Serge Lutens Jeux de Peau : Fragrance Review

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Jdp

Star rating: 5 stars–outstanding/potential classic, 4 stars–very good, 3 stars–adequate, 2 stars–disappointing, 1 star–poor.

Serge Lutens Jeux de Peau, which translates from French as “play on skin” or games “involving skin,” certainly engages in plenty of olfactory tricks. Christopher Sheldrake and Serge Lutens have never been shy about exploring difficult notes. I still marvel at the technical genius of La Myrrhe, in which a traditionally heavy, unctious and dense note of myrrhe seems effervescent and luminous. Or the harsh, diesel fuel note of methyl benzoate in Tubéreuse Criminelle that makes the white tuberose appear even fresher and brighter. In Jeux de Peau, the notes that are pushed to the point of discomfort are the caramelized, charred accords that evoke toasted bread.

Pyrazines and their derivates are quite common aromatic compounds that give flavor to a wide range of foods such as bread, nuts, popcorn, coffee, chocolate, meat and even white wines. While by themselves that they smell vegetal and peanut-like, when paired with certain dark notes, the effect becomes toasted and rich. In fragrances, they are also commonly used to give a delicious nuance, but their usage is generally minimal, a bare trace to tease the senses. Some of the most vivid nutty-toasty pyrazine notes can be found in fragrances like L’Artisan’s Bois Farine and Thierry Mugler Angel Men, while in Ormonde Jayne Champaca, the lighter acetyl pyrazine notes create the illusion of basmati rice. Jeux de Peau goes much further, however, with the toasty concept. In small doses, pyrazines are delicious and appetizing; in large doses the effect can be quite the opposite. In Jeux de Peau, Sheldrake goes for an effect that is dark, caramelized, roasted and almost burnt, which is enough to be challenging but still strangely fascinating.

The initial impression is that of crunchy, green anise and metallic notes which are paired with the maple syrup sweetness of immortelle. Together, they make a fleeting vision of green celery sticks before the green freshness melts into the savory spicy darkness. Jeux de Peaux is built around sandalwood and amber notes, with the violet-tinged cedarwood giving an extra dimension. The bread in Jeux de Peau is not a crisp, airy baguette, but a buttery croissant. There are elements in the composition that anyone familiar with Lutens’s aesthetic would recognize at once–incense, dark ambers, spices and vanilla redolent balsams. However, some elements are used in a very novel manner.

Just as you are ready to consider Jeux de Peau in the same category as the sweet, balsamic Santal Blanc, it shows a surprising facet of apricots and cream. The brightness of osmanthus and sweet milky notes seem to dominate the dark woody-incense accord, but contrary to expectations, the fruity notes do not make it lighter. The fruits of Jeux de Peau are quite candied and in combination with the toasty, caramel notes, the illusion is that of an apricot tart or perhaps baked honey glazed figs. Given all of these gourmand effects, the polished elegance of the sandalwood and amber base comes as another surprising twist. The savory note of immortelle and the toasted notes are present throughout, albeit softer in the drydown.

While Jeux de Peau is a very original fragrance that explores the territory of dark, woody gourmand in a fascinating manner, it is far from being a crowd pleaser. I feel that the intent above all is to present the familiar–the simplicity of toast and jam–in a new way. As such, it succeeds in being both different and challenging to wear. I find that the combination of rich buttery notes, charred wood and sweet balsamic accords gives it a dense, opaque quality. Denyse described Jeux de Peau as having gravitas in her review, with which I agree. It has a lot of character and a very strong signature, and as I wear it, I am impressed by its tenacity and diffusion. Like most Lutens fragrances, Jeux de Peau is equally suitable for men and women and despite the rich notes, it is not a sugary gourmand. I would not pick it for a romantic dinner or a visit to the theater, but as a companion on blisteringly cold days, it is alluring.  I think that those who enjoyed the dark opulence of Chypre Rouge will find Jeux de Peau to be in the same league. Interesting, uncompromising, in the best of Lutens’s traditions.

Jeux de Peau is part of the export line and is now available in France. In the US, it is going to be available from Aedes and Barney’s New York later this month or in March.  On similar ideas: Chypre Rouge, Santal Blanc and as my friend Véronique reminds me, Le Feu d’Issey Miyake, which also explored toasty bread and creamy wood notes.

Sample: my own acquisition

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39 Comments

  • carmencanada: Victoria, funny you should mention not wearing Jeux de Peau for an evening at the theater, because that’s exactly where I wore it first in public — I *did* get a lot of compliments, but then it was quite an experimental show. I see you also thought of it being in the line of Chypre Rouge, which was my first impression.
    I’m still on the fence about wearing it in real life: it’s one of those compositions that take getting used to because, as you note, they’re quite unusual. And it’s probably one for which you end up developing an odd craving… February 7, 2011 at 3:57am Reply

  • aotearoa: I have been looking forward to a review of this and yours is excellent-thank you. It sounds challenging and I like that! February 7, 2011 at 3:58am Reply

  • Rose: not a perfume that is begging to be liked by the sounds of things but very interesting- and I can’t wait to try it I have to say! February 7, 2011 at 4:53am Reply

  • Olfactoria: Your review is wonderful, thank you! When I read about a perfume, an image forms in my head, I have a certain impression of the scent and most often it is at least in some respects accurate when I finally smell it myself. But since the first snippet of information about Jeux de Peau I am in equal parts intrigued and baffled. I have no idea how this will smell,and as thorough your review is, as many images and similes it conjures, I still can’t imagine what Jeux de Peau smells like. That is the perfection of Lutens, creating “impossible” perfumes. I remain intrigued (and baffled ;))and cannot wait until I get my hands on a sample. February 7, 2011 at 5:23am Reply

  • Victoria: The closest equivalent is Chypre Rouge with a burnt bread and apricot jam note. Did you try that one? It has a strong immortelle note as well.

    Someone on MUA aptly described Jeux de Peau as a maple syrup French toast, fork included. It is such a great description, but to my JdP is not cloying sweet (surprisingly even, because of so many gourmand notes.) It is rich, but not sugary. February 7, 2011 at 8:29am Reply

  • Victoria: Honestly, it is the most challenging Lutens for me personally. Yet, it is fascinating. February 7, 2011 at 8:30am Reply

  • Victoria: I like olfactory challenges too, and I am so glad to see another interesting, challenging Lutens. :) February 7, 2011 at 8:32am Reply

  • Victoria: Denyse, I can imagine that it might get comments! It is diffusive and very strong.
    Chypre Rouge with that immortelle and its own burnt, caramelized notes came to mind right away, especially when the anisic-celery top note comes up. Then Jeux de Peau goes into a whole other territory. I feel that it is one of those Lutens that is an acquired taste (like Chypre Rouge was to me).
    At least, it is original and not a pastiche of everything Lutens like Fourreau Noir (my least favorite Lutens to date, rivaling Rahat Loukoum.) February 7, 2011 at 8:39am Reply

  • March: Gosh, between you and Denyse, I really want to try this. I like Chypre Rouge a lot (not everyone does, I know) and the notes — and your exploration of them — make it sound like something I’d find myself craving, even if it’s not an everyday thing. Thanks. February 7, 2011 at 9:09am Reply

  • Victoria: I think that if I did not like Chypre Rouge and these caramelized immortelle notes, I would have hated Jeux de Peau. It is really polarizing, I feel, but hey, if Serge will not give us polarizing, who else will! :) February 7, 2011 at 9:33am Reply

  • ScentScelf: Hmmm. It was an evening in which allowed me to discover how I could learn to love FMK Absolue pour le Soir, and now that I think about it, I spent many quiet wearings alone with Dans Tes Bras to simply get to know it. DtB seemed so…odd but compelling? familiar but new? comfortable but challenging?…and just now I realize it has become a comfortable companion.

    Your description of Jeux de Peau–which was lovely, thank you–and the challenge it may present recalled long perfume journeys. When they pay off, you realize the long dance was as fun as the reward at the end. Even if the courtship does not end well…when well attended to, it is worth the time and effort.

    Appreciate your preview. February 7, 2011 at 10:32am Reply

  • sweetlife: Well, at least it’s not an “anti-perfume.”

    I don’t remember getting along very well with Chypre Rouge–it kept reminding me of cough syrup–but it’s been a long time since I’ve tried it. And I love the osmanthus note in Daim Blond. February 7, 2011 at 10:39am Reply

  • Marina: I can live with a croissant.:) As long as it’s *there* to a sufficient degree, and I don’t have to strain my powers of imagination to “intuit” its presence…I am not much of a fan of literal fragrance, which smell exactly as their names suggest, but am too tired at this point to do the work of trying to figure out what the creator meant, you know? :D February 7, 2011 at 11:16am Reply

  • Victoria: I completely understand what you mean. I think that the beauty of many Lutens fragrances (or the frustration with them, depending on how you see it) is that the meaning is never quite clear and is always open to interpretation. It is as if they leave some room for your own personal imprint. Which is why I love this line as a whole, even if some fragrances leave me cold.
    Jeux de Peau is challenging, but intriguing. In the end, I am glad that I decided to purchase unsniffed, but I would never recommend anyone else doing the same thing! February 7, 2011 at 12:15pm Reply

  • Victoria: A, I am glad to skip anti-perfume trend for now, and for my favorite anti-perfume, Luten’s own Fleurs de Citronnier has only a few other contenders.

    If you do not like the licorice-maple syrup note of Chypre Rouge, I think that Jeux de Peau might be difficult too. However, it is still different enough. February 7, 2011 at 12:17pm Reply

  • Victoria: S, that is a lovely analogy. I think that if a perfume inspired one to try it again and again, it has already accomplished something. With so many new launches, I find that I have less and less patience for struggling to love anything. Yet, Jeux de Peau is different in that I remember it and it intrigues me and prompts me to put it on again and again. February 7, 2011 at 12:19pm Reply

  • dee: I’ve really been looking forward to this one. My husband, the closet perfumista, has too. His favorite smell is that of toast… I think I’ve told this tale before, but he once pulled me into a romantic embrace, asking in sotto voice, “do you smell like toast?” I wish I could remember what I *was* wearing, at the time, but alas, it’s lost to history.

    I love the idea that a celery aspect was used—what could say to the brain “crunchy” better than celery? Textures in fragrance really thrill me, and, while the JdP notes sound like a hot mess, I’m on the edge of my seat in anticipation to see how it actually plays out on skin. Ha! Plays on skin. February 7, 2011 at 12:26pm Reply

  • Victoria: D, Jeux de Peau definitely has an interesting interplay of textures, from the rough natural silk feeling that the sandalwood notes impart to the velvety apricot notes. I am with you, I love to find parallels between scents and textures.

    Jeux de Peau is not cloying to me, despite what the list of notes may sound like. It is like other Lutens in this respect. They are rich, heavy, but only a few of them are truly cloying.

    Love the story of your husband and the toast compliment! :) February 7, 2011 at 12:36pm Reply

  • Asali: Thank you for the wonderful review. I’m so looking foward to trying JdP, although the CR comparison makes me think that it won’t make it into my top-love-Serge’s. But you never know, “candied and in combination with the toasty, caramel notes, the illusion is that of an apricot tart or perhaps baked honey glazed figs” sounds really great, really SL, especially with the burnt note and wood added (“fork included” haha:-)). February 7, 2011 at 2:30pm Reply

  • Victoria: Asali, I loved that description of “fork included”! It is exactly right, as there is an odd metallic note in Jeux de Peau, which only adds to the overall intrigue.
    I am just enjoying that this is something different and not “anti-perfume.” I can live with challenging from Lutens. :) February 7, 2011 at 2:53pm Reply

  • minette: chypre rouge being the only lutens i absolutey can’t stand on my skin – it has a vomit note that i just cannot escape – i must ask you if this one smells anything likt chypre rouge or if it’s just exploring a similar territory. it sounds as if i would like this one, that’s why i wonder. thanks! February 7, 2011 at 3:51pm Reply

  • Victoria: It is in a similar territory with the caramelized, woody, anisic notes. I cannot say that they are identical, but both are challenging fragrances. I grew to love Chypre Rouge, and I find Jeux de Peau very appealing. I have been wearing it almost daily for the past few days. My first impression was not very positive (too heavy, too dense, too creamy) but I was really tempted to return to it again and again. So, I would still say that it is challenging, an acquired taste, but something that I am enjoying. February 7, 2011 at 4:04pm Reply

  • violetnoir: V–I have no idea what to expect from this, but your wonderful review makes me want to try this one even more. Plus, I love the smell of toast and butter!

    Hugs! February 7, 2011 at 5:33pm Reply

  • Victoria: I love toasty, nutty notes too, which is why Bois Farine with its nutty accord is such a favorite. Here, SL definitely goes for the burnt toast! :) February 7, 2011 at 7:17pm Reply

  • maria: mmmm toast and butter February 7, 2011 at 11:14pm Reply

  • hongkongmom: funny thing: chypre rouge was one that i didn’t like in the beginning…this winter(in the middle of it) I had a sudden craving for it, and it was sumptuous, warm and comforting. I love so many lutenss and am really excited that there is a new one to challenge me…it has been a while…
    Beautiful and really informative review, I look forward to rereading it when JdeP gets to Hong Kong! February 8, 2011 at 5:12am Reply

  • Erin T: Great review! Very informative, too: I enjoyed reading about pyrazines. I have always enjoyed nutty notes – I always see and feel the golden, creamy flesh of walnuts in my mind – and it is interesting to think of them in conjunction with intense roasted notes, as in A*Men (a fave of mine), and especially lighter rice notes like in Champaca. I imagine it is pyrazines in PG Aomassaï? I confess I am generally not as keen on Parfumerie Generale as many others, but I am so close to loving that one – just wish it were not quite so tooth-achingly sweet at the beginning.

    I am quite looking forward to Jeaux de Peau. I was “off” SL for a while (or at least the nail-biting anticiaption of the new scents), but I thought Boxeuses was really marvelous and the note list released on this one a few months ago, with its apricot and licorice and toast, sounded so delicious. From your review and Denyse’s, it sounds as if there are a few surprises in store, but whatever I will think of it, it at least sounds interesting! February 8, 2011 at 10:00am Reply

  • Victoria: It made me hungry for toast with apricot jam, my favorite breakfast ever! February 8, 2011 at 12:08pm Reply

  • Victoria: Thank you so much! I cannot wait to hear what you and others think once it reaches your shores, because I am sure that there will be so many different and interesting opinions. That’s the thing with Lutens, with few notable anti-perfume exceptions, the fragrances are never boring. February 8, 2011 at 12:11pm Reply

  • Victoria: Erin, I am so glad that it was interesting, because I also love the nutty-toasty notes of all types, from roasted spices to coffee. That is what I smell in Aomassai, the roasted peppery note and woods. I am sure something toasty, pyrazine or pyrazine related is used to get the effect. It rather smells like my grandmother’s spice cupboard where a strong scent of allspice, pepper and coffee mingles with aroma of vanilla sugar. I really could not believe how well it captured that memory for me. The sweetness though is what kills it for me in the end.

    After a number of disappointments, I was about to give up on Lutens, but Boxeuses and Jeux de Peau were interesting. So, I am excited about SL launches once again. February 8, 2011 at 12:16pm Reply

  • Asali: Couldn’t agree more. Love a Lutenesque challenge :) February 8, 2011 at 4:07pm Reply

  • uella: I received compliments with Jeux de Peau and some people wanted to know what fragrance I was wearing. I personally find Jeux de Peaux to be more of a crowd pleaser than other recent Lutens releases like Serge Noire and Fille en Aiguilles that I thought a little too much for me – to the exception of Bas de Soie, which I consider the best Lutens fragrance of the “easy to wear” category (Nuit de Cellophane, Clair de Musc, Fleurs d’Oranger…). The obvious comparaison with Santal Blanc totally makes sense but I find Jeux de Peau more complex and although not a sweet gourmand by any means, more addictive. February 8, 2011 at 5:53pm Reply

  • Victoria: Thank you for your thoughts. Glad to hear another perspective! I completely agree with you, although based on the notes it might sound like Jeux de Peau would be a sweet gourmand, it is not. Very interesting interpretation. February 8, 2011 at 6:13pm Reply

  • allison: Just tried it today and I must say I love it. I’ve been wearing Bois Farine for years, and while I love it it has become so very familiar. This feels like an evolution on that, and has a nice roundness and complexity in comparison. April 7, 2011 at 8:39pm Reply

  • Victoria: I have been wearing it often too. Such a striking composition! I love your comparison with Bois Farine. April 8, 2011 at 6:44am Reply

  • nstephens@beachcroft.com: Such a beautiful and thorough review of this oddity, thank you. I first sniffed it in Harrods with the SA saying “but WHEN would you wear it? Eh?” She was totally flummoxed but kept returning to it. I find it fascinating and yummily compelling. The sandalwood reminds me of Bois des Iles and the licorice aspect of Bois de Vanille which I find similarly compelling and difficult to wear. I’m going to try harder with this one though as I do love immortelle, toasty and apricot notes! April 13, 2011 at 9:07am Reply

  • allison: Jeux de Peaux has leapt to the top of my most complimented list, with several people in a few days asking me what I am wearing and writing it down. And it’s interesting that the SA are not supporting it, both time I went to the counter (to try and then to purchase) they tried to redirect me to easier fragrances. It interesting to me to define what you mean by a fragrance that is demanding or challenging, is it that its unfamiliar? It seems to be so popular when I wear it… April 20, 2011 at 8:58am Reply

  • Victoria: Allison, yes, I just mean unfamiliar, unusual. It may not be necessarily off-putting, because it is unusual, but it definitely does not smell like everything else out there.
    I smelled it the other day layered with A La Nuit, and it was fantastic! April 20, 2011 at 11:16am Reply

  • Sara A.: Today I awoke feeling the need of a leather, but not either of the ones I’ve invested in thus far. So I took an earlier bus and stopped in at my local store before work. I had intended to try Daim Blonde, but it smelled a little too cutting on the blotter so I picked up Jeux de Peau vaguely remembering that Peau means something like skin and something in the reviews about apricot. On me, this smell like a good hazelnut latte, wood smoke, maple syrup, and a slight spicy breadiness… Not like I’ve eaten the spicy bread but that I might of made it and then sat in the same room as it. After a few hours it settles in to that warm leather/maple syrup place I love so much kind of like Azuree but warmer and cozier. I don’t think I ever got apricot, or the deep breadiness that others have mentioned, but I love it so. The girls at work seemed to like it too! November 8, 2011 at 12:58am Reply

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