Some time ago I wrote about musk and the fact that I had never knowingly come across real musk in perfumery. Now thanks to Anya of Anya’s Garden I have and the experience is not what I expected at all.
Musk is a tremendous fixative and that explains its use in perfumery for centuries. Just how good a fixative is musk? The fragrance can last for decades if a fabric is saturated with a good musk tincture. On the skin even a small amount can make a formula persist far longer than you would think possible for a natural scent; though Anya pointed out when I emailed her with my question about musk that strong heart notes can also contribute to the longevity of a perfume.
True Siberian musk was in both of the samples she sent me and its presence changed my way of thinking about that over worked molecule. The issue of musk, the restricted nature of its trade (CITES treaty ratified 1975 and the voluntary nature of the participating nations) is a vexed one. I tend to be a non animal products person myself, but there is always more than one side to every story, and as Jean Claude Ellena points out in The Diary of a Nose, “… most products of animal origin traditionally used in their (perfume) composition are no longer utilized, in the name of morality rather than industry regulations, thus unwittingly depriving the African tribes who supplied them of revenue*, and consequently condemning them to abject poverty.” Now that their trade is restricted or ended, the aroma chemicals substituted for these animalics do not have the same history of centuries on human skins nor the same long track record of safety.
Musk though, when real, does not behave in the way that I expected. Sarah McCartney of 4160 Tuesdays described musk as smelling like the donkeys who ferried children on rides during British Holidays. I had a different experience, but then she was smelling actual pods in the Osmotheque at Versailles.
The animal part of the fragrance was hard to detect, instead what I got was less fur than atmosphere, an abstract cloudy texture which made me understand why Jean Claude Ellena classes musk in with the soft scents rather than with the animalics.
The first of the two samples was Randolph Parry Cologne from 1859 a reconstruction that Anya did from a recipe found in the historic Parry Mansion in New Hope Pennsylvania. Like Florida Water, Aqua Mirabilis, or Hungary Water, this recipe is for a fresh citrus scent, although the gentle lingering dry off the Parry Cologne
had was due to a slight tinge of musk along with the lemon, bergamot, lavender, rose, cloves and cinnamon of the recipe. This was a cologne with a tingle then a silken trail.**
Musk really entered the picture though with Enticing the oriental perfume sample Anya also sent me. This starts dark and dry with a cool scent like roots, and uses the cepe note to recreate their subterranean grip. Enticing ascends though into a loamy patchouli with a sunny crumbling smell of good garden soil. This is the smell of healthy gardens, rich and so friable you know it could get just about anything to thrive.
Then Enticing grows a flower out of the earth and the flower is a tuberose, the heavy perfume of the white petals is filled out with butter and honey which gives the perfume a period of gourmand unctuousness, and you would think that musk at this point would be overkill, that it would sent Enticing wilting back downwards to the earthy scent of its start.
Wrong. This is the point about musk, real musk here does not smell animal, the musk smells ethereal, almost blue. Really. A Blue Heaven of musk which lasts for hours on me and which is or seems to be the natural partner of flowers. Who knew?
Evidently Anya did and this perfume is the sort of rich full fragrance that lovers of vintage woody orientals with slightly foody spins will adore. If you like Roma with its vanilla heart, or Obsession with the amber/vanilla twist, or Magie Noire with raspberries over a big oriental rose and patchouli, you may love this earthy, sexy, slightly edible perfume with the musk send off. I would not have thought that this would be a winner with me- but it sure was.
* M. Ellena was probably referring here to the African Civet cat and its scent gland production of civet.
**Randolph Parry Cologne was only produced up to a gallon, but is similar to Florida Water.