jeudi 7 août 2008

Serge Lutens El Attarine


Don’t ask me where I got my decant… Let’s just say it was a friend of a friend, who swears this comes straight from the Palais Royal. Just a few drops, some of which were soaked up by a scent strip; the precious little that was left was sprayed on.


But straight off, one thing was obvious: El Attarine has violet. Lots. Cumin. A hefty dose. Sandalwood, definitely. And Atlas Cedar.


Does that ring a bell? To me, El Attarine clearly reprises the Bois series, with a cumin frieze and a sandalwood pedestal. Bois de Violette, say, wedged into Santal de Mysore, with a lashing of Fleurs d’Oranger. Sound like a weird cocktail? It’s not. It’s Serge, it’s strange, it’s beautiful…

With his 2008 fragrances, Serge Lutens seems to be, on the one hand, getting down to basics and on the other hand, summing up the essence of his style. Serge Noire, after all, bears his name, though in a wordplay on the material called serge; but more importantly, it’s his way of tackling the very first material in the history perfumery, incense. El Attarine is named after attar, the Arabic-by-way-of-Persian word for perfume (more specifically, today, a floral essence). Thus: the Arabic perfume, per se.


With the new Palais Royal exclusive, Serge Lutens seems to be revisiting his entire oeuvre, all 16 years of it, going back all the way to the matrix of the Bois series, Féminité du Bois, up to his recent experimentations in spices (Chypre Rouge, Rousse, Five O’Clock au Gingembre). Like an arrow shot through time, carrying swatches of everything it goes through.


Yet somehow his manner has changed. Of course, Serge Noire starts off with the trademark olfactory shock (a camphor-pepper-clove-cumin blast) we’ve come to expect of him. El Attarine doesn’t. There is a delicacy here, a tenderness of touch that somehow seems consistent with Lutens’ exploration of childhood reminiscences (Chypre Rouge, Louve) or earlier culinary discoveries (the overcome aversion to ginger in Five O’Clock). Not that El Attarine resembles those compositions: but somehow, something about them paved the way.

Even the announced immortelle, the kind of love-it-or-hate-it note that can clobber you with its curry-maple syrup smell (best experienced in the masterful Annick Goutal Sables or Dior Eau Noire) is only a subtle, licorice-like, burnt flavouring added to the blend. A honey note intensifies the violet’s metallic, woody sweetness; Helg from Perfume Shrine speaks of dried fruit, but I confess I didn’t catch much of them.

The press release speaks of a solar scent, and you could call it that: but this is sun filtered through the sculpted wood shutters of the mucharabieh. The overall effect is not as dense and saturated as other oriental offerings, like Chergui or Arabie. Difficult, almost human, sweaty notes like cumin and immortelle are treated with a stroke rather than a slap.

Limpid would be the wrong word; appeased, perhaps, is more suitable. There is an elegiac feeling to El Attarine. As though Serge Lutens, assisted by Christopher Sheldrake (who, though he now works for Chanel, has been allowed to pursue his collaboration), were gathering what he knows, what he’s done, before pushing on. But he is far from the idea of giving up perfumery, as was whispered last year, and we may expect to see more notes revisited: there are rumours that he would like to re-do an edgier, more Palais-Royal version of orange blossom, now that Fleurs d’Oranger is an export…

Myself, I’d love to see him tackle Osmanthus. And what would you like monsieur Lutens to turn his attention to? Word will be passed on to the Palais Royal…

Image: Description de l'Egypte, Courtyard of the Attarine Mosque, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

33 commentaires:

  1. Finalment! I was waiting for this review!

    I started a thread on POL a while ago asking what everyone thought should be Serge's next note to tackle. My contribution was oeillet or narcissus. I'd now like to add lily of the valley, and maybe even honeysuckle. Basically, the classically underrepresented florals.

    I think I pointed out at the time that these were very "English" florals, and that he has eschewed this aesthetic for more "oriental," opulent blooms (jasmine, rose, orange blossom). He doesn't do pared down, so I don't know how he'd even begin to approach a muguet fragrance. Which is the point! Give us something crazy, Serge!

    It just occurs to me now--why not opoponax?

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  2. Aaaaarrghhh!!!!!!!!!!! I WANT IT NOW! That sounds so perfect. You have touched on every possible Serge vibration that would have pleased me with this one. And I have been longing for SL to do something a little more old-school and heavy, and this sounds like it is along those lines?

    I'd like the house to do something dark, dirty and leathery. Something to sit alongside Borneo and MKK.

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  3. Billy, I'd love to see Serge Lutens and Chris Sheldrake take on narcissus or opoponax, they're gorgeous materials -- narcissus absolute has tobacco and hay notes, which the L'Artisan limited edition brought out, and it would be interesting to see how SL would treat it.
    Not so sure about the more European blossoms, though...

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  4. March, another month and I'm sure Patty & co will oblige with El Attarine...
    I only had a few drops to test, as I said, but I didn't find this heavy, unless you think that Bois de Violette is heavy.
    I'd love to see another SL leather too. Dark and dirty is gooooooooooood.

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  5. I. WANT. NOW.

    I'll think about other foci another time.

    Oh go on then - quickly. Something cistus dominant.

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  6. I love Bois de Violette, this sounds unbelievably good too, thanks for the fab review.

    Mmmmm, think I'd like something salty, smokey and herby.

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  7. Oh Denyse. My spirit just soared and I don't think it was simply my second cup of coffee giving me goosebumps. Beautiful. I can't wait to experience this. I too had wondered if this year's releases had signaled a closure of some sort for SL, but hopefully this is just evidence of more great things to come. And I'll second March's vote on more dark, dirty, leather.

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  8. Hush, hush, Lee, only another month to go and you can order it from the Palais...
    Cistus. Isn't there already some in Ambre Sultan?

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  9. Silvia, so nice to see you here! In the smoky department, I've fallen in love with Gaiac wood, but apparently it's a verboten ingredient now so perfumers have to make to with gaiacol. I did bring it up already at the Palais!

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  10. Matt, from what I've heard (the source was beyond impeccable) there are still a lot of Lutens-Sheldrake fragrances in draft form, waiting to be developed. Which is very, very good news indeed.

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  11. Thank you for this lovely review! I am very eager to try this. Although I shuddered when I read the word "elegaic"; I hope that we continue to see new Lutens releases for a very long time.

    I'm not sure what I want to see next. I'm always just thrilled to see *anything* from this house, even if I don't like it. Although I am curious to see a treatment of angelica.

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  12. D,G&V, I must say I wondered whether to use the word "elegiac"... Well Mr. Lutens *is* getting on in years and though there were rumours of retirement last year, as I said in my response to Matt, there are still a lot of fragrances in progress. Thank the Gods of perfumery...

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  13. Re-reading your "cuir 1900" piece on the shrine, I wonder why perfumers don't choose "fur" as an inspiration. I know Sarrasins was a she wolf that smooths her fur or whatever, but how about the smell of an old sable? A lynx, a fox... something animalic and warm, but with a chilly edge. I'd imagine that the nose would have to come up with a way to make the scent almost tactile. Could Serge do it?

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  14. Oh..that review left me totally confused. Not at all what I would have expected from the pre-buzz. I guess I'll at least get a wax sample one of these days.

    I want more leather from Serge. Neither Cuir Mauresque (too floral) or Daim Blonde (too fruity) worked for me. I want a darker, more animal leather.

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  15. billy d: I think Muscs Koublaï Khän drew inspiration from fur and raw hide. And quite a few of the Lutens fragrances could pass for "parfums foururre" as well.

    That's what I think, anyway.

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  16. Billy, the reason why leather became a perfume note is, as I'm sure you're aware, because of the floral and aromatic blends used to treat leather for centuries: the mix eventually made it into perfumery. Fur has no such associations, but pre-WWII, there were fragrances known as "parfums de fourrure" because they were conceived to be sprayed on fur. I agree the notion of a leather fragrance with the texture of fur is very attractive indeed...

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  17. Anonymous, I was a bit confused too by what I smelled, compared to what I'd read. But then, the buzz for Serge Noire didn't lead me to expect what I got from that fragrance either.
    Now watch me wipe the egg from my face when I find out the sample I got wasn't, in fact, El Attarine! I have no reason to believe it isn't, but as long as I don't smell the same thing out of the bottle on Sept. 1st, I'll be quaking...

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  18. A., I agree that by the classic French definition of "parfum de fourrure", many Lutens (Rahat Loukhoum, Cuir Mauresque, Fumerie Turque, and of course MKK) fit the bill...

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  19. Hello,as i recall in an interview (many years ago)when asked, SL claimed he would not do "green" perfume.Of course i'm wildly curious...why not?That would-should be something...
    Lidia

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  20. Lidia, I was just speaking of this with an SA at the Palais Royal, and she answered that he just didn't like green perfumes. I guess that's reason enough.

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  21. D, the sample you got was definitely El At. As I had mentioned, what I got from the blotter I hijacked and lost on my last day in Paris, was a big hit of cumin and cedar. Both of these are notes that tend to jump out at me, often eclipsing the other notes in any composition. And I felt that the SN was smoky and incensy and oddly comforting. I wasn't aware of any buzz, so both of your reviews elucidate what I experienced.

    I'm with Billy D on all of his suggestions, and with Serge too, as I don't like greens much, except in food. Dirty leather sounds great to me a la Serge too!

    How about Absinthe, aka Wormwood?

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  22. Thank you for the fantastic review, Denyse.

    I would love to see Messrs. Lutens and Sheldrake take on oudh, full-on! I agree that another leather scent would also be great, and I can't get enough orange blossom in any of its manifestations.

    I'd also like to see another iris composition. And I do think carnation could lend itself to a wonderfully dark and rich composition.

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  23. W., I'm glad you confirm. I'm just surprised none of the French reviewers who were at the launch mentioned the violet, which, to me, is big as a house!
    Absinthe would be interesting -- I'm wondering if there isn't an absinthe note in Douce Amère, though? It's not a scent I know well. Must check.

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  24. Jarvis, oudh, of course! Though it's more of a Middle-Eastern scent than a Moroccan one, I believe (could be wrong).
    I hadn't thought of oudh because of an earlier, traumatic experience with a Montale that put me off the note. I need to go to Arabian Oudh to see if they can help me get over that! Preferably without divesting me of my rent money...

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  25. You have a much better nose than they do, that's why! And you are such a Serge afficionada. I just cited Douce Amere as having an Absinthe note but too douce for me, but really I must revisit.

    I LOVE Arabian Oud, you must go! If memory serves, they have quite a range, pricewise as well as Oudwise.

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  26. W., violet is a weird note, because after a while, the nose becomes "ionone-blind" and can't smell it any more, so if you've got your nose on that strip/wrist, it might disappear when you sniff too hard.
    I will go to see the oudh people...

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  27. Quick question, Denyse -- do you know when El Attarine will be available for purchase at Les Salons? Merci!

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  28. Forgot to add that, Jarvis: it will be available as of September 1st.

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  29. I want a perfume that smells like Diptyque's Maquis candle - that dirty mix of cistus and patchouli.

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  30. The Maquis candle is not on Diptyque's death list, so I'll go and smell it. I love the smell of the maquis, and miss it terribly since my former mother-in-law sold their house in Provence. That flammable, almost gasoline-like resinous smell was intoxicating.
    Oh, and Lee, I'm overjoyed to see you here!

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  31. Denyse --

    Diptyque's Maquis candle is not to be missed! It is a wonderful scent, and I wish it came in a room spray (or even better, in an EdT).

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