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My Musky Uncle Reno

by | Jan 26, 2020

My Uncle Reno had a smell about him. I’d see him most often at my grandmother’s house, where we’d often go for Sunday dinner. It was a special smell. It suited a man of his age – which was, to me, as a child still in single digits, just old. It was a good smell. Pleasant. A little sweet, but a little off. It wasn’t floral, but it wasn’t not floral either. It didn’t fill the room, but you only had to walk where he had walked to easily smell it. It wasn’t loud, but there was no mistaking it. There was no hiding it. When he left, it was still there. It’s was my Uncle Reno’s signature scent. And the memory of it has stayed with me for more than three decades.

When I was 16, I worked at CVS. One day, when I was cleaning up the shelves, I encountered his smell. It was coming from a blue color Windex-style bottle. I thought the label said “BOO.” It was a weird smell, captivating, enveloping. I don’t remember ever even thinking about wearing that fragrance. It wouldn’t have seemed practical. I had enough social problems already. But the image of the bottle was stuck in my mind. As much as I didn’t want to smell like that then, I knew one day I’d be in a place where Uncle Reno’s fragrance would suit me too. I think I must have been waiting for that day ever since.

Since Uncle Reno died, maybe 10 years ago, I always had it on my mind to figure out what he had actually been wearing. Three-ish years ago, I decided to do what I could to find that fragrance. Hundreds of bottles and thousands of samples of perfume later, how I now wish I had just asked him what it was when I had the chance!

The stuff in the Windex bottle smelled like him, but it didn’t make sense that he’d be wearing that. It was too modern a product, and I just have this instinctive feeling that Uncle Reno smelled the same for decades. So, out of boredom and intense curiosity, lacking the ability to engage in my foodie hobby, without the intent of starting down this black hole pathway, I started searching on the internet for Windex bottles of BOO. I wanted to find that product I remembered from almost two decades ago at the CVS. If I could find that, and confirm my scent memory, maybe I could research what went into that and figure out what Uncle Reno was wearing. Image searches quickly helped me realize that I was looking for BOD body spray. I went to all the drugstores in town and found a bunch of different BOD products, but none were musk. They were all pretty fresh. They smelled like various generic Axe products. So I went to the internet and found a bottle of BOD Fresh Blue Musk. That was it!

This stuff is wonderful. But let me put that in context with a side note. I love my family pasta recipe. When I was a kid, we’d often go to my grandmother’s house for dinner, and she’d have made pasta, from eggs and flour, and a tomato sauce that cooked all day long. The pasta and the sauce each had their nuances. The texture of fresh, handmade pasta just isn’t anything like dry pasta. Light years apart. My grandmother would hand roll huge sheets of that pasta on a big wood cutting board and then roll the sheet into a log, and hand cut each piece into something like fettuccine. No string was the same. The wood left a texture in each piece. The sauce is simple: oil and rendered salt pork flavored with onion, tomato paste, a lot of water, and seared London broil, sausage, maybe a pork chop. Meatballs too probably. Cooked all day. She put in some cloves and a couple bay leaves. I’ve never had a sauce that tasted anything like this out in the world. The reason I’m mentioning this is because this pasta is, to me, perfect. I love it with as much affection as I could have for anything. But while I’m sure you’d find it to be perfectly good, you wouldn’t say it’s the most spectacular thing in the world. It’s my experience with it, my nostalgia, my family’s history, my happy childhood that make it what it is for me, which is perfect and so special. That sense of perfection came over me when I smelled BOD Fresh Blue Musk. By the way, most of the time I encountered Uncle Reno was at my grandmother’s house, and we were probably eating that pasta. So I think these two things might be connected. This is all to say that you might not find BOD Fresh Blue Musk to be wonderful, but to me, it’s perfect.

I had in my mind another musk. I wish I could remember why I had it in my mind. Maybe I smelled it at CVS too. That makes sense. I can’t think of any other reason why I have this mental pin. It’s Jovan Musk. So, after getting the BOD Fresh Blue Musk, I ordered some Jovan Musk. Yup, that was it too. These had a similar smell. Some kind of enveloping, warm, sweet, smell that was like a big hug. It’s transcendent. It’s soft but distinct. It cuts through other things. Other scents could be paired with it, but nothing would mask it. It has a presence. What a great smell. 

So then I started searching for musk. What is musk? Quickly, I started on a path of buying every fragrance I could that had musk in the name. Fragrantica helped me identify fragrances that smelled like BOD and Jovan. I got Khiel’s. I got a sample of Muscs Koublai Khan. I found Burberry Touch and Moschino Uomo. I started watching YouTube. I went to Sephora and smelled stuff. That was it. In a couple of months, this is all I cared about. I was ordering a lot of cheap stuff from the discount sites, trying to understand everything I could, reading and reading and watching videos. With every new thing I learned, I realized there were ten more things still to understand. There’s a whole hidden world in fragrance that was right under my nose (ugh) but that I had no idea existed. And then… I got into niche and indy. So much.

Well, something like two and a half years into this now, I am pretty convinced Uncle Reno was wearing Jovan Musk for Men. I’ve bought up a lot of vintage bottles of the stuff. It makes sense – it would have been available to him consistently for a long time. I see him every time I smell it. The current product has that same underlying smell. And I haven’t encountered any other mass-produced fragrance that has that. There are some things that get close. The Khiel’s and the Muscs Koublai Khan are reminiscent. Real musk, like Russian Musk and EO 2, are not. The Body Shop’s various White Musk fragrances aren’t it. I find no resemblance to Uncle Reno’s musk in Sylvaine Delacourte’s musk collection. Honestly, after trying hundreds of fragrances that have a “musk” note, I can’t really see a definite connection between the variety of synthetic musks. I’m just taking the perfumers and chemists words for it that these are “musks” by whatever definition they are using. Maybe I’ll understand some day. 

But in the meantime, Jovan Musk for Men is (I’m pretty sure) what brought me here. I may still be too young to wear it. But I’m old enough now not to care. I wear it because I like it. Because it reminds me of my grandmother’s house, my family pasta, my Uncle Reno, and a pretty great way to grow up. Jovan Musk for Men will always be the most important perfume in my world.

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