Musk. You love it or you just don’t. I definitely fall into the first category and so, clearly, does Tom Ford, who’s launched a portfolio of not one but four musk options in his White Musk Collection. (These, I’m told, have helped to catapult the Tom Ford brand to No. 1 in Harrods beauty and perfumery departments, with sales outstripping previous bestseller Crème de la Mer.)
What this quartet proves is that musk doesn’t have to be heavy and heady. If ‘fresh’ and ‘light’ aren’t words you normally associate with this ingredient, then think again. I’ve worked my way through all four, though – they look too-too-chic, all lined up together in their white and gold livery – and the one which I keep being enticed back to, time and again, is this Urban Musk, with its velvet softness and phwoar-inducing sexiness. I know, light but sexy. A perfume paradox. But since Tom Ford has pulled off the trick of segue-ing neatly from catwalk designer to award-winning film director, who should be surprised? Now, it’s important to say here: real musk, gathered from the sacs of musk deer, is outlawed as a fragrance ingredient now. (Although one industry insider tells me that there are still some French fragrance houses using it secretly, which piques my inner Miss Marple. Watch this space.) In the White Musk Collection, though, ‘headspace technology’ was used to capture the legendary animalic power of musk, as close as possible to the original. (Someone must have had a contraband vial, lurking somewhere.) In several of the White Musk creations, the result comes across as a bit too synthetic for my taste. But in Urban Musk there’s an almost lickable creaminess to it. When worn for a while, it smells like – well, skin. Or the way we’d like skin someone else’s skin to smell, and are frequently disappointed, as other body odours (not to mention last night’s curry) overwhelm.
As Tom himself has said, ‘Musk has a human quality that can really disturb some people. I like sensual fragrances and I like the way we smell as humans, so that doesn’t scare me.’ It has spicy moments – a scrunch of black pepper, a sprinkle of cumin – but what I especially like is its chocolate-y phase, which is probably down to the tonka bean. Other notes acknowledged in Urban Musk’s fragrance pyramid are ambrette seed, jasmine sambac, honey, black plum and incense. It’s the incense – with that carnal muskiness – which lingers. But – repeat! – in a light way! (Missionary position sex, not tie-you-to-the-bedpost sex. But sex, all the same.) The only slightly unfortunate element is the name of the collection, White Musk, which might put off anyone who just can’t bear to be within 30 paces of Body Shop’s high street play on this ingredient. If you have musky moods, don’t let any such prejudice deter you from sniffing this out.