Musc Ravageur is my favorite fragrance from Frederic Malle, and also the only one which drew me in from the very first time I sniffed it, perhaps because it is the spiciest, most oriental scent in his line-up. Yet, I’m not sure Monsieur Malle would approve of my reasons for loving the fragrance because it has little to do with “ravaging” musk, and everything to do with gingerbread. To be precise, gingerbread flecked lightly with vanilla and a gentle, furry musk, then festively festooned in a haze of lightly ambered, golden sweetness. It’s delicious, cozy comfort, but far from a “ravaging” torrent of “turbulent” sensuality. I don’t mind one whit.
Musc Ravageur is an eau de parfum created by Maurice Roucel and released in 2000. The Malle website describes it as:
A sensual perfume, powerful yet perfectly controlled, dramatic and mysterious. Composed by Maurice Roucel as an “act of seduction and generosity”, Musc Ravageur is an uncompromising Oriental, which trumps current fads. Its explosive departure of bergamot, tangerine and cinnamon is set against a backdrop of vanilla, musk and amber. A sexy, turbulent perfume, in one word: ravageur.
According to that description, the notes in Musc Ravageur are:
Bergamot, tangerine, cinnamon, vanilla, musk, and amber.
I find the list perplexing. It doesn’t include some of the most prominent aspects of Musc Ravageur on my skin, like ginger or cloves. The list on Fragrantica bewilders me even more because it veers sharply from Malle’s official account to include lavender (which I don’t smell at all). Fragrantica does, however, mention cloves, along with sandalwood, guaiac wood and cedar. Obviously, a perfume house’s own description always trumps a secondary source, but I do think that Malle is omitting some key elements from Musc Ravageur just as he did in the case of Bigarade Concentrée. The latter has cumin — quite a bit of it, in fact — and a significantly large percentage of people agree, but there is nary a mention of “cumin” in the perfume’s description on Malle’s website. I think it’s the same sort of situation here with the cloves and ginger, and possibly with the sandalwood as well.
Musc Ravageur is a really simple scent on my skin from start to finish. It is almost entirely dominated by spicy gingerbread in a haze of golden, ambered warmth. The ginger is candied and sweet, dusted with spicy cloves, and light sprinkles of a much softer cinnamon. The cloves never smell meaty, sweaty, or peppered the way it can in some fragrances, probably because it’s highly refined and then cut through with both vanilla and tonka creaminess. It’s a minor touch on my skin in any event, at least in its own right, because it feels almost completely subsumed into the overall gingerbread bouquet.
The namesake note, the musk, runs through the base like very small streams trickling down a gingerbread mountain. The smell here reminds me of the description of one of my readers for another famous musk fragrance, Serge Lutens‘ Musc Koublai Khan: “a tiny, little, sweet kitty,” and not a very furry one, either. That’s how the musk note smells on my skin here. I’m sure Maurice Roucel used civet with a dash of ambrette seeds to make up the relevant accord, but he’s done so in a way that really isn’t very animalic at all. Fragrances with hefty amounts of animalic elements (like civet, hyrax, castoreum, or ambrette seeds) can smell like raunchy skankiness, a cat’s bottom, “‘Ho panties,” or urinous, leathery musk, but here you just have a little whiff of gingery kitten fur.
There are a few other aspects to that kitten worth talking about. Once in a while, she shows her claws by adding a streak of sharpness to the scent, but I generally had to sniff Musc Ravageur up close and deeply to notice it. When I smelt the fragrance from afar, the primary bouquet was almost solely spicy, sweet gingerbread within a light amber cocoon. It was only up close and deep in the base that the musk revealed itself in quiet, very tiny puffs of civet. That said, I noticed that the more I applied of Musc Ravageur, the more the kitten revealed her claws. When I used about 3 tiny spritzes from an atomiser equal to 2 sprays from a bottle, the musk’s sharpness was really limited to the base. However, when I went to town by applying about 6 sprays from my large decant, then the musk showed itself more prominently, smelt a little synthetic, and wasn’t so muted. Even then, though, it merely wove its way throughout the main notes like a small river, but was never a roaring flood that “ravaged” me. And it still wasn’t truly animalic; it was merely a slightly elevated amount of sharpness, like a kitten giving you a small scratch.
The other thing I noticed is that the quantity of the musk varied between my samples and my bottle, giving me rather first-hand proof that all the reformulation claims are true. I have a Malle manufacturer’s sample of Musc Ravageur that a friend sent me from New York about 18-months ago, and she obtained it even earlier than that, so it’s at least 2 years old, if not more. I also have another manufacturer’s sample that I obtained from the Malle store in Paris last year. And I have a large decant from a splitter who bought their Malle overseas a while back, though I’m not certain when. My decant bottle has a stronger amount of musk, while the newest manufacturer’s sample from last year has the least. Having spent most of my time with the samples, it was actually quite a surprise to me to receive my bottle split and suddenly be exposed to a noticeable musk element. Granted, it was still a kitten giving me a little scratch, but it had been virtual imperceptible before unless I sniffed hard and really focused on the base notes. By the same token, the bottle version was much spicier, more ambered and golden, richer, and deeper in depth.
The variations between the scent tells me that the reports are really true: the perfume has been diluted down. Frederic Malle has been blunt about the fact that he’s had to reformulate his fragrances due to the upcoming EU regulations, though he’s never specified which ones. Musc Ravageur originally came out in 2000, and I have absolutely no idea what it smelled like then. Perhaps the musk was strong enough to warrant a name like “Ravageur,” but I find it a little hard to believe because Malle’s overall aesthetic is never for truly brazen, “in your face” fiery boldness or intense extremes. Ultra-refined elegance is his signature, not “‘Ho panties” that overwhelm you with any actual raunchy dirtiness. Still, maybe it was that way once — but it’s not any more. If you’re hoping for a truly hardcore animalic oriental, you’ll be disappointed. If you’ve stayed away from Musc Ravageur because skanky notes are not your thing, then now may be the time to try the fragrance.
Although Musc Ravageur is a very linear fragrance on my skin and its main contours remain virtually unchanged, there are some very small fluctuations in the prominence or degree of the secondary notes. The bergamot appears about 2.25 hours into the perfume’s evolution but it’s a muted note that, like everything else, hides behind the wall of spicy, sweet gingerbread. I never detect the tangerine, but the vanilla and cinnamon are sometimes noticeable in their own right instead of being subsumed into the main accord. I could swear there was a whiff of something vaguely floral (perhaps like a rose geranium?) that pops up occasionally in the background, especially when I apply a lot of Musc Ravageur, but it’s always so fleeting and insubstantial that I end up doubting myself.
At the start of the 4th hour, Musc Ravageur begins to shift more noticeably, and the drydown begins. A definite creaminess begins to streak through the base, and it seems more like the sandalwood mentioned by Fragrantica than merely the sort of creaminess you get from tonka beans. Over the next few hours, it slowly seeps up to the top, coating the gingerbread, turning it softer and milder, weakening the spices, but also diluting the amber as well. By the time the sixth hour rolls around, Musc Ravageur has turned hazier, sheerer, and more abstract in nature. It’s no longer gingerbread so much as a mix of spicy, sweet, creamy notes nestled within a fluffy, soft goldenness. There is no kitten in sight, and absolutely no musked sharpness. An occasional drop of honey seems to lurk about the edges, but the predominant feel is really just spiced creaminess, almost like a spiced Indian Chai. In its final moments, Musc Ravageur is merely a wisp of creamy sweetness infused with a tiny sliver of spiciness.
Musc Ravageur has good sillage and excellent longevity on my skin when I use the amount that a normal person would apply. I am what is called an “over-sprayer” when I use fragrances for myself in the privacy of my home, usually 5-6 sprays from an actual bottle at a minimum. (Yes, I said, “at a minimum.”) However, the standard amount I use for testing is substantially less because I try to replicate what the average person would use, especially if they’re relying on small sample vials. So, when I used 3 little spritzes from my Malle atomizer sample, equal to about 2 small sprays from an actual bottle, Musc Ravageur opened with roughly 3 inches of sillage. The numbers dropped after 2.25 hours to about an inch, but Musc Ravageur only became a skin scent on me after about 4.5 hours. Even then, it was easy to detect up close without much effort for a while. In general, with that amount, Musc Ravageur lasts about 10.5 hours. As a side note, when I apply my “over-sprayer” amount, the longevity goes up to 14+ hours, but the projection is not substantially more. There may be about 5 inches in the opening, but that’s about it.
Musc Ravageur is one of the greatly admired, popular Malle fragrances, but I was surprised to see a sharp split of opinion on Fragrantica. The issue seems to be the hype more than the actual fragrance itself. I’ll get to the issue of hype in a moment, but first a brief summary of people’s experiences. For the vast majority of commentators, Musc Ravageur is not a truly musky scent or one with any significant amount of skanky animalics, but a spicy, vanilla oriental with either cloves or cinnamon. One person said bluntly, “This fragrance is animalic just like Winnie the Pooh is.” A few found kinship with such widely disparate fragrances as Tobacco Vanille or Shalimar, presumably in terms of the overall feel or the role of the vanilla. Others, however, had quite a different experience: a handful brought up cat aromas (including one poor soul who referenced her cats’ litter box), while a few thought that it was like a masculine scent or like their grandfather’s shaving cream.
Obviously, skin chemistry is going to be key, but so will your experiences with animalic fragrances and your baseline definitions. Even if your skin brings out the civet, the key is what you’re used to as a point of comparison. If you only wear “clean and fresh” scents, then you may well find Musc Ravageur to smell animalic, masculine, or dirty. On the other hand, if you are used to spicy, bold orientals, or wear things like Absolue Pour Le Soir or vintage Kouros, then I doubt you’d find the Malle to be a true musk scent at all. And if you’re a fan of Serge Lutens‘ Musc Koublai Khan, you’ll probably think they’re at the same tame level but that the Malle is a more vanillic, gourmand interpretation.
Where people really split in their opinions and the reason why Musc Ravageur appears to be such a love it/hate it scent on Fragrantica seems to be the issue of expectations driven by hype. Quite simply, a lot of people just don’t see what all the fuss is about. They think it’s merely a nice, vanilla oriental with spices but little originality. I completely understand their perspective. While I don’t consider Musc Ravageur to be a vanilla fragrance, I do think that it’s merely a lovely gingerbread one with creaminess, and is nothing revolutionary. Maybe it once was, back in 2000, if it was ever genuinely skanky, but I’m unconvinced that mere skank alone would be enough to make Musc Ravageur a truly distinctive, edgy scent.
I don’t care, though, and I still love it. The thing for me is that Musc Ravageur is a comfort scent and, as I’ve mentioned a few times in the past, I have absolutely no problem with simplicity or linearity in that genre. In all honesty, I prefer it. It’s extremely difficult for me to turn off my mind and to stop instinctively analyzing fragrances, note by note, hour by hour, so when I wear something for myself after a long day, I want something I can simply enjoy without thinking about it. On a few occasions when I’ve worn complex fragrances to bed, I have actually pulled back from the edge of sleep after taking an inadvertent whiff of a more complicated fragrance, because my mind automatically start to dissect the changes in notes. (Yes, I know I’m very strange and completely OCD.) Musc Ravageur is a mindless fragrance for me, and I don’t mean that as the insult that it would seem. Some of the fragrances I enjoy the most are the simplest ones whose main characteristic is coziness. Musc Ravageur is merely a very polished take on that genre.
So, I fully agree that it isn’t a complex, truly original or groundbreaking scent. Does it deserve the hype? I don’t know. No, really, I don’t. I think it took technical mastery to make the musk such a little kitten, but was that intentional or merely an unexpected side-effect of reformulation? Since I never tried the 2000 original, I have no way of knowing, but I do think there is a definite amount of skill involved in the refined elegance of the musk even as it stands now, as well as the seamless fluidity of the notes and the perfume’s very balanced nature. But does all of this deserve Malle’s usual high price-tag? Not in my opinion, but I clearly succumbed nevertheless to buying a very large decant, while drawing the line at a full bottle or one of the travel trios. It’s clearly going to come down to a very personal valuation, and to just how much you enjoy (or need) cozy, spiced gingerbread and creamy Chai tea in your life.
Speaking of prices, a significant number of Fragrantica posters seem to think that a fragrance called Meharees by L’Ebolario is extremely similar to Musc Ravageur. As many as 124 people voted to that effect in the “reminds me of” category, and one commentator wrote: “Meharees is an identical copy of MR if not even better, i get better longevity sillage, and better compliments. Try meharees before you buy MR. you’ll save money.” I had never heard of Meharees before looking at Musc Ravageur’s page, but their notes are not the same. Fragrantica says Meharees doesn’t have cloves or civet-y musk, but myrrh, spices and dates instead.
Still, I was taken enough by the fact that 124 people were all “reminded of” the same thing to dig further and, afterwards, I confess I succumbed to a rare moment of impulsivity. Meharees has received really great reviews on Basenotes, particularly from those who never enjoyed the clove note in Musc Ravageur. I happen to really like cloves, but my attention was caught by the fact that Meharees is said to be a strong scent, and a very affordable one as well. A 50 ml bottle is a mere $43 on Amazon U.S., or roughly $51 with shipping; and it is available worldwide for only a little bit more on eBay. (L’Ebolario’s only American distributor, CyberCucina, does not ship to California, even if you buy through Amazon. Also, their international shipping goes through a third-party, so your best bet if you’re in either California or overseas may be the Italian vendors on eBay, especially as the scent is even cheaper there, so the overall cost still ends up being roughly the same, about $50.)
I loved the sound of a spicy, date-filled, vanillic version of Musc Ravageur, but I’m a complete sucker for a bargain above all else, so I actually just bought Meharees blindly from Amazon. I probably should have ordered a sample from Surrender to Chance first, since my past experiences with blind buys have usually ended badly, but $50 for 1.7 oz tempted me far too much, especially as the reviews on Basenotes, CyberCucina, and Amazon are overwhelmingly positive. The coup de gras was one woman’s comment on Amazon that it reminded her of Egypt, possibly because L’Ebolario actually intended for Meharees to suggest “exotic travels by camel through the vast African Sahara.” That was it. I had to try it! I will let you know whether it really is the “Musc Ravageur killer” that some people claim but, even if it’s not an identical clone, if Meharees is as lovely as reported, or if you have ever wanted an affordable, non-clove, possibly more vanillic cousin to the Malle, then it’s clearly a scent worth looking into.
As for Musc Ravageur, I really recommend trying it if you like spicy, quasi-gourmand orientals with a touch of civet-y musk. Frederic Malle’s fragrances generally haven’t swept me off my feet, but Musc Ravageur is the one exception. I think it’s wonderful.