Natural musk is one of the oldest perfume agents in the world. Harvested from a gland of the male musk deer, it was prized for its complex and contradictory aroma, a storied aphrodisiac that cozied between the animalistic and the earthy. In present-day fragrance-making, natural musk’s high cost and ethical ambiguity have pushed perfumers to settle almost exclusively on synthetic alternatives (sometimes called “white musks”) and plant-based substitutes such as garden angelica and musk mallow.
It’s also worth mentioning that descriptors like “musk” or “musky” today don’t necessarily denote specific ingredients, but the broad impressions of a particular fragrance. One take is a thick, almost putrid scent with a warm, sensual base. Balance it with soft and accessible top notes — citrus, bergamot, even something floral — and you have an easy winner on your hands, one that’s likely to become the backbone of your future grooming routine.
Floris Jermyn Street
A woody-green fragrance inspired by a road in London lined with traditional menswear shops, Jermyn Street was crafted by Edward Bodenham, a veteran of this 18th-century English fragrance house. Classic top notes of bergamot and mandarin soften into a woodsy base of amber and musk, with a current of vetiver throughout.
Notes: Vetiver, amber, musk, soap, bergamot, mandarin
Etat Libre d’Orange Vierges et Toreros
A collaborative fragrance from noses Antoine Lie and Antoine Maisondieu for Etat Libre d’Orange, Vierges et Toreros is a composition of dualities — tuberose, ylang-ylang and bergamot versus nutmeg, vetiver and musk. The result is a soft leather-like fragrance with resinous undertones.
Notes: Tuberose, ylang-ylang, bergamot, nutmeg, vetiver, musk
Olfactive Studio Panorama
The seventh fragrance from French house Olfactive Studio, Panorama opens with bright citrus that quickly softens into a heart of grass and spicy wasabi. At the base is a mossy marriage of musk, myrrh and balsam fir.
Notes: Lime, grass, wasabi, musk, myrrh, balsam fir
Kiehl’s Original Musk
The label says it all: the formula of Original Musk “is believed to have been created in the 1920s at the ‘Kiehl’s Apothecary.’” It was discovered years later in a vat labeled “Love Oil” and reintroduced as the brand’s signature scent. It’s a low-key fragrance with a head of citrus and bergamot that softens into a creamy base of tonka bean and sweet musk, reminiscent of old-school barbershops.
Notes: Citrus, bergamot, rose, neroli, tonka bean, musk
Escentric Molecules Escentric 03
Like all of Escentric Molecules’s fragrances, German perfumer Geza Schoen is the familiar nose behind Escentric 03. The fragrance opens with the sharpness of ginger, lime and white pepper, advancing into a sophisticated base of sandalwood, vetiver and synthetic musks.
Notes: Ginger, lime, white pepper, sandalwood, vetiver, musk