--stewed apricots in syrup? ✔
--smooth cedar? ✔
--intense musk? ✔
Must be a Serge Lutens.
And it is. El Attarine was released in the fall of 2008 as part of the exclusive Paris-only Serge Lutens line, and it fits perfectly with several of its predecessors: The stewed fruit of Bois et Fruit (thank you, Captain Obvious), the woods of the entire Bois series (including Feminite de Bois with its plum and cumin over cedar) and the animalic musk and civet of MKK. However, in many ways what I smell in El Attarine is a do-over of Arabie (2000, the export range). It's like a "once more, with feeling (and a lot less cumin)" version of the Serge Lutens perfume I dislike the most. And it works. Mostly.
The reason I can't stand Arabie is because it smells like an unpleasant location. Those who've never been to a souk can romanticize it all they want, but behind the spice stands, Arabian Nights-worthy jewelers and mysterious attar and perfume stores there are smelly back alleys, some with open sewage running out of the (very non-vegetarian) restaurants. When I smell Arabie that's what I see and feel.
El Attarine is the romance and postcard-worthy imagery of ancient cities and markets. Officially named after El Attarine Madrassa in Fez, Morocco, a majestic 14th century school and mosque, but also carrying the name of the perfume market in Tunis, Souk El Attarine. Uncle Serge who lives in Marrakesh has a thing for the Arabic design and aesthetics and uses them generously in his own house (where he doesn't actually live). Some of this elaboration also exists in El Attarine, and it works beautifully.
It took me a while before I dared wearing El Attarine around my cuminphobe husband. He has yet to complain, so I guess it really is much gentler and kinder. The cumin is most noticeable in the first 20 minutes and later moves away and lets the honeyed fruit and stewed wood do the talking. There's also more than a hint of maple-like immortelle, which I personally love but know it's not for everyone.
The thing is that El Attarine is shockingly short-lived. I can't think of any Serge Lutens perfume that becomes a faint memory on my skin after three hours at most. This just doesn't happen in my world, and it's the only reason a bell jar of this golden syrup is not on my current wish-list.
El Attarine ($115, 75 ml) is exclusive to Serge Lutens Paris boutique at the Salons du Palais Royal Shiseido. EU residents can order online or by phone, the rest of us can buy samples and decants from The Posh Peasant and the Perfumed Court.
El Attarine ad from imagesdeparfums.fr
Madrassa El Attarine, Fez, by Michelle Bartsch
Souk El Attarine, Tunis, by Liz Tagami and nachoua.com