Why »bad smells« in perfume industry are important?

June 7, 2022

Next to the lovely roses, citruses and vanillas in a perfumer’s palette, ingridients like costus, animal musk, civet, pyrazines and many other are often used. They may be used in small quantities, but they’re important enhancers, giving vibrancy, texture and spice to an otherwise conventional fragrance.

Synthetics (Photo: Pexels)

Traditionally, the raunchy notes in classical perfumery were of animalic origin. These scents are extremely expensive, complicated and exotic; ambergris, musk, civet, to name a few.

What is ambergris?

“Ambergris is a concretion from the sperm whale.”

Ambergris is often described as one of the world’s strangest natural occurrences. It is actually a concretion from the sperm whale and has been used for centuries, however for many years its origin remained a mystery.

The smell of ambergris is hard to describe because it varies according to the time spent on the sea and its origin. It releases of course heavy and powerful notes of animal scent, even musky. Your nose will be tickled by woody notes of tobacco, oriental spices or a seabed of seaweed.

Whale (Photo: Pexels)

In perfumery, ambergris is very often used as fixer. It helps to improve the remanence of a fragrance, to make it last longer on your skin. Indeed, its persistent notes allow to set the most volatile ones. This is why we can find traces of it in many compositions. It is commonly associated with gourmand, warm or woody notes, and ingredients like vanilla, musk or patchouli. You understand why it is one of the essential raw materials of Oriental fragrances. It also fits perfectly with floral and spicy formulas. By giving them warm, deep and sensual facets, ambergris sublimates many perfumes.


“Musk is a brownish substance secreted by the male musk deer.”

Expensive and exotic, musk, a brownish substance secreted by the male musk deer, is often used as a base note in fragrances for its ability to balance out the rest of the notes. Because of its sense of warmth and sensuality, many consider it to be an aphrodisiac. It’s usually found in sweet or woodsy, earthy scents, and tends to be appreciated by those with advanced fragrance palettes.

Deer (Photo: Pexels)

Traditional musk is an animal byproduct from deer secretion. Because the scent is animalistic in nature, it has sensual undertones. These animals secreted a very strong odor, which made other animals sexually aroused, that’s why for many, musk is the fragrance equivalent of sex appeal. It’s distinctive, pungent, sexy, and sensual.


“Civet is a crude, buttery-yellow paste in the form of fat, which those cats use to mark their territory.”

Civet is a catlike animal with a long tail and a long, pointed muzzle like that of an otter. The animal produces secretions in the form of fat in its perianal region, which they use to mark their territory. Due to the difficult harvest of this fat, the price of the product was very high.

Civet (Photo: Flickr)

Pure civet is a crude, buttery-yellow paste that turns darker with age. The smell of civet is very aggressive, it has a strong animal and fecal odor. It is treated with a volatile solvent and infused in alcohol. At full strength the tincture smells fecal and nauseating, but when diluted it has a radiant, velvety, floral scent. It gives great effects in perfumes, smoothing out rough patches, adding a sense of shimmer, diffusion, and warmth.

All these scents today have been replaced by their synthetic analogs for ethical reasons. However they play the same important role, warming up a composition and giving the perfumes a lush character. Chanel No 5, for example, wouldn’t be the marvel that it is without a cocktail of musks that lingers under the layer of champagne-like aldehydes, rose and jasmine.