Despite his slight, wiry frame, Marc-Antoine Corticchiato has something of the macho about him. After all, the man is Corsican, like Coty and Napoleon. He couldn’t make a shy, delicate fragrance if he tried. His brews are potent, emotionally charged, almost chewy with rich raw materials. With Musc Tonkin, his new, limited-edition extrait for Parfum d’Empire, he’s aimed for a contemporary reading of the mythical material that’ll be giving Muscs Koublaï Khan – the benchmark of musky skankiness – a good run for its money.
This time, Parfum d’Empire decided not to release any fragrance pyramid since zeroing in on notes might distract from the effect, and in fact this is a composition where no individual note stands out. It’s hard to know just how well it compares to the actual stuff – I’ve only smelled it a few times. Besides, MAC’s reading of it is personal, as any true perfumer’s would be. But if you use qualifiers – powdery, nutty, leathery, furry, manure-y, fatty, sexual – as a springboard, then Musc Tonkin ticks all the right boxes. This is a reinvention – to reprise a term used by Christopher Brosius – of what I once called the phantom of perfumery: a lost note that haunts it, and whose call different perfumers will hear and interpret in different ways.
It isn’t entirely impossible to tease out a white floral bouquet and balsams tempering the ink-black animalic-leathery notes. Some of the earlier mods were so feral they’d have given pause to even the staunchest skank aficionado. The final version is still suavely raunchy: a creamy, waxy, almost fatty blend with honeyed hues and a lick of salt. Musc Tonkin smells like the fur of some mythical creature fed on mulled fruit and candied resins: elegantly indecent.
Meanwhile, on to you: what’s your favorite musk?
The above photograph by Fabrice Leseigneur, who does all of Parfum d’Empire’s visuals, was part of the “Parfum d’Empire: Du Sacré à la Volupté” exhibition shown at the Lutetia hotel in Paris during the Rives de la Beauté for the launch of Musc Tonkin.