Kiehl’s Original Musk: 50 years of understated sexiness

Kiehl’s Original Musk: 50 years of understated sexiness

By Deborah Fulsang

Legend has it that Kiehl’s Original Musk Oil, a savoury sensual modern-day favourite, was bolted up in the basement of the Kiehl Pharmacy on Third Avenue in New York since 1921, deemed “too sensual” for release. Even richer, the lore that it was labeled the “love potion.”

That potion was eventually made available to the Kiehl’s customer but it wasn’t until 1963. Today, 50 years after it went public, the Original Musk Oil remains a favourite. Fans range from Charlize Theron and Julianne Moore to Lenny Kravitz. The legendary style influencer Alexander McQueen was apparently also devoted. Indeed, Kiehl’s Musk can be heralded as one of modern-day perfumery’s first unisex scents.

Given its reputation, musk—the ingredient—has long been the go-to essence for perfumers wishing to add a certain racy je ne sais quoi to their fragrances. So established, in fact, was the sex-and-musk association, the prudish Victorians banned it.

The first musk was extracted from the musk gland of a certain musk deer, which is native to central and northeast Asia. And FYI for you beauty geeks out there, the term musk comes from the Sanskrit word for “testicle” so named for that gland’s anatomical positioning in that little antlerless mammal. (Icky yes, but interesting.)

Modern-day musk can be of various animal derivation—musk-like ambergris is from whales, castoreum from beavers and civet from the large Ethiopian cat of the same name. Today, many musks, however, are synthetically created, as is the case with Kiehl’s.

So in this era of fragrance bans and sensitivities, of deliriously fruity-and-floraly spritzes and another-flanker-a-minute obsolescence, the personality and staying power of Kiehl’s Original Musk Oil inspires. It smells clean, quite like warm, smooth skin but better, moodier, sexier.

Kiehl’s Original Musk Eau de Toilette Spray, $52 (50 ml),
(The blend contains bergamot and orange blossom; rose, lily, ylang-ylang and neroli; and a base of tonka bean, patchouli and musk.)

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Deborah Fulsang has spent the last two decades as a journalist covering news and trends in the worlds of style—in fashion and beauty, design and décor, food and entertaining. Her long-held love of fragrance led her to launch The Whale & The Rose, a destination for all things perfume-related. Now, when she indulges in a crazy-expensive bottle of fragrance, she can do so guilt-free. Well almost. It’s all in the name of research after all.