musk-1In my last post, I gave some background on one of the perfumer’s classic tools: musk. This base note can add a mysterious depth and a strong staying power to a scent. But because this is a scent that’s strictly synthetic these days (actual musk comes from the musk gland of the endangered musk deer) the subject of musk can be a little confusing. Plenty of fragrance manufacturers are making numerous variations on musk these days, so that it’s hard to even know what “musk” really is any more.

Since honest-to-god musk comes from a gland used for secretions meant to attract mates, it’s easy to imagine what that strong, animalic scent might smell like. Perhaps the closest thing we have in the Possets atelier is our bottle of Beaver castoreum(which is not used in any of our blends. It is used for reference). This ingredient comes from the beaver castor sacs, which are located on both male and female beavers at the base of the tail near the anus. The castor sacs let off a secretion—castoreum—that is used to mark a territory. Personally, I don’t find the smell to be unbearable, necessarily—just intense. It’s reminiscent of a petting zoo which, after a little adjusting, can sort of be pleasant on its own.

When it comes to musks, the Possets atelier houses a well-rounded collection. Here’s a little on some of the synthetic musks in our library and a few Possets-specific recommendations to go with them.

White Musk

White musk is the clean linen of musks. It’s light, pure, and very easy on the nose. Its sweet note calls to mind old potpourri, combing the sort of dusty smell associated with the adjective “musky” with that of a sour white grape.

Possets Perfume Recommendations: Pleiades

Green Musk

This musk is slightly sweet, but very green, as though the white musk spent a year living in the forest. It’s a leafy sort of scent, like what you might expect from smelling the dry ground in the woods. Imagine the smell of moss, earthy but fresh and spring-like.

Red Musk

Red musk isn’t trying to impress anyone. It’s not going to put on makeup or change its clothes for an evening out. It’s bold, confident, aged, and wise just as it is. Red musk is sharp yet ethereal. It’s the smell of an old man’s study, where cigars and incense have burned, and books have been opened and closed. It’s stale and pungent, like old wood.

Possets Perfume Recommendation: Eve

Black Musk

This is a strong base that makes an intense statement when it stands alone. Black musk is heavy and sour, almost like food that’s gone slightly past its expiration date. This bold musk adds a distinguished base to its perfumes.

Possets Perfume Recommendations: Black Tea

Vanilla Musk

This one is just what you would think—the sweet dust of white musk with a strong vanilla taffy overtone.

Possets Perfume Recommendation: Dance With Me

Nubian Musk

Nubian musk is like vanilla musk with a little more mystique and edge. It’s a sexy, sweet, feminine musk scent that calls to mind a dusty street-side market with music and dancing, the beautiful celebration of life through dance and seduction.

Possets Perfume Recommendation: Sweet Arabia

Musk al Saher

This ingredient feels like a perfume on its own. For some reason it reminds me of a scent that would be worn by a school teacher, the sweet smell of a biology teacher’s perfume that contrasts with the smell of formaldehyde.

Musk Supreme

Take the one singular element that all of these musks have in common and this would be it. Musk supreme is a classic, middle-ground musk scent.

Possets Perfume Recommendation: She Walks in Beauty


The last scent on the list is, like the beaver castoreum, an ingredient that’s much closer in nature to true, animal-sourced musk. Civet is a secretion from the civet cat that, again, is used to mark territory. Believe me—you’ll be able to distinguish the civet’s territory from the beaver’s because these two animalic scents are very different. While castoreum is a round, sort of familiar smell, civet is sharp, aggressive, and altogether unpleasant to this author’s nose. Still, like magic, civet blends together with other ingredients to create some of the most spectacular perfumes.

Possets Perfume Recommendations: Over the Rhine, Eve, Howl

By Katrina Eresman

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