Guide to Musk Perfumes
Might as well face it, I'm addicted to musk.
It all began in the 1980's with a lil' drugstore perfume called Jovan White Musk. It continued in the late 80's with Avon's Night Magic Evening Musk. There you have it--I have been a musk lover practically since birth.
Today's musks are largely synthetic. White musk is always synthetic. However, there are still some perfume houses that use real musk, which I am against. Now that I hear of particular houses that actually use the real deal, I do not buy perfumes from those houses. I care about animals, and I do what I can to support animal welfare. I can not prove that they use real animal musk, but my nose tells me it's real musk in the bottle. I trust my nose, and I trust my inside sources who have quietly revealed this information to me.
Musks these days range the gamut from crystal clear to downright dirty. I have selected a handful of my favorite musks to discuss. You will find brief descriptions below, and you can also hover over the Reviews by House tab to find expanded/protracted reviews.
Musk perfumes can be broken down into two categories with the following characteristics:
Andrea Maack, Smart - An exceptionally fluffy, creamy white musk with a suede-like note in it that comes off smelling a bit like plastic, actually, but a lot of people love a plasticky doll's head note in their perfume, and so do I.
Annick Goutal, Musc Nomade - A soft and delicate, earthy musk anchored with ambery woods and dried herbs.
Bond No.9, New York Musk - A sweet, white musk with a fruity top note that smells like berries; a combination that works surprisingly well.
Bruno Acampora, Iranzol (EdP) - Dirty, dingy, dank, funky, and musty are a few words that come to mind when I think of this musk. It dries down into something that smells like skin in need of a shower. A note of very green, sharp galbanum runs through as well, but it is incredibly faint and blends beautifully with the other notes.
Bruno Acampora, Musc (oil) - Peppery/spicy, slightly masculine laundry musk with a fungal effect like Iranzol but not nearly as strong or potentially offensive. A touch of dry patchouli in the mix. So I would categorize this musk as dirty, but it has the fabric softener effect as well. I have smelled the EdP, and I would recommend the oil over the EdP because the EdP was frankly imperceptible to my nose. The oil has a little more heft to it and smells more complex.
Chanel, Jersey - The focus is on lavender, but this is a super musky perfume and smells very clean yet cozy and creamy, like a lavender vanilla fabric softener I used to buy. The lavender used here smells freshly cut, not dried. The musk is fluffy and soft. On the sweeter side.
Donna Karan, Cashmere Mist - I have to mention this designer brand perfume because it is one of the muskiest out there. It smells like the name implies. It's ultra-cozy, soft and fluffy. There is a bright jasmine note that is quite sharp. A white musk with woody and floral undertones. Refined and distinctive scent.
Donna Karan, Cashmere Mist Pure Cashmere - Very similar to the original Cashmere Mist, but the emphasis is on the musk and creamy aspects of the perfume. Not floral to my nose, just fluffy soft white musk.
Frederick Malle, Musc Ravageur - Naughty vanilla, spiced musk. Oriental in character. Often compared to Obsession (before it was reformulated). The musk is raunchy animalic, not the fluffy white, innocent kind of musk.
Il Profumo, Nuda - Another clean, white musk with fruity-sweet top notes. The distinguishing factor with Nuda is that it has a nuttiness to it, almost like nougat, a quality that I have not found in another musk perfume. This nutty note is fleeting on my skin, and I am left with a Jovan-style white musk blended with a drop of Johnson's & Johnson's original baby shampoo. Nuda has a yellow, mimosa-like sweet and an innocent floral tone to it. Discontinued, but there may be a couple of bottles floating around eBay.
Il Profumo, Musc Bleu - A simple, clean and classic white musk. If Jovan's White Musk is your kind of musk, Musc Bleu likely will be too. I prefer Nuda from the same house, which isn't quite as "white". Oddly this one is called "blue musk", but I can't find anything blue about it.
Kiehl's Original Musk - I have only tried the oil. It's a simple animalic musk that also has a cleanliness about it. Floral undertones, yet not conspicuously floral. A no frills, raunchy musk. Think The Body Shop White Musk,from the 90's, but animalic rather than clean. (Updated 8/11/16)
L'Artisan, Mure et Musc - A clean, almost crystal, sugary-sweet musk, and a classic from this house. Top notes have a berry-like essence. Very pretty.
Lorenzo Villoresi, Musk - Powdery, clean, white musk with Victorian-esque rose potpourri and an undercurrent of vanilla and sandalwood. It smells decadently creamy. If you don't like talcum powder or Nivea lotion, you might want to keep looking.
Miller Harris, L'Air de Rien - Dirty barnyard, unwashed skin, and musty crotch type of musk. Surprisingly sweet due to some vanilla in there, so it's palatable and hopefully will not offend. I will be honest though and say that it made my friend's wrist smell like a sweaty crotch, but on the right person it truly gives the sense of having a second skin as it mellows out with your chemistry.
M. Micallef, Royal Muska - The King of Clean Musks. Pun intended. It starts out a bit fruity and maybe even a little fizzy on top, like a sparkling wine cooler, but it settles into a lusciously creamy white musk with a rich, woody undercurrent flowing through it. Take Jovan's White Musk and make it a bit darker, much more rich (another pun!), much more complex, and infinitely more interesting.
Monda di Orio, Musc - It is called musk, but it is equally a heliotrope and floral fragrance. The musk has a crisp, crystal-like quality that is very enjoyable. Smells like there is berry or cassis in the top notes. Has a powdery, vintage-like profile reminiscent of classic perfumes such as Ombre Rose.
Montale, White Musk - You've died and gone to soap heaven! Like a bar of Ivory soap mixed with some sugar, and it seems to have faint woody undertones.
Parfum d'Empire, Musc Tonkin - I have heard that this perfume smells like real tonkin musk, which has an aquatic/melon type of scent to it, and Musk Tonkin does have that aquatic/melon tone. It is not musky in the sense of being one of those fluffy white musks but smells cleaner and fresher. Incredible sillage and longevity. Just a drop or two is all you need. Kudos for re-creations of natural musks that do not harm animals!
Santa Maria Novella, Muschio - Soft, vanilla, milky white musk, and it smells very natural. Not cloying nor sharp at all. This Italian house is hundreds of years old and is cruelty-free.
Serge Lutens, Claire de Musc - If you love Jovan's White Musk, you will probably love this. Claire de Musc is a clean, crystal-white musk. It is almost sugary in its sweetness and has subtle floral tones.
Serge Lutens, Muscs Kublai Khan - The infamous Muscs Kublai Khan. When my niece asked the salesperson in Paris for a bottle of this, the salesperson's response was, "Ah, oui, ouiiii! Bien Sûr!" ("Oh, yes, yesssss! Of course!") I'm sure that anyone who knows perfume well enough to shop at Serge Lutens' Palais Royal shop in Paris will be wanting that one. Well let me start by saying that I have heard that real musk is used in the formula, That is a big no-no for an animal lover like me. I will use the bottle I have, but I would not buy it again unless I was certain that no natural musk was used. That being said, the perfume is a highly sensual, slightly effervescent, rosy, animalic musk.
Tom Ford, Urban Musk - Discontinued but fascinating. It smells a goat's excrement for the first 30 minutes, and apparently it didn't sell well. Not surprising. However, the drydown is a fantastic honeyed jasmine musk that is actually stunning and completely void of anything unpleasant.
Tom Ford, White Suede - The perfect combination of velvety, cream-colored suede, white musk, woods, and balsams. An elegant, refined and luxurious scent.
NR perfumes need their own little shrine here. His perfumes always focus on musk, so here is a list of the ones I have sampled or own.
For Her Edt - Supposedly based on Egyptian musk, the orginal Edt is very rosy and musky with notes of animalic honey, patchouli and woods, which give the perfume a very dark and thick feeling. A pop of orange blossom here and there. Fantastically sensual and erotic. I have owned 3 bottles of the concentrated oil rollerball, which is fabulous and lasts forever. If you find a bottle, you are lucky! It is discontinued.
For Her EdP - Very similar to the Edt, but this has a bit more fruit and is more flirty and feminine.
For Her Amber Musc (oil concentration) - Very similar to the Edt, however this is mixed with a hefty dose of warm vanillic amber, giving the perfume a creamier, smoother, sultrier feel in comparison with the original For Her Edt. A more oriental version of the original perfume.
For Her In Color - Very similar to the EdP with a played up peach note, so the overall effect is even more fruity.
For Her Iridescent - Very similar to the EdP as they have the fruity aspect in common. Sweet osmanthus flowers lend a golden honey note to the perfume. The liquid has tiny sparkles in it that are nearly undetectable once applied to the skin. Sillage is sheer and the scent lasts around 4-6 hours on the skin.
For Her Musc Eau de Parfum Intense - I find this flanker to be similar to Musc Tonkin, the one I mentioned earlier that reportedly smells like real tonkin deer musk. This intense perfume has a fruity, melon/aquatic accord. It smells musky yet fresh and clean at the same time.
L'Eau For Her - Although it shares the name "For Her," there is very little resemblance to the original perfume at first. It starts out quite sharp as a floral green. In time, the perfume softens into a lighter version of For Her EdT. But in the drydown, I do smell a resemblance to the original.
Essence - Musky, powdered rose with an incensey base. At first it's like Nivea lotion, but the Nivea effect wears off. Reminds me a bit of a rose-scented candle. Has a waxy and also faint metallic notes, but very subtle.
Narciso EdP - Musky, woody, creamy, green gardenia. This is like the white flower equivalent of For Her, which is rose-based. Also, Narciso has a greenness that is not present in For Her. I am not aware of a time when I smelled gardenia and musk together so prominently. Narciso does a great job pairing these two notes.
I hope you enjoyed my little guide to musks. It is a work in progress, as I will add onto it as I come across more musk perfumes to talk about. I would love to hear your personal favorites, if you care to share.
5/28/2016 06:29:31 am
Great list! So many I haven't tried....a few I need to retry. My favorite musk is my tried and true Kiehl's original musk in the oil form, but I also have the lotion and it's lovely. I recently tried a sample of Lorenzo V's musk and it was really really pretty....but the drydown and the price, at this point to add to my collection it's got to be amazing. MH L'Air de Rien, is another fave, dusty, a little poo and a little honey. I I thought SL MKK, was the dirtiest musk I had tried until I tried Ava Luxe's Kama, on my skin the civet was pure tincture de toilette. So strong too, I could not scrub it off. I have not found a NR that works for me, maybe they are a little to clean, they are kind of sharp to my nose. Bruno Acampora, started out with a lot of mushroom but the drydown is really lovely and comfy. AG Musc Nomade, I think it's a great everyday scent, a little unique earthy musk but not too loud to fill a room. Smell Bent made a fragrance called Musk and it is an amazing warm skin musk with notes of immortelle and honey, they should bring it back. I also enjoy what I call sweet musks, vanilla and musk scents, like Lea, MOR Marshmallow, and by an indie perfumer Traveling Vardoo, Skinny Dip, cotton candy musk. There are so many more, I'm a musk nut ;-)
5/28/2016 08:51:51 am
Oooo sounds like somebody loves musk as much as I do! Thanks for mentioning your faves and definitely some I haven't sampled yet. I was always curious about MOR Marshmallow. I didn't realize it was musky. Hmmmm will have to get my hands on a bottle....Thx for your comment!
6/5/2016 05:48:22 pm
Ithink musk is something I know is there, but I'm not good at identifying it. This guide is great and I will,have fun exploring it so I can educate myself more on this facet of fragrance.
6/7/2016 04:23:32 pm
That's actually a good point! Muscs are so widely used and blended so much that it can be hard to weed it out of what you are smelling. My guide was meant to focus on perfumes that are dominant in musk for this exact reason--to help others hone in on it in other fragrances.
6/5/2016 06:04:43 pm
I loved your article! You have a lot of perfumes I've never heard of. I own Jersey and didn't even realize it was a musk lol. You've gotten me interested in the Montale White Musk because I love ivory soap :) I still have a small bottle of Jovan White Musk body oil, and I recently purchased a huge bottle of the perfume. It reminds me of junior high.
6/7/2016 04:25:19 pm
I hope you get to try Montale's musk! I think it's the perfect fusion of soap and musk. And I am so grateful you enjoyed reading the guide. Thank you!
6/5/2016 07:16:31 pm
Wonderful article. I own a majority of the ones you reviewed. I find the Acampora Musc oil incredibly sexy and only wish that, given the exorbitant price, it projected better.
6/7/2016 04:29:40 pm
Out of curiosity, have you tried Iranzol? I like it better as it is even more fungal and less spicy...but that's just me. Thank you for your kind compliment. I put many months into putting it together ;)
6/5/2016 11:05:53 pm
Great article. I have a few on here that I love. The Narciso for her is one of my faves. Last shopping trip I picked up a bottle of Kiehls musk, haven't worn it yet.
6/7/2016 04:31:56 pm
I'm so glad if you enjoyed it. I can't believe I have never tried Kiels musk! Will get to it one day....
6/6/2016 03:06:41 am
Wonderful article! I adore musk fragrances especially Bruno Acampora Musk oil and Narciso Rodriquez Musc Oil. You have re-sparked my interest and introduced me to some new ones I must try!
6/7/2016 04:38:08 pm
Wow our tastes run similar. Try Iranzol perhaps? So glad to be an enabler :P And so glad you enjoyed the guide--thank you!
6/6/2016 03:23:44 am
I personally love musk and other skankiness, but that's hard to explain when people ask what your favorite perfumes are or what your perfume is that day. :P
6/7/2016 04:39:16 pm
Those 3 are AWESOMELY beautiful!
6/6/2016 06:38:38 am
Thank you for this! As a person who is just entering the musk perfume world, this is very helpful!
6/7/2016 04:40:19 pm
Most welcome, and I am glad if it helps. Ahhh yes you have a whole world of goodies waiting for you!
6/7/2016 04:42:29 pm
I know what you mean. Its a beauty, no doubt, but it took a good 3 years of sampling here and there for me to really develop my thoughts on it. The musk is most likely synthetic, and mixed with animalic notes it can be hard to perfectly detect musk in that one.
6/6/2016 03:29:40 pm
I love musk if it's the right one. In the 70's I wore Alyssa Ashley musk oil and body lotion. Occasionally, I wore Bonne Bell musk oil but it's a love/hate thing with me. I was introduced to DK Cashmere Mist by an internet beauty website in the late 90's and both me and my mom adored it. She's gone now but when I wear it, I think of her :)
6/7/2016 04:45:12 pm
Im sorry for the loss of your mother, but what a special thing to have a scent to remind you of her. My own mother doesnt wear perfume, so I will never have that lovely connection.
6/6/2016 03:30:31 pm
What a great list! Love the Narciso run down. Thank you for posting this!
6/7/2016 04:47:04 pm
Thank you so much for your comments. Also so glad the NR section was useful to you...he is not niche, but his perfumes are so focused on musk, I could not ignore them.
Anita T. Monroe
6/6/2016 04:36:59 pm
I love Musc too. My first was Kiehls Musc, and I still have a bottle and wear it frequently.
6/7/2016 04:47:50 pm
How do you find the current version (if you have tried it)?
6/6/2016 05:39:12 pm
Hi! Great list. I've been dying to try Bruno's musc oil. My favorite musk is actually a white musk oil that I got at a perfume souk in Dubai. It's a very clean, pleasant smell, with a top note that almost smells like strawberries. The drydown is very crystalline. I get lots of complements when I wear it! I'm running out and don't know what I'll do when that happens!
6/7/2016 04:51:14 pm
That sounds so amazing! Have you maybe looked at Montale as a replacement? He has a couple of popular perfumes with strawberry. Maybe they would float your boat? Or maybe Mure et Musk (which might be discontinued since L'Artisan has a new owner as of very recently) with its berry notes and clean, sweet musk?
6/6/2016 07:57:05 pm
Oh yeah fellow Musc lover. Thanks for the great list! I am a musk lover also and have quite a few on your list. Let's see, I have Mure et Musc, Bruno A. Musc Oil, Narciso Rodriguez EDP in the pink bottle, China Musk, Dame New Musk Oil, Kiehls Musk EDT, Oil and Lotion, Il Profumo Musc Bleu. I must try the For Her in Color. I have never heard of it and I love peach notes. Thanks again!!
6/7/2016 04:52:37 pm
Fantastic! I think fragrancenet.com still carries In Color for a reasonable price.
6/7/2016 12:38:29 pm
Musk! Musk! Musk!! When it's all said and done, it can't get better than musk. I'm a woman, I don't want to smell like a flower. I want to smell a bit sweaty and bit earthy and very much alive, breathing and pulsing with vibrancy. Coty Wild Musk is one I sleep in every night, I wore Bonne Belle Skin in high school, CJ Scents Skin is my go to scent, DK Cashmere Mist was my signature before I jumped down the rabbit hole. Thanks so much for this list. I will be exploring this greedily!
6/7/2016 04:56:06 pm
I love your descrip of how a woman should smell--that is just beautiful! I hope you come back and let me know of any new favorites!
6/7/2016 06:23:39 pm
6/26/2016 09:20:19 am
You have a great musk collection! The musk that still gets me the most compliments is Egyptian Goddess by Auric Blends and it's less that $10. Although not a musk per se, you might want to check out Solace by Ambre Blends. I also adore Perfect Veil by Sarah Horowitz and China Rain by AromaSanctum.
6/26/2016 02:30:28 pm
Kim, thank you for your suggestions. Coincidentally I was just dabbing on some Egyptian Goddess a few days ago! It is very nice! China Rain is an old favorite that I need to re-purchase. The awesome thing about musks is that they come in all price ranges, and if you are a musk lover, they will all smell pretty darn good!
1/31/2017 02:12:09 am
Great list! I d sufavourite all the musk of ava luxe..and the musks of Les nereides , the old formulas...
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