Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Mystery of Musk: background musings

Some background thoughts before I begin reviewing the fragrances ~

Musk is an interesting idea. If one were debating what smelled good a few hundred years ago I would understand why musk (civet, etc) would top the list. Humans smelled differently 100+ years ago. Without central plumbing and near constant bathing we were musky little creatures. Present day humans exert an enormous amount of energy ensuring we do not smell, well, human. We brush our teeth, shampoo our hair, deodorize our under arms, chew gum, launder our clothing after one wearing and in nearly every obvious olfactory way, we remove any trace of the smell of our humanity.

I can only speak for myself, but it often strikes me as a craving, a need to recover some of this lost animalic sensuality when I hunger for some musk, some “skank” (descriptor courtesy of the writers at Perfume Posse) in my fragrance. Perhaps now more than ever, with the onslaught of so many pointless “eau de laundry detergent” scents, I’ve desired a bit of musk in my personal space. I am so otherwise scrubbed and deodorized.

As we all know, natural animal-sourced musk has been banned for decades. What we are familiar with now, are synthetic musks. This task is especially challenging for natural perfumers, who cannot and choose not to use man-made synthetic substances which would be quite an easier route to my mind. All of the perfumers involved in this project are using (creating, sourcing, imagining) natural substances. For the natural perfumers involved in this project, this is no easy “grab synth-musk accord #69 off the shelf” for them.

Forgive me for not digging into the details of the natural substances used, because this has never interested me. It does not interest me in synthetic perfumes nor does it interest me in natural perfumery. I consider myself the end user, the consumer, the one who appreciates the experience, the final product, but I don’t groove on the specificity of how it’s created. I smell perfume and I either love it or hate it no matter the substances involved.

The Non-Blonde’s description of natural perfumery resonated so much that I’d like to repeat her words here and then add a few of my own.
The Non Blonde: I know I'm not telling you anything new, but it's worth repeating: true luxury (and not just in perfume, it's true for jewelry, handbags and cheese) isn't bought at Macy's and doesn't have a famous label one can buy at the mall. True luxury is a unique item, hand-made by a skilled artist who selected the best materials and has a point of view and a personal touch. The natural Perfume Guild brings together the people who create these gems; it educates and promotes quality and artistic expression in perfumery.

I think of natural perfumery as a personal choice, a philosophy of life, a political statement and everything in between. There is a growing movement in the U.S. for organic and locally grown/made products. Do you have a Whole Foods Market in your town, how jam packed is this place?! I think it’s obvious there is an enormous shift/trend towards these types of original artisan created goods. Natural perfumery falls under this broad umbrella of original hand-made art for me. I think it’s purely coincidental, but the roll-out of this project occurring around the same time as America’s Independence celebration is a curious connection. Natural perfumery strikes me, by its very nature, as free, independent, pioneering, adventurous, edgy, stripped of pedagogy, outside of the mainstream and also sometimes a rather acquired “taste.”

I recall the first time I smelled some creations from Anya’s Garden, Strange Invisible Perfumes, Soivohle’ and Dawn Spencer Hurwitz. Some of their darker, animalic and more adventurous scents made me recoil a bit. After an entire lifetime of smelling synthetic scents, some naturals, certainly not all, many natural perfumes are simple little lovelies just like many simple little synth scents, but it’s the daring scents which took some time to understand and acquaint myself with.

I think I am in for a wild ride with all the sniffing I need to do for this musk project. But I am looking forward to it, because after my initial shock (this is a several years ago now) I have come to appreciate, love and adore several scents from a handful of natural perfumers I admire. For me, my positive hit rate is no different from the number of perfumes I like from large houses churning out synthetic scents. There are always hits and misses.


Other blogs participating in the Mystery of Musk project:
Perfume Shrine
The Non Blonde
Bitter Grace Notes
First Nerve
Grain de Musc
Indie Perfumes
Olfactory Rescue Service


Unknown said...

Abby, I appreciate so much the way you laid out the evolution of scent on private bodies and in public places, and your own journey learning about and appreciating the luxury of artisan natural perfumes. I look forward to your reviews.

Charna said...


I enjoyed reading your musings about musk and natural perfumes. I felt as sense of pride as you described your thoughts on natural perfumery embracing the independent or free spirit.
As a perfumer, I appreciated what you mentioned about being less interested in the natural ingredients that comprise a fragrance versus what it smells like to the end user. It's can be easy for me to forget. I wonder at the glazed eyes of my friends and family after a few minutes of perfume botanicals talk. It's easy to get wrapped up in the process. Thank you for reminding me to take a few steps back. (I'm sure my friends will thank you as well!)
I'm interested in reading your thoughts on all the musk perfumes.

JoAnne Bassett said...

I really appreciate your understanding of "the luxury" of botanical perfumes. I also create one of a kind bespoke perfumes. I think what is missing today in the perfume world is the real luxury of artisan perfumes is that you cannot find them everywhere.

I will be watching for your reviews of our musk -y fragrances.

Ambrosia said...

What a lovely intro! Makes me proud to be a natural perfumer, grin!

Monica Skye said...

It is good to "get back" to the focus being the end user. I'm glad perfumers still take risks with fragrances that are clearly "not for everyone" but for the lucky few who *love* something daringly different.

buy best perfumes said...
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Gaia said...

Perfectly said, but you already know that ;)
Thanks for expanding on my post. It's all about the passion, vision and integrity of the perfumer, not so much about the agenda. My money goes to those who create interesting and fabulous perfumes.

Perfumeshrine said...

An intelligent and thought-provoking glimpse into how we have estranged ourselves from the natural surroundings (human and not) into a sterilised environment where so many artificial smells stand for ersatz olfactory "landscapes". Thank you!