July 1, 2010

Mystery of Musk – Natural Perfumer’s Guild Project – Part 1

This the first in a series about the Natural Perfumers Guild project to showcase the creativity of natural perfumers in the use of musk. A number of sites are working together to help bring naturals to the forefront of attention by discussing the theme of musk in 12 unique and completely natural interpretations.

Like all naturals, these musk perfumes require a recalibration of your attention antenna. You have to be quiet and calm and allow the natural elements to reveal themselves at their own calibration and pace, which is something different than you might be used to from perfumes that use stronger man-made chemical ingredients. It is a contemplative and refreshing plunge into the natural world.

It’s been a delightful treat to receive such samples from all over the map, with a truly wide range of creativity and emphasis. Every day the mailbox has contained these special packages of beautiful samples from talented natural perfumers.

What is surprising is how different they all are from each other. The interpretation of the musk theme runs from citrus brightness to traditional floral to fruit sweetness to chypre-like abstractions and everything else besides and in-between. The styles of the perfumes were all intensely personal, and there was originality in the structures of the fragrances.

The first fragrance I received, Graines de Paradis, by Sharini Parfums,
a natural perfume workshop in the South of France was surprising, both in scent development and in how it is made.

Their method of creation used 19 ingredients infused in organic corn alcohol and orange blossom hydrosol, with floral notes extracted by lavage of 4 enfleurage pomades. Enfleurage is a very nineteenth century style labor and materials intensive technique that draws out the fragrance of a natural material by soaking it in a rich substance such as oils or fats, which capture it.

In particular the perfumer Nicolas Jennings and his friend Crystel gathered wild Genet (Broom flowers) and used a cold enfleurage process repeated 18 times. This perfume’s top notes of white grapefruit, ginger, green mandarin, cognac, wild cherry and rooibos red tea opens out expansively with a strong, joyous citric tang that grabs your attention, and then burns down to usher in heart notes of white rose, linden, Tahitian Gardenia, Neroli, Jasmine and wild Genet (the last four washed from enfleurage pomades).  

These are blended so smoothly and are so subtle that the Gardenia, while it gently rules the composition by reason of its strong character, is smoothed by rose and the base notes 
The floral elements are planted in the musk’s earthiness which while it has the rich dirtiness of patchouli, it is very smoothed by the vanilla, sandalwood and ambrette and toned by the other elements into a gentle soothing softness, like the well groomed, clean fur on a cat.  

None of the elements of the musk accord stand out individually but all blend into a harmonious, honeyed earthiness. As is usual with natural perfumes, the top and middle notes especially are complex and interesting, and while they quickly expend themselves, what is left is the predominantly musk theme that has been touched by and gently flavored by the citrus and floral elements. The musk aspect in this natural perfume is earthy but my sense of it is something very clean and wholesome at the same time, like fresh washed blonde hair.

Next came a fragrance from California, made by Jane Cate of A Wing and a Prayer, called Tallulah B2, in honor of the vintage Hollywood star Tallulah Bankhead, whose reputation as a wild one was well deserved.

It opens out immediately with a quick aerial unwinding of a tight combination of the top varied citrus and rosewood notes and middle notes of mimosa and rose, at the same time.

This is a perfume that has the notes holding together as one, creating a floral theme softened and uplifted by touches of bright citrus and magnifying musk. It makes me think of a refined rose heated by melting pure white wax, and a candle flame lighting and warming up the whole.

The base notes are a botanical musk with vanilla, smoothing all. This is a lush bright floral, very responsive to body heat, with good lasting power especially for a natural, which generally are known for being ephemeral because of the avoidance of chemical fixatives and the fugitive nature of many of the classic ingredients.

The predominant natural rose is shaded by the vanilla-ed musk that binds and magnifies the notes so that they stay true for the length of the dry-down. I love rose, and I dare to say rose loves me, so as far as I am concerned, this is a perfect mood enhancer, of a decadent flavor.

In the meantime, visit these other sites participating and watch for more in the next week about these natural perfumes using musk as a theme…

Above painting detail of an Elizabethan portrait, to show the importance of the hand, in this case, the hand made in perfume;
Tallulah Bankhead publicity shot by Eugene Robert Richee for Thunder Below,


em said...

I really like A wing and prayer. My favourite is San Fransisco, it's lovely!Tallulah B sounds great too. I'm curious.
Looking forward to reading more about these natural musk-scents.

Lucy said...

It's nice to have this group of very refined naturals all at once, em. Quite the luxurious experience.

chayaruchama said...

I always await your impressions eagerly !

Lovely .

Monica said...

It is fascinating and humbling that perfume houses such as Sharini Parfums still use labor intensive methods such as enfleurage and tincturing to capture rare essences. This scent sounds rather wonderful and complex.

Tamara*J said...

Lucy, I love the way you describe everything , from the way these are made, and about the perfumers , to how you look forward and get excited about the little packages that show up at your door. How sweet!
Every perfumista loves these. :)

I'm very excited about all the draws for these fragrances, I do so want to try them.
I love roses too Lucy.
Natural perfumery really does let them glow and smolder , I feel in a way that they cannot otherwise. Thanks for the reviews!
Have a wonderful weekend.

Truly, Tamara Jackson

Lisa BTB said...

Both of these perfumes left an impression on me. :)

ElizabethN said...

I'm wearing Tallulah B2 from a sample and I will have a full bottle! It is gorgeous, soft and my perfect musk. I'm also enjoying Berkeley and Flowers.

Lucy said...

Lisa, yes, they are impressive. Entry noted.

Lucy said...

Hi Elizabeth N,

You are entered...yes, it is lovely!

Lucy said...

Hi Tamara,


Yes, this has been quite the experience. I am going to take a bit longer to finish up than the deadline, but I will draw on Saturday, and you are entered.

chris g said...

I've always thought Talulah was quite the femme fatale...wonder what the fragrance is like. Please enter me in the draw - thanks!