If a sweet, romantic, floral perfume is the olfactory equivalent of roses and a heart-shaped chocolate box, then a musky scent is a silk slip and a dirty weekend. Soft, mysterious, sensuous and animalic musks (synthetically produced in almost all modern commercial perfumes) make a less obvious Valentine’s gift.
Narciso Rodriguez’s fragrances are, I believe, among the very best in the mid-price bracket. His original, carnal For Her is perfection, and the fairly new Pure Musc (£45, 30ml) is a worthy little sibling (and, in fact, layers beautifully under the original, should you be so inclined). This is a creamy, slightly chillier musk than the original – more clean sheets than hot skin – and smells fresher than my other picks. But don’t let its lightness deceive you – it lasts terrifically well and works politely in daytime, whereas many musks are night crawlers.
I never expected to love Glossier You (£45, 50ml), the musky scent from the wildly popular beauty brand, and yet I find myself reaching for it at least once a week, usually on weekends when I like something less dressy, obtrusive and precious. The uninspiring but practical ergonomic bottle contains a gentle, casual, deceptively mucky modern musk: think cashmere tracksuit in scent form. It’s extremely well conceived, probably far better than it needed to be, and smells slightly different on everyone while remaining appropriate for all. (If you find the brand’s overall image intriguing but prohibitively young, make this your entry point; I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.)
Should you be big of character, and your valentine deep of pocket, send them to Frederic Malle for Musc Ravageur ( £88, 30ml), a perfume not for the faint-hearted. To me, it smells of the most delicious Coke float: vanilla spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg, only without the sugary stickiness that would make it intolerable.
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Ravageur is by far the boldest and grubbiest of the musks here (sniff before buying), but I adore it utterly, despite my husband being decidedly unkeen (if you feel the same, try Malle’s Outrageous!, a fruitier, sharper, really not-at-all outrageous musk).
Finally, if buying for yourself (olfactory onanism, if you will), may I say that Jovan Musk Oil Eau de Toilette Spray For Women is the most cheering £5 you’ll spend this year? Launched to massive success in the 1970s, its profile is now so low that I find few people recognise it, or ever imagine it to be dirt cheap.