Serge Lutens Muscs Koublai Khan : Perfume Review



Star rating: 5 stars–outstanding/potential classic, 4 stars–very good, 3 stars–adequate, 2 stars–disappointing, 1 star–poor.

Reading reviews and impressions of Serge Lutens Muscs Koublaï Khan can be both frightening and hilarious. Just consider Tania Sanchez’s “the armpit of a camel driver who has not been near running water in a week!” Out of my respect for your sensibilities, I will spare you further colorful descriptions I have found. All I can say is that I do not get why Muscs Koublaï Khan instills the same fear as the Mongol horde once did. Either I have had enough of clean fragrances or have enjoyed too many animalic ones, but I find Muscs Koublaï Khan glamorous and sophisticated in the style of great oriental classics like Dana Tabu, Myrurgia Maja, and a more recent vintage, Calvin Klein Obsession. Unlike these “Venus in furs” fragrances, however, Muscs Koublaï Khan is drier and sharper, which makes it more modern. If your tolerance for animalic notes extends only to the soft suggestion of “freshly laundered linen,” then Muscs Koublaï Khan will be offensive. On the other hand, if you love the sensual richness of animalic notes, it is a must try perfume.

Its nod to the grand parfums of the past is contained as much in its full-bodied character as its twisted and surprising development on the skin. Muscs Koublaï Khan keeps its wearer in suspense from the very start when the sweet ambery chord begins to soften and reveal the smoky woods, musk and leather. A vivid flourish of jasmine and rose flashes across the darkness of the composition, serving as a caressing touch after the roughness of balsamic and animalic notes. The apricot like shimmer of jasmine soon fades away, but the crimson red rose petals remain behind, twisting around the smoky incense and warm leather accents.

My favorite part of Muscs Koublaï Khan is its drydown. If the earlier stages of the composition suggest a decadent fantasy of salty skin and cognac scented kisses, the later story is even more beguiling. The rooty, green musk and earthy patchouli combine to create an impression of having falling asleep on the beach– the scents of hot sand and seaweed blend with those of your wet hair and sun warmed skin to create your own unique and intimate fragrance. And perhaps, you still remember that kiss…

Serge Lutens Muscs Koublaï Khan Eau de Parfum includes notes of vegetal musk, costus, labdanum, ambergris, vanilla, patchouli, ambrette seeds, rose. It is sold in the export as well as in the exclusive collections. The export line fragrances are available from Aedes, Beautyhabit, Luckyscent, Barneys, Bergdorf Goodman, and from some Neiman Marcus locations. $140, 50ml.

Sample: my own acquisition



  • Miss Kitty: This is one of my favorites! I don’t understand the aversion some people have to it, although the first time I sniffed it on paper I definitely got the armpit note. And then I couldn’t stop thinking about it. 🙂 Go figure. It’s one of the few scents I have that I’ve never had a day of regret wearing. October 18, 2011 at 9:14am Reply

  • Nikki: Interesting description and commentaries…I only tried this Musc on paper so if it smells better on skin, I will try it. Your last list of fragrances made me buy 3 big bottles of Chopard’s Madness…unsniffed, based on your review. Can’t wait to get them…and why 3? Because they are soooo inexpensive on e-bay, I just couldn’t resist to get 3 for the price of a small one if it had been regularly priced. Next time when I go up to Barney’s, I will try the Serge Lutens Musc and buy Frederic Malle’s Fleur de Cassie and my thanks go to Carmencanada for identifying the flower Carmen throws to her lover. Who can resist? October 18, 2011 at 11:47am Reply

  • dleep: “All I can say is that I do not get why Muscs Koublaï Khan instills the same fear as the Mongol horde once did.” That is really funny and one reason why I haven’t tried it. Your review just made me want to order a sample. Thanks. October 18, 2011 at 12:26pm Reply

  • Nikki: Catherine Deneuve uses Muscs Koublai Khan as well Ambre Sultan and Tubereuse Criminelle so it must be glamorous! October 18, 2011 at 2:21pm Reply

  • Victoria: That note is obvious on paper to me, but it disappears on the skin. It really makes think of the “fur perfumes” of the 1930s. October 18, 2011 at 10:36am Reply

  • carmencanada: A few days ago, I was lucky enough to get to smell a demijohn that had contained musk tincture. It’s been empty for 20 years but it is still powerfully fragrant. Up to then, my only experience with real musk came from teensy-tiny blotters, so that getting a big waft was an epiphany, after which my most coherent comment was: “MMMMMMMMMMMM….aaaaaaaaaaaah.”
    Obviously I couldn’t do a side-by-side but when my cortex kicked back in, I thought that MKK actually comes pretty close to capturing the effect of musk tincture, which I believe was the intent. October 18, 2011 at 10:38am Reply

  • minette: this one always strikes me as golden, and a bit resinous. but never dirty or unwashed or anything rough. it’s more kittenish than i expected, having read all the hyperbolic reviews before trying it. i was pleasantly surprised by it, and really enjoy it. and no one ever gives me a second look when i wear it, so i know it’s not offensive. i think people WANTED to be scared of this, so they could talk about it, but it’s not scary at all! it’s a golden elixir that blends well with the human body’s natural (clean) aromas. and yes, it IS like the fur perfumes – my vintage zibeline is actually more carnal than this, but they’re in the same vein. also reminds me of a very early patou from the ’20s – the one that derived from the suntan lotion and who’s name escapes me. the first time i smelled that one, i thought it smelled like sex. this one, not so much. but still very human. October 18, 2011 at 2:40pm Reply

  • Victoria: Your comment really made me smile, because that was my exact reaction upon smelling an old vat we once found in the lab in Grasse that contained remnants of musk. It must have been very old, but the fragrance was there. It was like releasing a genie from a bottle–that thing had an almost palpable presence. And yes, it was close to MKK in some ways–that animalic sweetness blended with the leathery dryness. Such an interesting juxtaposition of sensations. October 18, 2011 at 10:51am Reply

  • Zazie: Ok, I am the one in the dislike camp. Sort of. I can’t tell MKK very much apart from musc ravageur, and both smell pretty much of one thing only: musc. I admit the latter is ornamented by cinnamon and vanilla, while the former exhibits cinnamon berries facets on my wrist, but still. These solinote musc fragrances, like their amber or incense equivalents, are not my style. You seem to perceive and appreciate a more dramatic development, but for me, when I want a musky musc and a fabolous ride, I’ll turn to Shalimar.
    BTW, I don’t find MKK particularly dirty: luckily for my nose it is not a musc of the jarring laundry variety, and all the more tolerable for that. October 18, 2011 at 4:40pm Reply

  • Victoria: I hope that you will like them, Nikki! Please let me know your thoughts.

    As for Carmen’s flower, I agree, who can resist? 🙂 October 18, 2011 at 2:09pm Reply

  • Victoria: Maybe, someone will comment who dislikes it, to get another perspective. For my part, though, I find it very glamorous. October 18, 2011 at 2:10pm Reply

  • Marsi: I’ve never gotten musk from this until six hours after application, at which point it is scrumptious and floral and delicate and beautiful.

    But the previous six hours, on me, smell not like an armpit. Oh, I wish! Rather, MMK is full-on fecal — like a poor old man in a nursing home, forced to sit in an unchanged adult diaper for hours.

    Most unfortunate, and far too high a price for me to pay for a nice drydown. I’d be just mortified if someone smelled me wearing MMK in the early hours and thought I’d had an accident in my pants. October 18, 2011 at 6:38pm Reply

  • Victoria: Dana Tabu is far more raunchy! And yes, I agree on Zibeline. I think that those who like dirty, animalic notes that truly shock should definitely explore the vintage fragrances. Nothing modern comes even close to approximating their raw sensuality.

    The one that truly scares me is Miel de Bois. That one smells like a NYC alley on a hot summer day! October 18, 2011 at 2:58pm Reply

  • Victoria: She is the embodiment of glamor for me! 🙂
    I did not know that she wears MKK, thank you for that bit! October 18, 2011 at 2:58pm Reply

  • Victoria: Thank you for your perspective! Next to Shalimar, it is decidedly simpler and sharper (which is why I did not give it full 5 stars.) And do not even try to compare it to vintage Shalimar, where the animalic facets are especially smoldering. 🙂 October 18, 2011 at 4:44pm Reply

  • daeodon: MKK was such a disappointment on me. I wanted the dirty, sex-and-goats muskfest I kept reading about. Instead, all I get is a meek little cuminy peach floral. I was baffled until I put some on my boyfriend; on his skin, it erupts into an incredibly sexy, dirty fragrance that draws you right in. Of course, he has no interest in wearing fragrance himself. Ah well. October 18, 2011 at 5:54pm Reply

  • Donelle: Maybe my skin absorbs musk but the sample I tried lasted barely 10 minutes. Very disappointing. I am saving up for some Shalimar and Samsara though, and now feel a lot more justified. I Profumi di Firenze do some nice musks in Estratto (Extract), Muschio Nero (Black Musc) in particular, but saving up to go to Florence will take a lot longer! October 19, 2011 at 2:15am Reply

  • Ever since I got a sample of this I decided that it is going to be my Xmas present to myself. There is the discussion about anosmia to musk of course but I find nothing offensive to this. To my nose it is just warm, salty, unsweetened musk. And not that spicy at all. I cannot see the similarities with Musc Ravageur which to my nose is exactly the opposite. Expect a review with the New Year. October 19, 2011 at 2:01am Reply

  • Persolaise: Thanks for your review. MKK has always been one of the few Lutens that I’ve actually been tempted to purchase. October 19, 2011 at 8:47am Reply

  • Victoria: Fascinating! And some claim that there is no such thing as fragrance chemistry! October 19, 2011 at 2:14pm Reply

  • Victoria: Marsi, that would put me off too! I admit that I do not get anything even close to fecal in MKK, but of course, it does not mean that it is not there. It is interesting to read the impressions that so are different from what I’ve experienced with it. October 19, 2011 at 2:15pm Reply

  • Victoria: Yes, I find them to be different animals too. Musc Ravageur is really a modern take on Shalimar (and I think that it is a very deliberate choice.) I like it as well. October 19, 2011 at 2:17pm Reply

  • Victoria: Most of us have some anosmia to different musks, so maybe that’s just the type of musk in MKK. A friend of mine also cannot smell musk in it. October 19, 2011 at 2:18pm Reply

  • Victoria: You are welcome! Lutens has other cleaner, softer musks, but this one is my favorite. October 19, 2011 at 2:19pm Reply

  • Nick: Dear Victoria,

    Thank you for this wonderful review which will make me revisit this fragrance. Have only smelt it very briefly some time ago on a scent strip. And thank you for your consideration of your reader’s sensibilities! I happen to love animalic notes in fragrances but find reviews in this category tedious. These odious descriptions, which are intended to shock or titillate seem only to serve as a thin mask for the writer’s own unease when dealing with these notes. October 21, 2011 at 3:08am Reply

  • Victoria: I hope that you can try it on skin and let me know what you think. If you like animalic notes, MKK should be quite a discovery. It is so much more interesting on skin! October 21, 2011 at 6:02am Reply

  • Lila: I’ll admit that I like my musks “clean” and I was scared to try this one after reading all the reviews. I was surprised to find that I actually like it. The dry down is by far my favorite part too. I do get dirty hair in the beginning/middle, but it’s dirty hair on someone I like so I can overlook it. The dry down is so comforting, almost maternal. I probably won’t be buying a fb but I wouldn’t mind having a sample on hand just because I find it a fascinating blend of ingredients. March 5, 2013 at 3:39pm Reply

  • Ferris Égoïste: This is one I need to try. I loved vintage Bal á Versailles with its animalistic elements and I wish it was still available. I like fragrances that bring to mind unwashed/sweaty skin, as they wear nicely on me. I think MKK will be my saving grace for not being able to readily purchase BaV without fear of being ripped off on ebay. So many scammers on there selling the fake BaV or the factice as genuine fragrance. I will be obtaining a sample of MKK very soon. I am even tempted to blind buy but I will not. I hate to be disappointed. I have to try on skin first before I put out that kind of money. Great review V! April 21, 2013 at 2:41pm Reply

  • Hannah: I bought Muscs Koublai Khan this weekend. I went to Berlin for my birthday (which is in November but I had a free ride so I moved my birthday up a few weeks) and I went to Galeries Lafayette for tea and macarons, but I stopped at the Serge Lutens counter. I had Tubereuse Criminelle, Feminite du Bois, and Muscs Koublai Khan spayed on my skin. I was afraid to try MKK because of what I had heard, but I decided to be brave and take a risk. Although on one hand, it is a bit disappointing that it wasn’t a wild, out of control scent, I wouldn’t have walked out with it if it were. Musc Ravageur and ELdO Rien make me feel sick when I wear them. I’ve worn it everyday since I’ve bought it. Part of me isn’t sure if a skin scent is worth being the most expensive perfume in my collection but I do really really like it so I think it is justified enough. I was staying with a friend and he either doesn’t have anything to say about my perfumes or he doesn’t like them. But he liked this one (Wonderwood is the only other one!!). It would have been cute to buy La Fille de Berlin in Berlin but I didn’t like it. And the Serge Lutens SA gave me macarons, which was nice because the line for the macarons on the gourmet floor was way too long. October 28, 2013 at 9:18am Reply

    • Victoria: Enjoy it! I think that it’s worth it, if only because it makes you feel good. On a more objective level, the quality of materials in MKK is so stupendous that it’s definitely worth its price. October 28, 2013 at 10:53am Reply

  • marios: Excellent animalic and indeed glamurous….together wih Dzing! are the best in the animalic business…. March 28, 2014 at 8:27am Reply

  • shelley: I don’t know whether it’s the sample, itself, my nose, my skin, or another unidentified factor, but I’m afraid that all I get is Jovan Musk! And I hated it in the late 60’s in high school. Sorry! December 2, 2017 at 10:16pm Reply

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