it’s back in a 2014 version and whether the formula is as dark and musky as the original I don’t know. Though I bet that it’s drop dead chic.  Animalics usually are. For a shot of elegance I enjoy the cat’s slightly woody smelling fur, especially when she’s been sleeping on the cedar mulch of the garden.

She never seems to mind, but then, she’s domesticated; Musc Tonkin? Possibly not.

Musc Tonkin was reviewed by The Scented Hound, Kafkaesque, and The Non-blonde

*My Blue Hour Si L ADN de Guerlain M’etait Conte…

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3 thoughts on “Domesticated Animal Musks

  1. I’ve always like Laurie Erickson’s Jour Ensoleille; to me it smells like clean horses in the sun. Seems like whenever a perfume references horses, it’s always in a context of gallons of dripping horse sweat, tack rooms full of uncleaned reeking leather, or mountains of straw-encrusted manure… in perfumery, no one ever keeps a stable clean!

    JE, on the other hand, smells exactly like a horse just out of the wash bay being hand-grazed in the sun. When you smell clean horses up close, it’s much more similar to the smell of cat or dog fur than to the “dirty stable” stereotype; even though musk isn’t listed in the notes for JE, it still captures a clean-musky hair-and-fur scent that’s been warmed in the sun.

    I haven’t wrapped my nose around Musc Tonkin yet either, but now I’m really curious about it! [adds one more to endless sample list]

    • Clean horses-that’s something I haven’t smelled in a while. I also have to cast my mind back to Laurie Erickson’s Jour Ensoleille, but it did seem rather animalic now that you mention it. Most of her scents usually have a classic inspiration somewhere and that one may have been Bal a Versailles.

      Yes, clean horses equates to clean Shetland ponies in my case-and they didn’t much like getting clean unless it involved a curry comb not used on their legs. I got a few nips for being clumsy! But bathed horse is a good smell, and I liked it nearly as much as oats in nose bags!

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