Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Serge Lutens Muscs Kublai Khan: Beauty And The Beast

People reading this post can be put into two categories: those who know what MKK stands for and those who don't. If you're in the first group, most chances you have a firm opinion about it.

MKK stands for Muscs Kublai Khan, a perfume from Serge Lutens non-export line. It's what we tend to call a "dirty musk" (mostly to differentiate it from the modern clean musks that evoke nothing but a laundry detergent) , though opinions on the level of dirtiness in this fragrance vary greatly. If you google Muscs Kublai Khan and dig enough, you would find colorful reviews, mentions of horses, genitalia and horses' genitalia. Which is where I make the "whatcha talking 'bout?" face.

I cannot argue with the fact MKK smells "raw", which probably translates to "animalic" for some. I've heard rumors of cumin, but I don't get any at all. Quite the opposite, actually, if we agree that a cumin note in perfume represents the dirty and the sweaty. What I'm getting is actually clean, sweet and warm. The dirty part is not the scent itself, but the warm skin feel it evokes and all the things one might associate with a skin in this state. In his review for Perfume Smellin' Things, my scent twin Tom called it "clean bodies in compromising positions", and that's exactly right.

I can't say I get any of the Mongolian warrior associations of the name. There's nothing horrifying, violent or medieval about Muscs Kublai Khan (but Serge Lutens is known for his interesting way with words. This is the man who named his most recent release "Nuits de Cellophane", whatever that means). On my skin it's a thing of beauty and has nothing to do with the great unwashed. It's also incredibly strong and persistent, even after the big show of the ultra sweet top notes fades away.

It's so strong, actually, that anything more than a couple of dabs can get extremely distracting. Over apply and you will keep smelling MKK, thinking about MKK, feeling MKK. It will occupy your thoughts in a NSFW way, so be careful. Another word of warning: Muscs Kublai Khan is meant to be dabbed and not sprayed. I'm saying this as someone who prefers to spray just about anything and regularly decants parfum extracts into mini atomizers. I did the same with MKK and it's just wrong. You don't want to cover a lot of skin with this, and spraying releases way too much. A discreet dab or two where it matters is all you need, and maybe half a dab on your wrist for a quick fix throughout the day (somehow planting my nose in the cleavage isn't all that graceful).

Muscs Kublai Khan (75 ml, 110 €) is a Paris exclusive, which means you can only buy it directly from the Salons du Palais Royal Shiseido. I bought mine when I was there last summer, but if you live in Europe you can order it either online or by phone. They do not ship elsewhere in the world. Samples (and please sample several times before you even think of asking your aunt Sally to bring you one from Paris. See the horse references above) are available from The Perfumed Court.

Photo: 'Beauty and the Beast', Sydney Dance Company, 1993


  1. Hm, MKK is certainly one of the most "colourful" perfumes - in the way that everybody gets something else of it. I get sweat, very recognizable, quite strong male sweat. It's not entirely unpleasant - but I definitely can't wear it.
    And still, it's a masterpiece of a scent and I have a decant of it at home.

  2. Oh I wish it were like that on me. Or that it smelled like it does from the bottle (ummm..... unwashed Mongol warrior, sweat, dung and something or other). Unfortunately, the moment it hits my skin it becomes, shy and cute. Like a tiny, sweet little mouse. And it stays with me about the time a mouse would, i.e. approscimately 2 seconds.....

  3. We agree COMPLETELY! This is so warm, so smooth, so cuddly, so YUMMY I always have trouble reading/hearing descriptions. Where are the armpit, the camels, the warrior-men, the sweaty hides?

    But then again I don't subscribe to the point of view that cumin is "dirty" and "sweaty" either (someone said it once and it became a "rule", have you noticed?)and I have been known to cook with cumin, eat cumin and wear fragrances with cumin all the time. I don't see droves of people parting ways like the waves of the Red Sea upon "meeting" Moses!

    I must either be in utter intellectual accord with my own sweat/dirt or anosmic to just about anything, LOL!!

  4. One of these days I am going to have to try this one. It is the opposite of everything I used to like - but now I think I might love it!

  5. MKK is very male armpitty (but also cuddly) on me, and I love it. I only wear it at home, though. I find it too postcoital for wearing publicly. :-O

  6. To me, Muscs Kublai Kahn is warm, comforting yet at the same time erotically charged. Well, I am male after all!
    I recently tried
    Kiehl's Original Musk Oil and found that it has a similar nuance, though not as overt and perhaps more animal than leather.

  7. About mr. Luten's "interesting way with words": maybe some of MKK "dirty" reputation has got something to do with the association of Koublai's fearsome grandfather Genghis... Koublai Khan was the founder of China's Yuan Dynasty, a buddhist, interested in philosophy and in relationships with the West (Marco Polo). To me, that is exactly the atmosphere MKK evokes: oriental, strange but civilized.

  8. Having just discovered it, I can't understand the constant references to dirtiness. But then I thought Kingdom was only R16 too when everyone else was getting c*unt. Did they mean cumin? Rolls eyes!

    I was looking for a Kingdom replacement and this certainly fits the bill, even though it's less flamboyant and much simpler. Horse dongs? Im a sensory panelist with a high end nose and I just dont get the genitalia or even equine refs- and it's not that I haven't spent a lot of time around both ha ha. It's really only 2/3 of the way to scary town.

    What I do get from the MKK drydown (perhaps 2 hours on the skin) is the batik-making lesson I took in grade 5- the scorched linen & candlewax rising from underneath a hot iron as I papered the wax off the cloth. Very reminiscent.

    Weirdly, I wear MKK and Bal รก Versailles together and it's a naughty, hedonic conjugation to be sure!

  9. Kelly, BaV and MKK together? Some people would run away screaming, but I'm in love with the idea now...


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