August 1, 2008


I recently became aware, through reading an entry by Christopher Brosius in his I Hate Perfume blog about the chemical musk situation in perfume and how it affects different people so much. (Please see his post here, it's well worth reading if you haven't already seen it. It also goes a long way to explaining the name I Hate Perfume).

There is no way that natural animal musk can ever be used in perfume again, or any way that we would ever want it to be. There are certain plant materials that have a musky tone such as ambrette seed, but the days of a truly commercially viable use of a natural musk scent are no longer with us. Even so, the scent of musk, or an intellectual idea of an enhanced version of the musk effect, is used everywhere. We are surrounded by it, from expensive to cheap fragrances, to fabric detergents and shampoos or paper products or even in so called unscented products (I have read that unscented products have scent molecules in them that block/mask the natural scent of the product). A variety of molecules to mimic various enhanced versions of musk have been developed but seem to be invisible to many people, many (sometimes as many as 40% have selective anosmia to these molecules) can smell one type of musk molecule but not another. So a range of musk molecules are used in products, so that the note will get through to people by one molecule version or another. This explains to me why I don't get some perfumes such as Tresor, because it may well be that the musk molecule in it which comprises about 40% of the perfume is one in a range that disagrees with my brain in a radical way.

I have not really been that much of a fan of musk, so far anyway, or at least my idea of what musk is like, from my exposure to perfumes with the word "musk" in the name. I have had the opportunity to sniff at real civet musk, and it is such a rank and penetrating, strong odor I am amazed that someone long ago realized it was useful a fragrance material if it were to be very diluted. But I realize now that I may not be aware of how much musk there is around me. Apparently it is the most used ingredient across the board in most fragrances, both in perfumes and in scented products of all kinds, from paper products to laundry detergents and every kind of lotion, because of certain qualities it has. From research I find that often musk is used for its property of enhancement and ability to heighten the power of other scents, and even tastes, without it being strong enough to be evident as itself. It is said that if you put a very tiny amount of musk, even the chemical form, in a glass that once held another perfume note, that has been cleaned, the musk will enhance whatever minute trace is left in the glass and amplify and refresh the scent to make it clearly discernible. This almost magical quality is essentially what has made musk so widely used for that quality of enhancing the experience of fragrances in general.
The Perfumed Court has put together three sampler collections of musks, and I have decided to expand my horizons and order one, so that I can really start delving into this note.
I will be getting eight different samples:
  • L'Artisan Mure et Musc Extreme
  • Laura Tonatto Oropuro
  • Lorenzo Villoresi Musk
  • Mazzolari Musc
  • Montale Ginger Musk
  • Narciso Rodriguez for Her
  • Parfumerie Generale Musc Maori
  • Vinci & Rakos Earth
I am looking forward to receiving them. Long live The Perfumed Court!

Above civet cat from the site Maylasia Scrapbook.


Anonymous said...

Hello- just a note that real civet continues to be used today. The civet farms are mostly in Ethiopia as far as I know. The Different Company's Rose Poivree contains real civet as per their email reply to me --unfortunately, because I love it. I had bought one of those small bottles before I'd done my homework. Still have it, un-used. L'Artisan also uses real civet and beaver castoreum, although, I don't know in which perfumes. Le Labo back in 2007 stopped using real civet due to public pressure, much to their credit.

I hope that one day this will change and we will regard such cruelty for the sake of a mere perfume with the same horror as if it were a human being. If it was a human being, no one would be saying that "art" is worth this cost.

Thanks for your blog ~ I enjoy your posts!

Lucy said...

My God, I thought no one would use such things now esp. in the so called "first" world. Thank you for informing me. If you have any further reference or info, please send it on...

Anonymous said...

Hi again; Happened to check back and saw your response. A quick google brought up these two:

Ethiopian Farms:

And farms in Thailand with same housing but a different way of collecting: - Civets

I haven't done further research. Obviously, the Ethiopian farms sound pretty bad. I have no idea if it's possible to collect musk in the Thai way. While it would be an improvement, I personally still would object to the entire endeavor. I can live without the special something that is real civet.

People in the perfume reviewing/blogging world often object to my broadcasting this information, particularly perhaps, naming companies. I haven't really thought this through. Perhaps there is a better way. I just think given that it is often assumed that surely such cruelty no longer exists in the world, it's important that people know what is involved. As in the case of Le Labo, as soon as the real situation was presented to them, they very quickly switched to synthetic musk. And, people still love their perfume.

Thanks, again. Best, Rachel

bluegardenia said...

I've always heard that civet and castoreum have extremely fecal smells, but musks in perfumery (or functional fragrance) always smell so clean. Very curious as to how that came to be!

Lucy said...

Bluegardenia, yes the naturals are very intense that way, only the very tiniest tiniest amounts are used, to bring out the other perfumed materials. The other "clean" musks are chemical ones that have been tweeked, and also are so inexpensive to produce they have been added to laundry detergent and dryer sheets and other cleaning products so often that we have come to associate their scent with cleanliness. That kind of sense memory gets very ingrained, but these chemical musks are also engineered to take out the skank aspect of musk and just leave the expansion aspect. Musk magnifies all other notes, which is why it is in everything.

Lucy said...

UPDATE: The Perfume Court has divided into two entities, and things have changed a lot since this post was written. I will do an update soon on the decanting and sharing of perfume and sampling. There are other musk articles scattered throughout this site, please put "musk" in the search bar and you will get them all, especially about accords made with natural materials that substitute for the animal materials once used.

bluegardenia said...

Thank you for that explanation, the issue makes much more sense to me now. I'm just discovering your blog and am so taken with it, and with your vast knowledge. Looking forward to reading everything!