One Thousand Scents

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Carbo Loading: Serge Lutens Jeux de Peau

I often feel at a disadvantage when pondering the names and descriptions of French scents, because the descriptions are often so big and flowery that I know a translation is not really going to do them justice, and the names often force me to suspect there is a secondary meaning to them that only a deep knowledge of the French language and culture would make clear. Why is Etat Libre d'Orange's Rossy de Palma scent subtitled "Eau de Protection"? Does that mean something to French ears that is lost to English speakers? (Or is it just weirdness for its own sake?)

Serge Lutens' recent Jeux de Peau literally translates as "Skin Games", but can that really be what's intended? Does it have some other meaning? Is it a reference to something, a novel or a TV show? It is a pun or other play on words somehow? Aren't all fragrances skin games, really?

As I said about my first encounter with Jeux de Peau, my immediate reaction was, and I quote, "Hmmm, interesting OH MY GOD." The "Hmmm, interesting" part is because the scent starts with a flash of typically Lutensian strangeness, bright and trinkety, so brief I can't even tell exactly what it might be: it's just sort of odd, metallic and spicy, maybe the cast-iron pans in a rundown curry-house kitchen. It is the sort of thing we expect from Lutens, and I reasonably enough thought that the opening of the scent would establish this oddity more fully, play it out and develop it.

But no, it is a trick, a ruse; it simply vanishes, and like magic the scent opens up into a massive "OH MY GOD" spread of baked goods, all at once, dark and mouthwatering. A thick layer of hot butter on grilled bread; waffle cones, cooked almost until burnt; toasted hazelnuts, maple glaze, croissants. Ridiculous. Extreme. Over the top. So gorgeous that when I wear it I cannot help but smell my own skin, over and over again. I wore it every single day last week; I almost forgot I owned any other scents.

After a couple of hours, most of the baked goods have been eaten, and what is left is, perversely, Santal Blanc. Not just "sandalwood" or even "Serge Lutens sandalwood", but actually Santal Blanc (I own it, so I know). It is not out of place; austere, bone-dry, it is a welcome counterpart to the buttery richness of the bake shop.

But there is another trick, one more game to be played in these skin games, hours and hours later: the baked goods return. Perhaps they were there all along, merely drowned out by the sandalwood, but at any rate, that drifts away and the bakery reasserts itself. It's subtler now, and sweeter; less brioche-and-croissants than pecan pie, caramel sticky buns, maybe molasses cookies, undeniably yummy. It lasts for hours and hours, of course.

There are a great many gourmand scents on the market, with more arriving every day; I just discovered that Mugler is launching an EDT version of the proto-gourmand Angel with some altered notes but (it sounds like) the basic gourmand structure intact. But nobody ever thought of doing a gourmand so resolutely peculiar and commanding as Jeux de Peau, because only Lutens is Lutens.

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