These are the 9 perfumes I've gone out of my way to compliment strangers on over the past few months

I've been taking notes, and they all have one thing in common

Best musk perfumes: Woman with white flowers in front of her face
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Despite the fact I have spent my entire career learning the art of smelling great, I'm the first to admit that the single most effective way of determining the best perfumes in existence comes down to whether or not any particular scent wins you compliments. However, my 150+ strong perfume collection is made up of every sort of fragrance you can imagine—from floral perfumes to woody scents—and more unknown, niche perfumes feature heavily. And, as perfume-loving humans, it's far more common that we'll ask after a perfume if we don't recognise it immediately. As a result, it's often that someone will ask after one of my perfumes.

However, as a beauty editor with a specialism in all things perfume, it's not often I'll encounter a perfume I don't recognise, and recently, I have realised I don't compliment people on their perfumes as much as I should. Just because I might be able to identify their perfume, doesn't mean I shouldn't let them know they smell really great. So, at the start of the year, I made a vow that I would compliment people on their exceptional perfumes the second I smell them—before my brain can register what it is they're wearing.

Since January, I have been noting down every perfume I've paid someone a compliment on—and, to my surprise, the majority of them all had one thing in common. They have all been musk perfumes. Why? Well, because musk perfumes have that warming, enticing human element that just draws people to you. They are creamy, comforting, and welcoming. Musk fragrances smell inviting.

And it just so happens that musk is up there with my favourite fragrance note of all time. It is versatile and works in every setting, just delivering a skin-like warmth to anything it touches. The joy of musk scents are that they become one with the skin, working with your own personal style rather than against it. So, without further ado, here are the 9 musk perfumes I've gone out of my way to compliment people on recently.

1. Diptyque L'Eau Papier

Diptyque L'eau Papier

(Image credit: Diptyque)

Diptyque L'Eau Papier Eau de Toilette

Best sweet musk perfume


Key notes: White musks, rice, mimosa, blonde woods accord

I was recently at a lunch gathering with some friends. The room was full of very chic fashion girls, and I wanted to be all of them. There was one woman, dressed in the most stunningly fitted flared jeans, a perfectly pressed white t-shirt, and a pair of Alaïa ballet flats with a Balenciaga City bag thrown nonchalantly over her shoulder. She oozed chicness. She was, frankly, the sort of person I'd usually be scared to talk to. After an hour or so of admiring her outfit from a distance, she scooched past me to get to the bathroom and I caught a whiff of her perfume. Before even thinking about it, I had turned around and asked after it. She told me it was Diptyque L'Eau Papier. The starchy, creamy aroma of L'Eau Papier is what has drawn me to it from the first time I smelled it when it launched last year. I have a bottle on my shelf that has been collecting dust, but since meeting this particular lady, I've been wearing it almost daily.

2. Chanel Jersey Les Exclusifs de Chanel

Chanel Jersey

(Image credit: Chanel)

Chanel Jersey Les Exclusifs de Chanel Eau de Parfum

Best luxury musk perfume


Key notes: Lavender, bourbon vanilla, white musk

I have long known of the allure of Chanel Jersey. A fellow beauty editor once told me one of her old editors gatekept this perfume for many, many years until a colleague snuck into her bathroom and discovered it on the shelf. It's good. It's delicious, in fact. It is sweet, soft, and cosy—like being swaddled in the finest jersey in existence. And while lots of musk perfumes have the same elements, this one has a level of luxury that only Chanel perfumes can possess—it smells undeniably expensive. It's inviting, sure, but it's rich-smelling in a way that makes it feel like it's a bit out of your league. 

Last month, I was on the Eurostar heading to Paris on a work trip and, on my way to the toilet, I walked past someone that smelled unreal, but I had no chance of figuring out who it was. On my way back to my seat, a woman was pulling a bottle of Jersey out of her handbag (Chanel, too, of course). My brain made the link straight away. It was too much of a creepy situation for me to have said anything, so I just gave her a knowing smile. She didn't need me to tell her she smelled great.

3. Elizabeth Arden White Tea

Black Friday Perfume Deals: Elizabeth Arden White Tea

(Image credit: Elizabeth Arden)

Elizabeth Arden White Musk Eau de Toilette

Best affordable musk perfume


Key notes: Italian mandarin, sea breeze accords, white tea, ambrette seed, musk

Okay, I'll hold my hands up and admit I knew exactly what this perfume was before I paid the wearer a compliment. I wear it often, so I recognised it as soon as I smelled it. However, I wanted to pay the compliment anyway—it's one of the more affordable perfumes in the musk category, and I think it's important people know there's joy to be found in fragrances that don't break the bank. White Tea is fresh and invigorating, but it is quiet while it works. It's the sort of perfume that makes you smell freshly showered and as though your whole outfit has just been washed in the most luxurious detergent. 

4. Narciso Rodrigues Pure Musc For Her

Narciso Rodrigues Pure Musc For Her

(Image credit: Narciso Rodriguez)

Narciso Rodrigues Pure Musc For Her Eau de Parfum

Best true musk perfume


Key notes: Jasmine, orange blossom, musk, cashmeran, amber, patchouli

I haven't worn this perfume for a very long time, and even when I have worn it I have used it as a layering tool. It is musky in the purest way—powdered, fresh, and punchy. When layered with another perfume, it turns any given scent into more of a skin-like, inviting one. So, when I got in a lift just last week and the woman next to me smelled incredible, I was surprised when she told me it was Pure Musc. On its own? I asked. And yes, it was just this in all of its punchy, musky glory. On her, it smelled slightly masc and deep—simply stunning.

5. Glossier You

Glossier You Eau de Parfum

(Image credit: Glossier)

Glossier You Eau de Parfum

Best skin-like musk perfume


Key notes: Pink pepper, iris, ambrox

When perfumes claim to smell differently on everybody, I usually discount it as marketing drivel. And, actually, up until a few weeks ago I would have told you that Glossier You smells the same on everyone—creamy, floral, and delicious, sure, but the same. In fact, I'd say I could walk into a room of 100 people and sniff out the Glossier You wearer. However, I was recently at a work event and was introduced to a fellow journalist I hadn't met before. I hugged her hello and simply had to mention the deliciously warm scent she was wearing. It ended up being Glossier You, and every bit of confidence I had in my perfume-identifying abilities dissipated right there and then.

6. Serge Luten L'Orpheline

Serge Lutens L'Orpheline

(Image credit: Serge Lutens)

Serge Lutens L'Orpheline Eau de Parfum

Best evening musk perfume


Key notes: Incense, castoreum, musk

Granted, I was in a Serge Lutens boutique in Paris when I complimented the sales assistant on this perfume, but that shouldn't take away from its rightfully deserved place on this list. L'Orpheline is punchy, biting, and sharp—void of any of that creaminess you might typically associate with musk. It is, however, still fresh and inviting. There is something about it that doesn't sit comfortably on the nose. On first sniff, it's jarring and intriguing. But then you go back for another sniff, and another, and another, until you're totally smitten.

7. Memo Paris Marfa

Memo Paris Marfa

(Image credit: Memo Paris)

Memo Paris Marfa Eau de Parfum

Best summer musk perfume


Key notes: Tuberose, orange blossom, white musk

Last year, I asked a friend of a friend what perfume she was wearing when I met her for the first time over dinner. She couldn't remember for the life of her what it was called or, for that matter, anything about it other than a beauty-editor friend had passed it onto her and that it had an eye on the bottle. I distinctly remember it smelling creamy and musky, but that it also possessed a dry sandiness that really made it stand out. I kind of forgot about it until a PR pulled a bottle of Memo Paris Marfa out of her bag for me to smell a couple of weeks ago. This was the perfume. It's exquisite. 

8. Bon Parfumeur 103

Bon Parfumeur 103

(Image credit: Bon Parfumeur)

Bon Parfumeur 103 Tiare Flower Jasmine Hibiscus Eau de Parfum

Best floral musk


Key notes: Bergamot Italy, broom, hibiscus, jasmine sambac, neroli morocco, frangipani, apricot, white sand, vanilla, musks

You got me, this compliment wasn't given to a stranger. It was actually given to one of my very, very close friends. She isn't much of a perfume wearer, so when I spotted she was wearing a really stunning white floral scent with a touch of skin-like creaminess, I had to ask after it. If she considers a perfume good enough to wear for a quick coffee catch-up on a Saturday morning, I knew it must be something special. It's the Bon Parfumeur one you passed on to me last week? She replied. (I do this a lot with perfume. I can't test every single one that comes my way, after all.) Instant regret flooded over me, and I've been thinking about it every day since. 

9. Molton Brown Milk Musk Eau de Parfum

Molton Brown Milk Musk

(Image credit: Molton brown)

Molton Brown Milk Musk Eau de Parfum

Best creamy musk


Key notes: Elemi, musk, ambroxan, vanilla, benzoin, tonka bean

A few months ago, I saw somebody talk about this perfume on one of my many social media apps (could have been TikTok, could have been Instagram). I hadn't smelled it in a few years, and although I remembered loving its sweet, creamy, milky goodness at the time, I'd forgotten just how good it smelled. I saw said person recommend it to somebody else in their comments. I dug around in my perfume collection and found my old bottle. It is every bit as good as that person had claimed. It's the sort of perfume you want to nuzzle right into and never let go of. So, while I didn't compliment an IRL person on this perfume, I'm doing it now—to whoever it was that talked about it on Instagram, you smell great.

Shannon Lawlor
Executive Beauty Editor

Shannon Lawlor is the Executive Beauty Editor at Marie Claire. With nearly a decade of experience working for some of the beauty industry’s most esteemed titles, including Who What Wear, Glamour UK, Stylist and Refinery29, Shannon’s aim is to make the conversation around beauty as open, relatable and honest as possible. As a self-confessed lazy girl, Shannon has an affinity for hard-working perfumes, fool-proof make-up products and does-it-all skincare.