Saturday, April 22, 2017


So I've been thinking about musks again lately. Specifically the whole dirty/clean thing.

Sometimes I think I might be hyposmic to some kinds of 'animal' notes, because when I hear about fragrances that are 'skanky' and then smell them, it's nearly always a deflating experience. I read so much about Muscs Koublai Kahn and how it was so filthy, but then when I smelled it, all I got from it was what seemed like a costus note in the top and then a regular white musk thing. Nothing particularly offensive.  And the other day I happened to check out some reviews for Kiehls musk scent, to see what other people thought. And there were people who were all like, "It smells like sex" and talking about how indecent and skanky it was. And I'm there like, "What scent are they smelling? It just smells like laundry musks to me." And even Yatagan and Lauder, who I gather from Luca Turin's book are supposed to be very animalic--Yatagan just seems herbal and woodsy to me, and I don't get a predominant animal vibe at all from Lauder.

I should also mention that I had a dilution of skatole (unknown dilution, but probably 1%--the bottle said it was 'undiluted,' but undiluted skatole would be a powder; this was liquid), and to me it just kinda smelled like bad teeth. I didn't really get a fecal note from it. And I've never found a civet base that I thought was really repulsive; I never got a fecal impression from those. Indole materials tend to smell like mothballs to me. African Stone tincture maybe has a touch of fecal, but I find it more leathery and dusty. And I've had a couple musk bases that were supposed to be somewhat close to the natural material--Shangralide and Tonquitone. Shangralide smells terrible to me neat, but not in a shocking way. More just like in a Galaxolide-with-old-smelling-notes-mixed-in. I find it very unpleasant, and for some reason the word dollhouse keeps coming to mind when I think of it; maybe because it reminds of of some dusty place where plastic dolls were stored or something. As for Tonquitone, I do sort of get an animalic vibe from it, in the way that it kinda smells like underwear that's been worn for 5 days straight. In general I find it somewhat pleasant but not all that compelling.

I have a friend who loves skanky scents, and she's starting to get into aromachemicals. And she asked me about some musk that I mentioned--I think it was L-muscone--and asked if it was very animalic. I said I didn't particularly think so. I remember it smelling powdery and warm, like other musks. Were I to continue along that line, I would have said that I've never come across a musk molecule that smelled sexy/animalic/raunchy/dirty. ALL of them have smelled pretty clean, often powdery, sometimes fruity (or metallic, as with Galaxolide; I think Globanone had a metallic aspect too), but certainly never offensive. Or leathery, even.  And that gets me thinking....

Natural musk tincture. The way it strikes me is that the muscone, which I believe occurs naturally in it (maybe muscenone too) is sort of the 'character molecule' of it, as vanillin is with vanilla and civettone with civet. I feel like it was used in the beginning to get this note, and that the animal notes would have been side notes. Maybe side notes that were desirable, but that the muscone type smell was what perfumers saw in it. And the molecule itself would have the hedonic and performance qualities that make musk so desirable. (Personally, I would guess that there are other components of natural musk that may improve performance as well, even if alone they seem odorless. Maybe some kind of steroid molecule or something.) So it seems to be that muscone-type chemicals are the 'core' of the musk smell.

I would also bet that if you traveled back in time with a selection of modern musks, say, Habanolide, muscone, Velvione, muscenone and ethylene brassylate, and presented them to a perfumer who was used to using natural musk tincture, I think he or she would probably start using them like crazy, and maybe not even use the tincture at all. Because here you have the ability to give that lovely finish and performance enhancement you get from natural musks, but without all the animalic baggage. Suddenly you can create something clean and diffusive and soft and beaufiul, and use the musk note at much higher amounts (and have it appear in the top note too), and even boost fruity aspects. Probably they would still use the tincture, but as a blend with the modern musks. That's just how I think about it.

And I also think that if musk tincture weren't something unobtainable, then people probably wouldn't get it stuck in the search for a musk molecule that smells really skanky, or thinking that this is how musk is 'supposed' to smell. You see the same thing with people fetishizing sandalwood oil, since Indian sandalwood is essentially impossible to acquire these days. Sure, we can't get Indian sandalwood, but when you look at the universe of santal odorants, you have so many from which to choose--Sandalore, Javanol, Ebanol, Santaliff, Sandela, Osyrol, Polysantol, etc. So many materials, all of which reflect its own aspect of sandalwood. Why not combine them into something new, instead of trying to mimic sandalwood? And even if you're making a santal soli-whatever, surely with all the santal materials and the bases and all the other building blocks from which to choose, something very convincing could be created. So why get stuck on the idea of using the natural material? It seems that people fetishize these materials that are no longer available, or shouldn't be used due to overharvesting issues (don't get me started on rosewood--frankly, I don't understand the appeal. It smells JUST LIKE linalool to me; I just don't see a reason to use it. But then I'm not a perfumer, so there you go).

I'll admit that, in a previous part of my perfume journey, I used to think I should be attracted to dirty musk smells. I think that when you start exposing yourself to some of the perfume community, you sort of absorb the idea that 'dirty' smelling musks are 'truer,' and to seek them out endows you with some kind of sophistication. And to like clean 'white musks' means that your taste is unrefined, that you're a noobie plebeian like the overwashed masses. This makes me think of those people you occasionally hear from, usually in newspapers that I guess have space to fill and decide to publish a perfume-related story with no knowledge of perfume, who start decrying the modern focus on squeaky-cleanness and how 'we're on the verge of losing our own animal smells' clutch-your-pearls! (I know I've read that exact wording somewhere before, because it stuck with me; I don't remember where though.) Oh, what nonsense. Take the subway on a very hot, humid day at rush hour with a bunch of men in suits. Then tell me how 'precious' our natural odor is. Or better yet, cram onto a train in a poor part of India or wherever, and then tell me how wonderful the natural human smell is. There's a reason we cover up (to some degree) our natural odors, and it's not because they're so breathtakingly beautiful. I think that if people thought that the natural human odor was so fabulous, then they would be working to augment it, because that's where the money would be.

But the money (and much perfumista scorn) seems to be in white musks right now, because it seems like they sell. I suppose there would be industry money in a musk odorant that smells and performs exactly like musk ambrette but degrades easily and is 150% safe, but I don't know if one of those exists, and I can see that the fresher musk scents tend to be popular. (Excited note on musk ambrette: I have some that should be coming my way soon, if it can get to me. I sorta live in the Land of the Banned, so I'm not sure whether it will come through, but if it does, I'll be super excited to smell it. And then just after I smell it, mildly disappointed, because it could never live up to all the hype. Nothing ever does.) (Another note on musk ambrette, just in case anyone other than me is actually reading this: I'm referring to the nitro musk, NOT the extraction from ambrette seed and not ambrettolide. And not one of the bases like Ambrettex. This is one of those cases of perfumery being very undisciplined with its language, rather like the case with 'amber' and even 'aldehyde C-16 (so-called). Can't someone step forward and bring the language into line, please? And don't tell me to do it; no one even listens to me. Not even my dog. OK, I don't have a dog, but you get what I mean. Right?)

And this leads me to something of a confession: I like 'white musks." If you asked me what my favorite musk is, I think I would have to respond (and with some residual shame): Habanolide. I just love it, especially that hot-ironed note in the dryout. Although I think I MIGHT like Globanone a little more, but I haven't experienced it enough to decide. And I've smelled muscenone once, and wow, that's some purty stuff, so maybe that will become my favorite.  Although with the muscenone, I wonder a little whether I like it because it resembles musk ketone a bit (but being liquid and smellable from the bottle helps). And to be honest, I'm not sure I really understand musk ketone that well. I know it's supposed to be AMAZING and all, and I have had good results messing around with it, but I'm not sure that I understand it well enough to appreciate it yet. I will say this, though: straight out the bottle, the powder smells a bit to me like cardboard toilet paper rolls just unpacked, or at least how they smelled back in the 80s. Anyone else get that?

So yeah, I like me the white musks. Which isn't to say that I like all the white musk scents that are out there, or--god forbid--all those ghastly harsh 'linen' accords. But I do like me some fresh musk type scents when they're not too thin. And that's why I was seeing what other people thought of the Kiehls musk, even though the few times I've smelled it I was quite underwhelmed. I actually have some Alyssa Ashley white musk that I sometimes use for layering--I wish it were more straightforward musk, because I think there's some floralcy there that I could do without, but all in all I rather enjoy it for a day to day type thing. I was looking into the Kiehls for layering porpoises as well, but I don't think I need it. I do have my own musk blend which I'm sure I would actually prefer.

OK, rant over. Thoughts, anyone?

Pussokram -E

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