February 11, 2018
When I first discovered the Editions de parfums Frédéric Malle, I fell in love with the concept of a perfume editor publishing perfumes like books, novels from authors nobody else had the guts to publish. I felt it was not only a new “less product-more process” intellectual approach, but also an assertive way to change the esthetics after a decade of flattening globalization, sharp minimalism and white musk sanitation. Smelling the first flush of Malle’s perfumes felt like eating a buttery French pastry after being on low carbs diet. My first personal pick in the line was the abstract coziness of L’Eau d’Hiver, but then I was in my late ‘20s and I was soon to graduate with a degree in Engineering, confident, single and ready to enter my dirty thirties with a proper rapacious fragrant companion: Frédéric Malle Musc Ravageur.
Back in 2001 the name Musc Ravageur (meaning devastating musk) itself created much buzz and I always guessed the name was actually chosen to contrast with the boom of politically-correct white musk perfumes (even white musk fabric softeners were trendy back then), as a metaphorical juxtaposition of sinful hedonism against the healthy Platonism of post-HIV era. Now this was genius if you think the fragrance itself has absolutely no musk in it, which is confirmed by Maurice Roucel himself; it’s a huge, tenacious classic spicy oriental revisited.
Shalimar Illustration by Lucile Prache©
The backbone of Frédéric Malle Musc Ravageur clearly comes from the mother of all the modern orientals, Guerlain Shalimar composed in 1925 by Jacques Guerlain (even before the long lost Coty’s Ambre Antique), where the sparkling citrus opening gives way to a good amount of vanillin coating the claws of a thick, resinous, animalic warmth. In Musc Ravageur, this hardcore amber accord is empowered by castoreum and ambrette seed more than the usual benzoin and birch tar, lending so the feline illusion of the typical fruity-floral creaminess of deer musk together with a leathery hint. “Wearing Shalimar means letting your senses take over” once said Jacques Guerlain, and this applies to Frédéric Malle Musc Ravageur as well.
Illustration of Maurice Roucel of Symrise courtesy of Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle
The mastery of Maurice Roucel was to balance the overwhelming sweet powderiness with a spicy accord you swear you smelled in another life from Parfums de Rosine Arlequinade (Henri Almeras, 1912) or in Yves Saint Laurent’s Opium.
Rosine Arlequinade by Ermano
It’s a warm, medicinal blast of cinnamon together with the roasted, almost woody piquancy of clove that also boosts a little floralcy, probably from geraniol in a green rosy accord. This definitely makes the oriental texture drier, if not fresher, and more wearable for men as well.
Sophie Ellis Bextor Murder on the Dance Floor 2001
Of course warm spices and vanilla, joined by the syrupy ambrette also lend Frédéric Malle Musc Ravageur a certain “edible” quality with chai tea nuances for which many consider it a comfort scent. Nevertheless, it never surrenders to the gourmand side and as a top notch oriental should, it also releases a “bite me, I’ll bite you back” torrid statement. While smelling it for the first time, I certainly realized that and this made me chose it as my regular clubbing fragrance while most of the guys were spotting the soapy Gaultier Le Male or CK One. Sophie Ellis Bextor singing “If you think you’re gettin’ away I will prove you wrong, I’ll take you all the way, boy, just come along” sums up Frédéric Malle Musc Ravageur claiming its victims on the dance floor.
Vincent Cassel biting Monica Bellucci by Ellen von Unwerth©
While playing the “musk/no-musk name-game”, it brought back the lavish oriental perfume heritage and deserves its raunchy reputation and a modern masterpiece crown. In 2009, long before Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle joined the Estée Lauder portfolio, a reformulation occurred making the juice a little less spicy, medicinal and explicitly erotic getting it closer to a full sweet oriental. This probably sets it closer to the original sketch Maurice Roucel did in 1998 which was deemed too racy to launch by most companies. In fact, it is said during the fine tuning Frédéric Malle himself suggested to rise the spices bar pushing the edgy juice hotness, giving so way to the famous “ass pinch” episode a female assistant had on the Parisian underground while testing the final mod for the fragrance.
Note: Dear Frédéric Malle, I was so sad when you discontinued that sultry huile tout à faire, that was even a sneakier sinful way to wear Musc Ravageur. Fortunately you recently released a whole body collection including shower cream, body butter and hair mist which I’m sure will make many happy.
Be sure to read Editor-in-Chief Michelyn Camen’s outrageous interview with Master Perfumer Maurice Roucel here.
-Contributor Ermano Picco and the author of La Gardenia nell’ occhiello