An Ode to Musc
Appreciating musk means to know something about musk. It means having smelled musk in its true form, or a tincture or attar infused with real musk grains. If your musk reference comes from the Duty-Free line-up of ‘musc’ perfumes or those quarter-tola bottles filled with clear ‘white’ musk, or the black ‘misk’ you got on a trip to Dubai that time, then chances are you’re in for a surprise.
Musk is arguably the most influential scent in the history of perfumery. So, it’s sad to see people talk with a sense of authority on musk perfumes, when they have likely never even passed a whiff of the real thing. If you think artificial oud has people duped, it’s worth knowing that the synthetic musk scene has become all-pervasive—and has a much longer history.
Musk Sultan makes no claims. It simply gives you musk in its purest form, infused in the most traditional way. In this case, in authentic Mysore sandalwood oil distilled circa 2006.
You may be wondering, ‘Why?’ Why do I keep going on about pure musk, when I end up infusing it in sandalwood anyway? This question cuts to the crux of the matter.
Musk is not meant to be smelled straight.
In fact, if you want to see self-proclaimed musk junkies squeal, let them sniff a pod of real musk. Chances are they won’t be able to handle the smell. Personally, few things beat the smell of raw musk, but even I get a little faint-headed while doing my infusions. The scent is STRONG, and when I say animalic, I mean you smell actual game—pure deerskin, hair, often combined with the suspicion that when nature last called, the deer left its mark on the pods.
I realize the scent of urine isn’t a great marketing pitch. But that’s a truth most ‘musc’ lovers couldn’t fathom their favorite scent is supposed to emit. Which brings me to what musk is really about…
The top most sought-after, most expensive, and rarest ingredients in perfumery are all animalic. They include castoreum (from a beaver), ambergris (from a whale), civet (from a cat), and musk from a unique breed of deer that only lives along a line that runs through Siberia, Tibet, Kashmir, and the Himalayas.
Smelling any of these ingredients in their raw form would turn off most folks, perfumers included. That’s because… they’re not meant to be smelled straight. Perfumers never wallowed in the animalic scent itself.
They’re called the ‘exalting fixatives.’ That means musk is used to exalt—enhance—the smell of whatever it touches; an alchemist’s touch that turns the ordinary into gold. That’s why diehard perfumers save no effort in procuring such funk and go facemask-on-if-they-have-to in order to pull off the infusion.
The animals use their funky parts to mark their territory (where the scent is supposed to stick and linger, i.e. fix itself) or to attract a mate, or both. In the case of ambergris, it’s a bit… uhmmmm… different. But you get the idea. That’s where the ‘fixative’ magic comes from. But with the birth of synthetics, things changed totally.
Musk is no longer used as a fixative.
In fact, it’s used in the exact opposite way. Where before, it was the director, the curator, the scriptwriter, today it’s the lead actor. It’s all about smelling the musk itself. The irony can’t be lost on you: nobody, for obvious reasons, ever wanted to smell like wild game or as if they just came back from the zoo.
Which brings me to the next revelation you should be privy to. Not only is it now about smelling the musk. It’s about smelling a specific synthetic that in reality smells nothing like real musk. Worse than how artificial oudh smells nothing at all like any kind of oud on the planet, most synthetic musks might as well be pineapple or gardenia—they have as much in common with those as they do the funky sex-pods from the muskdeer.
The term got hijacked. Musc turned industrial and emerged as the modern-day MSG of synthetic perfumery. That’s how we ended up with black muscs, white muscs, purple muscs, and thousands of perfumes built on a term devoid of its meaning. And everyone loves it!
Let me be clear. I’m not saying modern musk perfumes are bad (although many are rather nauseating), nor am I trying to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Some quality (and much more expensive) synthetic musks smell eerily close to the real thing (they actually use muscone to counterfeit life-like musk pods). What I am saying is that musk has long ago lost its purpose. It is no longer an alchemical, exalting fixative of other ingredients, and in 99% of ‘musk perfumes’ there is zero smell of musk. But even if you molecularly isolate the scent of musk, remember that it’s not the smell of musk that acts as the fixative—it’s the musk and all that makes it musk that does!
Neither musk nor quality Mysore sandalwood is widely available anymore. Both are government regulated and both cost a pretty penny. In the 1920s, top perfume houses infused their flagship fragrances with genuine musk tinctures. Today, they have to supply hundreds of stores with thousands of bottles that ought to all smell identical. So, synthetics make sense on every level. They’re super cheap and easy to mass produce.
Musk Sultan takes you for a stroll back in time when musk was MUSK—and used to exalt the daylights out of whatever it mingled with. In this case, creamy, white Mysore sandalwood oil, aged for more than two decades—a centuries-old choice for capturing the magic of musk. You’ll smell the musk, yes, but more importantly, you’ll smell what the musk does, and was always meant to do. And you’ll smell just how far mainstay musc has really strayed.
So, if you prefer to peal a ripe banana over gulping down banana-flavor, crushed cacao beans over cocoa-flavor, or if you still care about real tuberose instead of the chemical isolates and substitutes… then Musk Sultan lets you savor real musk, in real Mysore sandalwood.
We collected the musk pods in person in Russia from government-licensed hunters, then cut and crushed them in-house.
This is the first time Musk Sultan is for sale. Until now, it's been exclusively used in my attars and perfumes (including Iris Noir & Borneo Zen) But I guess all’s well that ends well, and you’ve now got the chance to score the same creamy vintage insanities, exalted to a transportative quality so insanely beautiful, you could have never imagined anything could smell so good…