Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Vintage Musk Oil by the House of Dana.

Musk is one of the most penatrating essences known to man. It's diffusive power is unequal- just a few molecules can scent literally millons of cubic feet of air. Perhaps that is why many animals and insects use this fragrant bodily secretion to send silent, invisible signals to lure mates or warn competitors. Humans are also exquisetly attracted to (and repelled by) the smell of musk. It is no wonder Musk has such an evocative allure when you consider the central role it plays in securing the survival of a great many different plant and animal species. (photo:

At the same time musk is incredibly useful in the construction of perfumes. It acts to chemically 'fix' or absorb and preserve the other volatile components-including the floral and vegetal essences of flowers, spices, grasses/herbs, and woods. It smooths and blends all of the other ingredients making it an excellent base material. In addition musk often imparts it's own scent into the perfume. How does just plain musk smell? Like sandalwood, urine and ambergris, it is very sharp at first, with a unique spicy quality that varies from musk to musk, followed by a sweet uncutuous finish. The synthetic musks translate that fatty quality into a more airy, powdery effect that is much clearer and more appealing to the modern nose. Some musk has a very floral-rosey quality as well but it smells as if the flowers had been cooked down into a tarry oil; musk has to be diluted to be appreciated. And when it is allowed to mix with air and other ingredients, it creates an expanding softness that travels on the air and enlivens all the others elements, enticing the nose and creating a longing to smell more.

There are several different types of musk but the most famous type for perfume comes from the moschus moschiferus or Musk Deer. These are strange little deer with no antlers, instead they have large tusk-like fangs. The musk deer eat mainly leaves, flowers, and grasses, with some mosses and lichens. This diet would be perfect for creating wonderful chypre-perfumey smelling deers! Little Musk deers were found across large areas of China and Russia but they were nearly hunted to the edge of extinction. People harvested both the musk glands and the tusks but today the animals are protected. The musk gland is located on the abdomen between the testicles and the umbilicus and in the wild, the deer just drop little 'musk pellets' on the ground as they graze. The scent of the musk wafts up inot the air and acts as a pheromone, transmitting subtle chemical signals to other deer. Hunters were too impatient and greedy to collect the droppings, so they simply gutted the deer and removed the entire glands, nearly wiping the creatures out. There are farms in Russia today were Musk deer are raised and their droppings are harvested but the quality of this farmed musk is inferior to the wild type. (photo:© WWF/H-W Schuldei/Leipzig Zoo)

The second type of animal derived musk that is widely used in making perfumes isn't really a musk but the secretion of the civet cat is commonly called civet musk. Produced in the male cat's perianal glands, the substance serves as territorial marker and is a potent aphrodesiac for the femal cat as well. Civet is classified as a feminine exciting scent. It is known to be especially penetrating and difficult to work with in it's raw form. Check out this advice about civet paste from : "Do not get frightened by the smell of Civet musk. Just put a little bit of the civet paste on a piece of paper and smell it after a few days. The delicious flowery tones are indeed surprising. This is a very effective aphrodisiac for women. if a husband wants to stimulate his wifes libido, let him spray the bed sheets with Civet tincture masked with a little bit of Ylang Ylang essence." (photo:

Besides civet and the musk deer, there are a number of plant based musks. Ambrette oil also known as "Musk Dana" and Abeimoshus Muschatus or Hibiscus Abelmoschus; these are the plant sources most perfumers prefer. However like musk animals such as the ox, rat, lorikette, beetle, duck and turtle, to name just a few, there are a number of musk plants including the cabbage, rose, thistle and okra. (photo: ag.ndsu.ed) But the largest catagory of musks are the synthetics. In 1888 the first synthetic musk was produced. This family was called the aromatic or nitro-musks, which were followed in time by several other large classes of unique musk compounds including polycyclic and macrocyclic musks. The polycyclic musks were developed after World War II. This is a photo of Galaxolide, a polycyclic musk. (photo:

Today most of the musks on the market are of the synthetic variety, and plant derived musks are popular as well. Perfumes may contain combinations of sythesized musks and natural products. Synthiesized civet and deer musk are also available as are more ecologically friendly farmed 'wild' types.

As far as my little bottle of Dana Musk Oil, I couldn't find anything about it in my research. I did find a reported release date of 1972 which I can't verify. In 1973, Dana did release another musk that I do remember, called Monseiur Musk.

It had a big square black glass bottle, very 1970's looking. (photo: The style looks nothing like my bottle below, which looks like it could be from an earlier era but who knows.

By the time Dana produced this bottle, it was a drugstore brand. There are remnants of a store tag on the back of the bottle, the price was $3.50 for 1/2 ounces. What makes this musk special to me is its strong animal quality which is another reason I thought it might be a few years older. In fact it was so goaty, so cat-boxy, that when I first tried it, I put off reviewing it. I sampled it again numerous times, trying a dot of it here or there, waiting for something to happen but it seemed rock solid. I figured the best thing to do with it was use it for layering with another scents. After all, perfumers often find adding a little bit of something noxious can impart highly desirable facets, giving a quality that enlivens the other ingredients in a perfume.

But the next time I opened the oil and applied a pin sized amount, touched my wrists together I was surprised to be greeted by a heavenly, fluffy, pillowy smell, all soft, creamy and dreamy, like a baby's head. The next day, it opened up further revealing buttery tuberose notes. What I thought was almost unsalvageable has been elevated to high art (in as far as musks go) a floral, spicy musk with creamy sandalwood, soapy facets, although lurking somewhere in there my nose still detects what seemed urinous before. It is positively magical, truely a chameleon scent that seemingly changed before my eyes. (photo: uncredited)

Post Note ~ Recommended Musks of Today ~

Luckily if you like clean, soft musks there are many to choose from. I especially like Jennifer Lopez's Glow, available in the drug store, department store catagory and it is still widely available. If however you want to sample some of the more adventurous 'perfumista class' musks, there are two that are really popular and widely lauded- Serge Lutens Muscs Kublai Khan and Frederic Malle's Musk Ravageur. Those are more niche, high end so you'll have to search harder to find them. If you like oils (my personal preference is for oils, they tend to wear more politely than proper perfumes), then one cult favorite that I really think is superior is Bruno Acampora's Musc Essence, an earthy, tangy musk that makes my mouth water sometimes. And if you can, go to Ava-Luxe's on-line store at and try some of her artful and thoughtfully blended musks such as Rasa, Kama, Madam X (especially love this one!) and Love's True Bluish Light (if you love your musk angelic) to give you an idea of the complexity and beauty of this scent material. If you really like to experiement, you can try hunting down some of the seriously exotic musks offered on EBay. They are pricy but worth knowing if you are serious about exploring musk. I always put in the search words "oud musk" to find the right kind. Try to find someone selling 1 ml or less to keep it affordable. I've tried both oud musk and oud free musk; I prefer the oud musk. (And remember with Ebay, it's all about the seller's feedback, so look for someone with 100%; that way you know they care about and work to maintain their rating, but as always be careful!)

The Vintage Perfume Vault, where the scent of yesterday's vogue lives.

1 comment:

Marian said...

I actually did a search for Dana Musk, remembering the clear bottle from the 70s. It was the most intoxicating smell. Another women was wearing it, and I thought my boyfriend was going to melt. I bought a bottle but that's been gone for 30 years now.

Thanks for the research. Nice to know I'm not the only one.