It’s been awhile since I annoyed readers with a quote from Perfumes: The Guide, so here’s one for today, regarding Serge Lutens, taken (and condensed) from Luca Turin’s review of El Attarine:
I detect in many of the recent Lutens fragrances a growing impatience, a rising tone of voice, as if he felt hindered in getting his way, in reaching what has been all along his only goal: making us swoon. Since 2005 his fragrances have gotten louder and heavier, and also in some ways more essential, more original. He is taking greater chances… there is something admirable in his relentless Arab obsession…
Lutens’ scents are in general the sorts of things perfumistas either love or loathe, and, in general, I love them – or at least admire the ones I don’t love (yet.) Because Lutens scents have a way of latching on to me months or years after their release, as is the case with Serge Lutens Miel de Bois and (ohhh yessss) Serge LutensEl Attarine. The only one I’ve detested was last year’s L’Eau, because I don’t care how well-done it was, the last thing I want from Uncle Serge’s House o’ 1001 Arabian Nuits is a light ozonic musk “anti-perfume” that’s supposed to call to mind a freshly-ironed shirt.
Serge Lutens Boxeuses is a beautiful, typical Lutens, if there is such a thing – a fruity, woody leathery scent with all the macerated richness a Serge fan would expect, a scent that’s right at home in his Palais Royal boutique.
Serge Lutens Jeux de Peau is another kind of Lutens – the weird kind. The name means (roughly) “skin games” and it was speculated about wildly before its release – a bread note? Jam? Milk? Coffee? Notes listed on Fragrantica are milk, coconut, licorice, osmanthus and apricot, but that doesn’t strike me as entirely correct (where’s the immortelle? the dark, leathery, spicy bits?), nor does it do the scent justice in terms of evoking its complexity.
First impressions for Serge Lutens Jeux de Peau on the skin are both familiar (anisic) and strange: burnt toast and something sweet (jam?) and for about thirty seconds, it teeters along the edge of very interesting and no, thanks – burnt toast is an interesting smell, but I’m not sure I want to wear it around all day. Then it softens and gets less burnt and more bread-like, still with a jam-floral note (wouldn’t osmanthus jam be spectacular?) and other notes that seem bakery-related but unidentifiable individually – the inside of a boulangerie that also serves coffee? Maybe it’s raining outside and some of the cardboard boxes for packing the treats in are slightly damp? So: still plenty weird, but less off-putting, and I’m charmed.
Along comes the immortelle, that smell of maple syrup or fenugreek, which everyone’s mentioned, although oddly on me that particular note stays very close to the skin – I have to lean in and sniff my wrist to catch it, and then it’s quite strong, but this is nothing like, say, Goutal’s Sables. There’s a milky-woody aspect that made me think fairly quickly of Santal Blanc, although Serge Lutens Jeux de Peau is sweeter and more peculiar. The drydown is lighter and darker – fruity/woody/incense, still that hint of milk, the immortelle and a spiciness that seems both floral (rose?) and edible.
If I were lining up the bottles in the Palais Royal, I suppose I’d put Serge Lutens Jeux de Peau between Santal Blanc and Chypre Rouge, which it also makes me think of – not even so much the smell as its intensity. Denyse at Grain de Musc used the word gravitas, which resonated with me. I’m not sure what Mr. Lutens is trying to tell us (who is ever sure of that?) but there’s a yearning in a language I don’t speak, both lovely and maybe a little sorrowful. Bois de Jasmin’s review referenced the same two Lutens scents I did; both these reviews are insightful.
Do I like Serge Lutens Jeux de Peau? I don’t know. I think I’d rather have a bottle of Boxeuses; I’d wear it more. Or, for that matter, a bottle of El Attarine, even though it would last me a thousand years. But I’m exceedingly grateful Serge Lutens Jeux de Peau exists, and that I have a sample, even if I decide I don’t need any more of it. I appreciate a scent that wears so uncompromisingly, one that smells entirely Lutensian, which is to say: one that hasn’t been focus-grouped into lumpen, mass-market submission. I don’t know what Serge Lutens stitches his freak flag out of (the chirping of crickets, liquid velvet, the beating of angels’ wings, and a touch of Moroccan kif?) but I’m glad he’s still letting it fly.
sample source: private sample (decant) Serge Lutens Jeux de Peau sample available at Surrender to Chance