A Blue Material Musk

Interior of Dome  of a mosque. Some Mosques contain musk ground into the mortar

Interior of Dome of a Mosque. Some Mosques contain musk ground into the mortar

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.

from Ferretdaily.com

from Ferretdaily.com

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

Deer Musk from an Ebay lisitng

Deer Musk from an Ebay lisitng

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.

Cloudscape from Wikipedia

Cloudscape from Wikipedia

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.


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8 thoughts on “A Blue Material Musk

  1. Lovely to know that true musk has more of a raw earthy yet ‘blue’ quality – almost like with it, a nature-inspired perfume could go anywhere! Enticing also sounds just wonderful. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Enticing really was one of the best new orientals I’ve tried this year. That buttery tuberose note just makes it along with the musk. Delicious.

  3. Very interesting post. We just discussed a little about musk and vintage at a forum the other day. The only thing I knew was that musk from the musk deer was prohibited because of its near extinction, so I’m uncertain as to what musk Ellena refers to then? I’m with you that nothing I’ve smelled so far makes for a proper substitute, but that goes for many others things too, ambergris, sandalwood… When I looked into it and even found that white musk is actually an environmental danger, along with the fact that mostly I just don’t like it, I was appalled! So,IFRA bans a whole lot of things due to allegedly allergens, but not white musk which can not be broken down in nature…
    Anyway, I assume that Anya’s musk was vintage then, or? It sounds wonderful, and I hope to try it at some point. Thanks for the great post/ review

  4. I hadn’t heard that white musk does not break down-yikes actually. It’s in soo many things these days.
    Don’t know if Anya’s musk was vintage she simply said Siberian. I am in two minds here because this is far superior to any “musk” I’ve smelled so far but like most of us I am an animal lover and hate to think of any trade based on animals. If the deer in question were ours it would be less of a problem as we have “deer overload” here in CT!
    I think Jean Claude Ellena was referring to civet, a related material but a little more fecal than the musk. Musk seems to be surprisingly versatile.

  5. I was most interested to read your post, having tried both these scents of Anya’s – sadly I lost a couple more of hers (Ylang Ylang tincture and Temple) when my luggage was recently stolen. I thought the cologne in particular stunning – and tingling as you say, though I suppose I am slightly conflicted about the issue of ‘real musk’. And like you, I didn’t detect all that much of it. Enticing I am still making my mind up about – it is in Salome territory for me, not a category I normally go for, but I can appreciate that it is well put together, certainly.

  6. Too bad about the stolen luggage-that’s awful. Part of international travel these days but… grumph!

    I really liked both the cologne and Enticing, which took me about four sessions to understand. Generally, I think…I sort of think…I can get the perfumer’s basic drift after three wears if something’s a bit complicated. Not always. Anything by Jean Kerleo takes me time, so does Neil Morris, Roudnitska Pere et Fils, and sometimes also Mathilde Laurent. This Anya’s Garden perfume took me four tries. I just did not understand how Enticing functioned on skin before that-then it was like getting 8 down in a Crossword, intersected with 6 across, respectively “tuberose” and “butter” 😉

  7. Heya,
    I smelled Jean Kerleo’s 1970s musk tincture at the Osmotheque and its quiet insistence thrilled me.
    Yes, I too am torn about animal products. If the animal has been killed for one thing then I think the whole carcass should be used. Then I’m sad that something has to die at all. Then I get hungry and eat meat……… and on………..and on
    Portia x

    1. Oh yeah, I know how it goes, about to say: ” Shame! Shame!” re animal products but then…I take a look at my shoe closet, and something about how FULL it is reminds me that I don’t have a leg to stand on in this debate.

      Lucky you to get to smell that Kerleo musk tincture. The musk thing is so unexpected-you think ” Underpants ahead” and you get, soft and kind of abstract. Great though.

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