My musky stench…………….. Serge Lutens Muscs Khoublai Khan (1998)







When you consider these words and how they are used; as euphemistic substitutes – ‘the musky smell of his/her …..(supply word)’ in erotic fiction, the etymological origins of the word (muska – testicle in Sanskrit), it is clear what the intentions of most musks will be. Whether of the dirty, natural type, extracted from the gland of a Siberian deer; or the modern, more wholesome ‘white’, synthetic, variety, it is certain that for various reasons, musks flick some primal switch….






































They never come up in conversation.


And even when you are alone, it is difficult to admit to the pleasure that some smells give: those tinged with disgust, revulsion, even shame.





An example: I was recently sitting on the train, nursing a beer one evening after work: my shoes (cheap leather, and rather old) having, earlier on in the day, got soaked in a summer rainstorm. Any carefully constructed soapy-clean odours I had achieved for the uptight Japanese work place that morning were, suddenly, quite overpowered, now, by a sweet, rancid scent: a sour, sweaty, animal that rose up; was starting to embarrass me; yet was strangely, and undeniably, turning me on. A weird, autoerotic reaction to something dirty, prohibited…..from another zone, beyond and disconnected to the polite.



















Unlike most perfume houses, Serge Lutens –  that elusive, most enigmatic purveyor of the orient –  usually only gives out solid wax samples of its perfumes, rather than the more usual liquid vials. And when you dab the little round disc of scented wax that is Muscs Khoublai Khan solid on your skin, you are immediately assailed with a plush orchestration of animalics (musk, ambergris, civet and castoreum); hints of Moroccan rose, ambrette and cumin (the smell of unwashed armpits) in a strangely gentle, but regally filthy,  blend of perfect proportion. If you are anything like me, let yourself go with it, you will feel the sap  rising. It is an uneasy scent, to be sure, but the perfumer, Christopher Sheldrake, has erred just enough on the side of propriety, I would say, to make it fit for society.



But wax samples focus on a generic sweep of a scent, a mellowed olfactory vista that doesn’t prepare you for the shock of the actual liquid. At the beautiful shop at the Palais Royal one pale, wintery Paris morning, I had been sampling the sumptuous range of bell jar bottles with great pleasure, trying desperately hard to decide which ones I wanted to take home with me.  Unstoppering the Khoublai Khan I almost retched. Then recoiled a few steps – to the amusement of the assistant, who had probably witnessed this reaction countless times before.



But we all have our taboos: for me, the sweaty crotch of this perfume is fine: a sour, musky heart like lovingly, carelessly unwashed jeans. But damp animal fur, a vivid stink of sheep, plus a hint of disgracefully fresh seminal fluid was too much. For me. At least.




The addicted do say you get used to, then come to love,  this musk in all its instinct; its animalic splendour.


I doubt I would, but at least the scent lives up to its name: hairy, Mongolian warriors after days on the steppes, curled up on sheep skins in their warm, thermally reeking, yurts.

































Filed under Musk, Perfume Reviews

39 responses to “My musky stench…………….. Serge Lutens Muscs Khoublai Khan (1998)

  1. Catherine

    Hi, I just discovered your blog (someone sent me the link). I’m happy to have found a fellow parfumista in Japan.
    I tried the MKK wax sample and loved it. Based on that, I just bought a decant on eBay. Reading this blog entry now makes me a bit worried. I hope I haven’t spent $$ on something as vile as you described. I’ll let you know my experience with the great MKK when it gets here.

    • ginzaintherain

      Not vile, just…….a BIT vile; but possibly very addictive. I have a problem with that wet sheep top note, but I reckon that if you enjoyed the wax sample you will probably enjoy the perfume itself. Good luck! Please let me know what your instinctive reactions were at each stage of the perfume’s development (and where are you in Nihon?)

      • Cath

        Hi, I’m in Osaka-fu, have been here for 20 years. Long. Too long maybe?
        I will definitely let you know about MKK. Most SL fragrances work with my chemistry, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed for this one too.

      • ginzaintherain

        Well I have also been here for sixteen years so I understand! It’s addictive and hard to leave despite the myriad irritations.

        I love Serge Lutens too: I drain the bottles and then find I have to get another one. It is a very expensive habit!

      • Cath

        SL is very addictive indeed. And they’re harder to find. The only store that sells them in Osaka doesn’t have the yearly limited export editions either, so that is an extra hurdle.

      • ginzaintherain

        Shinjuku does, and I prevaricate ( I was even, honestly, considering Khan when it was there, but then I spend too long trying to make up my mind and then they disappear)

      • Cath

        If Isetan Shinjuku has them, Isetan Osaka should have them too. Maybe the lady I talked too (over the phone) was just clueless, like many SA’s here…
        They don’t list them on their website though. I even checked the The Ginza website, but no mention of the exclusives there either. I will have to start checking more frequently.
        Anyhow, I’m going to read your blog from the start, so I might drop a line here and there. Nice chatting with you 🙂

      • ginzaintherain

        You too. From the start? It will make a very heady, even excessive read I would imagine!

  2. ginzaintherain

    (bear also in mind that I am not really a musk person to begin with: muscophiles ADORE this scent!)

  3. Cath

    I’m enjoying the read.
    I would love to see your complete collection. Do you have a FB page, or a profile on one of the 3 best known perfume forums? I am on Fragrantica and Basenotes I find a bit too cold.

  4. I love MKK! It is so mellow on my skin. So rich and opulent. I dont get any of the unwashed armpits and sweaty private parts smell. Maybe I am anosmic to the dirty smelling musks that it contains. Anyway, It is so great, and I cant get enough.

    • I don’t doubt for a moment that it smells amazing on some people’s skins; I love musk on other people when it works.

      But seriously, in Paris, when I tried it there was some serious mutton/semen note going on that was grotesque; something wet, and WRONG.

  5. Reblogged this on The Black Narcissus and commented:

    Has this one also been chastened, ‘refreshed ‘?

  6. I heard so much about this scent, much like you describe it. However, on me it is soft and musky–I have a bottle and every time I use it I wonder what all the fuss was about. I really love it. Even when I smell it in the bottle I don’t get the same reaction that others do. Maybe my bottle is “off” in the reverse way.

  7. I have to agree with filomena813 and dkchocoman. While I do get a little bit of the salty, sweaty stuff right up front, that aspect of the fragrance doesn’t last more than an instant leaving behind a simple, lovely, warm and sweet musk. I have other musks that really pack a punch. One is an old Coty solid that smells like a veterinarian’s office.

    • I never stayed around long enough to get to that next stage. Honestly, that first time I smelled it in Paris I was totally repulsed, but then again I have a real thing about wet fur, dirty hair and so on. I can’t ABIDE it.

  8. Ana

    I don’t know but I read this great reviews of Lutens perfumes,and every time I get to smell them I’m violently dissapointed.MKK I’ve tested on my skin this summer in Paris and it was lovely,but very very soft and gentle.Just a warm,cozy musk.A kitten is more challenging than this perfume.My boyfriend was even anosmic to it,and usually he has a very accurate nose and he’s great at defining the mood of a scent.They must have reformulated the whole line.Some of the scents have really good openings powerful,with great presence but after half hour absolutely every Lutens I’ve tried on my skin becomes a delicate skin scent,which,while pleasant,doesn’t excite me in any way.And they don’t bloody last.

    • Honestly, that first time I smelled this perfume is EXACTLY how I describe it. This was my own personal experience, but I suppose it could have been the contrast between whatever I had been smelling before and then the MKK, which was just so……repellently animal. I do worry about hyperbole on here, about overselling things and carried away with words, but a lot of other people felt the same about this perfume back in the day. Perhaps they have remixed it, made it cleaner?

  9. Marina

    You fucking slay me! Having travelled to Mongolia I have smelled what you have described with remarkable accuracy. I wear Lutens Clair de musc and yes not for everyone and needs appropriate consideration. I adore the way you describe it. I feel it.

    • Thanks M.

      If I had to choose between the two, I would personally definitely wear the Clair De Musc, a lovely, inviting, and charming scent. The original MKK that I smelled really did fit my descriptions (which I am delighted you loved).


  10. Rafael

    You knew I would read this today. At work no less. 🙂

  11. I’m actually wearing this today! It was given to me as a RAOK, and I had never smelled it. I adore MKK! Dare I say this, but I just don’t find it that skanky. I get a bit in the opening, for about half an hour. There’s an almost sweaty feel to it, maybe a little bit of urine – but very faint. Both my DH and I can’t stop wearing it, and have both gotten compliments. I will say, however, that we both have very ‘good’ perfume skin – everything seems to get mellow and sweet on us.

    • I bring out the base, the animal in all perfumes, and this would be revolting on me, though they did have a limited edition of this in Tokyo a couple of years ago and I wondered what all my fuss was about. I didn’t try it on my myself, I didn’t dare, but from the bottle and on paper it just smelled pleasant.

      Perhaps I dreamed the whole memory up!

  12. I find this is best worn on the hottest day of the year. Have you tried this again lately?
    You have me thinking now about a Yurt for the backyard which I totally planted with vetiver grass. Do they have any Yurts at the markets over there?

  13. Marsha Smith

    I am a musk lover and after 20 years of marriage, I discovered my late DH’s really sensitive and accurate nose. He just never said anything when I wore perfume! Anyway, here were his reactions to two well known skank bombs: vintage Jicky extrait: he absolutely loved it. A big enough sample of MKK to spray: he said: *That is NOT nice.* (In his usual conversation, he cussed like a sailor. He also grew up on a farm and his Daddy had hogs for a time. This is eastern N.C.) But I still can’t figure out his reaction to the MKK cause bodily odors, etc. etc. didn’t bother him at all.

  14. Sally M

    Both timely and hilarious post – just yesterday I bought a bottle of MKK for my birthday treat to myself (hubby bought me Ambre Sultan.) I’m a dyed-in-the-mutton-wool musk lover and like others who posted, don’t get the dirty stink – just a wonderfully rich blanket of sensuality. Then again, I’ve also often griped about the fact that I dont get the skank with BAV either – it really isnt fair …

  15. This seems to be a very polarising scent in how it manifests itself. I bought it the other day as it was on sale in the old packaging and couldn’t resist a bargain, and to me it’s a cuddly musk with maybe only a teensy bit of dirty hair smell upfront but then whoosh it’s gone. I think it must have been toned down over the years.

    PS I’ve really only discovered your blog and there’s so much to read that is of interest. I’ve just read your Serge Vitriol review and feel like I need to test that one now as I’ve never bothered to for some reason. So thanks for piquing my curiosity.

    • Thanks a lot. The Vitriol I would have also ignored with indifference for just being too obvious and ‘pretty’, but when you are given a bottle of something you are compelled to try it, wear it, and discover other facets, and in fact Vitriol is much more nuanced and interesting than it initially seems.

      Re: Muscs…….’a teensy bit of dirty hair smell’ you say? For me, that is one of the most repugnant smells on earth. I HATE it. I feel rage when I smell it in public and want to slap the offender, so there is no way in hell I could stand it in my perfume!

  16. Ah very strong reaction then – definitely stay away from MKK!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s