Musk Perfumes Haven’t Been This Popular Since the ’70s

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Musk hasn’t been this popular since your grandmother wore Jōvan in the ’70s. Searches for musk perfumes were up 109 percent at the end of last year. The latest versions, though, are a new breed. The scent of synthetic musk molecules has a skin-like quality that’s been in the background […]

Musk hasn’t been this popular since your grandmother wore Jōvan in the ’70s. Searches for musk perfumes were up 109 percent at the end of last year. The latest versions, though, are a new breed.

The scent of synthetic musk molecules has a skin-like quality that’s been in the background of great fragrances as a base note for the last 50 years, but now niche brands are turning it into their own thing with perfumes that smell like musk — full stop. Top notes, like Givaudan’s Moxolane, mean perfumes can smell musky right when you spray them, says Givaudan senior perfumer Sonia Constant. No need to wait for dry down. 

If an immediate blast of musk sounds a little daunting, don’t worry: These aren’t the heavy, musky musks of the past. “We’re able to isolate and purify isomers of molecules so you get much more clean, modern, vivid versions of musk,” says David Moltz, D.S. & Durga‘s perfumer and cofounder, whose untitled peachy musk is in the works.

Musk is “fresh, but also very cocooning,” says Yves Cassar, vice president senior perfumer at International Flavors & Fragrances, Inc. (IFF), who created Henry Rose’s new musk scent, Sheep’s Clothing. Cassar paired musk with rose for an effect that he says is “sheer and blooms around the wearer with more diffusivity.” 

Some of the most popular new musks — Le Labo Another 13, D.S. & Durga Crystal Pistil, Diptyque Fleur de Peau, and Ellis Brooklyn Myth — are blends that “mimic skin just out of the water, the skin of your loved one, even balmy, sexy-time skin,” says Moltz. “We’re in this time where we like amorphous, ethereal things.”

Musks have long been used in perfumes and colognes because they are genderless “softies” (perfumer-speak for something that you only smell up close). “Fragrance trends often mirror what’s happening in the fashion world and right now we are seeing androgyny and ’90s minimalism revisited,” says Mackenzie Reilly, a perfumer at IFF, whose musky Masque Milano Lost Alice launched last year. 

That mirroring has made this fresh-meets-sexy genre of fragrances a favorite on Instagram and TikTok, says Bee Shapiro, founder of Ellis Brooklyn. “No one knew what musks were five years ago, but they’re so discussed on social, that’s changed.”

Our attraction goes far deeper than double-taps and trends, though. It goes all the way down to a subconscious level, posits Cecile Hua, a perfumer at Mane, who created the scent Philosophy Amazing Grace, a 26-year-old musk that’s recently seen a resurgence in popularity on the best-seller list of the NPD Group. 

“Musk makes you think of clean laundry, clean sheets, clean skin, and, let’s face it, clean equals safety and reassurance right now,” says Hua. These are associations that are deeply ingrained, and deeply soothing. They can make walking through a haze of perfume feel like snuggling up in your childhood bed. Says Cassar, “the world can feel heavy and intense right now, [and] musks are comforting.” 

Ahead, seven comforting musk perfumes you’ll want to add to your fragrance collection.

A version of this story originally appeared in the May 2022 issue of Allure. Learn how to subscribe here.

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