Serge Lutens Clair de Musc, Muscs Kublai Khan and Kiehl’s Original Musk

Now that it’s autumn, the days are getting shorter and the temps have (briefly) flirted with something resembling chilly here in SoCal (we even had rain over the weekend!) I find myself wanting to grab some more wintery scents. Some of my all time faves come from Serge Lutens, or as some of us think if him, Uncle Serge.

Lutens is oft noted for his stewed fruit and spice scents, but I think my favorites of his are his musks: MKK and CdM.

Clair de Musc could almost be a soft intro to the world of Lutens: there’s nothing off-putting anywhere in it. No notes of gasoline or camphor or cilantro-stuffed prunes (okay I made that one up) in there. It’s just an opening of aldehydes and muted white flowers with thoroughgoing soft, but not soapy, white musk. It’s a very sly scent with a sillage that seems to stay about three feet behind you. Originally I dismissed it but then smelled it on an SA at Barneys- that little puff of musk as she was walking away was so wonderful I had to ask what it was and I purchased a bottle on the spot. I’ve been buying ever since.

MKK is a different animal completely. Now, my skin tends to neuter musk- even civet becomes a curled up kitten barely ever showing it’s claws. Many people find it far too barnyard for their tastes and that’s fine. I know it can be a challenging scent and if musk doesn’t work for you this will be garlic to your vampire. It’s roses (quite beautiful ones) that are brought by a fur-clad man who rode miles on his steed to deliver them, his heavy leather boots clomping across the tile to present them before he..

Well, you get the idea. It sort of goes post-coital on me and I find it supremely comforting. It was also one that I had to jump through major hoops to get a bell jar of (twice!) when it was a Paris exclusive. Now that it’s more readily available I find it no less gorgeous and on days when I need a little comfort, a little armor against life, this is one I reach for.

I also have to give a shout out to Kiehl’s Original Musk. It’s very inexpensive and very good, without completely veering into 70’s chest-hair-and-polyester territory, just flirting with it. It is eminently wearable, comes in body wash, soap, and other products and is a great staple for your wardrobe that is practically sold on streetcorners.

MKK is $375 for 100ML and CdM is $!50 for 50ML at the Lutens website. Original Musk is $44 for 50ML at Kiehl’s. All of my bottles were purchased by me. Images from Pexels.

  • grizzlesnort says:

    Glad I sampled MKK. Innocuous, pretty bouquet that I brought you but just the occasional reminder that I stepped on dog poop a few blocks away and apparently didnt quite it all off like I thought I had. I hope Im the only one smelling that. Now im worried. Oh well, there will be other dates.

    • Tom says:

      I am glad I didn’t have a mouthful of iced tea when I read that or I’d be wiping it off my monitor..

  • MizChris says:

    I just remembered another wonderful musk scent-Miller-Harris’ L’Air de Rien.
    (from copy) “The scent itself blends notes of amber, vanilla, neroli, oak moss, and a musk designed to evoke the smell of the leatherbound books that line the walls of Jane Birkin’s Parisian home.” She supposedly wears it on her legs. (WTF?!) On me, there is very little in the way of sweet, gourmand notes. It just smells like “me but better” as a good musk should.

    • Tom says:

      I have that one. It’s gorgeous. It’s a crime that Miller Harris isn’t in the US anymore. They also don’t have Fleurs de Sel which was glorious.

  • Kathleen says:

    I’ve not sampled Clare de Musc or Kiehl’s Must; however, I love MKK. I don’t think I’d ever wear MKK as a fragrance for myself and I’d love to smell it on someone else. I keep a small sample of MKK to put my nose on occasionally, as it has a special scent memory for me and makes me happy.

  • Eldarwen22 says:

    I can’t remember if I did ever test CdM but love MKK. I adore the Kiehl’s Musk and it’s cheap as chips.

  • March says:

    I remember being underwhelmed by CdM during my sampling days because it wasn’t weird enough (love me some Serge!) but I kept layering it with things and eventually bought a bottle. It really is lovely. MKK I admire but it’s too barnyard or something for me to want to wear. I owned the Kiehls at one point but I swapped it for something, it is nice though!

    • Tom says:

      I was completely “meh” on CdM until I smelled it on someone else and then it clicked. I loved MKK from the start- but I also tend to go towards underapplying so maybe that’s part of why it works on me. I have had times when I was wearing it and it was very hot when it would show it’s fangs..

  • MizChris says:

    Tom, you might enjoy Aftelier’s Memento Mori. The description…“Memento Mori is about the tender memories of the skin and body of someone with whom you have been intimate, and the ways that you treasure and long for that which you remember when they are lost to you. We want to hold the vanished beauty close even as we experience the piercing quality of memory” -Mandy Aftel

    It’s one of the very few musk scents I can wear and enjoy.

  • Musette says:

    MAYNE! I wish I could love musk, you make all these sound so lovely!
    Alas, it just Ain’t Mah Jam. I mean, I can wear it – and when I DO wear it, it is well received. By others. Me? Eh.



    • Tom says:

      Well you know me. I put it on for me. If I don’t love it I don’t wear it. I stopped wearing scents for others in High School.

  • cinnamon says:

    I did a split of MKK with a US perfumista around a decade ago. It wasn’t a beast on me — just a really nice musk. The Kiehls didn’t work…

    • Tom says:

      I like the Kiehl’s but have to admit it’s an also ran. For me it’s Carob to MKK’s Valrhona chocolate. But carob can sometimes be okay.

  • rosarita says:

    I love all of these, and have bottles of CdM and Kiehls. I had two samples of MKK from the makeupalley swap days that I eked out drop by drop. Kiehls is what I wear when I want an all out musk and Clair de Musc is just lovely. I like the description of sly, there’s more to it than meets the eye, or nose. Have you tried Coty Wild Musk? It’s a very good straightforward musk that’s practically free online.

    • Tom says:

      No but you’re right- it’s practically free. And it will be in my hot little hands on Sunday. So I see another “Cheap and Cheerful” segment coming up!

  • Portia says:

    Heya Tom,
    Jin is on his second MKK bell jar. The beautiful Palais Royale SA Elvire gave him a 20ml Lutens travel with his original purchase that he refills regularly.
    While I love both those Lutens it’s Kiehl’s that holds my heart. What a stunner.
    Portia xx

  • Dina C. says:

    I love Clair de Musc; it was my first Serge Lutens full bottle purchase, and maybe the second bottle I got after I started my perfume hobby in 2008. I was immediately attracted to the soft iris + musk and how undemanding it was. The perfect “wallpaper” scent that could be a lovely background to my day without whining for attention every five seconds. I haven’t tried the other two. Thanks Tom!

    • Tom says:

      Thanks Dina- That’s a perfect description, and not at all a bad thing in a scent. Sometimes you want to have the gentle sound of the sea and not the foghorn..

  • alityke says:

    MKK is glorious! Have you worn the Poison MKK nuclear bomb more than once? Or was the once enough?
    Clair de Musc I found a bit mimsy, sort of in the same ball park as Avon Soft Musk. The Avon is £5 a bottle & for me fills the genteel musk hole in my wardrobe well enough.
    Kiehl’s smell of sweat to me. A kind BNer once sent me a musk care package to play with. Her comment about Kiehl’s was “best worn on the days you haven’t been able to shower”. May be that coloured my judgement but all it needed was a drop of patch oil & a ton of Elnett to make it create an olfactory hologram of skinny young men with backcombed Mohawks, guyliner, skinny jeans & leather biker jackets dancing the Chicken War Dance to Sisters of Mercy in the 80’s (check the internet for info & pix of The Phonographique & Warehouse clubs in Leeds). That’s what Kiehl’s smells like. Great times but not what a 60yo woman should smell like

    • Tom says:

      I have thanks to you! I have not had the stones to wear it out of the house but if I am ever presenting an Oscar or about to be sentenced that’s exactly what I’d wear!

      CdM can be a little mimsy around the edges. But some days I like less edges. And I like how it comes out of nowhere to smack you gently upside the head every once in a while.

      Oh, those 80’s gothy biker boys- how weak in the knees I would get for them. They all either OD’d or grew up to be dentists or something.

  • Maya says:

    I’m not a fan of Christopher Sheldrake’s perfumes and gave up sampling SL years ago. I do have de Profundis on my to sample list now and will add your two. How could I not want to try MKK. The image you created for that one works for me too! Also, I never get barnyard or shank or furry animal from natural or synthetic civet. It’s sort of vaguely “floral”. Odd, I know. It does smell wonderful to me though.
    I like Kiehl’s Original Musk. It’s a really good “spray and go” fragrance and I often spritz some on before I go to bed.

    • Tom says:

      de Profundis is just glorious. The only reason I never bought it was at first it was “exclusive” and now it’s $375. If I ever win lotto I will happily indulge in a FB or three..

  • Tara C says:

    I love all three of those musks. MKK is particularly delectable on my husband. I prefer Cuir Mauresque on me.