mercredi 26 janvier 2011

Serge Lutens Jeux de Peau: Breakfast of the Vanities (and a draw)



If the wily Mr. Lutens hadn’t conjured his childhood memories of being sent off to fetch the bread as the sole hint about his new Jeux de Peau, unleashing the usual level of frenzied speculations within his fandom, I wouldn’t have spent several days nose-squinting in search of the bakery note.
Of course, this teasing is part and parcel of the mind games Serge Lutens loves to play with the public. We are, after all, talking about a man whose favourite writer is Jean Genet, who turned treason into an erotic art. And Jeux de Peau, “play on skin” is itself a pun on “jeux de mots”, which mean “play on words”. 

But within the bread conundrum, there is certainly a grain of truth. In a body of work entirely predicated on the person, tastes and biography of a single man – a pioneering, and possibly still unique case in the perfume industry – the Marrakech storyline is only part of the narrative. Another strand is the world of haute couture, into which Mr. Lutens was initiated when he came to Paris to work for Vogue in the early Sixties (Fourreau Noir, Serge Noire, Bas de Soie…); yet another one is childhood, cryptically alluded to in the press material for Chypre Rouge and Louve.

Anyone who meets Mr. Lutens can see that he is an impish little boy with an old soul. His gravitation towards his pre-Marrakech past confirms the essentially literary nature of his creative process. As writers sometimes do, he is digging deeper into his past for inspiration as years go by, and as he carries out this intimate archaeology, he reshuffles the Arabian-inspired notes that make up his olfactory vocabulary and organizes them into different perspectives. Although it is entirely possible, and indeed Mr. Lutens sometimes alludes to this, that his first encounters with exotic scents do go back all the way to his childhood in Lille; that Marrakech merely revived the memory of them…

Was the work on Jeux de Peau prompted by the story of a boy who guessed that underneath the commercial smile of the baker’s wife lurked at death’s head grin? (I’ve always been struck by the unsettling screechiness of the French boulangère’s “Bonjour messieurs-dames”). Or did the peculiar toasted effect of the new perfume spring from the exploration of the caramelized/burnt effects of Boxeuses? Jeux de Peau comes off as a drier, tougher version of that somehow, minus the leather and plum...

As for the bread note, it’s not fresh-out-of-the-oven, unless the baker fell asleep while it was baking: it’s toast. In fact, though it would probably have never occurred to me without the verbal/olfactory “jeu de mots” on the bakery --, the whole breakfast table seems set chez Lutens: the toast, the butter, the apricot jam and the mingling aromas of coffee, milk and hot chocolate. A reminiscence of Flemish still life paintings? (Lille is known as the capital of Flanders).

The roasted/burnt notes (technically, pyrazines) pop out right after the very briefest anisic/celery green opening (sneeze and you miss it) misleads you into thinking Jeux de Peau will be a new take on Chypre Rouge, now withdrawn from the export line and part of the bell jar collection. The usual Lutens suspects – violet and sandalwood -- show up, the sandalwood adding its smokiness as well as a buttery quality. A touch of licorice hooks up with the anisic top notes and adds a touch of the burnt.
At this stage the scent has a liqueur-like quality – coffee? Chocolate? – that is not entirely un-reminiscent of Thierry Mugler’s A*men (the Mugler/Lutens connection could also be made through the common inspiration of Angel and Jeux de Peau, childhood memories). Immortelle lurks in the background, again a caramelized note…

The bread appears as a touch of flour and the slight sour quality of yeast, but again, you’d really have to force yourself to read it… What rises next is a vivid juicy apricot, not quite dried yet but not fresh: jam. Osmanthus, another player from an earlier scent (Nuit de Cellophane), tying in with the ionones at one end of the spectrum and with something leathery at the other, with a milky dollop in between – the apricot and lactonic notes conjuring the skin alluded to in the scent’s name. Unless the skin is what the baker’s wife removed to bare her rictus in a Flemish vanitas? (Lille is known as the capital of Flanders).

It’s in the drydown that Jeux de Peau starts playing its most devious tricks. Sometimes I get a dominant floral accord that hints at jasmine and rose; sometimes, a woody ambery base with a tingling mineral/metallic touch veering into the ozonic. The toasted note persists throughout, its incense-like effect drying out the sweetness of the violet/apricot/lactones…

Overall, despite its playful name and concept, Jeux de Peau is a scent with a certain gravitas – but then, childhood is full of gravitas, and the sloe-eyed child from Lille must have been as solemn as he was dreamy…

How do you envision Serge Lutens as a child? Tell me in your comments, and I’ll draw the winner of a 2 ml sample spray of Jeux de Peau.

The draw is now closed. I will announce the winner on Wednesday. Thank you all for participating!

Illustration: Pieter de Hooch, Boy Bringing Bread

79 commentaires:

  1. Wow. This sounds so interesting! I see SL as a boy impeccably dressed in short pants, suspenders, and knee socks, with slicked hair to the side; studious, pensive, yet with an adventurous streak; always curious, always dreaming up fantastical adventures and acting them out.

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  2. Well, do you like it? Do you think it is good? I can't tell reading your review...
    I imagine SL was a very brainy kid and somehow your description of the fragrance makes it also sounding quite brainy.

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  3. I'm hugely grateful to the man. That said, I can't help envisioning an elegant little bat studying his mother's fur while hanging upside down in a purple cave :-)

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  4. Gisela, I do think it's good -- it couldn't not be good and make me write so much about it. I find it quite compelling and a little puzzling, which doesn't really push the "like/don't like" buttons, if that makes any sense...

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  5. Delfina, I love that vision of the little bat -- he could be grooming the fur too, couldn't he, as a preparation for his first steps as a hairdresser?

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  6. Young Serge was a curious little guy. Quiet, but not without a mischievous side. He always liked to play Artist, but that didn't prevent him from getting into the occasional scuffle (as boys do). Smart, he noticed everything... which only gave him more ammunition for the occasional prank or teasing. He had that twinkle in his eye - the one that signifies a misleadingly quiet or calm exterior with an imp within.

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  7. Jen, I wouldn't doubt for a second he was quite impish! In real life he's apt to be extremely funny.

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  8. GalileosDaughter27 janvier 2011 01:52

    I imagine that he was quite intelligent and a keen observer of all that went on around him. I imagine him as being very kind, and a good listener. I wish I had known him!

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  9. Galileo's Daughter, like all intensely curious people he is sure to be a good listener, isn't he?

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  10. Now I can't get the image of little Bat-Serge out of my head! But I'll try...

    Look! Here he comes, petit Serge in his sailor suit, out for a romp in the garden. But what's in that little satchel he's carrying? Now he's opening it, taking out... mothballs?! Good gracious, he's heaping them around the orange trees, dusting curry powder on the plums, and -- oh my! -- pouring rum on the herb beds... Off to bed, naughty boy, with nothing but toast for your supper!

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  11. This is very intriguing. I picture the lad Lutens out in nature taking in everything around him and easily as comfortable with his nose in a book learning. Of course he would have had a flair for fashion and impecably dressed.

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  12. I see him as both dreamy as a child and living in his own imagination,and also enjoying being in this world with it's scents and sensations.
    Thanks.

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  13. I love reading all these stories of the young Serge Lutens. I particularly like the story of bat-boy Serge, hanging upside down in the purple cave.

    Honestly, I cannot help but wonder if Serge Lutens really existed as a child, or if perhaps he wrote himself into being out of thin air through an act of will. If indeed he was a child, I imagine him quiet and serious beyond his years, with a bit of sadness in his eyes. Yes, I understand if he was impish, with a sly sense of humour, but I think for those who love beauty and perfection in art, there is always a bit of sadness that the real world is never so beautiful as one's imagination would like it to be. As an adult, one can try to surround oneself with beautiful things, to keep the ugliness at bay, but as a child, surrounded by people who cannot perceive the world in the same way, I imagine the disappointment is keen.

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  14. The phrase that comes to mind when I think of Serge Lutens as a young lad is, "Watch out for the quiet ones."
    -Marla

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  15. I'm afraid the litle Serge was a sad and introverted boy that grew (flew)into artistic genius to overcome the fears and evils

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  16. I'm with Jarvis on this one, although the image of the bat conjured one of my favorite childhood tales, The Bat Poet by Randall Jarell, about a bat who strays from the pack because he wants to stay up during the day and see and experience everything........I love your phrase intimate archaeology in this post!

    I can't help but imagine him thouroughly in his own world, sometimes dreamy, other times withdrawn, both impish and sage (in the French meaning). This scent sounds very intriguing.....

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  17. Natalie, I wonder whether our hero really did experiment with "blends"? It's fun to think he would have, but even if he didn't, it's a great scene!

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  18. Anonymous... that would be me, right now! ;-)

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  19. Jarvis, I'm tempting to scribble "how true!" in the margin of your comment (not an option). Sadness might be there, yes... And also, about writing yourself out of thin air: I believe he did at some point. "Serge Lutens" overrode Serge Lutens and the persona was stylised from his own flesh and memories.

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  20. Marla, the phrase rings a bell... Could I have heard it in a movie recently (not necessarily a recent movie though)...?

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  21. Irina, yes, it's often the case, isn't it, that the introverted ones are the ones who invent the most vivid worlds?

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  22. Wendy, then a Bat Poet he will be. Yes, Jeux de Peau is very intriguing, with the dry/lactonic contrast... I've asked for this type of comment because so few people have smelled the perfume, and typecasting as "toast" without experiencing it would be doing it a disservice...

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  23. I think he would have been a quiet child who was carefully paying attention to the world and its many visual/artistic facets. Just waiting to be an adult and express his varied impressions.

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  24. Elizabeth, perhaps some day he'll write about this in a book...

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  25. What an interesting question! I never imagined Mr. Lutens as a child, but now I think about it, I would imagine him as a curious child full of that incredible energy only children have, running around, poking his head everywhere while at the same time, being home at the exact moment his mother needed something.

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  26. Ines, it's true, it's hard to see Mr. Lutens as anyone else than the persona he has become, but he himself seems to be in a reminiscing mood, which opens up many avenues for imagination...

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  27. I see him as the quiet one in the corner , observing , always observing others . Playing marbles , never getting a speck of dirt on himself .

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  28. Carol, I guess he *would* have played marbles, wouldn't he? My ex-husband's about the same age and has saved a few to this day...

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  29. Thanks a lot for the review, I have been awaiting it with great expectations. I too find it really difficult seeing Serge -'the boy', and, although I new about the childhood reference, I guess I had missed seeing that there actually was a "childhood-category" in his ouvre; Chypre rouge and reminiscence of childhood? It made me wonder, do you feel a connection between CR and JdP in your experience of the scent?
    PS Would love the chance to smell JdP.And a PPS Un Bois Vanille is pure childhood for me. Smells of Liquorice Allsorts(the yellow and black ones)

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  30. Asali, I remember reading that Chypre Rouge was based on a reminiscence of fall in the forests of the Vendée... Initially Jeux de Peau reminded me of Chypre Rouge, I think because of the top notes and sandalwood, but CR is a lot sweeter and spicier and now that I've worn JdP more, the common points have faded.

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  31. Oh let me add to that last comment; The distant childhood memory of Liquorice Allsorts, not the kind of synthetique, brash reality of the sweets in the bag

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  32. Thanks for that. I was thinking less of notes and more of the *feeling' of the scent. Do you know what I mean?

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  33. Asali, I haven't got memories of Liquorice Allsorts, but that burnt aspect of woody vanilla does tie in with the burnt, sweet aspect of liquorice...

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  34. And... as for the feel, I haven't worn Chypre Rouge for a while but I'd say Jeux de Peau was more somber and subdued despite its juicy apricot note.

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  35. Thanks,I can imagine that. Very exciting.

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  36. I don't know if it's in a movie, but it's what all the men in my life have said about me! ;-)
    -M

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  37. In an alternate version though, perhaps little Serge was a regular chatterbox like Karl Lagerfeld says he was as a boy... He's certainly fairly talkative now, and I'm not sure that changes much over the years.

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  38. I think of him as a Proustian figure- only without the weak lungs. Inquisitive, analytical but wrapped up in the sensuality of his upbringing, perhaps even waiting up to hear his mother returning from dinner parties awaiting the good-night kiss so much yearned for- and then of course there is the madeleine...

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  39. Alexander, I was thinking of Proust all along... Those big dark eyes... I'm not sure about dinner parties, somehow I got the impression that Mr. Lutens didn't come from a privileged background, but I can't remember what gave me that impression, certainly nothing he told me...

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  40. Denyse, have you seen anything of Vitriol d'Oeillet yet? Are whispers making their way through Paris yet?

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  41. Hmmmm, the apricot note sounds most interesting. And I know what you mean in your response to Giselle about a perfume being well-made, and compelling, but not always being able to say "like/not like". I enjoy my Boxeuses decant, but can't really decide if I need more, and will wear it...

    And to be always interesting (and mischievous, and edgy) is Serge's mission isn't it? I agree with the posters that as a child he may have been reserved and quiet.

    I posted on the Posse today about one perfume that did hit the "like" button quite clearly for me: Cartier L'Heure Fougueuse! Just got a bottle of my very own (thanks to you for this lemming...)

    And to my surprise, I noticed it's labeled as an EDT. Wouldn't have expected that at all. Lasts very well, don't you think?

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  42. Billy, the short answer is "no". Mr. Lutens has alluded in an interview to "working on a much more violent story". That's all I know, sorry!

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  43. Hmm a perfume of roasted bread, jam, butter... It does not sound bad!

    I imagine that Serge was a very inteligent boy, very curious, interested in almost everything: food, smells, and every little thing in the nature: flowers, spiderwebs, leaves...

    I think he was very mature for his age, and a good boy. He had many ideas and he can talk to adults on equal terms.

    Thanks for the draw!

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  44. Isa, yes, you could just see him stoop to examine a pebble or stand abstractedly sniffing the air...

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  45. I see him neatly dressed but hope that he would not think twice about getting his knees dirty! :)

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  46. Elise, I've never seen a little boy (and very few little girls) who never got their knees dirty!

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  47. I envision him as a little bit of that boy in The Omen movies :)

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  48. Marian, that was Damian, I believe? Oh dear, now you've got me thinking that Serge Lutens' childhood should be filmed by Tim Burton in his finest Edward Gorey mode!

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  49. Does it really smell fresh baked bread? that must be amazing.

    Jean Genet is a writer I read during my teens. How do I imagine Serge Lutens in his childhood? I don't know his background but I can see him sitting down on a house entrance stairs waiting for someone to pick him up and reading a big book about stories from Arabian Tales and really lost in the story while around him cars are passing by. He is travelling through what he reads.

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  50. Vintage Lady, I don't get fresh baked bread but rather toasted bread, though maybe that's the bread and the roasted coffee/chicory notes working together... The 1001 Nights sound like the kind of story he might have loved -- at the time, I think it only circulated in expurgated versions. You probably wouldn't want to hand a child the unexpurgated one: it's quite graphic!

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  51. I see him as a small boy, covering every inch of his playroom walls with complicated crayon drawings. And being a very picky eater.

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  52. Krista, that's a delightful vision (the drawings, not the picky eating -- I made my parents' life miserable with *that*).

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  53. I imagine him living in his own little world, maybe even making up his own language. Which later stood him in good stead in his impenetrable fragrance descriptions... But in any event, it sounds like a must try so I would love to be entered in the draw. Many thanks.

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  54. London, Mr. Lutens definitely has his own language... You're in.

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  55. This review is welcome one, as I have been trying to forget the triteness of Fourreau Noir and move on.
    Your mention of being a picky eater reminded me of how I drove my mom crazy. Now, I eat everything, while my mom has been getting pickier and pickier. We've exchanged places. :)

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  56. Victoria, the exact same thing has happened with my father and I: such crises when I was a child, and now I find out he's the one who won't eat his vegetables!
    As for Fourreau Noir, I can't say it's my favourite. I've got a lot of trouble moving past that lavender (not sure whether there really is dihydromyrcenol but it certainly feels like there is).

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  57. I envision M. Lutens as a quietly mischevious, studious little boy, much petted and beloved of both his tres elegant parents. I imagine his mother allowing him to brush her hair (and that of her little lap-dog) and his father allowing him to play with his shaving kit under the watchful eye of his valet. His life would've been much like Manolo Blahnik's early life in the Canary Islands, where he used to capture lizards.....and make little tinfoil shoes for them to wear!

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  58. Musette, from what little I know, the Lutens household wasn't quite as tony as all that, but I can see the hair (and fur) combing scene from here! I used to love to do that, especially to Hiroko, my parents' Japanese friend, who had such long, thick hair -- and the patience of a Zen Buddhist.

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  59. Fun question! :-) I imagine him as a bit of a merry wanderer... Whether along streets full of shops and strange trinkets, or along streams in a forest, I just see this little boy experiencing all of his senses in order to perceive the fantastical truths of the world around him. I see him as a quiet and thoughtful little fellow, observing the world around him but wanting to experience more and more of life, leading him to wander and adventure.

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  60. Little Serge, as he exists in my imaginary landscape, is a perverse little sprite with sparkling eyes and an insatiable curiosity. Quiet until faced with a challenge, then boldly taking lead when the bigger, rowdier boys balk... he's a charming little trickster who astonishes over and over again even those who know him best!

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  61. Olivia, I suppose for a child with imagination even the neighborhood can be a source of wonder -- or failing that, a screen onto which dreams are projected.

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  62. Dee, he does have that look in his eye to this day!

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  63. Denyse, I have a feeling that he was quite introverted and lived in his own imagination and in his head from a very early age. He was an early reader, too.

    But, I bet he did not miss a trick, and was extremely observant and sensitive to his surroundings.

    Thank you for this wonderful review.

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  64. Mr Lutens' as a child is a conundrum I imagine that he was well behaved but full of energy and spark with an inquisitive nature and self drive.

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  65. Violet, I love where this portrait of the artist as a young boy is going... Thank *you*!

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  66. Taffynfontana, "conundrum" is a word that describes the man perfectly, at any age!

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  67. What an interesting read, Denyse. I admit I was one of the early droolers :) and it doesn't sound quite as strange (or bready) as I was hoping for, although I bet I'll like it. As for the rest, you can leave me out of the draw, if you don't mind, I'm sure I'll sniff it eventually! Boxeuses is a new love, btw, and El Attarine is a new (old) love - I'd never really appreciated it! Cheers.

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  68. March, I'm wondering how you'll feel about that one. Looking forward to your impressions!

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  69. I picture a wide eyed boy fascinated by the world around him. Questioning why and getting into everything.

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  70. I love your challenging questions! And I would love to smell Jeux de Peau.
    We all adore Serge Lutens, don't we? I could see him as a child looking too close to things and people and sometimes getting on people nerves with his questions. Nevertheless a loved child, having something which attracted both the other children and the adults, though he probably had his way to stay in his own world where nobody could touch him.

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  71. Late to the party, but I just wanted to pop in to say how much I enjoyed your review, Denyse. Your writing always invites me think about scent in new and novel ways; I walk through the open door knowing that I will come away richer for having spent a few moments with you, shooting the breeze.

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  72. Carter, hey, it's been a long time it seems... Thanks!

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  73. Okay, now that I've formulated my own thoughts, I've permitted myself to read your wonderful review... and I was glad to see that we're largely in agreement. I think I got more licorice, and less apricot... and maybe a bit less breakfast and more dessert, but overall, it looks as though this hit us (played with us?) in the same way.

    Oh, and I like it very much!

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  74. Persolaise, thank you for the feedback. I know how it is... As time goes by, I feel more reticent rather than less at reading other opinions on things I plan to review before I've made up my mind on my own. Jeux de Peau has quite a lot of character and even people who don't like straight off the bat seem to be drawn back to it... So: very Lutens.

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