The Truth About Musk

There are two kinds of musk: natural and synthetic. Natural musk comes from a small Himalayan deer, which is now endangered. I remember my mother reeking of it, but that was the 1950s. It may be the most delectable smell that exists.  In later decades, natural musk has been replaced with synthetic musks, sometimes called “white musks.”

Unfortunately, synthetic musks smell so little like natural musk that I suspect many perfumers have never smelled the real deal or anything like it. In addition, many people are anosmic to synthetic musks—they just can’t smell them. 

When I put together my Musk, I used a large combination of synthetic musks so that people who are anosmic would be more likely to smell it. While artificial musks are immediately recognizable as such, no two smell the same in my collection of 30 or so.

Much synthetic musk smells like clean laundry or is so very smooth that, again, it reminds me little of mother’s post-party aroma. Here, again, I suspect that those who make these perfumes have neither experienced deer musk or are afraid of offending the public with crude and, sometimes, fecal odors. 

I don’t want to put off everybody, but anything that makes a strong statement is likely to offend at least some. So, I put animalic stuff—phenylacetic acid and its esters—in the perfume to make it funky and pheromonic (one friend asked me, bewilderedly, if I were wearing some kind of “attractant”). The result is something that shimmers between the delicate and the forceful, between clean laundry and animals in heat.

It’s not for everyone.

Here, I’ve used Jellinek’s chart as the basis for my own analysis of the perfume and to illustrate how it is structured. It involved a bit of guesswork, since each musk has its own aroma profile and I wasn’t able to find information about the odor effects of a specific musk. I simply arranged them in a row from least erogenic to most so. 

You might even find yourself wanting to smell this beast.