There is something brisk and responsible about the Kiehl’s store. It has to do with the lab-coated sales associates, apothecary-styled packaging, no-nonsense displays, and the way you feel as though you were doing something good for you, like climbing a mountain, simply by shopping there for beauty products. To walk into a Kiehl’s store and buy a vial of their Original Musk oil or a big glass bottle of the EdT feels as wholesome as a therapy session or sports massage.
Given this context, it is somewhat discordant to discover that Kiehl’s Original Musk goes on with all the subtlety of the rose air freshener hanging in a truck stop restroom. It is a thick, opaque floral tempered by a blast of citrus that seeems to be trying to disguise the dirty load in its drawers. Kiehl’s generous sample policy is an all-important in the case of Original Musk fragrance–this is a fragrance that needs to be brought home and given time to settle.
Back when I was just starting to get into perfume, I thought it would be a good idea to spray some of my Kiehl’s EdT sample directly into my then-man The Red Guard’s gamey armpit. This wasn’t the bitch move it sounds like. I was infatuated with The Red Guard’s gamey armpits and thought that spraying a unisex fragrance into one of them would only make it smell better. Something to do with pheremones, or the already-funky aroma of the Kiehl’s itself which I had not liked on my own skin during initial testings. I didn’t know what I was doing, and the effect was not particularly pleasant, but I will always hold the image of the two of us lying in my bed with both of our faces pressed into his fragrant armpit in my mind as one of those bathetically poignant moments where all is right with the world.
This was in the summer. By Fall, The Red Guard was in (where else?) China, and the weather had cooled down enough for me to dislike sleeping alone. One rainy Sunday afternoon, I missed him enough to spray myself down with the dreaded Kiehl’s in hopes that I could olfactorily summon up a little piece of the armpit-perfume memory to snuggle up to. This time, it worked. The rough-and-ready topnotes melted down into a wistfully human-smelling skin scent, like the back of a much-loved neck. There was a little bit of dirty hair, a little bit of freshly-washed laundry, and a lot of smooth warmth.
The oil strength of Kiehl’s Original Musk is very strong and very oily on the skin, but I like its uncomplicated coziness better then the more-complex, sharper EdT. It’s a little dirtier, a little warmer, and a little closer to the effect I’m looking for. The EdT is similar-smelling enough to the oil to layer the two, though, for when you really want to smell yourself, which I usually do.
This scent’s carnally evocative tendencies, when married to Kiehl’s briskly unisex marketing, makes me think that this is a scent for people who need a little comfort at the top of their various personal mountaintops. The photo above is a still from the Francois Truffaut film Jules et Jim, whose main character (played by Jeanne Moreau) has always seemed to me like someone who still needed a hug even with two boyfriends.
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