Muscs Koublai Khan: don’t fear the reaper

...don't fear the reaper!

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


About Christos

Scientifically minded but obsessed with the subjective aspect of things. Photos copyright of MemoryOfScent, with special thanks to Pantelis Makkas You are welcome to link to my blog but you are definitely not allowed to copy text or use the photos without my permission. All text and main photos are originals and property of MemoryOfScent All perfumes are from my collection unless stated otherwise.


  1. Christos, I wondered where you were and was tempted on a couple of occasions to send you an email, to rattle your cage a bit and get you to come out and play. Glad that common sense got the better of me (I decided there was probably a good reason you weren’t posting). Hope that you are feeling better.

    Regarding MKK, I share your love of it and my sentiments very closely match yours. In the top notes stage, I can detect catoreum and civet, but both are very much quieted by the musk, and as the scent wears on my skin, I can no longer detect either. Like you, I find this scent incredibly comforting and, though I suppose it sounds vain to say this (and I don’t really mean it in vain way), I feel truly beautiful when I’m wearing MKK. Albeit in a very natural, low-key way, but yeah … beautiful.

    Your last sentence about this perfume blew me away (“It is the delicate, introverted smell of a solitary man.”) Splendidly put. I think I might be that [wo]man.

    • I am so glad to be back Suzanne! And my sense of smell is glad to be back too…

      I think MKK is a masculine scent in the same sense that Feminité du Bois is a feminine scent. This doesn’t mean that they are off limits for the opposite sex. It is so impressive that I can imagine a girly girl wearing Clair de Musc but it would take a woman with an element of sophistication to wear MKK. And this is a heartfelt compliment.

  2. smellythoughts

    Same here, MKK is an ultimate comfort blanket scent, the texture is fantastic and incredibly soft.
    However, I DO detect the poop note. I didn’t the first few times I wore it. This was until I tried Untitled No.8 – Brent Leonesio. I’ve reviewed this, and it’s basically the sole poop note of MKK without the roses, sugar and such. Once I smelt this, I could instantly smell it every time I sprayed MKK, but it’s so subtle, with so much more going on, it just adds to it.
    I need to own this in time, and it’s not too hard to get hold of here.
    A lovely review, I don’t understand the hype, there’s much scarier fragrances on the market – this is just exquisite.

    • It seems like I need to get me some Untitled No8! I really need to identify something remotely scary in MKK otherwise I think I am going crazy reading all these negative reviews. In which universe do homeless people smell like MKK? I’d love to live there…

  3. Crispy roast lamb.
    YES! That’s it exactly! THANK YOU!

  4. Amazing post as usual MoS!
    Too bad nowadays MKK is a kitten compared to the wild horse it used to be at its launch as a parisian exclusive. Today is more about musky rose rather than a sweaty musk with big nuts, herbal facets and a touch of rose 🙂 Anyway it still have charm in a world loaded with clean musks.

    P.S. Soon you’ll discover what’s the weird #3 that went straight in your “wash off” list 🙂


    • I have heard rumors of the reformulation and I wish I could have tried the old version. It still is the reference musk for me.
      I can’t wait to see if I guessed the scrubber right. It was a wonderful experience and I thank you for this.

  5. Apointofsmell

    Judging from the liquid’s level in the bottle I can tell did quite a lot of testing Christos! Having tried MKK twice but very briefly and without any intention for in depth analysis, I could easily say that it was not what I expected. On the other hand i should have guessed from the name and the perfumer that it couldn’t have been anything less than a rich and complex creation leaning more to the animalic side. To my nose it is closer to the arabic interpretation of musk than to any known (to me) white musk accord. Looking forward to test it again though, especially after your review!

    • You have to wait for the drydown to appreciate it. It is incredibly soft and discrete. It feels like like an oil perfume. I really wonder why Serge Lutens does not release his perfumes in oil form. I think they are ideal for this.

  6. That sounds like the most awful flu!!! I sincerely hope that you’re getting better now and I’m glad to hear that you’ve got a comfort scent that works in horrid conditions like that!
    I also get that overly-sensitive-to-scents-thing when I’m ill. It’s like smells dont feel content just cuddling up in my nostrils, they bypass my nose, screaming and clawing their way onwards, head on to either my stomach (nausea), head (migraine) or sinuses (hurting and sniffing). If nothing else, one appereiciates being healthy afterwards in a whole new way…

  7. I hope you feel better now. Those flues are exhausting! I’m surprised you were able to do your blind testing exercise.
    I’ve never tried MKK- I’m slowly getting through SL’s line since it’s not too easily available close to where I live. But I’ll get there eventually – it was a very persuasive review.

    • The blind sniffing was a challenge. It took me 3 tries to be able to be coherent about it. I am looking forward to Magnifiscent publishing the post to see if it was really the one I think it was. At some point I am going to check again to see if it feels equally difficult to stomach.

  8. I love the list of notes from your nose with images. Roast lamb! Have you smelled Winter Woods from Sonoma Scent Studio? The combination of smoky notes (birch tar?), musk and castoreum give it a definite barbecued-meat flair.

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  11. I love this scent and I agree with you that it layers beautifully with other scents you want to add a musky layer to. I detect no nastiness or raunchiness that people complain about on basenotes and fragrantica. From their opinions, I was expecting a ferocious beast and what I got was a cute kitty cat that purrs and rubs itself around your ankles. This is one that I need to add to my collection. Great review!

    • If there is one perfume that can be described as “beautiful” this is Muscs Koublai Khan for me. Simple, silent and perfect. Thanks for dropping by.

  12. I’m very late to this party, but I’m afraid Muscs Kublai Khan was a scrubber for me! It smelled like an old man’s flat. He’s a chain smoker of pouch tobacco who never washes himself or his home. It was so very wrong on me, but my friend Lisa loves it!

    It’s always interesting to read a review that was the opposite of mine as it just goes to prove how one perfume can mean completely different things to different people. And vive la difference I say!


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