The reference for musk - natural musk

Image: Musk deer from Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Musk)

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As Octavian writes on his blog there are four types of musk – a natural musk obtained from the musk deer, natural musks from other animals and plants, synthetic musk molecules and musk fragrances. Each group can represent a certain musk reference with wide variations of standards within the group.

Natural musk – was one of the most used ingredients in perfumery. Arctander says that it’s not only a good fixative, but it cal lift and give life to almost any well balanced perfume. The importance of natural musk in perfumery can be seen in Poucher’s “Perfumes, cosmetics and soaps” manual where he shares formulae for single floral accords like rose, lilac, violet, jasmine, etc. For each soliflore accord he suggests a perfume that can be made from the floral accord by adding of some natural essential oils and absolutes, often ambergris tincture and almost always a musk tincture. It’s as if the formula of rounded floral perfume was = floral accord (or a combination) + corresponding naturals + ambergris (or it can be another animal component or orris) + musk. The last one is almost obligatory for any perfume as it comes back almost in each perfume formula in this book.

Musk is obtained from the male musk deer (Moschus moschiferus) and sometimes from other Moschus species or other animals like muskrat. It’s a secretion of an internal pouch in the abdomen. Although it’s possible to collect the pouch without killing the deer, it has been a common practice to kill the animal. About 70 000 male musk deers were killed annually to produce about 500 – 1500 kg of Musk. According to another source you need to kill 30 – 50 animals to produce 1 kg of Musk. And the demand for this product was growing despite the price that was twice its weight in gold. So in 1979 the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and national laws protected the musk deer. High price, laws and regulations significantly restricted the use of natural musk in perfumery – you can’t find it anymore in perfumes. And many modern perfumers even don’t know what does natural musk smells like.

After extraction from the deer the musk pod was dried (to let its content to form the so called musk grains) and sold. Musk grains were used to prepare either musk tincture or musk absolute (via musk resinoid). The best quality was the Tonkin musk (obtained from Moschus tonquinensis), a musk deer species from China, Tonkin (an area corresponding with modern northernmost part of Vietnam) and Tibet. The smell of musk grains is referred as sweet, very persistent, animal-like and amin-like.

It’s very difficult nowadays to smell the real natural musk and use it as a reference. It’s still can be found in many (of not almost any) vintage perfumes. I have a sample of Musk Rose perfume made by a fellow perfumer who used natural musk in it. Of course, it’s difficult to distract a single (and unknown) component from a well balanced perfume, but I guess I have an idea what natural musk smells like and what it does in perfume. I guess it’s a part making me think about Musk Rose as a vintage perfume (although it’s not). I guess it musk gives a kind of depth, intensity and brightness to the natural rose accord making it warm, sweet and dark. It’s really painful for me to understand that I either should give up an idea of using such a beautiful raw material in perfumery or to accept the high price, problems with regulations and laws as well as moral dilemma and conscience-stricken of killed animals. Well, I guess I’ll try to follow the idea of Maurice Roucel in his Musk Ravageur who tried to reconstruct the wildness of natural musk from synthetic components.

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