Musc Ravageur vs. Muscs Koublai Khan
Until recently, I was a musk virgin.
Let me explain. There was a time when musk was, well, trashy. This was in the Seventies, when the drugstore musks appeared. I’m thinking of Jovan Musk, although there were others, musk oils, which were to the disco-down late Seventies as patchouli oils were to the early years. Musk was polyester shirts, flashing lights, sweaty, hairy chests and shiny skintight satin jeans. Musk was cheap speed to the cognoscenti’s cocaine. Musk was what Tony Manero would have worn to 2001 Odyssey in “Saturday Night Fever.” I wanted nothing to do with musk.
So, when I began hearing about the in-your-face bookends Musc Ravageur, and especially Muscs Koublai Khan, I thought, “nah”. But, in the interest of investigative fairness, I ordered a sample of Musc Ravageur, and, predictably, hated it. Here’s what I wrote, back in the dark ages of, oh, last February: “Man does this stuff stink. Is it just musk I can’t stand? I mean, I really can’t stand it. Maybe I can swap it.”
I’m glad I didn’t, because now, guess what, I like it. On my skin, which I only recently realized sweetens everything I put on it, Musc Ravageur not what I wanted then. I was expecting something else. Something more exotic. I found it in Muscs Koublai Khan – the scary one, the one everyone whispers about and almost no one admits to actually wearing beyond their own front door.
Muscs Koublai Khan smells like armpit. More specifically, the armpit of someone who has taken a shower and then had sex. It’s the cumin. Even on my skin, it’s that sweaty cumin. I’ve made chili with less cumin in than I detect in one drop of Muscs Koublai Khan. But, once that recedes, it’s soft, a little bit rosy, and then warm and animalic (as in very).
Musc Ravageur goes on cold; Muscs Koublai Khan goes on hot. The “coldness,” I think, comes from the lavender and clove. Interesting, because in cooking, we think of clove as a warm spice…but is it? Eureka! Not really.
But cumin is hot. No question. It echoes and scents the climates that use it. As both notes begin to dry down, though, the Musc Ravageur begins to warm, and the Muscs Koublai Khan to cool, and it’s at that point where they’re most alike. Then, they diverge onto wildly different paths. Musc Ravageur veers off into rich, dark amber. Muscs Koublai Khan has a minute or two disguised as rose, and then it’s an afternoon at the zoo – but in a good way.
Musc Ravageur is the one that’s still there in the morning. Here’s the question though: do you want it to be? I do. I’m not sure I’d want Muscs Koublai Khan there, though. Like the ideal one-night-stand, it serves its purpose and is gone by the time the sun comes up. Musc Ravageur, though….I kind of like the way it sticks around.
Here the odd thing about perfumistahood; you change. I’ve never encountered anything that has educated me so quickly (well, that’s not exactly true, but, um, I’m not going there. Is it impossible to write about Muscs Koublai Khan and get a G rating? It would appear so). Your olfactory powers change, and your tastes change, and pretty soon there are only a few thousand people in the whole world you can relate to (just kidding.) There was a time I would have shuddered at the idea of musk, but now…
Sometimes trashy is good.
Notes for Frederick Malle “Musc Ravageur” include lavender, bergamot, clove, cinnamon, gaiac wood, cedar, sandalwood, vanilla, tonka and musk.
Notes for Serge Lutens “Muscs Koublai Khan” include cumin, costus root, rose, ambrette seed, patchouli, civet, castoreum, cistus labdanum, ambergris and vanilla.
Painting "Stag at Sharkeys 1909" by George Wesley Bellows, at the Cleveland Museum of Art.