Kiehl's Original Musk fragrance notes

  • Head

    • Bergamot, nectar, orange blossom
  • Heart

    • rose, lily, ylang-ylang, neroli
  • Base

    • tonka, white patchouli, musk

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Latest Reviews of Kiehl's Original Musk

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Kiehl's Original Musk (1963) is a somewhat basic musk fragrance with an intriguing history, as its success had consequences on the evolution of popular scent in the West throughout the counterculture years of the 1960's and 1970's. The story according to the brand is this formula was adapted from a recipe for "love oil" dating back to the 1920's in the brand's own archives, which tells you all you need to know about its aphrodisiac properties. Most musk treatments up until the mid-60's were fecal or urinous applications of civet and hyraceum or fleshy castoreum, in sour arrangements with dry citruses and sandalwood for men, or patchouli and jasmine indole for a soiled-with-sex bedsheets smell for women, very austere or raunchy, leaving little to the imagination either way. There were fluffy nitromusks too, and they often replaced deer musk, which itself is often more fur-like or confectionery in tone, until laundry-clean polycyclic musks of a new generation came into vogue. Before that though, baby boomers were in love with Egyptian musk oils imported from far away lands, sometimes containing real deer, muscone, ambrette, or ambergris mixed with amber resins and indoles, being come-hither without being fully pornographic like some of the "fancy French whorehouse" perfumes their parents warned them to avoid. I know that sounds silly now, but smelling overtly sexual was to be avoided according to the wisdom of those long-gone generations, meaning wearing deliberately-pleasant musky perfumes was an act of rebellion.

Kiehl's, either by accident or maybe by design assuming the brand had that much foresight, brings this sexy and inviting semi-bohemian musk style into focus without any real animal components, using new replacers like Shangralide and tonquitone (both IFF materials, and Kiehl's is from New York City just like IFF), plus a host of soapy floral notes to counter-balance. Houbigant via Parfums Parquet (their drugstore division at the time) would attempt something like this when they overhauled Monsieur Houbigant (1967) into Monsieur Musk (1972) with a similar application of soapy florals and animalic musks counterbalanced with some white fluff, although that exercise was marketed strictly to men, had civet and carnation because of it, and wasn't ambery or spicy. Kiehl's seeks to be as gender neutral as the conventions of the 1960's likely allowed at the time, adding some amber, tonka, and patchouli to the melange of neroli, rose, ylang, orris, and muguet up top, before giving way to its fur blanket of tonquitone and similar materials, alongside an easy-to-miss clean white musk filler. The skank is there in just the right amount to definitely smell like the hair of the dog that bit you, but all the mid-century soap tones and muted ambery warmth make Kiehl's delectably approachable too, for the adventurous. Performance is very long, and Kiehl's is especially good in the cold, but likely a nightmare in any sort of humidity or heat. Kiehl's is still considered unisex today, and tends to be looked at as a cheap thrill for seekers of animal delights among the online perfume community spaces.

Ultimately, most flower children of the late 60's weren't quite ready for Kiehl's offering if they weren't into the straight-from-Egypt stuff found in head shops, so the much-cleaner Alyssa Ashley Musk (1967), which excises all the animalics in favor of creamy white musk and soap, became the real mainstream winner, since it was essentially a mainstreaming of what Kiehl's had been trying to do. This musk did get quite the reputation for being a taboo animal bomb among US buyers, and for those who hadn't wandered into French perfumery to sniff the soiled bedsheets of Lanvin, Rochas, or Desprez, I suppose that could be true. Oddly enough, Jovan ended up sitting somewhere in the middle with its own tonquitone-powered musk reverse-engineered from some head shop specimen, having the amber and the fur-rug muskiness of Kiehl's, without the between-the-legs indoles or huge doses of soap. This more-to-the-point musk got dosed with mint and lavender for men, and then became a huge hit among dive bar sleezeballs across the country for the next 20 years or so. Kiehl's, daring to be more animal and true-to-source than all the rest, plus arguably more-complex and better made, would remain a notorious inspirational figure lurking in the shadows, and can still be found today, only if you ask a salesperson for a bottle. Obviously, this one is still marketed as a "if you know, you know" kind of thing outside of when displays get trotted out around the holidays. Thumbs up
29th November 2022
The musk fragrance that I've loved for eighteen years, Kiehl's Original Musk (and their now sadly discontinued Forest Rain) holds so many memories of my 20s—wearing it to DJ gigs, having folks lean in when asking for a request or for the name of the track I was playing, and getting compliments on how great I smell. It's Dial Soap squeakiness, somewhat rosy but mostly rose and ylang ylang, and the musk bases in this, let's talk about them...

I don't know this for certain, but what I pick up seems to be Tonquitone and/or Shangralide, both produced by IFF, bases that imitate natural deer musk. Perhaps there is also Muscenone from Firmenich, which is an animalic, diffusive musk that has since replaced the now highly restricted musk ketone. This may even have some Animalis from Synarome; a sensuous, costus-like animalic base famously used in YSL Kouros.

Original Musk is not, however, a skank monster: all the elements are blended in such a way so that is a careful treading the line between clean and dirty, with it settling smooth and silt-fine powdery, with lived-in sheet loveliness in its dry down. One of the best bangs for your buck, Original Musk is a certified classic. 
3rd November 2022

For the price, this is fantastic.

A nice soft scent that waffles between very clean and very dirty in a most enchanting way.

Not easily classified as a work scent or a date scent, it's a nice casual scent perfect for just hanging around. Becoming a fast favorite. None of the notes are hitting me to make it seem masculine or feminine. Nicely balanced.

Starting to feel to me like a must own for Basenoters.
3rd November 2021
My favorite non-scent scent, hands down. Original Musk No. 1 smells dirty while managing to also smell clean... both at the same time. It is my year-round office fragrance and it's my way to smell good while also smelling like nothing. I can be a professional at work, and as hipster as I want to be afterwards. It doesn't get much attention but attention isn't always a good thing. Like another reviewer mentioned, it makes you feel comfortable in your own skin.

Sillage is just about non-existent and the longevity is 1-2 hours before it settles into it's warm base of patchouli and soft musk. It's my everyday, safe scent. Errr, I mean my everyday non-scent.

19th January 2021
This review is for the oil, which I prefer after having tried the EDT as well.

The opening is musky for sure but not as harsh as the EDT. The oil starts to soften quickly, becoming warm with honey and powdery sweet with plenty of rose. A bit feminine because of the rose but the overall scent is still animalic and musky. The late drydown is very soft, slightly sweet and plenty agreeable and not that musky.

I only get light projection but very good longevity. Should be nice for when someone gets close.
23rd September 2020
This is for the oil version. I bought this to fill a gap in my fragrance wardrobe: a musk that's neither an in-your-face filthy mess nor a prim and proper, too-safe "white" musk. What I'm getting on my skin is a lovely warm musky aura that wanders between soapy overtones and warm, powdery sweetness. Interestingly the soapy phase still doesn't smell particularly squeaky-clean. I do detect some florals, although they're blurred and muted. This is a lovely, gently sensual creature that reminds me at times of clean skin just starting to sweat. Exactly what I was looking for, in short.
20th September 2019
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