Serge Lutens Jeux de Peau

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



  • Dawn says:

    I am one of the few who LOVES Jeux de Peau. The opening is like hot buttery maple popcorn on me and then it morphs into a wonderful woody scent. which I find heavenly. One of the very few SL’s I can wear and that I enjoy.

    Enjoyed your review.


  • Victoria says:

    I’ve been trying to make up my mind about Jeux de Peau, and I’ve noticed myself coming back over and over again to it. Then I noticed that I made a dent in my bottle. So, in the end, it is a strong love between us. :))

    Speaking of edible osmanthus, I have recently tried pastries stuffed with osmanthus paste at a Chinese bakery. It was similar to apricot, but with a strong tea note. Amazing!

  • Olfacta says:

    Hot buttered toast as in Alice in Wonderland, Screaming Yellow Zonkers (do they still make those?) Cracker Jacks, Arabie.

  • Musette says:

    I have yet to find The Serge (THE Serge, I mean)….I’ve been working on them for …5 years now? 😮 I’ve still not smelled TC (don’t YELL at me! I’m getting there, I’m getting there)…anyhoo, the one I do like quite a bit is Bas de Soie since I love that chilly, chewy thing it has going.

    I got a little bit of JdP from a lovely friend (hi, A! Thanks! ) I’mo try this, apres-bain.

    xoxoxo >-)

    • March says:

      I am surprised how many people like Bas de Soie, which frankly wasn’t my cup of tea. :)>- How did JdP work out?

  • minette says:

    i love many of his, but this one left me bored. it developed into a hybrid of santal blanc and something else i can’t remember now. was disappointed since it sounded so interesting. still haven’t had a chance to sniff el attarine, but that sounds right up my alley. my last lutens love was bas de soie, which is just delicious to wear.

    like you, i thought l’eau was a joke… i mean, huh? why bother. the only two i truly can’t stand on my skin are chypre rouge (vomit note) and serge noire (disgusting bad breath note that lasts far too long). i don’t mind (and often dig) cumin and other body-odor makers in scents, but serge noire takes the cake. on me it’s unwearable.

    • March says:

      You and lots of other people (including Luca Turin?) hated Serge Noire, so you’re not alone. El Attarine is a must-try if you like cumin.

  • Kit says:

    I think I fall into the love category (almost). I do get buttery toast on my skin, almost exactly, which certainly brings back memories. I like it very much and delight in its wistful oddness, but it doesn’t quite sink into my skin, becoming part of it the way the most perfect perfumes do. I can’t help wondering if it wouldn’t have been just a smidge better on me if I were a man.

    • March says:

      You made a great point, although I’d argue that most Serges don’t sink into the skin, at least on me — they are very much their own thing. Wistful oddness is so true.

      • Kit says:

        You’re right, I’ve been testing my way through the Serges (I’m still relatively new to the perfume world) and most of them sit above my skin. Some of them are very beautiful, but I don’t feel like they become part of me. I can imagine wearing them every so often, just to enjoy their artistry, but they don’t feel very me. The only one that I’ve tried and had that moment of delighted oneness was Douce Amere, which I loved at first sniff.

  • sweetlife says:

    Hm. Sounds like I need a sample. I sprayed the blotter last week, sniffed, laughed, and left it on the counter. Serves me right given all my other SL experiences–should have known enough to let it play out. I loved my quick sniff of Bas de Soie, much to my surprise. Curious how it will play out on my skin since I don’t generally go for chilly green things.

    LOVE Boxeuse.

    And btw dear March, osmanthus jam exists, as does osmanthus wine (swoon!). They’re both made in China. I’ve gotten the jam at my local Asian market, but am still working on the wine.

    • March says:

      Osmanthus jam — hey, we have lots of Asian markets around here, I will have to go look for it. And if you can grit your teeth past the opening, it really does dry down more tolerably. 😉

  • Beth says:

    Wonderful review March. It does make me want to try it, since it seems so polarizing. Thanks!!

  • Tom says:

    I did like the drydown when it finally got there but I got a heaping slug of that slightly rancid butter note that people hate about Fracas. I wore it for a day to give it a thorough test, tired it twice more to make sure and am now relatively sure I need never smell it again.

  • Kate says:

    I absolutely love Jeux de Peau! Although at first I didn’t as all I got was popcorn. Then I dutifully tested again and fell in loce. I adore immortelle and get it in heaps. I do not get any bread nor charred toast. Not sure this is a warm weather scent so I will store my decant in the basement until winter.

  • Erin T says:

    Well, I thought my interest in sampling this one had waned, but you’ve got it right back to a fever pitch. Santal Blanc? Melancholy? The boulangerie with the damp cardboard crates? Sign me up!! Really, truly enjoyed this review, M, and join Mals in sincerely complimenting the writing: love the images and metaphors, the humor, the insights that bring something new to the table. So glad I stopped by this morning…

    • March says:

      I think you should try it, because I think you might actually like it. :)>- And again, thanks for the compliments.

  • mals86 says:

    In general, I’m not a huge Serge fan – most of the scents don’t speak to me, they’re nattering on to themselves in (as you say) a language I don’t speak, recounting the last really weird dream they had. My sole Serge love is La Myrrhe, which I do adore. Liked Sa Majeste and Un Lys and Cellophane, liked El Attarine and ISM and Bois et Fruits; didn’t want to own any of them. Thought I’d love Bas de Soie, but it just (sh!) bored me.

    JdP falls into that “Ehh, doesn’t really sound like my thing,” category, and I’m not enticed.

    However… it was well worth coming by this morning, just for this phrase: “there’s a yearning in a language I don’t speak, both lovely and maybe a little sorrowful.” Thanks very much for that.

    • March says:

      You know, I need to get another sample of La Myrrhe and revisit it. I didn’t like it at all, when it came out, and now I suspect I would, very much. It’s one of the few I don’t have a vial of any more.

      And thanks for the compliment on the writing — sometimes I go off like that and laugh at myself, it’s not very descriptive of the perfume!

  • Louise says:

    Serge has mostly hurt my feeling these past few years. I do like El At, in mini doses, and may be the single fan of Fourreau Noire in the Mid-Atlantic region. But Bas de Soie and the Water were so Meh, Boxeuses went horribly sweet on me, though I think it’s a lovely composition. So, after much disappointment, I fell away from my beloved’s new releases. I’ve gone back to my SL Standbys-Datura Noir, UBV, Arabie, Ambre Sultan.

    I like Jeux well enough, but it just sat on my skin. I’ll give it another spin for sure-and would like to try it sprayed, since dabbed SLs play very differently this way.

    Now-off to spray another pet-Un Lys.

    Happy Spring (?) to all!

    • Marla says:

      Hey, I love Forreau Noire! Amazing stuff!

      • Marla says:

        I’m pretty sure there’s some immortelle in it, too, but it’s kept in check by lots of lavender and other “bracing” notes.

    • March says:

      Cold and rainy this morning, what a typical change in weather after 85 degrees!

      Bas de Soie has its pluses, but it’s so not me — too, too cold and metallic — I didn’t even try to review it.

      You really bring out the beauty in those Serge scents you listed. Arabie has never smelled better than on you. 😡

    • Erin T says:

      L, I’m perplexed and fascinated that you found Boxeuses too sweet, but your favorites are… UBV, Datura Noir, Arabie, Un Lys etc.?!? You got some of the sweetest Serges in your standby category there! I’m not pooping on them (well, maybe Datura Noir…) because Arabie, in particular, is my fave of the export line, but it surprises me that you don’t like wearing Boxeuses. For me, it was one of the perfumes that truly bloomed and enchanted in the wearing: I went quickly from “Bah, nothing new” to “Hmmmm…” to “Wow!!! Uncle Serge! You’re back!”

      • Louise says:

        It’s all about yer skin, innit? I also render Daim Blond and Cedre unspeakably sweet, so there’s no logic to it. Just SL and his wonders…

    • sara says:

      Another FN fan here too!

      • Musette says:

        I almost liked FN. But there’s lavender in there, right? Mistress S brought some back from Paree and I remember thinking :x..then :-?…then b-( Lav does that sometimes, like with Ineke’s Field Notes from Paris. For a hot minute I thought I was going to have to run out and get a bottle…but then…b-(


        xo >-)

  • Ann says:

    Hi March, nice post; so glad Jeux de Peau made it onto your radar. I really, really like this. As you mentioned, I find it charming, comforting, and also a little bittersweet and wistful, like a youth who is still in the innocence of childhood but poised to make the leap into maturity. And I can enjoy it freely, thanks to the wonderful generosity of a fellow Posse-er (waves to Dinazad above)!!

    • March says:

      Dangit, what is wrong with my laptop this morning? I really need an upgrade… apologies if there are typos, there’s this huge delay in what appears on the screen after I type it.

      So, you liked it! Definitely a love/hate on this one, eh? I will be retrying it again, probably not in hot weather 🙂 and since I like sandalwood, immortelle, Chypre Rouge and Santal Blanc, will not be surprised if at some point I decide I need more.

  • Francesca says:

    I went to Aedes a couple of weeks ago just to sniff JdP. The SA obliged me with a blotter spritzed with it. All I could do not to recoil and go GAH! right in front of him. I left being grateful I hadn’t sprayed it on myself. Someone described this aspect as something like “having a smoldering sharp stick shoved right up your nostril.” However, later as I was eating lunch, I discovered that I’d gotten some of the scent on my hand, after all, and whatever it was I’d hated had dissipated. And then the next day I opened my bag and quite a lovely fragrance came out. It was the blotter. Spicy, Serge-y, definitely got some rose. I’d like to see what happens with a spray directly on skin now, but I don’t think this is anything I’d actually have to own.

    • March says:

      Heh heh – and if that isn’t the classic Serge experience I don’t know what is. Something weird at the top, as in Tubereuse Criminelle or Fleurs d’Oranger, drying down into loveliness. Of course if you’d gotten it on the sleeve of your coat, it would probably be there for weeks…

  • Sherri M. says:

    Thanks, March! I think I like this one. It’s kinda weird, yes, but it wears very well, especially for a Serge. It wasn’t what I expected from all the hype. To me the “buttered toast”, “apricot”, etc. all take a backseat to the sandalwood…the other shall we say unconventional :-) notes simply adorn and make the composition intriguing. I’m surprised it was released going into Spring; it seems more like a cold weather comfort scent to me. To me, this one has a laid-back casually elegant feel to it.

    • March says:

      There’s definitely that sandalwood note that we find in Santal Blanc, and I like it a lot better as it dries down. I do think it’s a cold weather scent; it’s too much and too odd for summer.

  • sara says:

    Thanks for an interesting read/review! Does anyone remember the snack food Poppycock? It came in a large can–buttered toffee popcorn welded onto peanuts and such? That’s what JdP smells like on me. Yuck. I’ve really enjoyed some of the recent SL releases (Boxeuses, Bas de Soie) but I think JdP is one of the worst things he’s done.

    • March says:

      That buttery thing…. I’ve read that before. I guess it’s a combo of the milky notes and immortelle? Clearly it’s offputting for lots of folks.

      • Marla says:

        Butter absolute does exist, and it really smells like butter! But there are aromachemicals that smell very buttery also.

      • Francesca says:

        I got the butter, too, but I was specifically looking for that. But I only got in in the “Ow, my nose!” stage.

  • dinazad says:

    I stand by my opinion – I think it’s awful. Nevertheless, I admire Monsieur Lutens no end for producing the fragrances he wants to make as opposed to those the mass-market wants…

    • March says:

      Well, you’re in the majority in your opinion, but yes, at least we don’t smell it and think, well, that’s been done before x times!

  • Marla says:

    I was lucky enough to try some of this just before I left Europe, and I really liked it. It seems gourmand, but then it gets all austere. It seems cheerful and childlike, but then it’s melancholy. It’s quite poetic. I won’t be going for a bottle because immortelle drives me nuts after 5 minutes, and I prefer Serge’s “cold” perfumes, Bas de Soie being my all-time Serge favorite. I was seriously impressed with this new one, though, which I call in my head, “Serge’s Childhood Memories”.

    • March says:

      Hmmm…. mostly the reaction so far seems negative – this is a polarizing perfume! Of course the fact that it reminded me a bit of Chypre Rouge made me suspect feelings might be negative. And yes, if immortelle drives you nuts, as it does many people (I wonder if there are immortelle magnifiers?) it’s likely not going to work for you!

      • Marla says:

        Yes, I had the same reaction to Chypre Rouge, loved it, but the immortelle on my skin went into geometric expansion mode till that’s all I could smell, so I never bought a bottle. I finally bought a tiny bottle of immortelle absolute, diluted it down, and tried it alone, and yup, can’t stand it!