Perfumers love animalic notes – including civet – for the raw sexiness they deliver to perfumes, and for that reason it’s incredibly popular and found in many of the world’s most notoriously seductive scents.
Heaven knows how or why someone had the idea of using the soft, paste-like glandular secretion from underneath the swishy striped tails of civet cats, however, which they use to mark their territory: it’s extraordinarily powerful and even stomach-turningly obnoxious in its concentrated form. (Yes, think concentrated ‘cat pee’.) But in the hands of a gifted nose…? Diluted, blended, civet morphs into something altogether lustily musky and inviting, adding warmth and radiance to floral scents especially, and working as a ‘fixative’.
Actually, it was 10th Century Arabic perfumers who pioneered the use of civet (which isn’t a cat at all, rather confusingly; it looks more like a spotted-and-striped possum). It rapidly became incredibly desirable (in every way) as a perfume ingredient, with artisans using civet (albeit highly-diluted) to scent gloves, in Shakespeare’s time.
There are two types of civet: one African (its habitat spans Ethiopia through to South Africa), and Indian, native to Nepal, Bangladesh and Vietnam. For a while, attempts were made to keep civet cats in captivity – including in Britain – to ensure a ready supply of this perfume ingredient. Happily for civet cats, most of the civet now used is synthetically recreated, for ethical reasons (the cats are kept in cages and stressed, in order to produce the secretion) – although we have heard that some small perfumers still secretly source the real thing, a practise we absolutely can’t condone.
Smell civet in:
Amouage Gold pour Femme
Calvin Klein Obsession
Cartier Le Must de Cartier
Chanel No. 5
Dior La Collection Couturier Parfumeur Leather Oud
Jean-Louis Scherrer Jean-Louis Scherrer
Jean Patou Joy
Yves Saint Laurent Y