Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Frederic Malle Musc Ravageur: fragrance review

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!

The raunchy reputation

 Roucel had envisioned Musc Ravageur to communicate both "seduction and generosity". It was based on a fragrance formula he had developed in 1998, but which was deemed too racy to launch by most companies. Yet Roucel considered it one of his best works.
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. Name

In 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 Where

The 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.

Related reading on Perfume Shrine: Scented Musketeers (musks reviews), The Musk Series: ingredients, classification, cultural associations

Painting Seated Nude by Jacob Collins, via
Clip from the Andrei Zulawski film L'important c'est d'aimer with Romy Schneider.


  1. J'adore Musc Rav. It's mostly cinnamon on me (which is a good thing). I'm glad to hear someone else say there's not much musk -- I detect almost none. Not that I care. Pure deliciousness.

  2. I have never tried the oil and would really love to. I was totally surprised about this when I finally tried it because it is not, as you say, what you imagine a musc to be.

    In fact to start with because I had heard so many reviews about how it was sex in a bottle and so on I was a bit under wowed. Then it developed and now I totally get it as a scent- although I still don't think it's the sexiest thing I have ever smelled but I like it's confidence and knowing. It would be sublime on a man, worn sparingly (which is true of it generally i think).

  3. E, sorry to use your blog for this (your email is obviously not working): could you please get in touch with me as soon as possible. TIA

  4. "A hint of vulgarity is often the element that puts the final brushstroke on a picture of beauty." I couldn't agree with this more. The late, great decorator Geoffrey Bennison had a similar saying, regarding interiors: "Always put something mad on top of something very good, or something very good on top of something mad." I think it gets at the same point.

    I'm "new" to perfumes (although I've been reading and adoring your blog silently for a few months now) but I seem to be drawn to musks. Could be that I'm searching for my own little touch of olfactory vulgarity.. Lauren

  5. SS,

    glad the review resonated with you! Isn't it funny how musk can be interpretated in so many ways to so many people's minds? I think we're often susceptible to naming, to images suggested etc.
    It's quite delicious, true, with a hint of de trop (Roucel's trademark, it seems? Whatever it is, he does it superbly)

  6. K,

    it's true that hearing about "sex in a bottle" creates all sorts of expectations. Obviously everyone's perception of what "sex in a bottle" would be is quite different, so the whole plot thickens most delightfully :-)
    Then one comes to know the fragrance on their skin and they get to know its magic. I find the oil very subdued, while still undeniably there and very, very smooth and erotic. I believe men and women would wear it wonderfully (quick, quick, pull me out of the gutter before I suggest uses for it!)

  7. B,

    no need to apologise. Done!

  8. Lauren,

    thanks for delurking! I hope you find the venue welcoming and by all means we love to hear about your views. (and wow, I love your sense of craftmanship and decoration)

    The concept is certainly a good compass in how to dress, to decorate and to live: Too much preening and "good taste" and suddenly one looks, lives and feels matronly. Where's the fun in that? Better put on a red lucite bangle with that prim beige tailleur, toss some raw garlic in that oh-so-fine salad and a bright crocus-yellow tapestry on that Louis XVI salon.
    Glad to see the Bennison quote confirming my instincts.

  9. "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?"
    Whoa, has it gotten hot here or what?
    And by this I mean your review. The MR proper, not so much. I liked it well enough the first few wearings for its warm, sweet embrace but then it sorta became grating (could it be the musk that most of yous register as non-existent? No? Is that spicy amber then? Oh what do I know) and wouldn't loosen its reptilian grip. In the end I passed my sample on to someone who was more appreciative.

    Now, the oil you (and many others) mention might just be the ticket. My curiosity is piqued. Mission accomplished, I should think ;-)

  10. Anonymous01:21

    i love this one. but haven't tried the oil. if it's even better than the edp, i will be a smitten kitten. miaou.


  11. D,

    :-D (big grin!)

    I think the oil is so much softer that it produces the above described effect. You want to be focused for those activities, not having your olfactory nerve hyper-energised so it obliterates everything else ;-)

    (not that I am enabling, eh???)

  12. Minette,

    it's a yummy scent, in a non-foody way, I guess, and if you find the edp a bit loud or "thick" the oil should do wonders. You can use it after bath or during...well...anyway...

  13. Thanna02:08

    What is it about MR that it's caused me to "delurk" too? I've only recently purchased a decant of the classic MR and have to say that I'm smitten. I was expecting a bit more musk but, in the end, found that I didn't miss it. Now you're tempting me to try the oil although I'm afraid I'd miss the aromatic opening of the classic.

  14. Gorgeous review, perfectly suited to a fantastic fragrance. I have a similar experience of it. There is absolutely something a bit naughty there, despite not being the raunchy animalic musk I so often see people describe it as. I find MR to be wonderful partly because of its different facets. It's sexy, but it's also warm, comforting, and sensuous.

    Anyhow, when I get a full bottle of MR, I plan to get the oil. I have a travel-size spray of the EDP, and I like wearing it, but I wouldn't use a full bottle of EDP ... the oil I'm sure I'd make wonderful use of. It is smoother, more gentle, and I appreciate the decreased role of cinnamon, as it can be an overwhelming note on me.

    I find MKK wearable, but the CBIHP Musk Reinvention is the one I tremble on the edge of being able to wear alone. I'll definitely layer it, or hide a tiny dab on my chest while wearing something else ... but to wear it alone and actually wearing enough of it that it's perceivable to someone who's not intimately close to me ... well. Sometimes I'm that bold, but not on most days. I still love the stuff, though.


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