Review: Jeux de peau by Serge Lutens

Serge Lutens’ latest fragrance may be a highly unusual offering, but it’s certainly to my taste.

packshotSerge Lutens have given me some samples of their perfumes to try, so I thought I’d start with the firm’s latest release, Jeux de peau (Skin games – and also a wordplay on the French phrase for wordplay ‘Jeux de mots’), which is due out in March 2011.

Serge Lutens is very much an artisan perfumier, though I heard of him originally, and still think of him, as a photographer, interviewed – all waving hands and staring eyes – in the excellent fashion series ‘Undressed’.

The firm that bears his name is known for its dark, rather sexy, occasionally dirty perfumes, most of which are formulated by Christopher Sheldrake after concepts by Lutens. Lutens’ own role is more mercurial. He inspires the perfumes, designs the bottles and packaging, and writes strange, ethereal, allusive, poetical press releases to accompany them, which have the power to make beauty editors both laugh and tear their hair out.

The actual formulae he keeps a closely guarded secret, for obvious reasons – but one thing you can be certain of is that he does as he pleases: if the public don’t like his perfumes, then tough. Welcome to the world of high-end perfumery – we are a long way from Hi Karate and Jade Goody.

My first impression of this perfume was an almost overwhelming blast of patchouli. Luckily, I like patchouli, but it’s not to my cat, Bembo’s, taste – he instantly jumped off my lap and headed for the hills. (But then this is an animal that objects to virtually everything I wear, other than my Clarins hand cream, which really does smell disgusting.) 

After a second or two, the patchouli scent was overpowered (and I mean overpowered) by a spicy waft of black pepper that almost made me cough. Again, though, black pepper is just fine by me – I often add a drop or two of the essential oil to a blend when concocting an aromatherapy mix, as it both warms up and unsweetens a too-floral mixture.

"Ooh, that’s nice," said the DH, catching a whiff. "That’s like creamy lemon ice-cream." But then, his sense of smell is very weird. I can’t detect lemons, limes, ice-cream or any of the other scents that he finds in this ‘citrussy’ mix. To me, this perfume is warm, woody – Christmassy even. Perhaps he means vanilla ice-cream…

The pepper notes gradually give way after 10-15 minutes to sweeter heart notes of sandalwood, at which point I am starting to get really excited. There might, finally, be a perfume I like as much as Artisan Perfumeur’s Tea For Two, which I’ve been wearing for 11 years. In fact, as the afternoon wears on, I realise that I like this even better – it’s more complex, a tad more intellectual, perhaps. A more difficult and challenging personality.

There is something about these gorgeous so-called ‘woody orientals’ that is really alluring to me – they’re a long way from the compliant, feminine Coty L’Aimant floral that my mother used to wear.

One thing that surprises me a tad, though, at least from my initial impressions, is that Jeux de peau is timed for release in March. To me it smells like a winter fragrance, and as I sit here in January by a roaring woodburner, with a pot of lapsang beside me, snow forecast for tomorrow and the evening growing darker, it matches my mood perfectly. 

Lutens himself says this fragrance is inspired by hot bread, by which one shouldn’t understand that it actually SMELLS like bread – it doesn’t, although it does have an equal power to make you feel peckish.

In fact, it what it does smell rather like is my kitchen spice drawer, where mustard seed, fenugreek, cumin and asafoetida powder mix with cinnamon, Szechuan pepper and aniseed. Lutens perfumes are nothing if not complex, and a non-nose like me wouldn’t have a hope of picking out what these multiples of ‘accords’ might be. 

What I do know is that I not only like it, I LOVE it – I can’t stop sniffing myself, and now that the perfume has settled down and sweetened to what I would have called a walnut fragrance, but which the company assures me is actually almond, I can’t wait for it to wear off so I can put some more on and get, once more, that patchouli-pepper hit. 

Right, now for some hot buttered cinnamon toast…

Jeux de peau will be available in March, 79 euros for 50ml. 

Footnote: I tried this out on a dozen friends at a Girls Night In and they all hated it. Which only makes me love it all the more….





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