Vintage Musk Oils of the 1970s

Musk is sex. Musk is clean. Musk is dirty. Musk is a promise of pleasure and connection. Musk is gag-inducing. Musk is sweet. Musk is a natural smell and yet all of these seven musk oils are synthetic. Musk is all of these things and that’s why I love it. Our relationship to the smell of musk is complex, and is connected undoubtedly with our relationship to our own bodies and our attitudes to sex. Since the late ‘60s, single-note musk fragrances have been popular with the great unwashed – or at least those who wish to smell as such. Reaching its peak in the 1970s, the musk oil trend offered a simple yet compelling way of scenting oneself with a manufactured product while affecting the illusion that the highly compelling scent was emanating from one’s own pores. The scent of musk has long been found to be powerfully erotic by many, resembling as it does the smell of – please forgive me – ‘groin sweat’  (sorry…).  In this post, I will be revisiting some beloved vintage musk oils from the heyday of the genre, the 1970s, comparing and contrasting their respective virtues.

Jovan Musk Oil – She is the diamond of the genre, undeniably at the top of the musk hierarchy. What Led Zeppelin is to ‘70s rock n roll, Jovan Musk oil is to ‘70s  musk fragrances. Jovan was so successful in marketing its Musk Oil to men and women because its ad copy made explicit the promises of sexual attraction for all who anointed themselves with it.  They also were able to back up their claims with a wonderful-smelling product so on some level the ad copy was not all hyperbole. Vintage Jovan Musk Oil is indeed incredibly lovely and undeniably smooth, its subtly-sweet, softly-floral musk balancing perfectly the fine line that separates ‘freshly showered’  from  ‘just ravaged’. The seamless creaminess to this vintage oil is truly lovely, and while the modern version is very similar, it is not as smooth with a slight chemical rasp that is not present in the vintage.  Jovan Musk oil came out in 1972 and was such a success that within a year or two there were several similar fragrances on the market.

R.H. Mystic Musk Oil – In the mid and late 1970s this musk oil was very popular in places along the Mid-Atlantic like New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Maryland, and many people continue to long for this long discontinued musk oil.  However, despite the allegiance many people have for it, I cannot truly say that it is all that original-smelling. It bears a strong resemblance to vintage Jovan Musk Oil, which it was undoubtedly influenced by. Don’t get me wrong, it’s absolutely stunning. When I catch the creamy-sweet musky sillage floating up to my nose, my first instinct is to look in every direction for a gorgeous hunk  so I can saunter past him and possibly make him fall in lust with me through my powerfully erotic scent trail! It’s a beautiful musk, but unquestionably derivative.

Amica Naked Musk Oil – Another in the Jovan-influenced musk oils. This musk oil is dirt cheap to this day. I have the old version with the cork in it, so I cannot vouch for the current version, but it is also exceptionally pretty and sexy in the Jovan mode.

 

 

 

Coty Wild Musk Oil – Finally, we come to a musk that is remarkably different from the more normative Jovan-esque  lilly-musk accord. Coty’s Wild Musk is all about the sweet woods rather than the florals. There is a powdery, slightly peppery, sandalwood note here partnered with crystalline musk. Whereas the previous musks all have an unabashedly raunchy, body-odor-mimicking scent profile, Wild Musk Oil elevates the sweet woods to an almost meditational level. The musk here is palpable and undeniably sexy, but the synthetic sandalwood accord is, for me, dominant. Released in 1973, Wild Musk came out in the wake of Jovan Musk’s success like most of the others…yet in terms of its fragrance it was more original than those others in its de-emphasizing of florals and focusing on powdery woods.

Bonne Bell Skin Musk – Released in the mid-1970s, this musk was marketed primarily to vibrant young women , a contrast to Jovan’s take-no-prisoners sexual-onslaught ad campaign. This fragrance is now manufactured by Parfums de Coeur, but I have an older mini bottle of the vintage Bonne Bell oil  which smells  remarkably similar to Coty Wild Musk Oil with its sweet wood accord combining with the synthetic musk.

Kiehl’s Original Musk Oil – My bottle comes from 2006, and it is a sweet, lily-based floral musk. This musk is somewhat similar to Jovan Musk, but it has a stronger floral profile, and somehow makes a bigger statement. According to Kiehl’s lore, this scent was originally created in the 1920s and christened Love Oil, then rediscovered in a vat in the 1960s. Unlike Jovan  Musk Oil whose vintage bottles are all but ubiquitous, early bottles of Kiehl’s Musk Oil are very difficult to come across. My bottle features a pronounced sweet lily note under-girded by a  powerful musk accord that is both skanky-smelling and clean, rather like smelling someone’s scalp. Whereas Jovan’s Musk  Oil whispers up from the wrist, Kiehl’s Musk veritably blares its call like a tomcat yowling in the night. Incidentally, this also comes in EDT form, which is rather strange; somehow raunchier and not as sweet as the oil.

Dana Musk Oil – A lovely reader sent me a generous sample of this legendary vintage beauty.  Upon initial application, my first thought was that this was barnyard animalic carried to the extreme – the raunchy musk to end all musks. It made Kiehl’s smell like child’s play, so naughty and flagrant were its nuances of B.O., urine and the boo-tay  in the somehow still pleasant mix. As time wore on, a cleaner almost shampoo-like facet revealed itself. It began to remind me of the famous Musk Oil by The Body Shop and moreso reminded me of an obscure parfum from the 70s called Gambit, which I have a mini of.  Did the Dana Musk Oil change over the course of an hour or did my own scent receptors change as they adjusted to the smell. I’ll need to give this several more wearings to get a proper sense of it, but among these old musk oils, Dana Musk is unique and absolutely worth seeking out for its feral, sexual scream laid over 70s shower-freshness.

West Cabot Labs Original Musk Oil – This is another 70s musk oil that is very rare to find in vintage form. It is still around and the modern version is what I am reviewing. This musk is known for being very faint and hard to detect. Fans of this oil insist that it gets stronger with time as it heats up on the skin. I find this to be true as well. I smell a subtle, yet very beautiful, crystalline musk that has an almost mineral quality to it when inhaled close up, almost like smelling rough stone. It has a very mild sweetness to it, anticipating the scent of Egyptian musks, and again, it is lovely – when one can actually detect  it. Long-time fans insist that it smells a bit different than the original version, especially where strength is concerned. This musk is unique, smelling identifiably like musk, yet different from the Jovan-esque oils and the Coty Wild Musk-ish sweet woods. Very intriguing, I would absolutely love to smell the vintage version of this one. It has also been known as Cabot Labs Musk Oil and Cooperlabs Musk Oil.

After the 1970s heyday of  single-note musk scents, musk took a decidedly sweeter turn from 1980 to 1990, the decade that brought forth successful billowy, cotton-candy musk offerings like Soft Musk by Avon and White Musk by Jovan. In reviewing these  vintage ’70s musk oils, I couldn’t help but observe that there are significant similarities in several of these musks to a  successful predecessor, to the point that I would say  ‘If you have vintage Jovan Musk Oil you don’t really need Amica Naked Musk or R.H. Mystic Musk”. Or I might also say ‘If you have Coty Wild Musk Oil you don’t really need Bonne Bell Skin Musk’ and vice versa.  But Musk lovers become attached to one particular musk, and the heart wants what the heart wants.  So the vintage musk oil lover will trawl  Ebay night after night in search of a true piece of nostalgia: the musk of their now-mythologized youth. A true connoisseur of musks  could certainly find fault with these simplistic reviews …But for my purposes here, I have attempted to convey the overall sense of each of these historically significant musk oils, a list which is far from complete (sorry I couldn’t include Alyssa Ashley Musk by Houbigant. That is one I’d love to include here but have never tried).  Thank you for reading!

45 Comments to “Vintage Musk Oils of the 1970s”

  1. Glad you’re back! Lovely article!

  2. Hooray! So glad to see this appear in my reading list– I glimpsed it at work, but held off until I got home so that I could savor it…. many thanks!

  3. loved the article . Loved the coty musk oil especially heather. Wish they were making it now.

  4. I often wondered how some of these scents compared to the Coty Wild Musk oil. I have started wearing Skin Musk, while it is a lovely scent , it’s just not the same.. I only have a small amount of Wild Musk left very very special moments. Loved your article.

    • Thanks for taking the time to comment, Sharlene! My tiny bottle of Skin Musk is from the 70s and it smelled quite similar to Wild Musk Oil, but I know that the manufacturing changed to Parfums de Coeur and many people say that the modern version smells different than it used to. Another possibility is that my tiny bottle had been refilled at some point with actual Coty Wild Musk oil and that’s why they smell so similar, but I tend toward the former explanation. BTW, you can still technically get your hands on Wild Musk Oil but you’ll have to fork over around $50 for a bottle, over 3 times how much it sold for just a couple short years ago in the drugstores.

  5. I still have a tiny tiny drop of Miners Musk oil.

  6. Great article. There was a musk oil that I, too, used during the 1970′s. It was very sensuous, not flowery and drove my boss crazy…teehee. I thought is was made with real musk oil and the formula was changed because the law would no longer allow using the real thing, so it was made from synthetic musk. I remember trying the new version and it did not compare. Wish I could remember the name. I think it was applied with a dropper. Any info on this?

  7. I miss those 1970s musk oils. Jovan was the one I liked. And there were all kinds of drugstore musk oils back then. A friend had a musk oil from Biba in London that was to die for. She let me try hers and I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. Or somewhere. I remember that Cabot’s musk oil! I couldn’t smell it either. Nor Alyssa Ashley’s. I just stumbled upon your site. I’m enjoying reading. I hope you will continue to review. :-)

  8. The musk oil that I used in the early 70′s was called Satana Musk. It was the real thing and a drop went a long long way. Drove people crazy. I can even remember That I purchased it at Spencer’s Gifts.

  9. Is there anyway we can still get the Dana musk oil? I loved that musk!!!

  10. And where can you get the Coty Wild musk oil!!! I think it had a dropper in it to put on the perfume!! that one and Dana MusK Oil were my two all time favorites and i’ve looked for them for 30 years with no luck!! can you tell me if i can still get either one of them!!! Thank you

    • Hi Julie, The main place to get both of those oils is Ebay. The Dana Musk Oil comes onto Ebay sometimes, and there are always a few bottles of Coty Wild Musk Oil on Ebay, but the prices are usually quite high, between $50-$75.

  11. In the 70′s I loved the Miners Musk oil & my boyfriend could hardly stop snuggling into my neck to breathe in the heady sexy aroma!
    When they stopped making it I wrote to them & they sold me some direct from the warehouse. All I could afford only lasted a few years & I couldn’t ever get my hands on any more. There is no 2nd best & I’ve never found anything as nice. I wish someone could recreate it.

    • I’ve never heard of Miner’s Musk Oil, I’m curious about it now! Sounds fantastic. :-)

      • I noticed that One lucky lady made a comment that she still has a few drops of the Miners musk oil left. Miners (known mainly for their make-up) introduced a range of the ‘essential’ oils in the early ’70′s and were mainly sold in Woolworth stores. The other smells were Patchouli, Sandalwood & (I think) Lang Lang.
        The musk was definitely the nicest, both sexes, old & young would comment on how lovely I smelled.
        I replaced it with ‘Tabu’ by Dana, which is another sexy smell, but that is also quite difficult to find now.

        Cheers, Jan Adlington
        (physical address removed}
        NB: please bear in mind if sending me an internet link- I only get emails on my mobile phone which can’t open large pages.

    • Miners Musk Oil, I have been searching for it since the early seventies. I smelt it at Kmart and saved enough out of my pocket money to buy it. Sadly when I returned they had sold out so I bought the Miners Patchouli Oil instead, which I still have and it is as good as the day I bought it. Certainly wasn’t the replacement for the Musk Oil but I was so upset I had to buy something to console myself. I also have a bottle of the Coty Wild Musk Oil which was my second favourite. I close my eyes when I smell it and it takes me back to my red tag Levis, Led Zeppelin, indian toe thongs, love beads, old friends, school days .. I could go on. A wonderful time!!

      • Loved reading about your musk memories & associations! I would love to smell Miner’s Musk Oil, several people have mentioned it in these comments. Try following that search on Ebay (using “miner’s musk” in quotation marks) so that you’ll receive email notifications. Who knows – someone might list an old bottle for sale at some point!

  12. I also love, love, loved Miners Musk Oil – It was also being discussed (briefly) on a Guardian.co.uk blog very recently !!! If anyone has/knows where to procure some I would be extremely happy ….. aaahhhhh the memories

  13. I will pay $200 for a quarter bottle or more of vintage Satana Musk. Thank you.

  14. Thank you so much for this article, and especially the picture of the bottle of Musk Oil by Dana. I have searched for years for this Oil, and even been able to describe this small bottle to people only to have them stare blankly back like I was not remembering accurately. Yeah, nearly 58 years old, and the brain cells are still firing!!!!! I want that Musk Oil. It was my all time favorite!!!!

  15. Where can I purchase original musk wes cabots

  16. I bought two bottles Coty Wild Musk Oil in the 70s and still use it, it still smells delicious.
    Greetings from Holland.

  17. I was recently outbid on E-bay, biding on a bottle of Dana Musk. I seriously am happy for whoever got it, because I know that they obviously know the incredible this musk is.

    • Sorry to hear you didn’t get it! It’s a tough one to procure, and will likely keep getting more scarce and expensive as the years pass, unfortunately.

      • I would imagine that many folks have it in their homes tucked back in Medicine Cabinets or boxes. Perhaps us die hards need to post classified ads, asking and pleading for people to check carefully. Otherwise those bottles of amazing musk are probably just tossed into the garbage.

      • Sometimes I feel a mixture of giddiness and frustration at all the vintage fragrant treasures that I’m sure people have tucked away in some box in their basement or the back of their closet. Ugh! People often have no clue that there is a market for these old fragrances, even drugstore frags from the 70s. A couple months ago I found an old half-full, drugstore body splash for literally only 35 cents at a thrift store. I bought it and sold it for $70 online that same night. LOL. People would be so shocked to find out what some of these old fragrance items are worth.

  18. Have you ever had Black Satin musk oil.. I believe it is no longer made . Is there a really close substitute that you know of. Black Satin was gorgeous and I would like to find another. I am from New Zealand and used to import it for myself
    from USA

    • Hi Carol, I’ve never heard of the Black Satin Musk Oil, but I did own an old bottle of regular Black Satin perfume by Angelique. I sold it some time ago on Ebay. I will have to keep my eye open for Black Satin Musk Oil, it must have been exquisite.

  19. Thank you for such a well written article. Being a fan of all things 1970′s,your interpretation of all the brands of musk was spot on.

  20. I just found this article (and your blog) and read, re-read, and LOVED it! Ahhh, the memories! As child of the 70′s – I’m 49 now – I have used and loved many of the masks you wrote about. In high school, back in 1980, I had a boyfriend that wore Jovan Musk for men and to this day I distinctly remember the overwhelming effect it had on me. It rendered me instantly and completely helpless, smitten and wildly attracted to his scent, it triggered something in me like nothing ever has since. I wore and adored Bonne Bell original Skin musk for years, and also one they came out with as a solid perfume that was in a red compact container instead of the original green one. Can’t remember the name of that one – it was Skin something…wish I could remember…but yum! Mmmm, that was delicious too! I also remember really liking City Sweet Earth. After reading your article, I couldn’t help myself and went out in search of the Skin musk and also Jovan. I purchased a small bottle of. Skin musk oil and was sorely disappointed. Gone is the rich, smooth, naturally sexy and pure sweetness, and my nose was overwhelmed with a blast of chemically yuck unless! Why oh why must they ruin such a good thing? I also spray-tested a couple of sprites of the Jovan. To my nose, it was sadly awful. Not even close to the original. I have very recently found something that has me fragrantly blissed-out again, and it takes me back to the days of how feminine and powerful and sexy I felt wearing those old, original musk oils. It’s called Amica Naked Musk and it can be had for a SONG, under $5! It’s my new little sexy secret. I wear it for myself, but I have already gotten a couple of compliments on how nice and “yummy” I smell when I’ve been wearing it. Yay! I must now attempt to procure some original Bonne Bell Skin oil, and I will again be in olfactory heaven. I haven’t smelled it for a while, but I’d bet money that if a man walked past me wearing original. Jovan musk for men, I’d have to restrain myself from following him, drooling! Thanks again for the awesome article!

    • Thanks very much, I’m glad you enjoyed the blogpost! I agree with you, Amica Naked Musk is very nice. I’ve only tried the vintage version with the cork – I talked about that one in the blogpost I think – but have not tried the current version. It sounds like it still smells lovely though!

  21. I was given a tiny bottle of what was called “Germaine” in the late 60′s. I stupidly threw the bottlle away when it was empty and have never been able to find it again. I think it was an essential oil, most likely purchased in a “head” shop of the day. Have you ever heard of it?

    • Hi there, J Phillips. Yes, I actually own a mini bottle of Germaine. It was made by Germaine Monteil and released in the very early 70s. It’s a very sharp, bracingly green, rose-chypre fragrance. It’s not easy to find, but bottles do come onto Ebay fairly regularly. I assume your tiny bottle was the cologne concentration (like mine) or possibly you had a bottle of fragranced bath oil (since you mentioned you thought it was an oil).
      Here are some reviews of Germaine from Basenotes:

      http://www.basenotes.net/ID26125102.html

  22. I also used Santana Musk oil back in the 70s. It was the best! I still have a bottle from back then, but here’s some interesting information. Back somewhere in the early 2000s I was at the Freehold Mall (NJ) at a prom dress store buying something for my daughter. I looked at the shelf behind the register and lo an behold I saw a square bottle (not exactly the same as the original) and a very familiar logo on the label. It was my beloved Santana Oil of Musk from my high school days! I started talking to the store owner who told me a friend of his had owned the original company and had barrels of this stuff left over. My heart leaped and I bought some. It was exactly the same smell. Since then I have tried to find him again, but have had no luck.

    Originally, Santana Oil of musk was distributed by Satana Inc. in Boundbrook, NJ. The difference in the spelling of the name is not a typo. That’s how the bottle top reads. The newly bottled musk was distributed by Marrakech, Inc in Edison NJ.

    I guarantee it’s the same stuff. If anyone can help me find this man I would appreciate it.

    • Wow, that’s every vintage perfume-lover’s dream to find an old, pristine stash of one’s favorite fragrance. Amazing story, maybe if you did some heavy-duty research on that specific store in the mall from back then and find out the owner’s name, you could track him/her down and inquire about that long lost stash of Santana Musk Oil. Best of luck and thanks for sharing your experience!

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