Oriental Musk (Kuumba Made)
Type: concentrated perfume oil
Oriental Musk is a light, clean musk built around the idea of Egyptian skin musk but spruced up with some spice in the topnotes. The laundry drier-sheet aspect to this bothers me a little, but in general, this is a safe and pleasing musk scent for those who just want to smell freshly scrubbed.
It is worth mentioning that Oriental Musk would work well in scent-free work environments because it smells exactly like freshly laundered clothes, neutral deodorants, and other personal care products that come with descriptors like ‘cotton’ or ‘clean air’.
Patchouli Musk (Mellifluence)
Patchouli Musk’s opening salvo is an odd mishmash of melting plastic, fruit, greasy almond, and nail polish remover, all of which hit the nose in a high-pitched, vaporous whoosh that will probably get you stoned if you huff it too quickly. It is an interesting, if not altogether pleasant, beginning. Soon, though, it eases up into a pleasant coconut accord – green leaves pulsed with coconut water in a blender, with underlying hints of sourish, piney sandalwood. It dawdles in this bright, aromatic groove for a while before softening into a slightly creamier mixture of coconut flesh, woods, and musk, with a chaser of golden salt and marine animal from the ambergris. In fact, towards the end, it reminds me of an even skankier Sex and The Sea by Francesca Bianchi.
It is difficult to detect any patchouli. This is odd because this mukhallat uses a 1997 vintage patchouli oil sourced by Mellifluence in India, an evilly-strong thing that gives me a banging headache if I so much as glance in its general direction. On its own, the essential oil smells very little like one might expect, opening with a stinging slap of camphor, pine, and mint that never really slumps into the sweet, reddish-brown warmth normally associated with patchouli. Indian patchouli, in its purest form, emphasizes the leafy, terpenic side of patchouli at the expense of chocolatey earthiness. As essential oils go, it is strikingly pungent.
Making up for the non-appearance of the special Indian patchouli is a subtle deer musk accord. I didn’t think I was able to smell this until my nose picked up on a musty, earthy nuance like old newspapers and cocoa husks mixed together with a bit of something plasticky. I have come to understand that this combination of aromas signifies the presence of real deer musk.
The musk gets earthier and more cocoa-like as time wears on. It is very subtle, and those used only to the honking foulness of fake musks in mukhallat perfumery will write in to complain. But, to paraphrase Teri Hatcher’s character in Seinfeld – it is real and it is fabulous. Overall, Patchouli Musk is a gentle way with which to ease oneself into real deer musk. It is well done and nowhere near as linear or as straightforward as its simple name suggests.
Pheromone 4 (Agarscents Bazaar)
Pheromone 4 is based on a brew of four animalic substances – ambergris, deer musk, civet, and castoreum. Despite the presence of some ferocious animalics, the blend does not come off as dirty or indeed as musky. Pheromone 4 is about as animalic as rice pudding, which it also happens to resemble. That said, this is a pleasure to wear and to smell, sliding effortlessly as it does from floral porridge to a powdery white chocolate note that lingers for hours on the skin.
The rice pudding-like milkiness may owe something to an unlisted addition of other lactonic notes, such as, say, gardenia or sandalwood. I would put good money on it being a combination of sandalwood, vanilla, and jasmine, though, because Pheromone runs quite closely at times to floral sandalwood perfumes like Dries Van Noten by Frederic Malle.
Pheromone 4 is also astonishingly like Feromone Donna by Abdes Salaam Attar (Dominique Dubrana) of La Via del Profumo. Feromone Donna features a similar, although not identical, notes list to Pheromone 4 – jasmine, civet, ambergris, tuberose, and vanilla. Like Pheromone 4, these materials come together to form a wheaten smoothness that is part instant porridge, part white chocolate.
If you like creamy, milky floral woody compositions, then Pheromone 4 has your name written all over it. Those who dislike the sharp foulness of animalic substances in isolation need to sample this to understand that, sometimes, if you put a whole bunch of scary animalics together, what happens is that they cancel each other out. The result here is about as threatening as a bowl of custard.
Type: concentrated perfume oil
Company description: Smoked vanilla, sweet resins, red musk, marshmallow, and fiery woodsmoke.
Phoebus is a good example of the ‘red musk’ so often cited in the descriptions of perfume oils composed by American indie oil companies such as Arcana, Solstice Scents, BPAL, and Alkemia. Red musk does not exist in nature, you understand, being simply an imaginative way of dressing up synthetic white musk as witchy or mysterious-sounding. But indie perfume oils are not strictly bound by their raw materials. What is important here is that the result smells good and matches a specific fantasy the consumer is looking for.
Phoebus is built around the same resin-beeswax-woody-vanilla axis found in many of Arcana’s perfumes. But it deviates from the template by dressing up its big bubblegummy musk with a shot of barbeque-strength smoke and an interesting (and probably unintentional) whiff of sulfur as richly gassy as a kitchen where broccoli is being cooked.
Somehow, it works. At first, the nose is hit with the weird but wonderful smell of strawberry Hubba Bubba gum catching fire and smoking on a BBG grill, then a rich, salty vanilla and tonka heart overlaid with sulfur, and finally a resiny woodsmoke and vanilla blend. It does not feel grown-up in the slightest, but that is probably half the fun here.
Prince Kasthuri (Agarscents Bazaar)
Prince Kasthuri is pungent to the point of being fecal, but this soon simmers down into a warm, dusky aroma that, while never less than animalic, is not rough, sharp, or piercing. Indeed, what marks Prince Kasthuri out as a quality mukhallat is its velvety feel. Compared to Kashmiri Kasthuri Ultimate, it is far darker and woodier, with a sootier backbone.
While Prince Kasthuri is considerably less sweet and powdery than other deer musks I have tried, the lingering sweetness intrinsic to deer musk does peek through every now and then. Those unused to deer musk will certainly perceive it as animalic, but it is more the natural fug of closely-pressed sheep in a stall than of excrement or urine. In terms of authenticity, I would hazard a guess that this blend contains a small quantity of real deer musk that has been fleshed out a bit at the corners with cedar, cypriol, and musk synthetics. In general, the scent stays true to the character of an older Himalayan musk sample I have, which is dark, animalic, but not particularly loud. It does not, however, smell like true Kasturi musk, which tends to be brighter, more uplifting, and less pungent in aroma than other types of deer musk.
Rawa’a Murakkaz (Arabian Oud)
Rawa’a Murakkaz is a cloying floral musk with a thick, pressed-powder texture and oily almond undertones. Firmly in the thematic ballpark of heliotropic children’s bath and body oils (Johnson’s and Johnson’s™), many will find this very glamorous in a retro-feminine manner, but to my personal taste, it is a grim and airless affair.
A sharp floral tonality emerges as time goes on but fails to coalesce into anything clearly recognizable as any one flower. Rose and jasmine would be my guess, although the edges are blurred to the degree that everything merges into one freshly-laundered plush toy accord. It is not fresh, per se, but exhaustively clean in the fashion of Teint de Neige (Villoresi).
Royal Dark Musk (Arabian Oud)
Royal Dark Musk achieves two things simultaneously – darkness and comfort. While it is not a clean laundry musk, its funk translates to delicious things such as stewed fruit, bitter chocolate, velvet, damp earth, smoke, and flowers rather than matted fur and fecal matter. Tested side by side with a nose-searingly animalic musk such as Ajmal’s Musk Gazelle AA, it becomes clear that this is a more complex, layered effort.
Texturally, Royal Dark Musk’s chocolate-dense darkness contains a great deal of internal movement and detail. As the musk settles and the wetter topnotes dry out, facets of jasmine, patchouli, woods, honey, and incense begin to emerge. The smoky trail of bone-dry incense and musks towards the ten-hour mark is divine, and draped over a lush undergrowth of vetiver, it even takes on a Conradesque glower.
Not nearly as animalic as the Ajmal Musk Gazelle or the superior ASAQ Musk Ghazal, Royal Dark Musk is a perfect fit for those who feel Serge Lutens’ Musc Khoublai Khan is just a cuddly little kitten (rather than the monster it is sometimes made out to be) and wants to step it up.
Saffron Musk (Mellifluence)
Saffron Musk pairs a pure, leathery saffron oil with a vintage, twenty-year-old deer musk for a result that threatens to mow you down in its path. The first blast is unmistakably saffron, one of the most potent raw materials known to man. The topnotes explode with a fiery intensity – dusty, almost meaty, and for a spice, animalic in its pungency.
I have smelled the pure Indian saffron used in this mukhallat, and in general, it is true to the essential oil, especially in its piercing rawness. In the context of this mukhallat, however, the dustiness of the saffron is increased due to the presence of the deer musk, which acts as a magnifying glass. The musk also adds a sweetness that lingers in the powdery drydown.
Interestingly, the deer musk does not smell as pungent as the raw material itself, a tincture that I have also smelled in isolation. What it adds to this mukhallat is a warm lingering furriness, like the underside of a beloved family dog who has just taken a long hard run in the mountains. Highly recommended for both saffron and deer musk freaks. Keep in mind, however, that the Indian saffron oil used here is so strong that it has the potential to cause headaches in people who are sensitive to strong aromas.
Sed Non Satiata (BPAL)
Type: concentrated perfume oil
Company description: A pounding heartbeat coalesced into scent: demonic passion and brutal sexuality manifested through myrrh, red patchouli, cognac, honey, and tuberose and geranium in a breathy, panting veil over the darkest body musk.
Sed Non Satiata is quite the morpher, cycling quickly through several stages on the skin. The opening is quite characteristically BPAL in that it features a big dose of that slightly witchy house brew of sharp honey, bubblegummy red musk, and headshop patchouli. (It is basically the same opening as in other BPALs such as Bloodlust and Malice). This eau de BPAL comes on strong at first, blasting the sinuses with a slightly headachy mixture of sharp and sweet resin that catches at the throat.
Many people have described this scent as possessing a strong peanut butter facet. But honestly, I think either someone just said this once and now everyone feels they have to repeat it or there is an especially esoteric brand of peanut butter out there that I have not yet inhaled in the name of science.
The searing floral honey and resin blast softens about an hour in, turning into a bewilderingly pretty base of creamy vanilla, fluffy musk, fruit, and flowers. The patchouli self-soothes into an earthy, fertile smell that smells more like chocolate than herb, melting down seamlessly into a cushiony musk. Oh dear, time for that cashmere shawl cliché once again, I’m afraid – Sed Non Satiata was born to live in the fibers of your favorite winter woolies.
In the far drydown of the scent, one last surprise – the aroma of salty, warm skin. Although far from dirty, there is something very sensual and earthy about the musk used here. It makes me think of the silty funk of ambergris or hina musk, the Indian attar that mixes ambery resins with ambrette seed, sharp herbs, and aromatics for an effect that comes close to a properly furry animal musk. Sed Non Satiata gains my admiration for performing a balletic turn from headshop to frothy cream to sensual skin musk. In surprising the wearer with its minute twists and turns, Sed Non Satiata is anything but your average indie headshop oil.
Silk Musk (Ajmal)
A thin, citrusy white musk with a massively chemical muguet note. There are much better white musks out there for the price. Some of them even by Ajmal.
Tsuga Musk (Mellifluence)
Tsuga Musk is a good example of how an attar maker can emphasize the quieter, more delicate facets of real musk by pairing it with similar materials. As musk mukhallats go, this is powdery and irisy, with soft cocoa-like touches. Tsuga Musk is built around a special vintage material that once depleted can never be replaced, namely a fifty-year-old musk paste found in the possessions of a Yemeni perfumer when he died. Framing the powdery, intimate scent of the old musk is an array of coniferous woods, resins, and ambergris, all set in place to accentuate a certain briny freshness at the heart of the musk’s aroma.
There is a huge amount of good quality orris butter up front, presenting as a pure grey suede purse. When the orris mingles with the vintage musk unguent, it fuses into a powdered dark chocolate or cocoa note, laced with spearmint. Under the haze of minty, starchy orris and cocoa, the fine grey leather strengthens as the true heart of the scent. The musk is beautifully placed in this attar – it is neither pungent nor strong, but soft, dusty, earthy, and slightly ‘stale’, like old chocolate bars developing a white bloom. This nuance of the musk melds perfectly with the flinty orris butter, and it is a match made in heaven.
It is only at the edges of the scent, and then in the far drydown, that I catch the salty, briny notes that capture the marine air the mukhallat maker was aiming for. These notes are finally brought forth by the silty, marine breeze of ambergris, which is simultaneously sweet and salty, but not really substantial, coming across more like molecules of sparkling sea air than something you can touch. In its last gasp, vetiver, civet, patchouli, and hemlock contribute a chypre-like woody bitterness that adds backbone to the scent.
Whidia (Henry Jacques)
Type: concentrated perfume oil
Whither, Whidia? This is a clean floral musk of the laundry softener genre, enriched by a dollop of ylang crème anglaise. Like me in middle school – competent but hardly exceptional.
White Musk (Arabian Oud)
With a texture that recalls the stickiness of a half-sucked lollipop, this is less musk than Maltol. Candied orange blossom adds rather than detracts from the problem. If you want a good white musk from the Arabian Oud stable, pony up for the lovely White Musk Maliki Superior (below) instead.
White Musk Maliki Superior (Arabian Oud)
White Musk Maliki Superior is a cuddy, thick-as-a-cashmere-blanket white musk that flashes fruits and flowers at you before settling into softness for the rest of the ride. It is one of those rare perfumes where ‘clean’ is not necessarily a dirty word. It is slightly sharper than the famous Abdul Samad Al Qurashi Jism (Body) Musk, but with broadly comparable quality. Highly recommended to people searching for a clean white musk attar that gives off that vaunted ‘my skin but better’ vibe.
Zuibeda (Gulab Singh Johrimal)
Yet another chemical floral monstrosity out of a house that supposedly only does natural Indian attars. Zuibeda opens on a screechy white musk with the kind of green apple and cucumber accents that are only ever acceptable in laundry softener. It dries down to a generic green aroma about which the nicest thing that can be said is that it is not offensive.
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 (or in some cases quarter tola bottles) from Arabian Oud, Mellifluence, Arcana, BPAL, Agarscents Bazaar, Rasasi, and Ajmal. The samples from Henry Jacques and Gulab Singh Johrimal are from Basenotes sample passes.
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