6 Luminous Musk Perfumes

Why should summer be all about colognes and fresh florals? Why not don a plush tuberose or a bittersweet chypre? Why not explore how our dark and glamorous favorites behave when the weather grows warmer and days longer? None of the “perfume wearing rules” annoy me more than the set-in-stone seasonal suggestions. I suspect that most of them are designed to make people buy more product, rather than enjoy what they already have. The only rule in perfume is to wear what smells good to you (in quantities appropriate for the occasion, of course). A new season is a new chance to experiment, and there is nothing better than experimenting with your favorites and discovering new facets in them.

Musk perfumes, for instance, are among the most versatile. They can be modulated by the type of application. They linger. They range from heavy and warm to radiant and bright. With this in mind here is my list of summer musks–although I wear them all year round.

Sarah Jessica Parker Lovely

This is one of the best musk fragrances on the market, and to me it even improves on the perfume that inspired it, Narciso Rodriguez for Her. It has a fresh, herbal top note, but the rest of the story is a soft, luminous musk. In a word, lovely.

Serge Lutens Bois et Musc

Musk is a chameleon among fragrance materials, and in different contexts its character can change. In Serge Lutens Muscs Koublaï Khan it feels animalic and almost indecent, while in Frédéric Malle Musc Ravageur, its darkness evokes retro glamour. Serge Lutens Bois et Musc is the most underrated musk of the collection, but it should only alert you to its delightful idiosyncrasy. Cedarwood drenched in musk makes for a contrasted fragrance that oscillates from dry to creamy, crisp to velvety. It’s not overly heavy, so it won’t suffocate you on a warm summer day.

Tom Ford White Suede

Rose, saffron, musk, amber–a classical “oriental” lineup that nevertheless ends up all about layers of white musk. Impeccably elegant.

Aedes de Venustas Musc Encensé

An accent of frankincense turns this baroque composition luminous. Perfumer Ralf Schwieger also layers musk with almonds, both fresh and toasted. Such a twist creates the deliciously seductive effect of warm skin. At the same time, Musc Encensé retains radiance and freshness.

Diptyque Fleur de Peau

Enveloping and velvety, Diptyque Fleur de Peau nevertheless has a soufflé-like lightness. Iris, along with another cool and metallic ingredient, ambrette, gives a bright and luminous quality to this musk. It’s a fragrance that leaves a delicate sillage, enough to be noticed, but not enough to overwhelm.

Hermès Musc Pallida

I saved Musc Pallida for last, because its price deserves justification. Yes, it’s very expensive, but it’s so long-lasting that despite using it frequently over the past year, I still don’t see the level change in my small bottle. It’s another example of how well musk pairs with iris, warm and cool, raunchy and refined. Once I complimented a friend on her perfume. When she left, I realized that I was smelling my own fragrance. Musc Pallida has a beautiful presence that feels sunlit and vibrant. It’s perfect in every season.

As always, I’d love to hear what musks you prefer?

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

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44 Comments

  • maja: I wore Scherrer di other day to the beach, it was perfectly green, bitter and refreshing. 🙂
    Oh I need to sample Musc Pallida somehow. It sounds wonderful.
    I’ll also try Musc Nomade in this terrible heat and will let you know how it goes. July 3, 2020 at 8:05am Reply

  • Tourmaline: I agree that SJP Lovely is lovely. Several years ago, I bought a bottle for myself, and I find it somewhat understated and hence very versatile; it can be worn anytime and anywhere. I almost bought a bottle for my elderly aunt for her birthday a couple of months ago, until I realized that she preferred to wear her old favourite, White Linen, all the time.

    As for the others, I’ll have to try them all, especially Musc Encensé and Fleur de Peau. July 3, 2020 at 8:44am Reply

  • Karen A: Once again in summertime, I’ve been craving incense fragrances and regretting not purchasing Sahara Noir several years ago! Just sent off for a decant of it and some samples of incense perfumes (breaking my no more samples rule) while burning frankincense and ordering a bottle of Ancient Resins. Musk and incense?? Oh my my!!! Sounds wonderful! July 3, 2020 at 8:59am Reply

    • Sapphire: I really regret not buying a FB of Sahara Noir, too. July 4, 2020 at 1:32pm Reply

      • Karen A: It’s funny, honestly it’s the only perfume regret I’ve had! I just received Ancient Resins body oil by Aftelier and the fragrance is sooo close to Sahara Noir. Since it’s a body/hair oil it doesn’t last nor have the ooomph of SN, but it’s beautiful and very exquisite. July 4, 2020 at 2:46pm Reply

  • Johaboha: I love to wear Mona di orio musk in summer (dabbed). It has an almond like quality that works beautifully with warm air and warm skin. I like wearing sweeter, softer scents in summer and those air-cutting citruses with colder, drier climate. July 3, 2020 at 9:52am Reply

  • Alison: I love my 47 11 and Turkish lemon cologne for hot days as it cools me but I love powdery vintage scents and resins especially amber so put those on in the evening. July 3, 2020 at 10:01am Reply

  • Matty1649: I’m not that keen on heavy musk perfumes. I’m interested in all your answers. July 3, 2020 at 10:41am Reply

  • Dorothy Van Daele: Yes, I so agree, enjoy what we have, try them in different seasons rather than buying more as it’s marketed. I love Kiki, but for different qualities in hot weather than in winter. July 3, 2020 at 10:54am Reply

  • rosarita: About ten years ago I sampled a bunch of musks in the summer when I was off work, I call it The Summer of Musk. Kiehls edt is my favorite wear alone musk but I have a small bottle of Jeffrey Dame New Man musk that I enjoy layering. I like Lutens Clair de Musc and want to try the SL you mentioned, V, and it’s time for me to try Lovely again. July 3, 2020 at 11:58am Reply

  • Tara C: I love Musc Nomade, Musc Encensé, Musc Ravageur, MdO Musc, Bois et Musc and Musc Koublai Khan. Big fan of this note! July 3, 2020 at 1:40pm Reply

  • Filomena: I just realized how many musk perfumes I own! (More than I realized.) In addition to many already mentioned, I also own Lorenzo Villoresi’s Musk and Parfum Empire’s Musc Tonkin. July 3, 2020 at 2:42pm Reply

  • Joyce: Excellent point, Victoria, about delving back to one’s perfume collection and rediscovering them.

    I had a look and found an old bottle of Agent Provocateur (the first, pink bottle) and it’s such a beguiling mix of rose and musk. July 3, 2020 at 3:04pm Reply

  • Nina Z: This whole idea of seasonal perfumes is certainly a recent one and it’s good to question it. I personally like spicy scents at any time of year because I find them very uplifting. Right now I’m enjoying Voyage 2019 by Hiram Green, which is a spicy oriental, as a summer fragrance. On the other hand, I laugh now to think of myself in the 80s wearing Magie Noire throughout the hot and humid Boston summers. Well, it was my signature fragrance back then and I loved it day in and day out. July 3, 2020 at 3:18pm Reply

    • Amanda M: Oh, Magie Noire! Be still my beating heart….🥰
      I have both the second version (black mushroom cap) and the current version in the squared bottle. Much prefer the second version (90’s?) Stunning, potent, complex and utterly bewitching. July 3, 2020 at 9:26pm Reply

  • Nefret: I recently got ahold of a full bottle IUNX Eau Blanche, and “luminous musk” perfectly describes it, with the little bit of iris at the heart of it. I am wearing much less perfume lately, since I spend most of my days indoors and holding a baby, but this feels just right in the hottest part of summer. July 3, 2020 at 3:30pm Reply

  • Aurora: This reminds me that I first tested Fleur de Peau in the summer and I found it wonderful immediately, so glad it made your list. Cacharel Noa l’Eau becomes very musky in the heat, fruity, musky, it’s still a favourite of mine for that very reason. July 3, 2020 at 3:53pm Reply

  • OnWingsofSaffron: I find Musc Nomade from Annick Goutal one of the loveliest musk scents around, though it took me some time to be able to smell it. I find Serge Lutens Musk Khoublaï Khan quite compelling and cannot understand the frisson/horror surrounding it. A truely horrible musk I blind bought is Fleur poudrée de musc by Les Néréides: it stinks if seriously bad breath! Quite on the other spectrum: Angel‘Dust from Francesca Bianchi: powdery, fluffy retro regression—utterly charming! July 3, 2020 at 4:15pm Reply

  • Nancy Chan: One of my favourite musky perfumes is Cacharel’s Noa. It’s great, easy to wear and perfect for all seasons, except it can be a bit too much in the hot weather.

    I tend to prefer something more refreshing such as citrus, light florals and sparkling aldehydes. July 3, 2020 at 4:49pm Reply

  • Peter: I do have two of the more famous (or infamous) musks: Musc Ravageur and Musc Koublai Khan. The former is for public company and the latter, maybe private only! Filomena mentioned Parfum d’Empire Musc Tonkin. I smelled the sample, complete addiction, I had to have it. It’s definitely animalic, but it also has a smooth vintage drydown. I agree with others that Victoria’s last Hermes treasure sounds like the best! July 3, 2020 at 7:40pm Reply

    • Tourmaline: Typical Pekolo…. Another unsociable fragrance. Don’t mind me – just being cheeky! July 3, 2020 at 11:38pm Reply

      • Peter: Hey Tourmaline. When talking about musky animalic scents, “cheeky” is a great double-entendre! July 4, 2020 at 1:06am Reply

        • Tourmaline: Indeed! July 4, 2020 at 1:24am Reply

  • Amanda M: Oh, you have inspired me Victoria to wear SJP Lovely today on this cold and bleak Australian Winter’s day…so cosy and comforting being enveloped in a serene cloud of musky goodness!
    And the idea of seasonal choices as to what to wear? Personally, I apply whatever I love, despite the season! 😊 (with some adjustments perhaps, as to the strength of application…) July 3, 2020 at 9:31pm Reply

    • Amanda M: …And Lovely is so incredibly affordable too! July 3, 2020 at 9:32pm Reply

      • Tourmaline: I so agree, fellow Aussie! The affordability factor is part of the attraction of Lovely – such inexpensive, high quality beauty.

        And you have inspired me to do the same… I have slept in on this cold morning, and I must go and get my bottle of Lovely and apply it lavishly. Here in Brisbane, it is also incredibly windy, and that creepy whirring/whistling sound is happening at several of my windows, as in a Bronte novel!

        I hope you enjoy the remainder of the day. July 3, 2020 at 11:35pm Reply

        • Amanda M: Greetings dear fellow Aussie! 😊
          Yes, isn’t Lovely just lovely? And this cold weather is just perfect for a leisurely lie-in.
          Wuthering Heights, yes, my favourite book! The gusty winds do evoke that.
          Now I have a dancing red-dressed Kate Bush in my head…
          Enjoy your weekend and stay warm 🤗 🌺 July 4, 2020 at 12:42am Reply

          • Tourmaline: Oh, beautiful clip; now the song is in my head, too….

            Out on the wiley, windy moors
            We’d roll and fall in green…

            Enjoy the rest of the weekend! July 4, 2020 at 1:27am Reply

  • Fazal: I am impressed by Fleur de Peau and have many musk fragrances but my most favorite remains Kiehl’s Original Musk. July 4, 2020 at 12:39am Reply

  • Aurora: Your timely post reminds me that it was in summer that I first tested Fleur de Peau. I am going to put it in rotation. Cacharel Noa l’Eau gets very musky in the heat, fruity/musky and I love it for this very reason. July 4, 2020 at 4:32am Reply

    • Aurora: I don’t know how I ended posting twice, so sorry for that. July 6, 2020 at 7:36am Reply

  • Joyce: Hi Tourmaline, lovely to see your post. Isn’t SJP Lovely marvellous? It was a chance purchase because I was travelling (oh those were the days! Of bemoaning security checks and luggage allowance), and it’s a solid stable since.

    BTW, Marshmallow arrived and it’s gorgeous:-) July 4, 2020 at 4:32am Reply

  • Lucas: From Ramon Monegal there is Cotton Musk, a clean freshness of line drying laundry.
    Musc Imperial by Atelier Cologne is nice too for the summer.
    MFK Petit Matin should work in the summer as well. July 4, 2020 at 10:46am Reply

  • Jessica: As always a great article, Victoria. I absolutely adore Musc Pallida and Cardamusc. I enjoy them all year round, alone or paired with Cèdre Sambac (Pallida) or Galop (Cardamusc). As regards “season rules” I am totally iconoclast. I wore Coco extrait and Ambre Narguilé on the hottest summer days while enjoying Cristalle, Chanel 19 or 28 La Pausa on icy days. I wear perfumes mainly based on my mood and according to occasions. July 4, 2020 at 11:13am Reply

  • OperaFan: I never knew Lovely is a musk perfume, always thought it was classified a chypre. I guess I should try it especially since it can be had for a song.
    Is the fragrance still in production? or any known formulation changes over the years? July 4, 2020 at 4:14pm Reply

    • annemariec: It’s certainly still in production. I bought a bottle last year and found it a little different from the bottle I bought way back in about 2008, of which I still have a little left.

      I don’t think the lavender top note is as noticeable as it was, not that it was ever all that strong to start with, to my nose. It was just a light clean tingle of lavender to kick things off. But apart from that, new and old smell about the same to me.

      I think I remember discussion about Lovely being part of the ‘new chypre’ trend, but it smells nothing like a chypre to me. July 4, 2020 at 8:53pm Reply

      • OperaFan: Thanks annemariec! I appreciate the detailed comparisons. July 5, 2020 at 1:12pm Reply

  • Charlotte Barrow: I love your suggestion Victoria to explore different facets of fragrances in different weather; it doesn’t sound like much fun to wear only one style of fragrance for months at a time! Your approach would work very well in UK summers where every day can be a dramatically different temperature from the day before.

    Musk is not a note I tend to seek out, although I have very nostalgic memories of my older sister wearing White Musk from the Body Shop when I was a kid.

    I do own and love SJP Lovely; it’s so comforting and easy to wear. I also love Miller Harris L’air de Rien, although I feel it’s at the other end of musk’s spectrum of ‘cleanness’ (although I haven’t tried Muscs Koublai Khan, which by all accounts goes much further into ‘dirty’ musk territory!).

    I tried SL Clair de Musc a few years ago and loved it, but recently got my hands on a bottle and didn’t feel the same way about it at all. Musk seems to be one of those notes (along with leather) that I have to be in the right mood for (with the exception of Lovely, which I find easy to wear any time).

    I haven’t tried most of the other musks in your list but am looking forward to perfume halls reopening! Will be interesting to see if there are any changes to how sales associates approach customers. July 5, 2020 at 6:38am Reply

  • Klaas: Hey all, musk is not a note I seek out a lot, I don’t know why. I guess I’m just too busy sniffing citrus, vetiver, lavender and green stuff 😉

    There is a really nice summer musk that I know of though, it’s Foin Fraichement Coupé (it means freshly mown hay) by Oriza Legrand. It’s really lovely, combining green herbs (angelica, mint, anise and sage) and a fluffy cloud of musk. There’s also some tonka in there, with its vanillic, almondy undertones. It’s one of these scents that really hugs you, but in a friendly way. A smile in a bottle, as far as I’m concerned… July 5, 2020 at 2:53pm Reply

  • Carina: I really enjoy Muschio Nobile by Nobile 1942.
    It is a warm soft clean Musk with Jasmin and Iris. It also has a little sprinkle of tea snd sandalwood in it.
    I think it is lovely year round. July 7, 2020 at 8:05pm Reply

  • Inma: Hi,
    I tried Clair de Musk some time ago and I loved it. Reading about Bois et Musc, they both seem to share a nonintrusive, apparently light quality. I guess the main difference between them is that the former is floral and the latter brings woods to the composition. That is how I am imagining them. Has anybody tried both of them and would like to comment about them? July 8, 2020 at 4:35am Reply

  • John P: Gaiac 10 is my favorite Musk….but it’s not worth the price. July 9, 2020 at 9:42am Reply

  • Alessandra: Oh my, I had completely forgotten about Bois et Musc! Immediately after reading this lovely post, I went straight to my collection of SL solid samples and sniffed it…. it’s haven. Can’t wait to get a bottle of it.
    Othrwise, I do wear muscs all year long, even though my absolute fave – Musc Ravageur – is something I only ear hen it’s cold. For everyday use, even summer use, Kiehl’s Original Musk is perfect, I find…. so are Clair de Musc, the wonderful Musc Nomade and, surprisingly, Thierry Mugler’s Musk from the exclusive line. Can’t justify the price tag with the content of the bottle, though.
    The good old White Musk by the Body Shop is something I have reconsidered, in recent years…. if worn in combination with Korres’ Bergamot Pear body cream, for example, it takes on an interesting journey… and, in general, I find it less banal than how I remembered it…. especially under the form of a perfume oil. I wish the global offer of musc-scented body lotions were wider and more interesting. Does anybody have any remarkable to suggest in that domain, apart from Kiehl’s musk body line (which I struggle to use, given it’s animal-tested)? Many thanks in advance! July 13, 2020 at 4:29am Reply

  • Alessandra: Forgot to add: Fleur de Pau is an extraordinary perfume, yes! July 13, 2020 at 4:30am Reply

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