June 8, 2010

"The Musk Project":

There are those who just do not understand the mind of one who would choose to go to such great lengths to create a purely botanical musk scent when synthetic alternatives can be inexpensively and more accurately created in a laboratory. 

I cannot speak for anyone but myself, but as one who considers herself a naturalist at heart, I will attempt to address what I believe are some of the most important reasons a perfumer might choose to create a botanical version of Musk rather than using animal or synthetic ingredients.  

It's at the juncture between expense and availability, after all, which the natural perfumer and synthetic perfumer seem to part paths. For it is no secret that natural perfumes contain ingredients that are more costly than and don't last near as long on the skin as long as synthetic perfumes.

The Allure of Musk:

The truth is, we really cannot help but be drawn to Musks. We have an inate attraction to it. It contains those soft, sultry, pheromonal (and fixative) qualities so desirable in our perfume creations (and on each other!).

It truly is a wonderous thing how all of the odor components in nature (including the animal scents) evolved over the expanse of time... and with no help from us whatsoever!  Following the laws of attraction and reproduction, Nature has crafted these complex, multi-layered, once-living aroma molecules and then we borrow them to compose our own little fragrant symphonies.

The Ethics of Musk:

As a natural perfumer, I not only have admiration for the complexities of nature’s creations, but my artistic choices also have ethical motivations.  When available, I choose to use sustainable, cruelty-free, organic, fair-trade and environmentally-safe botanical essences as ingredients in my perfume.  For me personally, this ideology borders on the spiritual.

Unfortunately, for the natural perfumer, the special scent of Musk has the nasty habit of trying to elude the our palette. In its various forms, Musk has either become extinct through greed and cruelty or it has polluted our ecosystems in the form of man-made molecules that don't readily break down. 

The Challenge of Musk:

The fact that the scent of Musk is, in all reality, an animal product, it can be quite a challenge to find botanical substitute. But, as a natural perfumer, most of the fun in what we do is exploring the possibilities.  We are on a search for the perfect composition using notes from the many botanical oils, absolutes, concretes resins or tinctures we gather from around the planet. The ultimate acheivement is when you find just the right combination... when you smell it, you just know... ahhhh, this is the one! It's like you've just touched the hand of God. (Okay... wait for it... It’s a most "scentual" experience! :o) 

The bottom line is this: Metaphorically, natural perfumers are swimming upstream in the world of high fashion and fine fragrance.  But, it must be understood that not only are natural perfumers fully aware of the limitations of their craft, they embrace them.  For to them, there is a much bigger picture in their view. This is a challenge natural perfumers celebrate because they have placed not only the art, but also the conscience of perfumery before profit.

To quote Booker T. Washington: “Nothing worth having is ever easy...   Excellence is to do something common in an uncommon way.”

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