All previous week was marked by a horrible flu that has kept me in bed and crawling on the floor with the most exhausting cough, runny nose and tiniest fever that makes all your body ache, sends shivers up your back and generally makes you want to crawl under the duvet and die (I started writing this post two weeks ago and still I have not recovered fully. All this time I simply didn’t want to wear perfume). The only thing that made this better was that both me and my friend were in it together and our cat stood at our side all the time trying her best to offer warm cuddles. When I started to feel better I had to write my part in La Gardenia nell’ Occhiello Blind Sniffing Roulette and this proved to be quite a challenge. Most of all because this flu left me with the weirdest over-sensitive nose, like a pregnant dog. I did my part however and put on the dreaded number 3. You can read all about it over there (when it gets published actually…) but to put it in two words, I am not a person who washes off perfume, I have a high threshold for weird smell tolerance. Three perfumes have made me run to the sink: Secretions Magnifiques, Paradise for Men and this!
Right after the lather, scrub, rinse cycle was repeated enough times I felt like I needed something to comfort my sore nostrils. Cuir Mauresque on one wrist, Muscs Koublai Khan on the other, big blanket on the couch. I love MKK, it was my Christmas gift to myself but I have never appreciated its warm, comforting aura more. If you look around for reviews this is one of the most polarizing scents ever to enter the blogosphere and Aromi Erotici has made a wonderful job at making a most enjoyable compendium of negative reviews here. For each person running away from MKK there is at least one person swearing by its name. So what is the beast really like?
Musks can be generally divided in the pissy ones and the clean white ones. Most of them have a sweetness to make the note more accessible. MKK is dry! And multifaceted. Like a crystal. Every time I wear it I pick up something different. It’s like a Pandora’s box. If you read this and think “Serge Lutens stewed fruit cake and spice rack” you couldn’t be furthest from the truth. It opens with tangy top note which reminds me of bigarrade or some other bitter citrus. But what is amazing is the texture. I don’t know how Sheldrake does this for Lutens but so many of his creations are remarkably textured. Smelling the opening is as intense as running my fingers over fur. It is soft but textured and incredibly sensual. It has the same dusty feel of Cuir Mauresque or Feminité du Bois. And then there is another admirable aspect. Have you ever tasted butterscotch candy where there is an intense saltiness hidden inside the sweetness of the candy? This is how Muscs Koublai Khan feels! Like the pinch of salt every desert needs to lift it to new levels of pleasure. There is a hint of loukoum rose in there, especially in the opening. It is the smell of dried rosebuds sold in spice shops to be used in spice mixes: dry and dusty. And then there is this lovely almost burnt sugar note that I have also found in L’Air de Rien. What does all this add up to? The perfect masculine white musk. My reference musk. You see, musk can be cheesy… Too sweet, too floral, too grandpa reminiscent. Muscs Koublai Khan is serious, demure, distant musk. It reminds me of a white musk scent but where white musk scents smell sweet and girly this one is regal and introverted.
Where’s the dreaded dirty shit then? I don’t know… It is supposed to have civet and castoreum. I haven’t smelled these on their own but I think I know at least what civet smells like. I have smelled the poopy note in quite a few perfumes. Is it in here? Sincerely I cannot smell it! I do smell the cotton candy note that characterizes L’Air de Rien, a truly weird musk. And I do smell a note that I remember from Kouros: the crispy roast lamb note that makes it such a controversial fragrance. But MKK keeps this note on a very tight leash and it wears very close to the skin. Like many Serge Lutens perfumes after the first few minutes it feels like a perfume that consists entirely of basenotes. And like most of its siblings it wears close to the skin, at least to my skin. In fact MKK is the ultimate fragrance for layering with anything else to add a deep musky undercurrent. I have layered it with Sarrasins and I got an incredible thick, indolic jasmine, very close to A la Nuit.
I guess what the take-home message for this is “do not be afraid of the alleged animalic beast”. If you are looking for a serious, non-sweet, masculine white musk do give this a try. I have been wearing it for about two months and people have even complimented me on this. I know it has the reputation of a huge stinker and Koublai Khan was the man who conquered China and made it the largest empire ever. But there is also this other side in him. The ambitious conqueror who built a fleet of 3500 river boats and set out to conquer Japan. Well guess what: they all sunk. Somehow this is the side of Koublai Khan that I find most interesting: the seed of destruction inside the genius. And Muscs Koublai Khan is not the perfume of a conqueror. It is the delicate, introverted smell of a solitary man.
Notes from Fragrantica: civet, castoreum, cistus labdanum, ambergris, Morrocan rose, cumin, ambrette seed, costus root and patchouli
Notes from my nose: bigarade, salt, sugar, rose, roast lamb, musk