Around the World in 7 Musks
tin of 7 samples
Musk originally came from a species of Himalayan miniature deer, Moschus moschiferus, also now known as the mule deer. It is not armed with antlers and is the most subtle, retiring, and innocuous of creatures. Only the mature male produces musk. The substance occurs in only one location on the deer's body. On the abdomen just in front of its penis is a hairy pouch known as the musk gland. In the early summer, unripe liquid musk drains into the gland from the surrounding tissues and is stored there for some weeks or months. During the course of this time, the musk matures into a granular, waxy, reddish-brown substance with an extremely potent and familiar smell.
The word musk can be traced from the Sanskrit "mushkas", meaning testicle, to Persian "musk" to Latin "muscus." Ancient writings indicate that musk was an important commodity in China as long ago as 3500 BC. Mohammed regarded musk above all other scents, and Muslim legend maintains that the Garden of Paradise is inhabited by beautiful maidens who are the living embodiment of musk. The scent's mystical properties were so highly valued in Persia that musk was mixed into the mortared walls of mosques at Tabriz and Kara Amed, giving the temples a permanent breath of paradise.
In Europe, on the other hand, attitudes toward musk have varied considerably over the past 500 years.The primary odorous ketone in musk, muscone, was isolated by chemists in 1926. Since then, more than 300 musk substitutes have been created in the laboratory. Because there is no single synthetic answer to the question posed by such a complex organic compound, cosmetic chemists must blend various synthetics, each of which demonstrates a particular characteristic of the deer's natural secretion, to approximate of the real thing. Here, we present seven of our favorite synthetic musks, meaning there are no animal products in these musks.