Siberian musk deer in a zoo looking to camera

Dear Musk

Dear Musk, or musk deer shall I say. You are the victim of your sublime pheromonal secretions, which in minute quantities, are an aphrodisiac for the cruel human beings who kill you for this primary purpose. The origin of the word musk comes from the Greek moskhos meaning testicles. In fact, the musk deer gland in which this carnal substance is secreted is not part of the reproductive organs of the Central-Asian herbivore,  but a sac located in his lower abdomen. Today, the animal is listed as endangered after a severe population decline, presumed to be from its appreciation in Chinese traditional medicine, rather than from its use in perfumery.

Siberian musk deer (Moschus moschiferus). Wildlife animal.

Musk, in today’s fragrances, is not a single substance but a collection of animal, vegetal or chemical compounds and often a blend of these. Insects, reptiles, musk-deers, rodents and a few other mammals such as the famous civet cat have been hunted and captured for their musky secretions for ages, and their extracts can still be found in traces in exclusive juices. This controversial use of “Black Musk”, as it is commonly called, is increasingly rare fortunately, for its prohibitive price and ethical reasons.

Among the vegetal musks, ambrette seeds from an Indian relative of okra, produce a natural scent between amber and musk. The seeds are also found in the Ayurvedic pharmacopeia.

Abelmoschus moschatus (ambrette) seeds

“White musk”  is the name used for synthetic musks. They are classified into three families based on their molecular structure. Nitro-musks were first discovered in the production of the powerful explosive TNT and avoided today because of their instability. Polycyclic musks are large molecules with several carbon rings and fancy names, the most famous among them being the cashmeran aka cashmere wood,  widely used in modern perfumes. Macrocyclic musks have one very large carbon ring resembling, chemically and in odor, the animal sources of musk. All these aroma chemicals can be found alone or more usually in a bouquet, to provide a broad range of musky effects to the final fragrance.

Musk xylene molecule. An unstable, carcinogenic and polluting nitro-musk now mostly banned in cosmetics. Atoms are represented as spheres with conventional color coding: hydrogen (white), carbon (gray), oxygen (red), nitrogen (blue).

The use of musk in perfumery is as old as this noble art. The Talmud and other ancient Islamic manuscripts reveal perfume recipes listing musk along resin and spices as ingredients. A four-hundred-years-old perfume crafted for Queen Elizabeth I of England was made of musk seeds and damask rose. The human love for musk never faded until today. Musk is a very sensual note, very difficult to describe as it pulses between a sweet or an animalic or a spicy note or all together at once. Here are my top picks of musky perfumes for your year-end fragrant shopping time:

Serge Lutens – Bois et Musc

Serge Lutens the Great brought us two superb musks. Muscs Kublaï Khän is a very powerful animalic musc bouquet which I had the chance to try in the past but seems now to be temporarily unavailable. You might still find it in some perfumery stock, so give it a try as it is a musky legend. A much softer and feminine musk from the same house is called Bois et Musc (wood & musk) will be easier to wear and still fade on a beautiful musk base note.

Kiehl’s Musk Eau de Toilette Spray – version 2004

The now unavoidable brand of Kiehl’s, owned by l’Oreal, was then a small pharmacy of New York East-Village which became famous in the 1920’s with an eau de toilette called Musk. The juice has been relaunched in 2004 and still available today from their brand stores. Top notes of citruses are followed by floral heart notes of rose and ylang-ylang before to dry down on an oriental base of coumarin and musk. A real classic musk for your collection.

Musc Ravageur from Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle

Musc Ravageur (raging musk) from Frederic Malle, was composed by the nose Maurice Roucel as an “act of seduction and generosity.” Top notes of citruses and cinnamon leave space for a warm and musky amber note. Do not miss it if you have the chance to try the sublime collection of great fragrances from Frederic Malle.

Le Gemme Imperiali Trio - with Irina at the center
Le Gemme Imperiali Trio – with Irina at the center

I love the new Bvlgari Le Gemme Collection for ladies, launched this year. The elegance of the bottle is in line with the quality of the juices. Among them, Irina, a member of the even more exclusive trio of Le Gemme Imperiali (the imperial gems), is a simple yet unusual accord of magnolia, jasmine, and musk. Irina is the ultimate musk present you can make or receive for this festive season.

I wish you and your families a Merry Christmas and a happy festive season!

Thank you so much for following Scent & Flavor, I truly cherish your support.

Cheers my friends!








About Laurent 70 Articles
Born in Switzerland but lived half of my life in fragrant Asia, I want to share my passion for scents and flavors

Leave a Reply