Clash of the Titans – Serge Lutens Muscs Koublaï Khän vs Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle Musc Ravageur Perfume Reviews


As Autumn and Winter draw in, it becomes time for us Perfumistas to have a wardrobe reshuffle. We put away our lighter, airier perfumes and drag out our rich orientals, warm woody florals, mouthwatering gourmands and our musks. In autumn and winter we look for those fragrances that bring us comfort when it’s cold and those that match the colours and festivities of the cooler seasons.

Muscs Koublaï Khän (Serge Lutens) and Musc Ravageur (Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle) are two of the most popular musk fragrances on the market, in fact they have reached cult status amongst Perfumistas and love them or hate them, nobody can deny that they are both formidable characters.

Despite the fact that they are both so popular and are both musk fragrances, Muscs Koublaï Khän and Musc Ravageur are two very different fragrances, in fact the similarity stops with the ‘Musc’ in both of their names. In this review I’m going to put pitch these two ‘Titans’ head to head to see which will be the victor and earn the accolade of ‘King of Musks’.


Muscs Koublaï Khän

“I just can’t see what all of the fuss is about.”

The Notes

Civet, Castoreum, Cistus Labdanum, Ambergris, Moroccan Rose, Cumin, Ambrette Seed (Musk Mallow), Costus Root and Patchouli [1]

How Does it Smell?

I’m going to rock the boat with this one, Muscs Koublaï Khän is infamous for being one of the most ‘skanky’, nay ‘beastly’ fragrances to ever grace the skin of many a Perfumista, but I have to admit that I find it to be pretty tame. Also, It took me a long time to ‘get’ Serge Lutens, I tried most of the export line and whilst I found them to be high quality, well-thought out fragrances, none of them resonated with me and I couldn’t see myself wearing any (it’s important to note that I have discovered and fallen in love with three Lutens fragrances; Fleurs d’Oranger, Feminité du Bois and Tuberéuse Criminelle) and Muscs Koublaï Khän was no exception. If I’m being totally honest, I just can’t see what the all of the fuss is about.

Muscs Koublaï Khän opens with a trinity of skank – cumin, pepper and civet, there is also a strong note of castoreum (‘Beaver Butt’ as my ‘scented partner in crime’ Nick would say), so yes the opening is pretty skanky, but is also quite sweet and velvety. The trio of skank gives the impression of warm, sweaty bodies, it feels unclean and stale but it never quite feels disgusting or jarring in any way.

I have searched high and low for the listed rose note, which I know a lot of other people find quite prominent but I cannot find it anywhere, my nose finds it to be AWOL and I’m not sure I miss it. The musk however, is most definitely present and correct! I find musk a hard note to describe, it smells animalic yet it has a clean, snuggly vibe to it but what I find most interesting about musk is that it really adds texture to a fragrance and in Muscs Koublaï Khän’s case the musk gives the texture of a bear skin rug.

Muscs Koublaï Khän isn’t 100% linear, but after the initial spicy/skanky start it does soften to a warm, cosy & peppery musk with touches of amber and rests there for the remainder of its development. All in all, Muscs Koublaï Khän is a pleasant, well constructed oriental musk but it fails to thrill me and I can’t help but want a bit more from it. It’s nowhere near as filthy as I expected and in my opinion there are better musk fragrances out there. If you’re looking for a really filthy fragrance, and I mean really filthy, may I suggest that you try L’Air de Rien by Miller Harris, it will knock your socks off.


Musc Ravageur

“Musc Ravageur speaks to the gourmand lover within me”

The Notes

Top: Lavender and Bergamot
Heart: Clove and Cinnamon
Base: Gaiac Wood, Cedar, Sandalwood, Vanilla, Tonka and Musk [2]

How Does it Smell?

Musc Ravageur is another cult musk fragrance just like Muscs Koublaï Khän and like MKK it always seems to divide opinion. The fragrance was composed by Maurice Roucel for Frederic Malle and it was part of the original lineup of fragrances when the Editions de Parfums line was launched.

The opening of Musc Ravageur is an unusual, yet strikingly familiar, warm barbershop accord. There is a lot of citrus, namely bergamot and orange, which is coupled with light dabs of lavender. The bergamot fades quite quickly but the orange stays and it becomes progressively more spiced and candied as Musc Ravageur develops.

A heart of clove and cinnamon laid over a base of musk, tonka, sandalwood and vanilla makes for something truly delicious. Musc Ravageur speaks to the gourmand lover within me, and whilst it doesn’t smell like a particular food, it does smell so edible that I have to fight myself from nibbling at my wrists when I wear it.

Musc Ravageur is much less musk-centric than Muscs Koublaï Khän, in fact the musk doesn’t really start to become apparent until the base, it is much more about the gourmand notes and the opening barbershop accord. Musc Ravageur has good projection and longevity but I do wish the heart and base had the same oomph as the opening half an hour.

I truly adore Musc Ravageur and I can see that it’s going to be my go-to scent for this winter. It’s going to smell great wafting from my winter coat and scarf!

I’m not entirely sure that I would bestow the title ‘King of Musks’ on either Musc Ravageur or Muscs Koublaï Khän, MR isn’t musky enough and MKK is just a bit disappointing, but I do know which of the two is my favourite, so for that reason Musc Ravageur must be declared the winner.


Muscs Koublaï Khän is part of Serge Lutens’ non-export line and is available in 75ml Eau de Parfum exclusively from Le Salons du Palais Royal Shiseido in Paris. It was briefly released as part of the export line in a 50ml spray bottle and bottle can still be found from some online retailers.

Musc Ravageur is available 50ml and 100ml Eau de Parfum, prices range from £90-£130. A set of 3 x 10ml travel sprays (£60) and matching body products are also available.


This review is based on a bottle of Musc Ravageur and a sample of Muscs Koublai Khan from my own personal collection.



Image 1

Images 2 & 3


31 thoughts on “Clash of the Titans – Serge Lutens Muscs Koublaï Khän vs Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle Musc Ravageur Perfume Reviews

  1. I also didn’t think Serge’s creation was as scary as it was made out to be – though I only tried it via the wax sample. It was actually very nice. I’d have worn it to church. (If I went.) Musc Ravageur initially scared me because I felt it was too masculine and ‘after-shavey’ due to the presence of patchouli. But since I got over that, I bagged a decant and wear it happily.

    I really want to smell it on a man, so prevailed on a male friend to let me try it on him. Interestingly, he (signature scent, Obsession for Men), felt it was too spicy and a bit antiseptic and never really warmed to it. I liked it well enough on him, but it didn’t knock my socks off.

    But L’Air de Rien? Ah, now there you’re right, filth. Delightful, glorious filth. I wear it when I go out, though not to the office. I know I smell as pungent as a dog that’s been rolling in fox droppings, but I care not a jot.

    Which reminds me – Sunday or no, I think today is a L’Air de Rien day…

    • MKK is definitely more cosy than scary, i agree.

      L’Air de Rien sends my Skankometer through the roof, I don’t think I’ve ever smelled something so gloriously filthy in my life, the fact that it was made for Jane Birkin just makes it all the more wonderful. You smell great today!

  2. I couldn’t agree more with your descriptions of both fragrances but my appreciation of them is totally opposite. MKK is the perfect unsweetened musk scent for me. Not skanky at all, warm and cosy. The gourmand fearing perfumista in me found MR to be lacking in the musk department. It’s a nice cinammon/clove/barbershop thing but the claim in the title Musc Ravageur=Devastating Musk made the scent feel anticlimactic. It seems a lot farer to compare it with other SL perfumes, like Arabie.

    L’ Air de Rien is one of those fragrances that cannot be categorized. Nothing out there smells quite like it.

  3. I’m going to have to toe the party line here: MKK seemed a little disappointing, especially since I had tried (and fallen for) Musc Ravageur the day before. I have a weird skankometer, apparently, because I didn’t find MKK dirty, really, and MR makes me want to cuddle fuzzy kittens. Thanks for the great review!

  4. I am also broadly in agreement, and for me to say that the “trinity of skank” in MKK didn’t perturb me unduly is quite an admission. I also like L’Air de Rien, which does indeed defy classification.

    Clearly my VM I hate civet days are numbered!

  5. OK. True confessions…Of all notes in perfumery, the two I’ve hated most furiously are amber (not any more!) and …musk. I adore civet, I love castoreum, so I’m no stranger to skank – there, I’ve said it!

    But musk as a dominating note…err…no. Just…no. Too many bad encounters in my wayward youth with musk oil that came across as …well, horrible. I’ve only tried MKK in wax form, so I really can’t judge it properly (the wax turned me verdigris in the worst way!) and I haven’t tried MR…so I’ll take your word for that and eye it with a beady/suspicious eye if I ever encounter it in the wild! 😉

    Likewise with L’Air de Rien..nope…no basis for an opinion. On the other hand…I recently received a sample of Kurkdjian’s ‘L’Absolue pour le Soir’ which sent my own skank-o-meter through the roof…if skank were hyperluxe and classy, this would be it! Thermonuclear weekend, bottled…and only Ariel Ultra will work on THAT weekend’s laundry! 😉

    Now, you need to try Miel de Bois…;-) I’m not sure I’m even advanced enough for that one yet! 😀

    • If you don’t like musk as a dominating note then I think you’ll pretty much love MR, the musk is very much the supporting act.

      I’ve heard so many things about L’Absolue pour le Soir, and the Kurkdijan’s in general, I really should pay more attention to them.

      Miel de Bois is an absolute force of nature, very weird, but I quite liked it.

  6. Fix…fix…fix!! LOL

    I think MKK is one of the every best perfumes I have ever smelled and one of the few I would actually consider shelling out 150 bucks for! What a perfume!!…I have yet to try MR but if it like the other FM’s I have tried, I am sure to really really like it (if not LOVE). I do not see it usurping MY King of the Musk title anytime soon…

    Thanks for the review, you sweet Candy Boy! *hugs*

  7. Ok, I need to try L’Air de Rien. I love skank in ways that are obscene. If I’m not smelling filthy and of sex, then I’m not happy! Haha!

    Ok, now for the MKK/MR debate: I love both, prefer MKK only because sometimes I’m just not in the mood for the “barbershop” feel of MR. MR is actually the only Malle I’ve ever really loved! I feel like I’m missing some sort of button or part in my body that allows me to love Malle fragrances =/

      • Y’know, everyone says that to me. But really, some of the most popular Malles I find to be a bit…not for me (and that’s the polite way of saying it): Carnal Flower and Lipstick Rose, especially. Eek.

        The only other two Malles I like besides MR are French Lover and Noir Epices, but I don’t enjoy them the way I enjoy MR.

        I have to say, though, that had I discovered Malle before Serge, I might be a bigger Malle fan. I swear that Uncle Serge just ruined things for me! =)

  8. I’m no stranger to skank, and love vintage Bal à Versailles extrait-pure skank with a touch of sweetness and leather on my skin. I adore MKK and Kingdom too. I tried try L’Air de Rien and didn’t really remember it, must try this again…

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  11. Love reading people compare these two, and this is the best yet. I hate it when people say “Which is best – Musc Ravageur or MKK”
    They are NOTHING alike. Musc Ravageur to me isn’t even musky, it has no aspects of musk in it at all, and even Maurice Roucel said he had no idea why they named it Musc Ravageur (so I read). I can’t stand MR, I’ve tried it twice, in both oil and parfum form. It isn’t animalic, raunchy… to me it smells very oily, and it reminds me of cooking oil, with some cinnamon and cloves in there. It feels very shallow and unfinished to me, there are no real “top” notes with it.
    Anyway, I could rant on about this for ages.
    I was also dissapointed with MKK, but I just think it’s a gentle fuzzy musk and yes a little animalic at the beginning, but really it’s completely harmless. I’ve got a review up of Untitled no.8, which is pretty much MKK with all the florals and sweetness stripped back, that lived up to the infamous hype just a little bit more!
    It’s strange how you describe L’Air de Rien as skanky, I just find it very musty, I do love it though 🙂

    • Agreed, they are entirely different, and whilst I get a little more musk out of Musc Ravageur, I would agree that it’s more of a gourmand than a musk.

      MKK is way too hyped up isn’t it? I was expecting a huge, filthy beast of a musk, but it’s just a slightly skanky, floral musk that really isn’t very interesting.

      I’ve just read your review of Untitled No 8, no THAT sounds like a musk!

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