Sometimes I wonder about how my mind works. I seem to get a different impression than everyone else and I wonder why. Maybe I can take things too seriously. This questioning comes up from time to time and has recently entered my consciousness as I have had a few of the Mystery of Musk Project submissions from other perfumers trickle into the studio. To my utter surprise some of the perfume designs are utilizing notes that weren’t “on the list”. Hmmm. It gives me pause and I have to question myself: “Am I a literalist?” Do I take things so literally as to sometimes miss it? Maybe. Anyway, my own understanding of the Mystery of Musk project was akin to Iron Chef (how to be creative with a limited palette), now I realize it was more like painting class (make your own interpretation). Oh. Ok. I think I might have done the wrong homework. But, since I went about the project with this ‘other’ idea in mind, I am nevertheless happy with engaging the challenge to interpret a musk perfume using no real (animal) or synthetic musks.
The question of how to make a botanical musk, of how to get a plant to speak the elusive language of an animal is intriguing. You know like the childhood question: animal, vegetable or mineral? They seem somewhat mutually exclusive but for this perfume I will coax my plants and perhaps when they are all harmonized they will sing a song with an’ animalic dialect’. I started thinking, too, that as musk notes are so closely associated with skin, intimacy, sex and attraction, that ‘nude’ would be my one word talisman for the scent. Then the name came: musk eau natural (like au natural, or “in the buff” mixed with natural perfume usage: eau…). Yep. I like it. I’m keeping it.
After deciding on the overall concept and giving it a name, I went to work and pulled out all the notes. If you have ever smelled costus root oil, you will notice some things that are very interesting. One, it has a strong but sweet musk-like odor and at the same time, well, a bit of “hefty bags” that comes up. I kind of like it in a perverse way. The same way that I like styrax for it’s sweet honey-spiced-leather-resin smell mixed with “airplane glue”. It’s fun to sense the multiplicity of things and the potential that lies within. Another note that I love is Cassis / Black Currant bud. It smells of pine trees and cats; I am fascinated by it’s ability to push toward fruity / green and civet at the same time. It’s a wonderful catalyst to activate other notes that might no be so easy to work with, like the carrot seed (which likes to stand out in many designs); seaweed, which can come off as flavorless and cumin, which is certainly musky but smells (especially to the American palate) a bit of ‘sweaty men’ and BO. You have got to be careful with cumin. It has a delicious sweet, musky spice but too much and you can end up with curried armpits. (In my opinion, fenugreek is better in armpits, but I digress).
With my ‘delicious list’ of notes in hand I went directly for a full-fledged musk only scent – something really pure might be the way to go. It’s version 1. I used all of the notes on the list except for vetiver, patchouli and vanilla as they seemed too dominant to fashion a multifaceted botanical musk. It just may be my personal favorite for it’s subtlety and that it leans toward my beloved ambergris (labdanum in this case), but I felt after letting it macerate that it was ultimately too soft and subtle to be submitted as a complete perfume design. ( It will be available on my website soon: musk eau natural (accord)-version 1 along with the other 3 Mystery of Musk designs). I made a little diversion at this point with a new idea that came : musk of the mosque, or something like that. Many old mosques have musk ground into the mortar so that when the sun warms the brick of the building, the fragrance is released. This ancient, holy and reverent concept of musk is also quite compelling; certainly as much as the attraction/sexual/intimacy side. So, version 2 is more incense-laden and oriental in nature. For version 2, I added in the vetiver, vanilla and patchouli and brought up the rose, labdanum and oud. I really love this one as well. Then the last inspiration hit. The logo for Mystery of Musk was unveiled: an exotic beauty in flapper hairstyle standing nude behind a bottle. Now it was back to a “nude” musk in an Art Deco style. Oh yes.