Suzanne's Perfume Journal

Serge Lutens Muscs Koublaï Khän can be purchased at a number of online boutiques, including, where a 50-ml bottle is currently $140.

Photo of Mongolian yurt was found at and snapped by: Marek /
License: Creative Commons License (By SA 3.0)

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July 4, 2011: 

Serge Lutens Muscs Koublaï Khän:

My Midsummer's Dream Scent ... Exotic, Languid, and Consoling

I don’t think a month has ever flown by faster than June did for me, and now that it’s gone, I am feeling blue, wishing I could do the whole thing over again, reliving its beauties and pleasures and correcting my foolish mistakes and lost opportunities. Without going into details, June was a rare month filled with people, travel and events, from start to finish—a month of comings and goings in which I managed to be a hostess, a vacationer, a tourist, and at the same time, some kind of homing station for flighty emotions that only go so far before they beat their way back, for it did indeed seem that even in this most outgoing of months, the entire gamut of human emotions came home to roost. And when they did, like carrier pigeons they brought messages: This is what you did right, enjoy your reward; this is where you got by on luck, thank your planets; and this is where you screwed up, here’s everything you need to work on.

Sorting through these messages in the beginning of July makes me feel a bit weepy (if one can feel weepy without actually weeping), because not only are there no more beach or travel vacations for me to look forward to, no family to entertain for awhile, and, unfortunately, no re-do’s in the department of Life and Living, to top it off, I’m feeling rather tired. But this last thing—the feeling tired-part—will pass, and I’ve got a new bottle of perfume to rest my head on in the meantime, one that’s cushiony and soft without being cheerful or sweet; something satisfyingly frayed and threadbare at the edges, as if it knows that I am in need of rapport and thus consents to emulate my current condition.

It’s an easy fragrance, but one with intelligence: I think it might even be laughing at me a little, like a lover gently poking fun at my foibles, reminding me that I once said I hated musk scents.

True, but as you can see from last week’s post, that’s no longer so—and Muscs Koublaï Khän? Don’t let the outrageous name fool you: this fragrance from the perfume house of Serge Lutens is anything but. Truth be told, it’s the kind of musk scent that requires little-to-no learning curve for someone like me to love it, because, if you’re a regular reader here, you know I enjoy perfumes that include indolic and animalic notes. (My former dislike of musks centered on the white musks I once thought of as being too clean, diffuse and boring.)

Muscs Koublaï Khän was composed by perfumer Christopher Sheldrake with notes of civet, castoreum, cistus labdanum, ambergris, Moroccan rose, cumin, ambrette seed, costus root and patchouli. (Per the website; if you look at the list of notes posted at, there is no mention of civet and castoreum, but I distinctly catch whiffs of both, so I’m going with Fragrantica’s list.)

On my skin, which tends to amplify sweet notes, this fragrance is slightly dirty-sexy in the top notes stage only, where the castoreum is most detectable and verges on smelling like leather, but just verges: it is lightly represented and doesn’t linger for long. Civet is detectable too, and like the castoreum, so deftly articulated that its indolic character is a mere whisper within the scent, adding depth—a human smell, hard to put a name to because it’s not unclean but, of course, not exactly clean, either—rather than its typical eau de derriere brand of sexual posturing. (I should note here that when I spray Muscs Koublaï Khän on my husband, the animalic portion of the scent is noticeably stronger and less fleeting. I suspect this has less to do with skin chemistry than it does with body hair, as hair tends to hold on to scents for a longer period of time than skin.)

Rather quickly, Muscs Koublaï Khän segues from its lightly animalic opening to a stage that is deliciously cocoon-like. It’s the olfactory equivalent of what I imagine it must be like being an eco-tourist on an expensive trekking holiday in Mongolia—reclining on silk pillows and plush carpets in a Mongolian yurt—eating candied walnuts that have been crystallized in an amber-and-rosewater-scented concoction—catching fleeting whiffs of the little Mongolian horses tethered outside and drifts of the hay they’ve just been fed. Imagine these elements filtered through the fine scrim of a dream-state, such that they smell distant and fuzzy while, at the same time, as compelling as anything that sits at the lapping shore of consciousness, and you’ll understand why I find Muscs Koublaï Khän a perfect summer scent. It floats beautifully on the humid air, is neither too strong nor too soft, yet manages to be distinctly inimitable—commanding one’s attention—rather than some listless bit of fluff.

As such, it‘s the right choice for me on this holiday weekend, as I collect my thoughts and remind myself that, in my part of the world, summer in and of itself is a vacation; something new and exciting will surface again on the horizon; and that the mistakes I’ve made are right to nag at me, to remind that I’ve still got more living and learning to do. It is midsummer, after all; time to rest and dream for awhile, but also to remember that it’s time to wake up, too.