Every week a different FADER staff member will pick a clothing item or accessory that he or she has lately been spending a lot of time with—or would like to—and write a little love letter to it. We would’ve done a column on who we’re dating but that seemed a little bit much. This week Alex Frank writes about Kiehl’s Musk Eau de Toilette Spray, Jean Genet, and Oscar Wilde.
I’m not precious but I do like cologne. I have a theory that you should be a little rough around the edges to truly pull off a scent—the flowers of a good fragrance grow best when potted on a bit of dirt. If you’re primped, you’ll just seem fruity and overdone. Oscar Wilde probably smelled like rose petals, but he was also a radical who went to jail.
It’s been cold again in New York and I’ve been re-reading lots of Jean Genet, trying to escape. His books are all about sex and desire, but they’re not cute. He writes beautifully about the blacker sides of romance, loads of violence and abuse, sex that can’t be controlled, and people with a chemical inevitably to their relationships but that treat each other crudely. It’s lust, unstoppable. Genet always connects it with the senses, touch and sight and taste and smell, but the smell is usually of shit and B.O., the touch hard and aggressive, sometimes the steel barrel of a gun. Each word is like a slap in the face and odors and textures steam off the page.
Kiehl’s Musk Eau de Toilette Spray smells beautifully, a lot sweeter than the images that Genet conjures, but it is on the mustier side of the smell gradient. Musk oil originally came from a gland of a male deer, a super strong odor that the French were famously attracted to as spray-on sex appeal, though it’s synthetically produced now and tamed down. Insane hygiene and indoor plumbing have evolved our noses and old fashioned musk might just seem offensive. But this Kiehl’s version, adapted from a recipe the pharmacy developed around 1900, is perfect. It’s tough with a soft underbelly, subtle but if you put your nose directly to the spot on your wrist you’ve sprayed, intensely extravagant, a private raunch for your wrists. I am not a radical, I am not Jean Genet or Oscar Wilde, too light in the loafers. So this cologne bottles my kind of appeal, tough in the softest sense, immoral in a way that only I’m aware of. I spray it twice a day.