Musk Eau Natural by DSH is a wordplay on the Americanized phrase "au natural" (from the French au naturel) and "eau", denoting nudity and intimacy. The feeling was inspired by the Art Deco period, the 1920s and 1930s that is, when musky fragrances entered the vernacular again after almost two centuries in absentia, alongside with a fascination with the Orient and its hedonic mysteries. The perfumer Dawn Spencer Hurwitz intended this fragrance to have a vague chypre feel which is also in keeping with some of the popular styles of perfumes in the Art Deco period (alongside the westernised Orientals of course). The simplicity of the fashions, following the revolutionizing by Jean Patou and Coco Chanel, fitted the structured character of streamlined compositions: vast expanses of -usually ivory- skin, a decided marked contrast with architectural-looking hair (bobbed or not) and select ornamentation getting to the point demanded straightfoward fragrances that weren't limp-wristed or wallpaper-ish.
The fragrance is presented in pure parfum/extrait version (30% concentration of essences) for two reasons: the rich feel of musk dictating a lusher concentration and naturals having a problem of tenacity; the extrait version would help the scent linger. We're hosting a giveaway of a very generous 5ml extrait de parfum of Musk Eau Natural courtesy of DSH Parfums des Beaux Arts. (The photo represents the actual bottle, we're talking about pure parfum here, folks! It should last you months.) So comment away, saying what you find exciting about musk if you want to enter the draw to win it! And to make it a bit more interesting I will pick the entry I find the most interesting!
But back to the fragrance and its creation process, a very intriguing one indeed. Dawn followed the directions of the Guild in regards to which sustainable essences provide a musky note to a T while composing her fragrances. Here is the list of natural sources of musk components, the first three coming from non-cruelty animal sources, the rest of botanical nature:
Seaweed and Carrot seed
Only two of the botanicals ~ambrette seed and angelica root~ contain macrocyclic musk molecules same as the natural deer musk essence, as we have noted before. And from that limited palette Dawn chose to only use beeswax out of the non-cruelty-animal-derived choices. Plus she omitted vetiver, vanilla and patchouli, so as not to overwhelm the botanical bouquet, as these are notes that bring their own potency into a mix. Talk about a true challenge!
Dawn admitted after seeing what others had composed: "My own understanding of the Mystery of Musk project was akin to Iron Chef (how to be creative with a limited palette), now I realize it was more like painting class (make your own interpretation). Oh.OK." And she goes on to explain how her mind ticked while composing: "If you have ever smelled costus root oil, you will notice some things that are very interesting. One, it has a strong but sweet musk-like odor and at the same time, well, a bit of “hefty bags” that comes up. I kind of like it in a perverse way. The same way that I like styrax for it’s sweet honey-spiced-leather-resin smell mixed with “airplane glue”. It’s fun to sense the multiplicity of things and the potential that lies within. Another note that I love is Cassis / Black Currant bud. It smells of pine trees and cats; I am fascinated by its ability to push toward fruity / green and civet at the same time. It’s a wonderful catalyst to activate other notes that might no be so easy to work with, like the carrot seed (which likes to stand out in many designs); seaweed, which can come off as flavorless and cumin, which is certainly musky but smells (especially to the American palate) a bit of ‘sweaty men’ and BO. You have got to be careful with cumin. It has a delicious sweet, musky spice but too much and you can end up with curried armpits."
I am happy to report that Musk Eau Natural doesn't smell of stale body odour at all. The finished scent is pure carnality, the way classic Tabu (minus the carnation) and Yves Saint Laurent legend Kouros (heavy costus root) speak of intimate expanses of hairy skin, moist with the aftermath of a sex-fest. I feel the strong presence of labdanum which gives animalic, lightly leathery nuances alongside a waxy feel. The labdnum note is very apparent on drydown, reminding me of all the sexy and sweeter facets presented in another scent which exploits this side, Madame X by Ava Luxe. Those of you who have tried that one, should definitely give Musk Eau Natural a shot, as you'd most probably love it.
But is it really chypre-like, you ask. The version which I am testing (there is another one, called ESME see below, which is truer to the chypre motif) isn't truly chypre-structured, lacking the familiar perfume-y mossy-powdery chord of classic examples. Still, the beeswax inclusion, the scent of honeycomb, reminds me of the place that modern iconoclastic chypres hold, such as Moss Breches (the name itself alluding to api-culture, via "brèches" in French) by Tom Ford, where the chyprish top starts in a big way and then a very musky note is revealed slowly. Maybe Dawn envisioned a third way of going around the chypre problem, tackling its muskier components. It remains to be seen whether more will follow in this path.
Tenacity of Musk Eau Natural is quite good, certainly very good for an all-naturals, going strong for about 5 hours on my skin, with medium sillage that wouldn't overwhelm.
Dawn Spencer Hurwitz notes for Musk Eau Natural ESME:
Top notes: Black Currant Bud, Black Pepper
Middle notes: Ambrette Seed, Angelica Root, Centifolia Rose Absolute, East Indian Sandalwood, French Beeswax, Labdanum No. 3, Sambac Jasmine, Spikenard
Base notes: Brazilian Vetiver, Costus, Cumin Seed, East Indian Patchouli, musk eau natural accord, Oude (Agarwood), Seaweed, Vanilla Absolute
The musk accord employed in the base uses 15 of the 18 ingredients, including the remaining component, Carrot seed, in the topnotes, a different beeswax (Honey Beeswax) in the heart, and Ambrette Seed exposed in the base.
The notes are presented for ESME, a true chypre variation of Musk Eau Natural on her website including the notes she omitted for the simpler version, as well as two other editions (one of them the Musk Accord contained in Musk Eau Natural here reviewed; the other Musk of the Mosque, a more orientalised, incense-rich version) which she envisioned during creating for the Mystery of Musk project. A nice musk-rich full wardrobe at the flick of the fingers on the laptop!
Please refer to this list for the other participating sites on the Mystery of Musk project.
Illustration by Pierre Laurens, 1929. Photo of sample by Paul Kiler via Mystery of Musk perfumes.