Monday, June 14, 2010

Serge Lutens Clair de Musc: Fragrance Review

Contrasting Clair de Musc to heavy-lidded, grimy and intimate Muscs Kublaï Khan by the same house, they couldn't be furter removed from one another in either concept or execution: Celestial creaminess on the one hand, afterglow raunchiness on the other. One feels platimum white, the other tawny.

Clair de Musc is ~atypically in the Lutens canon~ an angelic semi-vegetal musk (ambrette seed alongside synths, Habanolide I would wager); aldehydic, yet not totally soapy (Fleurs de Citronnier has a soapier musk base) neither "sharp" (à la L'Eau par Serge Lutens). It twists the idea of musk into an ethereal version of talcum-powdered chubby-peachy cheruvim with a floral underside, hold whatever "dirty aspects" i.e. indoles those flowers initially possessed; a skin-scent of juvenile, crisp flesh which almost "cracks" underneath the teeth. Which might explain why men love it on women. In our eternally seeking the youthful culture, Clair de Musc is a seduction that doesn't pose as seductive: The "innocence" of shorn pubes...but without a iota of crassness or malice.

In formula terms, there is a clear reference of aldehydics and florals of the past, intertextuality scatterings amidst the authoring, of which perfumer Chris Sheldrake surely was fully in control: the luster of both Chanel No.22and No.5, the cool vibrancy of powdered class of Iris Poudre by F.Malle, even the drydown phase of Le Male by Jean Paul Gaultier (a cologne formula almost entirely comprised by musks anyway)

For what it is, a delicate "white musk" composition, this Lutens creation issued in 2003 can be deemed overpriced, as there are indeed lots of musks of that concept (albeit not exactly of that stature, this is smoother than most) across different price points. And it is no match for more complex musk fragrances such as the delightful and lamentably discontinued Helmut Lang. It is superb for layering purposes nevertheless, if you're after that sort of thing, and it is among the easiest to approach in the eclectic Lutensian portfolio. However, my own personal preference is always the dirtier, cosier brother with the heavily-bearded visage, Muscs Kublaï Khan...

Although to any lover of classical music the instinctive association would be with Claude Debussy's Clair de Lune, I chose a different, less troden path, which is none the less evocative: "Dance with my own shadow" from Gioconda's Smile album by Greek composer Manos Hadjidakis. (set in a beautiful video by Omiros2)

Notes for Serge Lutens Clair de Musc:
bergamot, iris, neroli, jasmine, orange blossom, sandalwood, musk.

Clair de Musc is part of Serge Lutens export line, fragrances carried at select stores around the world, presented in the familiar oblong bottles of the brand.

Other noteworthy reviews: The Non Blonde, grain de musc, Pere de Pierre.

Related reading on Perfume Shrine: Scented Musketeers (musks reviews), The Musk Series: ingredients, classification, cultural associations

Screenshot from Les enfants du Paradis film, via screenshotworld blog


  1. I know it's not the most complex musk out there, but I have to admit I love Clair de Musc. That ethereal quality gets me every time. I think too that it has a certain nostalgia value for me. Body Shop White Musk was big at my high school, and I find I tend to prefer these sorts of musks over the more complex, "dirty" ones.

    My all-time favorite musky scent is DSH Evolution, but this one is right there with it.

  2. Lovely review as always!

    You certainly hit the nail on the head concerning the faux innocence that the white musk trend is broadcasting, especially in relation to the other sex. There is a cultural association with all you speak of {ahem}, even though I'm not so sure Serge had that at the back of his mind at the time, or did he?

  3. Anonymous21:57

    Now you're talking, you know I like this one very much and that people have always commented favorably, it's a mystery why it's not better known but I like to be unique I guess, so hahaha, I will be the only one wearing it.
    You have a way with words and the subject suits you, thanks for the laugh and also for making me think about the subtext, assuming there is one.


  4. Anonymous23:38

    Thanks for the review! So, is there anything that can approximate the scent of CDM without the hefty price tag?

  5. I was just thinking the same thing about Helmut Lang!!!! I only have half a bottle left, so for now it has been put into my "discontinued-gem-so-you-only-occasionally-get-a-small-squirt-to-the-back-of-the-hand" pile. Do you have a pile like that??? or is it just me? I've even thought of taking Helmut Lang into an independent perfumer to see if they could replicate it. What are your thoughts on that? I'll be spending 3 weeks in Boulder, Colorado this summer and thought I would approach Dawn Spencer Hurwitz about it, but I don't want to offend her. There is a big difference between an artist and a craftsman and I'm afraid any GOOD perfume artist would be offended if asked to replicate someone else's creation.

    As far as CdM goes, it remains one of those fragrances that I ALMOST buy every time I'm at Barney's, but so far, it hasn't made it's way into my bag....like you, I prefer a smudge of dirt and a little roughness around the edges when it comes to musks. (In college, I used to mix Body Shop White Musk Oil and Hermes Bel Ami.....and if it was a special occasion, I would throw some of my room mates Dior Dune in the mix......I smelled....wierd - but I loved it!)

  6. Anonymous04:02

    it's funny but i would never think of this as overpriced. there is something so rich, smooth and incredibly pretty about it that to me, anyway, it is worth it. all those who poo-poo it as a cheap drugstore musk - well, i disagree. i have those drugstore musks, and they can't touch this. this is a perfume centered around musk.

    btw, i just got my new bottle of MKK, so now i can wear the partial bell bottle i bought a couple of years ago and have been hoarding. i love MKK. it's my golden elixir.


  7. It's always a pleasure to read from a favourite blogger about your favourite fragrance from the line. Especially when this scent is described as the most inoffensive (or boring). The same thing once happened with Organza (someone called it a Toyota Camri of scents). And then Sensi (a biege pair of trousers).
    I always thought Clair De Musk smells quite french and classy.

  8. V,

    there is certainly something about it, I don't think drugstore musks compete quite so adequately.

    How funny, I like Evolution as well! Have you tried her other musks?

  9. S,

    thanks! Well, one can only assume so much, so better leave it to uncle Serge to have come up with a much more refined background thought about it than ours. ;-)

  10. A,

    yes, I know. You have told me many times, it's certainly a well-liked one, even if most people (general folks, not perfumistas I mean) have not tried it out compared to the drugstore musks.

    You mean the subtext Sue above referenced? Not sure what you meant. Like I said, this is just a theory. :-)

  11. Anon,

    hmmm, I'm not sure. Many people say it's close to Jovan, but I don't agree 100%. Jovan is sharper and feels "cheaper" whereas CdM while mainstream has a silky feel that lacks from the other one. Maybe NR Musc with a little floral element in there would be good for you, but I'm afraid the price is even heftier. :/

  12. Marko,

    amazing serendipity! Ain't that fun! I LOVE Helmut Lang, it's amazing. What a pity it got discontinued...

    I certainly have a pile of hoarding and rationed perfumes which I am not using as much as I would like to for fear of running out...Mostly vintages, My Sin extrait, Nombre Noir, Doblis, the LEs of some things like Moon Lily by EL, things like that. We should just wear them more! We won't be alive for ever.

    I love the idea of Bel Ami or Dune coupled with a white musk, now why didn't I think of that? *off to try it out!*

  13. Marko, I forgot:

    Point taken re: DSH but she's so nice and inspired and she has created so many interesting things, she might in fact appreciate the challenge. She has a vast array of musks, I highly recommend you sample them.

  14. Minette,

    it's everything you say, I like it too! Only when my bottle empties, I don't know if I will pay full retail price again, if I can get some sort of discount. I have paid full retail for NR Musc For Her (150 euros!) so I'm crazy like that, who knows...
    Still, I prefer a little come hither in my musks, a little dirtiness more. Hence MKK...but I see you're in the cult as well, so... *big grin*

  15. Veronica,

    thanks for the kind words. I suppose there is a certain charm about inoffensive things (I certainly don't shy away in the case of CdM which I like quite a lot). What would be wrong with a beige pair of pants or a Toyota Camry? Nothing in my opinion. LOL (I'd rather own a Camry than a BMW but that's just me, where I am BMW are driven by crass types with no street manners!!)
    I happen to find both Organza and Sensi presentable and pretty.
    Now, come to think of it, French does mean presentable, doesn't it? (although not always pretty). They're a bourgeois society, after all, so no disagreement there. Most old European societies are bourgeois societies and we like to be "sofa rebels"* after hours...LOL!

    *i.e. the type of people who complain about things but rarely take the streets to claim them. (hanging my own head in shame)

  16. Anonymous03:37

    helg, i have been seeing NR musc for her at discount lately (online), so maybe you won't have to pay full price for it next time (that's another one i love, in both edp and edt), it smells fantastic once your body has heated it up. ahem.


  17. Minette,

    really??? I must look for it, then. Thank you!!!
    I absolutely love it, it's very erotic indeed. ;-)

  18. I just cracked open my sample vial of Clair de Musc the other day and found my mother in it! I should have realized - she wore No. 5 eau de cologne all the time when I was young, and now I'm wondering if she also occasionally wore something like Jovan Musk Oil. I'll ask the next time I see her.

    I found CdM very pretty and comforting, but not sexy. (Although it might simply be the influence of Mom.)


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