Malle discussed ingredients that add a stink, a funk, something animal-like to perfumes, and he claimed that many of the most interesting and complex perfumes of the past had these animal bases as part of what made them beautiful (unlike American perfumes, which tend to scream out flowers, soap, and cleanliness). Guerlain's Jicky (1889) and its unmistakable use of civet, for example, smells downright urinous and wrong when whiffed by an American used to, say, Tommy Girl. But once you familiarize yourself with these notes, you may fall in love with them (or the idea of them) as I did, searching around for as many examples as you can. At the very least, if you love perfume, I would think you'd have to at least grudgingly admire animalic notes.
Animalic refers to the basenote ingredients vintage perfumes often contained that are now (with the exception of ambergris) banned in perfume in nonsynthetic form — civet (an oil from the poor civet cat's anal gland), castoreum (a cream-like substance from the castor sac of a beaver, which imparts a leather-like scent), musk ( obtained from the male musk deer's gland) and ambergris (the upchucked, floating-in-the-ocean for a while, sundried stomach product of a whale).
Civet, musk, and castoreum exist in synthetic form now, largely because to extract them from the live animal is cruel in the extreme. It is with a slightly shameful ambivalence that I search out vintage perfumes with these ingredients before they were banned, much as a woman who wears vintage furs may proclaim her conscience is clean because the fur is from the past.
But to get to the matter at hand after this ridiculously long preamble, animalic, I'd like to think, can also refer to any smell that suggests the human animal, too — human bodily secretions. Which brings me to the ingredient Costus Root that I know about now thanks to the fount of knowledge that is Octavian from 1000Frangrances. In his charming post Meet Mr. Costus!, Octavian says that Costus Root is an olfactory "metaphor for hair." He continues, " Its smell is strange, a curious mix between violet/orris and hair, sebum, dust, vetiver and everything that is opposed to the clean ideal. It is not dirty by nature. It has also a slight resinic note, like myrrh, elemi or opopanax."Among the perfumes he says used Costus with great success: Fille d'Eve, Musc Koublai Khan, Scherrer, the first Diorama, the first Cabochard, Rumeur. I can say without a doubt that having experienced vintage Rumeur, and now Nina Ricci's Fille d'Eve, Costus might be one of my favorite animalic ingredients, and as a bonus it's cruelty-free! (Oddly, though, IFRA is banning Costus Oil now in favor of its synthetic. Why?)
I cannot find the notes for Fille d'Eve but I can describe it. It starts off very brightly, with an herby, citrus, sweet flower note (tuberose? jasmine? orange blossom? bergamot?) that is very sparkling and feminine. The perfume exists for me in the drydown, though, when the Costus rises up like the sebum on head of a well-washed beauty on her third day without bathing. I find I almost have a fetish for hair that smells slightly dirty and greasy, particularly if you can still smell traces of the shampoo from the last wash.
As the clean, white flowers fade, the velvety sebum scent takes over and Fille d'Eve becomes a gorgeous skin scent, a smell someone would have to lean in close to get a whiff of. There's something very sexy to me about the idea that you'd wear a perfume not to mask your own gorgeous dirty smells with aldehydic flowers, but to enhance them. Thanks to Fille d'Eve, I now know that the unusual, dark ingredient that I found so intoxicating with Rumeur is Costus, as well. I can't wait to get my Scherrer and Diorama and in the meantime I'm going to revisit Lutens' MKK, vintage Cabochard, and of course, the temptress Fille d'Eve.
UPDATE: Octavian at 1000Fragrances was kind enough to send me the notes to Fille d'Eve!
"Daughter of Eve: From Paris...the most tempting perfume in the world in the most exciting presentation this side of Paradise. The provocative Lalique apple, 25.00 and 14.50. Apple purse flacon, 4.50. Miniature apple leaf, 2.00 From Paris also...Fille d"eve Eau de Toilette."