Powerful and tenacious, animal notes are an integral part of the history of perfumery and have existed since the dawn of time. If they have long been of animal origin, most of them are now reproduced in the laboratory through synthesis to protect our animal friends. Musk, ambergris, civet… We decipher these sensual and bewitching scents that still occupy a place of choice in compositions.
Origin and emergence
What is an animal note?
Although it does not represent an olfactory family, the animal note is a facet that can be found in many fragrances. These notes evoke quite powerful scents that give off fur, skin, body odor and sometimes even fecal tones (yes, you read that right). While at first glance these scents don’t really seem pleasant, they bring very sensual and warm nuances to the formulas.
To understand the use of animal notes in perfumery, we must go back in time to Antiquity. Already in Ancient Egypt, these warm and powerful scents were used to embalm the body and communicate with the divine. Some of them were also widely used for their curative virtues. It is said that Cleopatra made perfumes with healing powers from the secretions of musk cats. The craze for these powerful perfumes will cross the centuries. During the Renaissance, the animal notes perfume the wealthiest and become a strong symbol of high social status. The profession of glover-perfumer will deeply contribute to the link between animal scents and perfumery. Amber, musk or civet perfume bodies, clothes and houses to fight diseases but also for their aphrodisiac power!
Since the modernization of perfumery and thanks to the evolution of manufacturing techniques, animal notes have largely evolved. If they were still very much used in the 19th century, their presence in essences gradually diminished in the following century with the arrival of fresher, lighter and floral perfumes. They made their comeback in the 80’s when the fervor for oriental and powerful fragrances exploded. For a few years now we have been observing a new hygienic trend in perfume with lighter notes, sometimes relegating the animalic notes to the background.
Animal notes: ingredients and alternatives
Raw materials of animal origin
When we talk about animal notes, we identify several key ingredients in the perfumer’s palette:
It is an animal material emblematic of perfumery, which was brought to Europe by Marco Polo, who described it as “the finest balsam known“. This ingredient is derived from the secretion of the musk deer, an animal native to Asia. Its trade was flourishing until the 1900’s when it was highly appreciated for its powerful animal perfume, with aphrodisiac powers. For several decades now, this species has been protected and the trade in animal musk has been formally prohibited.
Not to be confused with the amber stone and its orange color, the amber used in perfumery comes from the sperm whale. After ingesting a large amount of food, the cetacean expels naturally an intestinal concretion. This substance will sail along the currents to finally run aground on the beaches and harden. Ambergris resembles a large block of gray or whitish stone. Its smell diffuses a very sensual, warm and enveloping perfume.
Animal between the cat and the fox, the civet is also defined as a musk cat. To mark its territory, this small carnivore secretes a very odorous substance which comes from a peri-anal gland. In order to recover the precious liquid with the smell of fur, a curettage had to be performed. If the practice is still not forbidden, the civet has almost totally disappeared from the fragrances. At first sight, its smell is quite unpleasant with a dominant excrement side. After a few hours and a good dilution, its perfume becomes more and more round and sensual…
It is a kind of very fatty oil secreted by the glands of the North American beaver to protect its hair from cold and humidity. This fragrant oil is recovered when the animal is killed to regulate its population and sell its fur. Its smell is also very powerful with fecal notes but also strong nuances of leather and a fruity aspect.
There are two other animal-based ingredients that are much rarer in perfumery: hyraceum and beeswax. Hyraceum comes from the fossilized urine produced by an animal called the Rock Daman, which looks like a large marmot. From an olfactory point of view, this material gives off a very animal smell with leathery undertones. Beeswax is also very little used. But some perfumers use it to bring roundness to floral or fruity compositions.
Natural and synthetic alternatives
For ethical and financial reasons (the ingredients mentioned above are generally very expensive), perfumers have found alternatives to recreate these animal notes. Synthetic chemistry has notably contributed to the protection of animals and to the democratization of these sensual notes by reproducing such powerful and enveloping scents. Thus, we can use white musks, that is to say musks completely synthetic, which bring a lot of warmth and roundness to a fragrance. Ambergris is also reproduced in the laboratory through the assembly of various molecules. But there are also alternatives on the side of ingredients of natural origin. Some plants can recreate the power and animality of these wild notes. We think in particular of the labdanum, the bud of blackcurrant or the cumin.
The use of animal notes in perfumery
Thanks to their sensual, warm and sometimes even floral scent, animal notes sublimate the compositions and bring them a real olfactory asset. The other advantage is that these notes are also very useful because they represent an excellent fixative. They will fix the other more volatile notes and reinforce the power and persistence of the fragrance. Well-balanced, they can be combined with many different accords to bring subtlety but also character!
The wild fragrances of Carrément Belle
Carrément Belle’s animal notes are guaranteed to be cruelty-free. We use synthesis to reproduce the smell of animal origin ingredients and we don’t test our products on them either. Thus, ambergris reveals all its sensuality in the sunny and spicy caress of so. We also find its oriental power in 555 where it gives off warm notes. Ambergris also diffuses a soothing sensation in the marine and floral scent of ïōdé. La Baigneuse appreciates the comforting warmth of musk so much that she offers two fragrances built around white musks. We then find musc.
Do you encourage the use of synthetic ingredients to protect animals and did you know the different animal notes used in perfumery?
Discover the fragrances mentioned in the article