how to smell feral: the perfume guide you never knew you needed
The Beauty Algorithm finds perfumes to answer a request as old as time itself: how to smell feral.
Welcome to The Beauty Algorithm, i-D’s fortnightly column in which beauty editor Shannon Peter answers the internet’s nichest beauty queries. Want to know how to smell like the cola-scented gel pens of your pre-teen pencil case? Or where to find an eye shadow the perfect shade of EU blue? No request is too specific! This week, the algorithm finds answers to a beauty request as old as time itself: how do you make yourself smell feral?
Picking a perfume is a super personal experience. Mostly, the aim is to find a scent that truly sums up who you are as a person, your innermost thoughts, feeling, desires and characteristics. So maybe JLo’s Glow remains the best representation of your sassy, shiny personality, or perhaps your super sweet disposition might lead you towards the syrupy notes of Thierry Mugler’s Angel. Maybe you’re more serious, more elusive -- like Byredo X Off-White’s Elevator Music. So what does it say about the person who started what is arguably the best perfume-related Reddit feed yet: “I want to smell feral”.
Now, could this Redditor be looking for a tincture that makes them smell as though they haven’t washed in weeks? Or like a fox rummaging through your bin bags? Perhaps. But it’s more likely they’re after a perfume that falls firmly into the animalic category -- a legit fragrance request. Just how florals cover the flower notes, animalic perfumes are all about the musky, heady, sweaty, wet fur notes that smell dark, wild and, I guess, a bit feral.
And they’re called animalic for a reason. It’s gross to think about, but traditionally, many fragrances contain notes made from animal excretions. Musk, for example, was originally sourced from the rectal glands of deer while natural ambergris, a by-product from the stomach of sperm whales, would be collected from shorelines where it washed up. Natural civet comes from the perineal glands of civet cats, and castoreum is the scented liquid that beavers release from sacs near their tail to mark their territory. See, gross! But the (slightly uncomfortable) truth is these substances actually smell really, really good. Like powdery and musky and kinda dirty in a way that’s oddly satisfying.
Thankfully, these days perfumers tend to use synthetic alternatives, which still smell nice but cut out the questionable harvesting practices. So, if you, like our dear Redditor friend, enjoy the sound of smelling feral, I urge you to sniff the following:
I’m yet to meet anyone that isn’t into Escentric Molecules' Molecule 02. It’s a single-note scent that (besides the usual carrier ingredients of water and alcohol) contains only ambroxan, a synthetic (and vegan-friendly!) form of ambergris. It’s earthy, musky, hazy and warm, just like an extra shot of your natural pheromones. Whale phlegm not necessary.
For something a little grittier, you could try Ostens Fragrance Oil Preparation Jasmine Absolute. Jasmine is usually the poster-scent of the washing powder scene, but this oil contains such a high concentration (the highest permitted in the UK, no less) it actually smells a little bitter and dirty. In the best way possible.
The natural musk scents have been replaced by man-made white musks, which often smell sickly, or like baby powder, but Kiehl’s version has more back bone, so it won’t induce a headache. In fact, the chemists in the OG Kiehl’s apothecary kept the original blend in a vat marked ‘Love Oil’. Take from that what you will.
And if you’re feeling particularly boujee, Frederic Malle’s Musc Ravageur is the epitome of feral scents in my opinion. It’s bloody strong though, so spritz with caution.