In my 20s, I shared an office with a neutral-smelling male intern and occasionally a bat that would be hanging from the ceiling when I arrived in the morning. In New York, my officemate was a black-haired pin-up type who smelled like clean laundry if detergent were made by angels. I could smell her entering our space before I could see her. After all the terrible odors I’d had to sit near — microwaved fish, hard-boiled eggs, bats — she was my salvation.
With her blessing, I promptly went out and purchased a bottle of her signature scent, Kiehl’s Original Musk Eau de Toilette Spray. Long a Chanel Mademoiselle fan, I’d stopped wearing it after my now-ex-boyfriend’s mother stopped buying it for me, which is a casualty of breaking up.
The Kiehl’s not only smelled better, but it cost about half as much and fit the aesthetic of the rest of my beauty products: slightly clinical, effective, minimalist. It looked like it came from an apothecary and had been formulated to solve a problem, like deodorant or zit cream.
I always skip perfume stories because scent is not something I want to read about. I don’t know what ylang-ylang is or what a Tonka nut smells like. And yet here we are. Kiehl’s says its musk unfolds in three stages: citrus, floral, and then “Oriental.” Here’s what actually happens when you wear it: You don’t get a headache after you spritz it on because it’s not heavy, and yet it lasts all day. Once you go out into the world, people lean in to smell you and then ask what you’re wearing with rapture in their eyes. At the end of the day, your unwashed clothes smell otherwise.
Now I work out of my home office, and I refuse to waste my Kiehl’s on my dog, who would prefer I wear eau de venison jerky. But I still wear it when I leave the house, and even in my uniform of leggings and a T-shirt, I feel like Dita Von Teese in a freshly laundered, crisp white button-down.