Serge Lutens : Muscs Koublaï Khän

Created by : Christopher Sheldrake

Date : 1998

Genre : Animalic musk

Concentration : Eau de parfum

I didn’t understand Muscs Koublaï Khän by Serge Lutens until I saw my first Wagnerian opera.  To be specific, it was Wagner’s Die Valkyries.  When Siegmund stumbled on stage dressed in animal hides and stinking from being chased and Wotan charged across the stage in knee-high leather boots with big metal straps and a metal vest looking like he hadn’t seen the inside of a shower stall in a couple of months, Muscs Koublaï Khän suddenly made complete sense… the fur skins, the leather, the animal smells… GOT IT!

Muscs Koubläi Khän is a great big animalic musk… on steroids.  Supposedly they used all the animalic notes available to the perfumer : several musks, civet (cat urine), castoreum (beaver marking scent and urine), costus roots (wet dog), ambergris (salty whale vomit), eye of newt (OK… I made that last one up, there is no eye of newt)… but whatever is in there, it smells about as animalic as it gets.  Even armpit Eau d’Hermès seems almost tame compared to it… a cat compared to a lion. 

Muscs Koublaï Khän might not be wearable (and this is debatable) but what’s truly wonderful about it is that Serge Lutens has staked new territory with it.  I can’t imagine it will ever become a best seller but it might bring us somewhere else… far away from fruity florals… to something completely new and wild and delicious.

This one is VERY hard to describe.  I’m up to 6 tags (or notes) and I could have added more.  It’s like pastry… very much a Guerlain in a sense… but not edible.  Think of musk and honey and some rose and animal scents dancing around in there.  It’s as spectacular and as wicked as a Wagnerian opera.

When and where to wear MKK?  I have no idea!  First date?  No way.  In bed?  Too risky.  You might just buy it like I did because in the history of perfume this one stands alone… for the moment… and it’s magnificent.

Now back to our story where Siegmund and Hunding are about to fight while Sieglinde looks on in horror.  Brünnhilde  is about to appear (at right of screen) to help Siegmund against Wotan’s wishes.


Quick Brünnhilde!  Tell Siegmund about the sword!

Siegmund, trust in the sword!  Trust in the sword!!!

Oh no!  It’s Wotan!  THAT BASTARD!

Brünnhilde!  Get Sieglinde out of there!  There’s no time to waste.  Don’t forget the broken sword!  HURRY!  RUN AND HIDE!

Sniffles… sorry, I’m too verklempt to go on.  Have a nice week everyone.


Top image : Publicity still of Bryn Terfel as Wotan by Brigitte Lacombe for the Metropolitan Opera

Serge Lutens : Fleurs d’oranger

Created by : Christopher Sheldrake

Date : 1995

Genre : White floral

Concentration : eau de parfum

The last time I saw an opera with Gaston I remarked on how good the soprano was.  He responded without hesitation, “Aaaaah… good sopranos are a dime a dozen.  It’s good tenors which are hard to find!”  And you know… that’s how I feel about good white florals which, for me, are the Holy Grail of perfumery.  There are dozens, maybe hundreds, of white florals but the really good ones are rare.  The great ones can be counted on the fingers of one hand.

I did two informal workshops this past week and despite the beautiful chypres and warm ambers, it was Fleurs d’oranger that drew the most attention.  I’ve had Fd’o in my collection for several months and I never paid much attention to it but after hearing the “oohs” and “aahs”, I figured it was time to sit down and review it.

I still remember the evening I bought it.  I had 5 Serge Lutens scent strips in front of me… Féminité du bois, À la nuit, Chergui, Serge noire and Fleurs d’oranger.  I walked out with Fd’o and, after having tested it, it wasn’t a wise choice.

Fleurs d’oranger starts out very beautifully… a symphonic white floral with notes of jasmine, tuberose and the blossoms of the mock orange hedge that separated my dad’s house from the neighbour.  No doubt about it, it has wow factor!  It pulled me in… and kept me sniffing the scent strip over and over again.  It was the same when I road-tested it… for the first 30 minutes… and then it just got to be annoying.  Fleurs d’oranger had morphed into a shrill, synthetic and fleshless floral… reminiscent of those Pre-Raphaelite beauties which seem to hover between life and death.  Stunning… but I’m not sure I’d want to have one as a next-door neighbour.  They always look like they are about to poison someone, if not themselves.  The drydown was tolerable, but just.

Fleurs d’oranger might have made a better amber, Serge Lutens’ specialty, but as a strict floral, its register is too high and too monophonic.  Think of a sopranos-only choir… beautiful for a song or two but then… can we have a few altos and maybe a tenor or two?

In retrospect, I agree with Gaston… good tenors are rare… as are good white florals.

Image : The Damsel of the Holy Grail (1874) by Dante Gabriel Rossetti


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