Monday, July 05, 2010

The Mystery Of Musk- A Celebration Of Natural Materials, Artisan Perfumers And Happy Bloggers- Part 1

Before we start with the new project at hand, just a reminder that the Aftelier contest is still open and everyone is invited to enter and win a mini bottle of a Mandy Aftel creation.

The Natural Perfume Guild is celebrating its fourth anniversary. In the world of artisan perfumery, natural and botanical perfumers are an even smaller group that has taken upon itself to only use perfume ingredients that can be distilled and extracted from nature. And you can definitely smell it. Raw materials have an edge. Sometimes there's a jagged top that is so tactile you don't only smell and "see" a mental picture, you can almost feel the texture of coarsely crushed leaves, roots and fossils in your hand. Other times there's such a velvety smoothness that your skin feels like honey. But the best part of these creations is the hand-made aspect.

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.

The chosen theme for this project is musk. It's such a famous and even notorious note/material, but also often misunderstood or mislabeled. Most people know that in days of yore musk was extracted from a gland in musk deer. Hence the animalic connotations and bad reputation. This hasn't been the case in decades, as musk deer is now a protected species and the use of "real" musk in perfumery is prohibited. But the idea of musk is still very much alive. The warmth, the slightly dirty-in-a-good-way feel, the way it caresses and envelopes your skin- perfumers and perfume wearers would not give it up.

Luckily, similar musky effects can be derived from non-Bambi sources. While ambrette seed and angelica root are the only botanicals that contain microcyclic musk like the real thing, other sources from carrot seed to cumin can give interesting results. Some of the Guild members use strictly botanical materials, others also include cruelty-free animal derived musk products (like goat hair). Ten perfumers are taking part in this project and letting us experience their musk story- the way they perceive and interpret it. Today I'm bringing you two examples- Musk Nouveau by Providence Perfume Co. (perfumer Charna Ethier) and Verdigris from Bellyflowers.

The name Verdigris couldn't be more fitting. This stuff is green. Really green. It's a good example to that raw and jagged edge I mentioned above. Clary sage often does that,  and Verdigris augments this green punch-in-the face with fir balsam absolute and green mandarin oil. The latter is so vivid you can almost taste it. It's such an odd sensation and I needed about ten minutes to be able to smell past the green and see the how it relates to musk. Things start sweetening when the heart notes move to the center. While there's more green in the form of violet leaf, it's the lavender-opoponax blend that got me, my nose and my heart. All of a sudden the sharpness was gone and the fantasy began. There's life in the shrubbery, little things awaken and emerge and the earth comes alive. The base is surprisingly darker and thicker. The notes are patchouli, ambergris (a tincture, I assume of the real thing), labdanum, African stone tincture and benzoin. It certainly feels like it's all there- the saltiness, the black fertile earth and a natural sweetness that has nothing to do with food and everything to do with licking your own skin.

Musk Nouveau starts with booze and lots of it. The top notes are sherry and black pepper, but for the first two minutes my skin smelled like I had an accident involving the liqueur cabinet. Then it was all about the tropics and I had an image of a not-quite sober frolicking on a remote beach during on a hot summer night. There were exotic flowers everywhere, including in my hair and in my lovers hands. Seriously, the jasmine and champaca in Musk Nouveau are among the dirtiest I've ever smelled. They no longer make them quite this skanky and it's a shame, really, because if these notes are neutered of their wicked element you also miss on their surrender into the dry-down and the way they swirl into the very thick darkness. Musk Nouveau's base is a plum-colored velvet and patchouli. It's sweet with an almost fruity quality, with just enough herbal angelica from becoming a musk cliché.

Stay tuned for more musky goodness including a giveaway on Wednesday that is going to make one lucky musk-loving reader extremely happy. Don't forget to visit the other participants in the project:

I Smell Therefore I Am
Perfume Shrine
Indie Perfumes
Bitter Grace Notes
First Nerve
Olfactory Rescue Service
Grain de Musc

Art: Zig Brunner, La Vie Parisienne, 1930


  1. What a wonderful way to describe what we artisan perfumers do:

    "True luxury is a unique item, hand-made by a skilled artist who selected the best materials and has a personal touch, 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."

    Lovely post hon!

  2. So glad you are reviewing the scents as well !
    I look forward, eagerly-
    To more scented thoughts....


  3. Wow, I love the description of Musk Nouveau. I'd like to smell some really dirty jasmine.

  4. Ambrosia, thank you very much!

  5. Ida, thank you! I read yours today and loved every word. The images were so fitting and beautiful.

  6. kjanicki, it's incredible how well the jasmine and musk work together to create that carnal feel. So beautiful.


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