Clair de Musc’s musk accord isn’t as much like Muscs Koublai Khan’s as Fleur de Citronnier’s is. It’s ‘cleaner’ and higher pitched and has the hallmarks of the ‘white’ musks: soap, sweetness and soft-cuddliness. But here’s also where you’ll find Clair de Musc’s resemblance to Muscs Koublai Khan. Muscs Koublai Khan has just enough cleanliness to it to make you realize how dirty it is. The honeyed rose creates a feeling of purity that gets completely run over by the bawdiness of the the musk. If there is a narrative of innocence lost embedded in the perfume, the story is told in about as long as it takes to say, “Wow. Innocence lost.”
Clair de Musc tips the balance way in the other direction. The clean musk accord aims to cover any errant animalism but every now and again something unclean pops through. The scent of scalp, a whiff of armpit. It makes you realize this perfume isn’t about cleanliness. It’s about hygiene not quite holding its own against the scent of the human body. Remember the story of the first use of historical eaux like Eau de Cologne and Florida Water? They were for covering up the funk of unwashed bodies. Clair de Musc gives you that experience without you ever having to have a funky body yourself.
Some of the best musk perfumes are a variation on the idea, though perfumes like Kiehl’s Musk No 1, Amouage Gold Man and Les Nereides Fleur Poudrée de Musc all land much further in the funk than Clair de Musc. The perpetual resurfacing of bodily scents emphasizes the degree of restraint needed to keep from falling into the indulgence of the flesh. There’s a sexiness to the perfume that’s easy to miss if it’s not your bag.
From the angle of 2018 Clair de Musc is an interesting alternative to the trend in women’s perfumery toward dull white musky drydowns. The perfume’s musk notes are more detailed than the default pillowy basenotes built into so many mainstream florals.