Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Mystery of Musk: Dionysus, Temple of Musk, Sensual Embrace and Eau Natural

LAST REMINDER: For a chance at winning a bottle of “Verdigris,” leave a comment (but no later than 10 a.m., Friday June 9, East Coast US Daylight Time.) I will select the winner (using by 11 a.m.that Friday morning, and post it on Olfactarama that same day. Good luck!


There is a painter here who does nothing but still lifes of wine related subjects -- wine bottles (with wine in them, presumably), glasses, accessories like expensive corkscrews, loaves of bread, wedges of cheese and so on. He does a great business, I hear, with aspirational Atlantans (and, regrettably, there are many) who want their wet bars/wine tasting rooms decorated with original art. Somebody ought to hook these two up.
“Dionysus” is high concept. It opens with a foresty herbal note that manages to be slightly effervescent, and quickly reveals a series of wine-related mids: red wine, of course, but also the lees -- the mash of grape skins, pulp and seed left after pressing, from which fire-waters like eau de vie are made -- the oak-y aging barrels, a slight astringent tannin note which remains all the way through to the dry down and...cheese. Yes, there is a suggestion of cheese in here somewhere, a decent Parmesan maybe? It’s a mellow cheese, not a stinky one.
No list of notes or letter or anything except a business card came with this sample, which arrived after the deadline. There is a fairly informative website, and blog which mentions ambergris and African Stone as two of of the ingredients. The spray sample was generously sized, so I’ve been able to try it a few times, and I like the final drydown best, when it fades into a slightly tannic musk.
Concept, like I said. Dionysus was, after all, the god of wine, theater, frenzied ecstasy and hordes of maddened followers. To wear this as one’s signature scent would take real courage but, as a concept, it’s interesting and different.
Perfumer: Adam Gottschalk, New York. The website is
For the painting, I thought of wine of course, but also some organic shapes. The painting is a watercolor.
Painting by Pat Borow, © 2010. All rights reserved.

Temple of Musk
“Strange Invisible Perfumes” is a retail store and perfume lab Los Angeles, specializing in botanical fragrances. And, like New York, L.A. is a get-to-the-point kind of place. 

But everything about this presentation seemed rushed and out of focus. The package missed the delivery deadline. The fragrance itself is a tiny sample -- barely enough for one proper wearing. The supporting materials are vague -- what exactly is an “unapologetic musk composition” anyway? And the website isn’t what I’d call packed with information.
I’ve agonized over this one, because I don’t want to trash someone’s labor of love. But, when I opened it and put a bit on my skin, thereby using up half the sample, all I could think of was that this was supposed to be a citrus top note but somehow it morphed into the well-known fragrance descriptive term “cat pee.” Before too long a berry-like fruitiness arose, struggling with the pee note. At some point a truce was declared, but by then the scent had faded to barely perceptible levels.
I decided to try it on a blotter. Same, only the unpleasant note is stronger. And my sample is nearly gone now.
After a time, both paper and skin evidence a descent into a generic sort of muskiness -- not chemical musks at least -- and there is a little bit of vanilla and an unusual myrtle the perfumer says she hydro-distills from trees that grow on her family’s land. I don’t smell the strawberry-resin note she says it has, though, or any myrtle note.
Finally, the fragrance has disappeared my skin within less than an hour, short-lived even for a natural perfume.
In natural perfumery, the skin “notes” count, so I’ll try it one more time before posting my review.  Maybe the vial leaked….maybe the heat of shipping in July changed the perfume’s chemistry….maybe there were more reviewers than the perfumer suspected there would be, hence the minuscule sample.  (Later: unfortunately, it hasn't changed.)
Notes for “Temple of Musk” include hydro-distilled temple mandarin, organic black currant, the aforementioned “unapologetic musk composition,” organic vanilla and the special home-grown myrtle distillation.
The painting was done in watercolor and liquid pigment, using two colors which the scent evoked for me. They are complementary and mix into a pale gray.
Perfumer: Alexandra Balahoutis, Strange Invisible Perfumes. The website is
Painting by Pat Borow, © 2010. All rights reserved.

Sensual Embrace
This one reminds me of classic vintage perfume. The top notes are listed as citrus, but it doesn’t smell like tart fruit. It has an impression of coolness, like marble, which lasts all the way through. 
There is an ethereal quality to this blend, and it seems somehow more transparent, more water-like, than any of the others I’ve tried. That is not to say it’s not musky, though. The perfumer states in her letter that she wanted to make a perfume to “throw a punch,” and this one does, once it gets to the bottom accords. Prior to that, I’d say it was more luminous than aggressive.
The list of “notes” is not complete, but the ones listed are: green mandarin and clementine (for a playful lift, the perfumer says) ; vintage jasmine sambac, tobacco, vintage Mysore sandalwood, amber accord, rose de mai, violet, orange blossom and tuberose. I think this would be a wonderful summer fragrance. It is an EDP (eau de parfum) in strength.
For the painting, I chose to use a pastel blue-green for the background, because of the cool and luminous quality the fragrance has, with floral colors in the center and all of it descending into a smoky base. The mediums are watercolor and gouache.
Perfumer: Joanne Bassett of Cardiff-by-the-Sea, California. The website is  .

Painting by Pat Borow, © 2010. All rights reserved.

Eau Natural
“Eau Natural” is an amazing fragrance. Dawn Spencer Hurwitz is a very experienced and established natural perfumer, and it shows in the way she’s handled the ingredients here. The perfume -- and it is perfume strength+ at 30% -- comes at you with black pepper, in the most skillful use of this essence I can remember. And then it’s florals and musk and honey, oh my!*
Any of you who read this blog regularly know that I’m a big fan of what is called “skank.” My very first self-selected, beloved commercial perfume, Bal a Versailles, swam in it. So this one feels just right on my skin. Not strange at all. The black pepper tickles the trigeminal nerve (the one that tells us that something is hot and spicy, usually food). The florals come forward to add to the impression of a down and dirty scent, because they’re so well-incorporated into the base notes. Those are so perfectly blended that no particular one (even the oudh) stands out. And because it is in such high concentration, it lasts and lasts...and lasts.

Here are the notes: Cassis bud absolute (top) BlackPepper EO (essential oil), Carrot Seed EO, Seaweed Absolute (tops); Rose Absolute, Sambac Jasmine Absolute, Beeswax Absolute, Spikenard (heart); Aged East Indian Sandalwood, Ambrette Seed CO2 absolute, Angelica Root EO, Aged Labdanum EO, Aged East Indian Patchouli EO, Oudh EO, Cumin EO, Vanilla Absolute and Vetiver EO.
(Incidentally, spikenard oil is sold as a medium for oil painting. I’m not sure what it’s supposed to do, but I’ve always thought it was much too expensive for mixing into paint. Perfume, on the other hand…)
I transferred a life drawing I’d made to the surface for this painting. Media is flat black gesso, titanium white acrylic and archival ink on sanded paper.
Perfumer: Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, Boulder, Colorado.
 The website is

*forgive me; I watched “The Wizard of Oz” last week.
Painting by Pat Borow, © 2010. All rights reserved.
“Mystery of Musk” is a group blogging project. Other participating bloggers are:

I Smell Therefore I Am - Abigail Levin
Indie Perfumes - Lucy Raubertas
Bitter Grace Notes - Maria Browning
I'll be back Friday with the winner.

Tremendous thanks to Anya McCoy and Elena Vosnaki, who 
pulled all of this together!


maggie said...

Hi Pat, I left a comment under the Kudra post the other day but it seems to have disappeared.
Love the artworks - they really add to the impressions of the perfumes.
I am becoming more & more interested in these in large part due to your descriptions & would love to be in the draw.

Dionne said...

I'm glad to read your review of Musk Eau Natural - more and more, this is the scent out of all twelve that is catching my attention. Thank goodness her prices (especially for parfum strength) are some of the most reasonable I've seen for a natural perfume house. My credit card is starting to get itchy....

JoAnne Bassett said...

Thank you for your review. A vintage classic perfume is a good description. Love the artwork you chose to pair with it.

My website link should be:

womo531 said...

Thanks for completing these! It is so interesting to hear everyone's perspectives on these, bringing in a piece of themselves as they come in contact with each scent~

Vincent said...

I love musk centered perfumes. Please count me in the draw. Thanks.

Bellatrix said...

Love photos that you've put!
if I only look at the pictures, I would find myself mostly attracted to Temple of musk.

Isa said...

I think I'm almost an hour late for the draw. If not, please enter me :)

Anyway, congratulations on your interesting reviews. All these musks are so intriguing...