When I published an article on deer musk on Basenotes a while back, I expected a fair bit of pushback, but apart from one of my interviewees (JK DeLapp) getting kicked out of the International Perfume Foundation for participating in the article, nothing too dramatic happened. I did, however, receive an irate email from a man who has been importing and working with deer musk for decades, and who summarily issued me with a list of everything I’d got wrong.
And actually, that’s fine. While Basenotes is not exactly a peer-reviewed journal, it’s important that anything I leave out there on the Internet for all to see is as factually correct as possible. I replied, thanking him, and assuring him that the glaring mistakes and inaccuracies would be corrected (and they were).
But there was one point on which I refused to budge – not because he wasn’t technically right, but because correcting it would have gone against a common English language usage, and that just seemed too esoteric to me.
Specifically, I’m referring to the fact that the word “musk” can only be applied to the raw material that comes from a musk deer’s pod, and not to similar material from any other animal species. In other words, it is incorrect to call, as I did in the article, the stuff that comes from a musk rat or the cape hyrax as “musk”, when only musk deer produce the substance known as musk. But, as I argued in my email to him, that would be going against the 99% of the human population who, when faced with anything remotely animalic will use the word “musky” to describe it. Just the way it is, baby.
So, despite the fact that there’s no deer musk in Marlou’s new fragrance, (50mls) d’Ambiguïté, it is most certainly musky. There’s more than one way to skin a cat, as they say, and Marlou has stuffed every other musky-smelling substance they could find in here to arrive at a result that smells quite like deer musk. The notes list provided by the brand mentions costus (a musky-smelling botanical extract) and castoreum (beaver anal secrete), but I think they left out hyraceum (calcified urine of the cape hyrax), which to my nose plays a pivotal role in the composition. Also, there is cumin, which in large doses smells like musky armpit odor.
A feature (if not a problem) with most “musky” fragrances – damn it, that guy has got me using inverted commas around the word now – is that the animalic substances they use to create a musky effect are all so emphatic and distinctive that it’s difficult to avoid a certain sense of familiarity. If I were to draw a Venn diagram of the most famous animalic fragrances, the piece of paper would be almost obscured by the number of overlapping circles. In other words, try to describe Muscs Khoublai Khan (Serge Lutens) without referencing Kiehl’s Original Musk, Salome (Papillon) without referencing Femme (Rochas) or Musc Tonkin (Parfum d’Empire), or the costus-loaded Arabian Horse (Parfumerie Generale) without referencing the costus-loaded L’Air de Rien (Miller Harris). It’s not easy, right?
For that reason, two things occur to me the minute I spray Marlou (50mls) d’Ambiguïté on: first, I say “wow!”, and second, I know this scent. The fact that it’s so familiar to me doesn’t matter because it’s also incredibly good – it just means that I drive myself crazy until I can identify what’s so familiar about it.
(50mls) d’Ambiguïté opens with a boozy note before sliding into a slightly flattened wool accord, oily and matted – like being hugged by a wet sheep who’s had a bit too much to drink. The brand mentions metal and pink pepper, but honestly, I don’t pick up on anything peppery at all; this goes straight to a warm costus and beeswax accord. I’m not usually a great fan of costus with its “wet dog” and oily scalp nuances, but it’s been done so incredibly well here that I don’t mind. It feels grimily intimate, but not greasy. The costus element makes me think of L’Air de Rien, but this is far less sweet and ambery. In fact, it has a savory or even salty aspect that recalls the celery seed and matted beard hair feel of Montecristo (Masque Fragranze). Interestingly, if you pay attention in the drydown phase, there’s also a dry, almost chocolaty tobacco leaf nuance that’s quite similar to the castoreum-driven tobacco/tea leaf notes in Bond T (Sammarco), itself quite animalic.
See? I can’t go one paragraph into describing (50mls) d’Ambiguïté without calling other scents into it. The hefty dose of B.O.-ish cumin is managed well here, as is the urinous hyraceum – both notes recall Salome (Papillon) quite strongly, but the treatment here is much softer, woodier, and more seamlessly worked into the fabric of the scent. It is, in short, less shocking than Salome, and far less confrontational. Still, (50mls) d’Ambiguïté is much dirtier than L’Animal Sauvage (Marlou), which in comparison appears now almost pretty and sugared in its kittenish demeanor. Compared to hardcore scents such as Salome, though, the new Marlou is firmly intermediate level.
I find (50mls) d’Ambiguïté to be pretty linear, apart from when the hyraceum increases in strength 2 hours in and that dry tobacco-ish tone from the castoreum develops in the far drydown – so if you like what you smell when you spray it on, you’ll likely be happy all the way through. There is a slightly briny, savory feel to the woolly, lanolin-like oiliness of the central accord, but although ylang is listed, I wonder if it could be something a little meatier, like the salted ham of an Easter lily? Either way, there’s really nothing floral or spicy or metallic about this fragrance: it’s musk, musk, muskity musk through and through. (Disclaimer: Although it’s not, you understand, actually musk.)