Kama (Ava Luxe)
Type: concentrated perfume oil
Kama is a musk fragrance with a briefly fecal topnote that sees it frequently compared to the famous Muscs Khoublai Khan by Serge Lutens. Beyond the fecal note, however, the two fragrances are quite different. Whereas Muscs Khoublai Khan draws on a complex mixture of musk, castoreum, civet, and ambrette to achieve a warmly-furred texture, Kama employs a much simpler structure, leaning instead on the poopy facets of cedarwood and a synthetic musk molecule for its animalic effect.
Cedarwood can smell of feces and coffee breath in dilution, an odd effect that is cleverly accentuated in fragrances such as Santal Noble by Maître Parfumeur et Gantier and Woody Sandalwood Oil by The Body Shop. This facet of cedarwood is brought out in Kama by way of a particularly ‘unclean’ musk molecule – possibly Tonquitone. The overall feel of the fragrance is musky in a plain, sharply woody manner, with a hint of medicinal herbs lurking at the corners.
Is Kama properly dirty? Oh yes. Does it stand up against a more complex creation such as Muscs Khoublai Khan? Nope.
Kashmiri Kasthuri Ultimate (Agarscents Bazaar)
Kashmiri Kasthuri Ultimate opens with the same dark fecal note as in the brand’s own Prince Kasthuri, reviewed later. Thankfully, the pooey pong of the opening quickly dissolves into a medley of far friendlier aromas, namely bright honey, white flowers, meadow grass, and a nutty, roasted accent that eventually reveals itself to be vetiver. These notes dance in and around the heavy musky accord at the center of the scent, and for a while, there is parity between the musk and the vetiver, flowers, and honey.
All too rapidly, however, the scent dries down to the same smoky, dry cedar note that is present in most other Agarscents Bazaar perfumes. Whether this is cedar, cypriol, or frankincense it is difficult to say, only that it has the same charcoal dust quality as the material used in Comme des Garcons Black. This gives the mukhallat a curiously transparent smokiness more reminiscent of birch tar or smoked-out church resin than of musk.
I am confident that this blend does not feature much, if any, genuine deer musk. Furthermore, I give serious side eye to the suggestion that this is all-natural. It does not smell like any natural musk I have ever smelled. However, if you are not overly concerned with the naturalness of the deer musk, there is no reason not to enjoy Kashmiri Kasthuri Ultimate for what it is. If you are into pungent, spicy musks and protracted smoky-woody drydowns, then both this and Prince Kasthuri would make for excellent, albeit pricey, choices. Both blends lean masculine.
Kiswat Al Kaaba (Abdul Samad al Qurashi)
Roughly translating to the scent emanating from the cloth covering the Ka’aba in Mecca, this is an example of a nice, middle-of-the-road musk mukhallat. It mixes a greenish, antiseptic musk note with rose, amber, patchouli, and perhaps a touch of fruity Cambodi oud. Its pleasantly woody, resinous backdrop supports the musk without becoming intrusive. The overall feel is rich, dusty and serene.
On the skin it feels dense, fragrant, and almost sweet, with sillage that is quite impressive, though never loud or overbearing. The musk becomes steadily more animalic in character as the day wears on, but the effect is subtle and woven seamlessly into the other notes. A very good option for someone searching for a musk that hits the happy median between clean and dirty.
Love’s True Bluish Light (Ava Luxe)
Type: concentrated perfume oil
This is one of Ava Luxe’s most revered scents, and for good reason. A cold vanilla musk with hints of sweet milk, it is immediately likeable. The basic thrust of the scent is a skin-like Egyptian musk accord, its translucence clouded by drops of vanilla milkshake. And like milkshake, there is something a little too sweet or sticky about it as it melts. But boy, that initial blast of icy sweetness is just wonderful.
Love’s True Bluish Light runs very close to Au Lait by DSH Perfumes, as well as to examples of cool vanilla musks found throughout the indie perfume oil sector, most notably Crystalline by NAVA and Snowshoe Pass by Solstice Scents. Highly recommended for people who want an emotionally remote rendition of musk and vanilla.
Type: concentrated perfume oil
Company description: Uncontrollable passion and insatiable sexual desire: red musk, patchouli, ylang ylang and myrrh.
Along with Snake Oil, Lust is probably one of the BPAL scents that even outsiders know by name. Lust starts out sharp and feral, with an almighty roar of potent red musk, red berries, and rubbery, petrol-like ylang ylang. Grit your teeth, for this all eventually settles into an incredibly warm, earthy musk scent that manages to extract and showcase the best facets of each note, namely, the damp cocoa softness of patchouli, the banana custard elements of ylang, the fungal earthiness of myrrh, and the cinnamon furriness of ‘red’ musk.
Lust is one of the BPAL blends always being touted as being sexy or sensual, and for once, I have to say it lives up to its billing.
Maisam is a sharp floral musk with hints of rose and cleaning detergent. Like all the mukhallats from Rasasi, the trajectory from top to bottom is remarkably short, with the initial accords collapsing far too quickly into a soapy musk pinned to the base.
The musk here is dry to the point of being scratchy and as mineral as water running off a rock. It leans slightly masculine in the drydown, with vetiver or moss lingering in the trail of parched musk. Like Oudh al Mithali by the same house, Maisam is a face made up of blurred, indistinguishable features. Undeniably attractive from a distance, up close it proves difficult to zone in on any one note or accord that might define it. Maisam smells vaguely exotic but has little to offer by way of richness or interest.
Moschus Supreme (Mellifluence)
Moschus Supreme is made with twenty-year-old Himalayan deer musk, and therefore only available in small quantities. It is also eye-wateringly expensive. The opening is a wave of the warm, toffee-like tones of the vintage Cretan labdanum absolute that Mellifluence uses in its mukhallats. Rich and caramelized, the labdanum dominates the opening for a while, before revealing the medicinal properties of the deer musk. There is an ammoniac smell to some deer musk tinctures, and this aspect is emphasized here. Note that this accord is not unpleasant. It simply alerts your nose to the presence of a genuinely animalic material.
I have smelled the twenty-year-old Himalayan deer musk used in Moschus Supreme. So, allow me to reassure you that while the original tincture is phenomenally dirty, with nuances ranging from sweaty pack animals to urine, Moschus Supreme itself is about as objectionable as kitten fur. The musk element smells clean, furry, and a little ammoniac, but that is the extent of it. Nothing to scare the horses. In the far drydown, the musk does grow a little deeper and dirtier, but again, you would have to have a fairly low tolerance of animalic smells to find it truly ‘dirty’.
Despite the listed presence of oud, benzoin, pepper, and mitti attar, Moschus Supreme is a one-two punch of labdanum and musk. The labdanum lends a rounded, warm caramel sweetness to the musk, and the musk a gently furred animalic tone that lingers in the nostrils almost indefinitely. Belying its grandiose name, Moschus Supreme is a fairly basic take on the genre. However, given that it avoids the foulness of most other dark musk mukhallats, and manages to smell rather pleasant, I give it a faint thumbs up.
Musc (Bruno Acampora)
Type: concentrated perfume oil
Musc is a great example of how musk can be both vaguely repellent and mysteriously attractive at the same time. I love Musc, but it is a total mind trip. It is not in the slightest bit sweet, powdery, or milky, but neither is it dirty, hairy, or scary. It is just….odd. And it is precisely this oddness that makes it so memorable.
Musc is a musk scent that smells of places and things rather than animals or humans. Opening with a hugely musty patchouli and what smells to me like the clay-like pungency of pure lavender, I am not surprised that most people interpret it as mushroomy. It occurs to me that the famously fungal opening to Acampora’s Iranzol is also due to a very Italian, very pungent (almost saline) medley of wet kitchen herbs and patchouli. The clove note is dusty and stale-smelling, like radiator dust mixed with sweat. I am also betting on some myrrh, its anisic-mushroomy facets muscling their way to the front.
The salty-aqueous nature of Musc makes me think of the peat bogs of Western Ireland, where clods of wet soil mixes with the salt air from off the Atlantic. It smells a little like cold cellars full of hearty parsnips and roots.
But its mustiness also reminds me of woolen sweaters taken out of storage, and the ramshackle home of an old friend of mine, where everything they had was handmade by their ex-hippy mother, even their shoes. I loved their home and its musty smell. I will always remember the ‘summer of love’ that I spent there, getting paid peanuts by her dad to paint flowers and peace signs on huge recycling bins, and listening to the Beatles on repeat.
Musc is a fragrance that will be entirely personal to its wearer because of its refusal to conform to conventional ideas about how musk should smell. It is cold rather than warm, salty rather than sweet, and so on. It smells both of the outside (peat bogs) and the inside (closed up rooms and hand-me-down clothes), but also intimately yeasty, like the moist neck fold of a fat baby. Genre-shaking stuff, and seventies enough to make you feel like a shag pile carpet and a full bush are required to wear it.
Musc au Chocolat (Duftkumpels)
Musc au Chocolate is a good example of how deer musk can be made to smell almost entirely gourmand. Musk au Chocolat goes on dusty and flat, but immediately fluffs out into a warm, furry musk tucked inside swaddling blankets of thick, dry vanilla and tangy cocoa powder. The Mysore sandalwood used here adds its own quasi-gourmand touch, because, as everyone who loves Mysore sandalwood knows, it is as foody as it is woody – thick, buttery, salty and sweet, with a balsamic tang that recalls both buttermilk and caramel. The Kashmiri musk in the blend is soft and bright, its pungency only noticeable when you take your nose away from the skin for a while and then return it.
Musc au Chocolat smells rather like a musk-impregnated Ore (Slumberhouse), minus the smoky guaiac and Carmex lip balm notes. I make this observation not to imply that one might substitute for the other, but to suggest that Musk au Chocolat performs the same trick of smelling delicious but not candy-like. This mukhallat is a great showcase for how an artisan can accentuate and extend the sweet, powdery, and cocoa-like facets of real deer musk, nudging it in a gourmand direction, while maintaining the characteristic animalistic furriness of musk and thus making sure you would not want to eat it.
Musc d’Orange (Duftkumpels)
Musc d’Orange is a spicy, masculine-leaning Moorish leather scent. Built according to the Spanish tradition of curing leather with flowers and spices, Musc d’Orange features a fuel-soaked, orangey leather over a base of animalic castoreum, civet, and real Kashmiri musk.
With its spicy, rubbery diesel undertones, this will appeal to fans of the rougher Spanish leather-style fragrances out there, such as the classic Knize Ten, Peau d’Espagne (Santa Maria Novella), and Cuir Mauresque (Serge Lutens). It features the same dichotomy featured in most leathers of this style, namely the wayward tug between the aridity of the spices and the syrupy feel of the florals, all of which adds up to that dry-but-creamy mouthfeel that makes these leathers so satisfying (and, to some, nauseating).
Musc d’Orange is a much tougher, less floral fragrance than the same house’s Musc et Fleurs, but there is a common note that places them roughly in the same family – possibly the rubbery, potent Indian tuberose and the orange-tinted leather accord that either accompanies the tuberose or is a nuance of it.
The natural musk in this attar is not overpowering or dirty, displaying only the softly powdered furriness of real musk. This is a mukhallat maker that has real talent in using deer musk in a subtle, considered manner. He uses it to enhance the experience of the other raw materials rather than to clobber you over the head with a feral dirtiness. Solidly classical, I recommend Musc d’Orange highly to fans of the masculine Spanish leather genre.
Musc et Fleurs (Duftkumpels)
Musc et Fleurs opens with a stinging medicinal accord – probably the Hindi oud – which softens into a soft, rich floral heart draped over an Indian sandalwood base. The buttery, gasoline-tinged tuberose is the standout of the flowers here, but jasmine and rose also play a significant role in the overall richness. This arrangement of flowers feels almost classical, in the mold of Joy or Ubar, although much sweeter and tamer. It lacks the sour civet note that defines those scents. Still, there is a leathery aspect to the tuberose that adds verve to the mass of softer floral notes, keeping them upright and moving forward.
The salty radiance of natural ambergris and the sweet furriness of real deer musk serve as a bed of hot coals that blows hot air under the flowers and woods, causing them to expand sweetly into the air in a billowing cloud. Creamy and almost cocoa-ish thanks to the addition of patchouli, the final impression of the scent is of a thickly furred musk with a trail of powdered sugar sweetness. The orange peel-flecked tuberose rears its heads now and then, but the overall effect is soft and subtle rather than overbearing.
A note on the musk used here. The musk is natural Kashmiri deer musk and is bright and uplifting rather than heavy or animalic. It is not dirty or foul in any way, simply adding to the furred warmth of this wonderful ambery-resinous floral Intoxicating and complex, I could exclusively wear this and Musc au Chocolat for the rest of my life and not feel like I’m missing out on anything.
Musc Pur (Agarscents Bazaar)
This is a good rendition of the basic white musk attar released by every single attar company in the world. White musk oils, sometimes called jism or body musks, cost pennies to make because the extent of the perfumer’s art here is simply diluting the white musk synthetic with a carrier oil. (All white musks are synthetic). Little to add here except to say that this is a decent version – slightly sweet, clean, and dressed up with a hint of rose. One can find much more reasonably-priced specimens elsewhere on the Internet, but for the money, this is one of the smoothest.
Type: concentrated perfume oil
Although the label specifies nothing other than musk, I suspect that this is an Egyptian-style musk rather than a deer musk or a generic white musk, because it is yellow in color and features a clear-as-a-bell floral character. The floral bouquet is sweet and clean, a blurry mélange of rose, muguet, or jasmine (although it is truly difficult to tell). Unfortunately, the overly abstract nature of the flowers means that it also runs perilously close to the scent of laundry detergent. Backing the florals is a vein of medicinal saffron and woods. It is fine for an Egyptian musk, but I think there is better out there. Not bad in a pinch, though, if all you want to smell like is freshly-scrubbed.
Musk al Oud (Ajmal)
A puzzling experience, and one that makes me wonder if my sample has soured. First, there is a blast of something greasy and stale, like the air escaping from a long-unopened lunchbox. It eventually dries down to a pale ghost of Montale’s Cuir d’Arabie without the charm of that scent’s half-feral, half-gentlemanly split personality.
Musk al Ghazal (Al Haramain)
Al Haramain’s Musk al Ghazal is obviously not real deer musk, but still, it is quite a decent option for when you want a hit of ‘black’ musk without the heavy, fecal facets of some dark musks on the market. It opens cool and herbal, with a Coca-Cola undertone. Some people may even be tempted to call this chocolatey, but in truth, it is too sharp and herbal to qualify for that descriptor. It is musky but in a clean, uber-fresh way, a smidgen of hospital soap lurking at its corners.
Once the anise and caraway notes bank down, the musk becomes deeper and woodier. It would make for a good layering agent under sweet ambers and gourmands to give them depth, or as a standalone musk attar for men who like their musks dark, woody, and herbal instead of sweet or powdery. Perfectly serviceable, really, under the circumstances.
Musk Aswad (Abdul Karim Al Faransi/Maison Anthony Marmin)
Musk Aswad, which means ‘black musk’ in Arabic, is Al Faransi’s take on the famous black musk attars of the Middle East. Given that this take runs more towards earthy than dirty, it is a more versatile option than the standard black musk prototype, each variant of which seems to try to out-poo the other.
Musk Aswad opens with a powerfully antiseptic musk with greenish spice and a peppery vetiver lurking in the background. The vetiver swells in presence beyond the opening, lending the composition a damp, earthy rootiness that feels like cool water running over moss and stones. It is not at all sweet, but later in the blend’s development, there appear traces of deeply spiced fruit (plum) and a dark honey or mead note. These elements add body and richness to the musk, but no sweetness.
In short, Musk Aswad is a clean and masculine-smelling musk, with a pleasantly winey richness creeping up on the backbone of mossy vetiver. The texture changes impressively throughout its development, from a hard blast of antiseptic fluid to jungly vetiver and finally to a velvety, plummy richness as thick as coddled wine. It is an original take on the black musk theme and recommended to musk fans looking for an interesting detour on the usual musk axis running between squeaky clean and fecal dirtiness.
Musk Attar 2011 (Rising Phoenix Perfumery)
Musk Attar contains real deer musk. It opens with a strangely familiar odor, which defies explanation except to say that it lies somewhere between glue, plastic, varnish, and something industrial but warm and putty-like. Repeated wears make me suspect that some of these odd (but not unpleasant) nuances might be given off by the type of sandalwood oil used in the attar.
Sandalwood can often smell gluey, terpenic, or peanut shell-ish in aroma profile, depending on the distillation or provenance. The sandalwood used in Musk Attar 2011 is high-toned and raw, more reminiscent of a freshly-split log of wood than the buttery, resinous sandalwood oil used in other Rising Phoenix Perfumery attars. But it is more likely the strange, gluey overtones have something to do with the interaction between the deer musk and the sandalwood. Some deer musks have a sweet, plasticky or rubbery smell, akin to the waft of air that greets the nose when you open your children’s’ lunchboxes after a summer of disuse.
Beyond the first wave of sandalwood high notes, there rises a familiar skin-like aroma that combines facets of stale cocoa powder, cocoa husks, woods and newspaper, and something a little boozy and fruity, like apple schnapps. This is the musk coming forward a bit more. The overall aroma is as intimate as your lover’s pillow in the morning, fragrantly damp with saliva and skin cells.
At this stage, the scent is neutral in aroma profile, as well as abstract. It does not remind me of anything concrete like flowers or leather. It is just a pale, cloudy mixture of neutral musk and wood, whipped into a meringue-like texture. The musk note is quite delicate, and towards the drydown, the sandalwood swells up once again, obscuring the aroma of the musk almost entirely. The sandalwood in the base smells very different to the varnish-like wood in the topnotes; there is no strangeness here, just a deeply aromatic, buttery sandalwood in the Rising Phoenix Perfumery fashion. It seems to grow in strength and volume in the far reaches of the drydown, which is probably the musk and the sandalwood amplifying each other in turn until their voices soar a little higher.
Musk Dulcedinis (Abdul Karim Al Faransi/Maison Anthony Marmin)
Dulcedinis means ‘sweet’ in Latin, and boy, they weren’t kidding. This is a caramelized, thick-with-iris-starch musk freshened up with a slug of aloe vera. At first, the thick laundry musk is all you can smell, but before you get too down about it, the texture begins to be stippled here and there with small droplets of aloe-scented shampoo and Dove body lotion, which seem to ‘pop’ in contact with the skin. It is slightly sharper and sweeter than other white body musks, but its cosseting thickness will likely appeal to lovers of bath powders and milky lotions.
Musk Gazelle AA (Ajmal)
Ajmal’s Musk Gazelle – issued under two different names or versions, varying only in concentration – is a great example of what most people believe real deer musk smells like or indeed what it should smell like, therefore making it something of a benchmark in the genre. Unfortunately, since Musk Gazelle is unlikely to contain much if any real deer musk, it is also responsible for perpetuating misconceptions about what musk smells like.
And that is unfortunate, because Musk Gazelle is loud, filthy to the point of being fecal, and harsh to boot. Wearing it feels like being on the losing end of a bet. In case anyone is in any doubt, it is like being forced into a barn with a thousand defecating animals, all air vents closed off and the heating turned up to a hundred degrees. I am aware that this description is disgusting – but to be fair, so is Musk Gazelle AA.
Musk Gazelle Grade 2 (Majid Muzaffar Iterji)
This is a dark, quasi-fecal musk, the likes of which is standard fodder for any Middle Eastern mukhallat house. Musk Gazelle Grade 2 is somewhat distinguished from its peers by way of a subtle dusting of dark cocoa, which progresses from bitter to velvety over the course of the wear. Even if you don’t normally like cocoa notes, you will welcome them here for the softening effect they have on the fetid musk.
Just how dirty is this? Well, as in the case of all black musks, it is all a matter of degrees. Musk Gazelle Grade 2 is properly dirty, but it is also soft, which is its saving grace. A fecal fist inside a velvet glove.
Musk Oil Black (Henry Jacques)
Type: concentrated perfume oil
Despite the name – which makes it sound like just another one of those dark, foul-smelling musks so enduringly popular in the genre – Musk Oil Black is a brisk spice-laden affair that has more in common with old-fashioned barbershop colognes than with the souk. It smells like benzoin and cinnamon soap, and the salty musk on Daddy’s neck after a long commute home. A less floral Kiehl’s Original Musk, or, as a friend on Basenotes mentioned, Old Spice. Forget the notes list for this one. Musk Oil Black is a soapy carnation musk that walks the thin line between clean and dirty with aplomb.
Musk Oil White (Henry Jacques)
Type: concentrated perfume oil
Musk Oil White is a white musk with all the freshly-laundered softness we have come to expect from its ilk. To its credit, it is not entirely phoned in. The ‘white noise’ sound of the musk has been upholstered with a chorus of powdery florals – mimosa, iris, and freesia – for a lustrous depth that goes beyond the initial impression of belly fluff. Therefore, Musk Oil White has more in common with ‘complete’ perfumes such Lorenzo Villoresi’s Teint de Neige than with the bog standard white musks released by all the big mukhallat companies. Still, there is no good reason to spend $500 on a white musk.
Musk Ravz For Men (Perfume Parlour)
Type: dupe, concentrated perfume oil
Dupe for: Parfums Editions de Frederic Malle Musc Ravageur
The topnotes of the dupe are clearly aiming for the bright lavender and spice opening of Musc Ravageur, but they land instead on an accord that is half Indian spice rack and half sherbet, like a fistful of lemon-scented Love Hearts blitzed down into a fine dust. It is an unfortunate, even off-putting opening. (Of course, there are people who claim that of the original, too.)
Once the unsettling opening settles, a creamy mixture of musk, woods, and vanilla comes to the fore, with the same funky doughnut-like undertone as the original. The cinnamon inches its way forwards quite aggressively until it dominates the sweet, bready musk. But the cinnamon note is at least sparkling and Coca Cola-ish rather than heavy.
Overall, the dupe catches at one or two of the main ‘movements’ in Musc Ravageur, and thus pulls off quite a convincing impression. Where the dupe loses points is in the drydown, which lacks the essential texture of the original, arrived at by a combination of velvety woods, civety raunchiness, and creamy tonka. However, the dupe could be good for layering under the original, as well as under the stalwart oriental that inspired Musc Ravageur, i.e., Shalimar.
Musk Tahara Al Faransi (Abdul Karim Al Faransi/Maison Anthony Marmin)
Musk Tahara is the title used for the standard, white body musks (‘missk’) put out by all the Middle Eastern and Indian attar houses, and as the name suggests, this is the Al Faransi take. The obligatory white musk is usually a bit of a snooze in comparison to the other perfumes, but surprisingly, this brand chose not to phone it in.
Opening with a mouthwatering, but sharp and almost boozy nut aroma that makes me think of noisette liquors flavored with bitter herbs and hazelnuts, Musk Tahara Al Faransi is immediately and gratifyingly novel. There is a floury, gluey texture to this smell, reminiscent of the chestnut accord in Cloon Keen Atelier’s Castaña and the peanut shell and heliotrope of Bois Farine by L’Artisan Parfumeur. There’s also an undertone of something milkily poisonous that I find rather alluring.
This accord of milky, gluey nut-dust is soon joined by a Taifi rose that adds a piercingly green, leafy note. The sharp nuttiness continues throughout, but the rosiness eventually fades away, leaving the white musk to swell up and take over for the rest of its very long life. Although the ending is less interesting than the beginning, this will please someone who loves plush, clean musks but has grown tired of the cottony blandness inherent to the genre. Boring is one thing this musk ain’t.
About Me: A two-time Jasmine Award winner for excellence in perfume journalism, I write a blog (this one!) and have authored many guides, articles, and interviews for Basenotes. (My day-to-day work is in the scientific research for development world). Thanks to the generosity of friends and acquaintances in the perfume business, I have been privileged enough to smell the raw materials that go into perfumes and learn about the role they play in both Western and Eastern perfumery. Artisans have sent vials of the most precious materials on earth such as ambergris, deer musk, and oud. But I have also spent thousands of my own money, buying oud oils directly from artisans and tons of dodgy (and possibly illegal) stuff on eBay. In the reviews sections, I will always tell you where my sample came from and whether I paid for it or not.
Source of samples: I purchased samples from Mellifluence, Maison Anthony Marmin, Ava Luxe, BPAL, Majid Muzaffar Iterji, Agarscents Bazaar, Rasasi, Bruno Acampora, Duftkempels, Nemat, Ajmal, Al Haramain, and Perfume Parlour. The samples from Rising Phoenix Perfumery were sent to me free of charge by the brand. The samples from Henry Jacques are from a Basenotes sample pass.
Note on monetization: My blog is not monetized. But if you’d like to support my work or show appreciation for any of the content I put out, you can always buy me a coffee using the little buymeacoffee button. Thank you!
Cover Image: Custom-designed by Jim Morgan.