Torrid opulence...When perfumer Maurice Roucel was developing Musc Ravageur (2000) for Les Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle, a young woman belonging to the creative team wore the powerful, dramatic "demo" of the fragrance to brave the afternoon commute home as part of testing. As she was sitting beside an elderly gentleman, she recounts she noticed him twitch his nose in puzzlement and vague alarm. Given that the team was trying to develop a feral animalic oriental (the name means " ravaging/devastating musk", clearly a politically-incorrect type of erotic discourse) which would trump current fads, it was clear they had succeeded!
One more attuned to the American culture could claim this oriental would perfectly encapsulate those women which on US soil are called "skanks". Gallic civility probably restrained Roucel from voicing that thought. Yet, "skanky" doesn't necessarily denote negativity: A hint of vulgarity is often the element that puts the final brushstroke on a picture of beauty. Don't most vintage classics include such a note amidst all the refinement? Isn't a falling, slightly greasy tendril of hair or a little smudge of the eyeliner a promise of things unravelling later on? Isn't a small hole on the stockings an invitation to tear them apart? And isn't a slap begging to be chased with a kiss?
People react to it with either swooning indulgence or utter disgust and it's fun to see it never plays out the way one expects.
Demi Moore was shopping at Barney's some time ago observed by sales associates with loose mouths, whereupon she asked to try the Malle line. Upon being presented with Musc Ravageur she stopped the guy saying "Oh no, I don't like musk". After being shown the entire line, she was again presented with the infamous Musc without being told the name: "You saved the best for last" she murmured, her wrists stuck to her nose. [source] George Clooney and Pierce Brosnan have also fallen under the scent's charm (not on Demi, necessarily, we presume), so...India Knight, the British writer at any rate calls it "the olfactory equivalent of lucky pants". I defer to her experience of prose.
The incongruity: Scent vs. NameIn Musc Ravageur the explosive departure of bergamot, tangerine and cinnamon is set against a backdrop of vanilla, musk and amber. No flowers, just a refined skin scent. Yet contrary to name, Musc Ravageur isn't really about musk! On the contrary, there's a little synthetic musk and quite a bit of castoreum and civet in it (both of synthetic origin). And the reason I am including it in a section devoted to musks is mainly due to nomenclature and readers' expectation. If you have been fearing (or loving, like myself) the reputation of Muscs Kublai Khan and Christopher Brosius I Hate Perfume Musk Reinvented, you will be puzzled indeed by this one, recalling as it does the base of such classic orientals as Shalimar or even less classical, like Teatro alla Scala by Krizia.
Preceded as it is by its reputation as a best-selling fragrance in the Malle line, we're left with an incongruity: Is the audience buying fragrance from one of the quintessential niche lines really into feral mojo or are they searching for something else? Smelling Musc Ravageur on skin one cannot but form an opinion towards the latter. Musc Ravageur, just like the big paws of its creator, is more of a naughty & voracious home cat with a furry tongue giving you a bath, rather than a wild tiger in the jungle shredding its prey in pieces. A very sensual amber -rather than musk, compare with Kiehl's Original Musk oil for instance- is hiding in the core of the fragrance.
A characteristic and fairly dramatic citrus-spice top note is immediately perceptible (I detect mandarin, clove, cinnamon and possibly some lavender as well), which recalls the Gallified "oriental" mould in the most classical manner, and a silky vanilla dry down which isn't really sweet, but interplaying between warm & cool. In fact this drydown is structured by woods which offer the spine of the perfume: cedar, sandalwood and the warm gaiac wood. The artistry lies in having the amber-castoreum basenotes perform like a Chinese gymnast: all over the place, but with an elasticity that creates the illusion of weightlessness!
The shopping part: What and WhereThe scent is presented in Eau de Parfum classic alcoholic version (which is a characteristic spicy ambery oriental) and in the Huile A Tout Faire oil version (a smooth clear oil for use on pulse points, hair or all over after the bath). The latter in my opinion is a lot smoother, rounder, with less of a spicy-lavender note on top, and extremely erotic, much more so than the somewhat "loud" spray. Both are fit for both sexes, amplifying what you naturally got. There is also a body products line available, including shower wash and body lotion, over which I still prefer the oil.
Musc Ravageur by F.Malle is available from the online boutique Editions de Parfums, at the eponymous Boutiques (see our article for the Parisian ones and the new one on Madison Ave.) and at Barney's.
Painting Seated Nude by Jacob Collins, via acores.canalblog.com.
Clip from the Andrei Zulawski film L'important c'est d'aimer with Romy Schneider.