Nixing the Musk in Your White Florals

The Pearl in in full bloom

The Pearl in in full bloom

In the perfume world some people are proponents of layering perfumes, and some people aren’t.  It can depend somewhat on the perfume itself.  If you are spritzing on some masterpiece of perfumery with all sorts of crescendos and diminuendos, then dabbing something else on top can simply add up to a multi note cacophany.  Trust me, I’ve tried combining old Jean Patous and the results were seldom good, except with their citrus Cocktail (which picked up stodgy florals and orientals with a zing).

Most perfumes these days are not so complicated as old Jean Patous.  My personal favorites for this sort of treatment are white florals.

It’s partly a matter of white florals  forming natural heart notes.  They do very well as the midsection of any fragrance and these days the dry off, the last evaporation of white florals are almost sure to be white musk molecules which trundle off your skin and into the air with slow predictability.  They’re chemically stable, we’re all very used to them because industrial perfumery has used them for decades, and they are very cheap.

GardeniaflowerUnfortunately not all of us enjoy them.  If like me you don’t one option is to under layer your white floral with a dark iris perfume.  You can try combinations like Hiris and La Chasse aux Papillons, or PdN’s Odalisque with Penhaligon’s Iris Prima, or Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’s Iridum with one of her white florals like Pink Gardenia.  The results tend to round out the white florals and make them more lasting and expansive on skin.   I also find that where some florals like rose and jasmine are apt to turn acid on wrists (like bad white wines), irises are not and so are ideal for counteracting that sour note.

The other option is to go with a good animalic chypre like Bandit or Cabochard and to dab your white floral on top.  This has produced some very good and lasting results for me.  I liked the combination of La Chasse and Cabochard so  much that I wore them together for some months until I ran out of La Chasse.  The duo was full, sophisticated, had a sillage  and also that brio that comes with a tiny bit of dirt.  What can I say?  It worked.

This is all, I guess, odd to people who love musk or the modern facsimiles of musk.  I do like the dirtier ones, and do like fragrances like Muscs Kublai Khan but the majority of muskies, those dosed liberally with white musk, smell like chemical toilets to  me. When I catch the dreaded note, the scent dies on me, or to be more precise, my interest in it dies.  There are other fixatives out there, other animalcs, leathers, iris, woods, galbanum, vanillin, etc just nothing quite so inexpensive or so likely to  wait until the end of a composition  to make known its presence, and to ask in a genteel way if it can possibly use your facilities?  You can’t say no now can you?  Anyway I’m always certain that white musk will use Poo Pourri and my bathroom in its wake will smell of poop and prudence in equal measure.  No.   Forget it.  Let us celebrate the poopier, sweatier, halitososis-ier facts of being human.  Lets just wear a bit of dirty animalic.  Or as Luca Turin’s relative was quoted as saying after one too many tours of perfume factories: “Un peu de merde s’il vous plait.”

Vintage cabochard from

Vintage cabochard from

If you must rub a little dirt on these beauties to make them habitable, simple or soliflore is best.  I’ve always had an easy time with La Chasse and also fairly good luck with Fracas or more recently with Krigler’s Juicy Jasmine and Teo Cabanel’s Lace Garden both of which I like to layer.  Complex whites like Joy are harder to manage as they already sport seriously indolic and civet components to the perfume which may clash with something you’re trying out. You can only experiment and if something does not work out on your skin, you can always go find the make up remover and try again. Have you tried any combinations with florals that worked well and upped their personality?

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7 thoughts on “Nixing the Musk in Your White Florals

  1. Innnnnnteresting.

    I suspect that I might be anosmic to one or more white musks – either that, or my scent-eating skin gobbles them up to no more than a whisper, because sometimes I notice them being the last, boring, chapter of some inoffensive floral, and sometimes I don’t. If I *do* notice, I’m usually thinking, “Oh, musk… let me go cover that up with something else.”

    And sometimes musk doesn’t bother me, though I am NOT fond of really dirty ones. Well, I mean, I like Musc Ravageur but that one’s not terribly dirty. Bal has dirty musk, but it also has a bunch of overripe flowers and other dirty things, which reminds me, I really need to haul out the ol’ Bal and wear it soon. But most of the things I try from Smell Bent have a really filthy musk. You may recall my opinion of Commando – which Tom of PST called something like “the impeccably clean skin of a child”, and which I, blindsided by it [curse you, Tom], called a whole locker full of post-game sweaty hairy rugby players. (The first time I smelled it, I also called it something unprintable, so we’ll let that go for now.) I like “clean skin” type musks, and I don’t mind terribly the standard DSH musk, which is a little too sweet but not troublesome.

    Anyway, my point is that while clean musks aren’t guaranteed to bother me, sometimes they do smell like dryer sheets. And, just UGH. I do sort of miss the 70s, when a mossy/woody base was considered to be the default base for big florals. (Hello, original Chloe. MAN, I wish I hadn’t ruined that one for myself with high school.) I wonder what would happen if I layered the rereleased Patou Vacances – which disappointed me very much by being not green enough and too laundry-musky – with, say, Penhaligon’s Violetta? Will try to remember that and report back.

    • You sent me scuttering after a sample sent me by Anya McCoy which contains actual musk and which i keep around to remind me what the real thing smells like. Just to confirm that I like it and do notice the distinction between real and the industrial white musks.

      White florals to me now are somewhat destroyed by this boring dry down. For instance everyone loves Penhaligon’s Ostara. It has many things in the end but one is definitely musk. I might like it but I’m guessing I’ll smell that and that’ll be the end for me. Ditto PdN’s Musc Intense. I love the turkish rose in it but the monolithic Musk rules it out for me.

      I would like to know if you have any success with Vacances and Violetta. That sounds as though it might be good, also any of the old green Crowns. Didn’t the guy who made them encourage layering? If so, he got ahead of Jo Malone by a hundred years 🙂

  2. I love Crown Bouquet to a ridonkulous degree. (But I have to admit, I think there’s a bit of musk in that drydown.)

    Kafka complains of the musk in the bottom of Carnal Flower, which I can’t smell. It’s just jasmine-tuberose all the way down, tapering down to nothing in about six hours, which is good longevity for me.

    As for Ostara – I’m a bit puzzled by it, because my first encounter with it was from a mfr spray sample, and it seemed quite green/narcissus, with definite musk in the base along with some of that generic stuff they call “blond woods.” However, it wasn’t laundryish enough to bother me, and I figured I’d just spritz something over top when it got to that point because I loved the top so much. So I bought a bottle for $40 on Haute Look in November. It got put away until my birthday last week, but I finally opened it – and it smells different than I remembered it. Like, *considerably* different – less green, less narcissus, way more ylang, and more benzoin. Altogether sweeter, and almost as if somebody dumped some Amaranthine into it. The musk is unnoticeable to me now, which is a plus, but the rest of it isn’t as good. And now I hear that it’s been discontinued already, so I’m wondering whether my full bottle was on sale because somebody screwed up a major production run, or what… I ought to get the original sample out and compare; I think there’s still a spritz or two in it.

    Old Vacances was so perfect, it breaks my heart that the refo is so dull. And I just heard the other day that Penhaligon’s has d/c Violetta (not to mention Amaranthine!). What is up with them?

    • What a weird story about Ostara. Was it mis-labeled Amaranthine? I was thinking about trying it, but the thing with Penhaligons is that the ideas are good but the materials are so so and in the end i’d rather Guerlain or Frederic Malle do whatever it is. I have for example, Lily & Spice from Vanessa and that is lovely on some days but sweaty and diaperish on others. Don’t ask me why. That release too came and went extremely fast.

      Old Vacances is so pretty and tiny bottles surface on Ebay. About the best you can do these days…

      • It’s definitely NOT Amaranthine… it just has some similarities with it that I didn’t notice earlier. Like Ostara with a bit of Amaranthine mixed in. So weird.

  3. I’m with you, white musks/ clean musks is just nasty. That together with another cheap favourite cedar! Are my two loathed base notes when overused and unimaginative of course. I think it really good of you that you will give perfumes a new live by covering up their ‘faults’, I’m afraid for me there are too many good perfumes out there to wear the ones which annoy me.
    As for layering. I never thought of myself as a layering person, but I do layer actually, however it mostly happens when I really want to wear two perfumes. I’ll spray them on different places, neck and wrist for example, so that they won’t fight, but just sing a duet. 🙂

    • A duet is a kind of charming idea. Some people achieve this with body products of one sort and perfume of another. Like Shalimar lotion and Barkhane edp or some such combo.
      I still enjoy La Chasse and Cabochard, call it Papillon Cabochard if you like. The upside is that no one smells exactly like you!

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