The other day, Bloody Frida received a swap parcel from me, prompting her to conduct a preppy fragrance throwdown between the teeny remnants of vintage Lauren I sent her and the modern variety. She illustrated the post with a photograph showing the eclectic set of items I had put in the package, including a "comedy haberdashery decoy" of some ceramic buttons, designed to bamboozle our respective draconian postal authorities.
Then yesterday, I received Bloody Frida's parcel to me. She entrusted her other half, known on these boards as MOTH, with the delicate and dangerous task of posting my package. Before being despatched to the post office, MOTH was briefed to deploy a similar haberdashery decoy strategy, and to mark the contents as "wool". In the event, MOTH was so conscientious in the execution of his fraught mission that he went one better, and wrote "knitted hat" on the customs label.
So as I say, yesterday the knitted hat arrived, along with the trio of fine fragrances that were the real and covert focus of the swap. To be fair, the knitted hat is a bit of a work-in-progress still - not totally off the drawing board you could say - but it is a veritable vision of woolly wonder, fashioned in exactly my preferred shades of sludgy blue and brown.
As for the perfumes, Bloody Frida enclosed the two we had discussed, Tauer's Carillon pour un Ange and Miller Harris L'Air de Rien, and thoughtfully added a decant of Agent Provocateur, which was on my MUA wish list! Now I haven't got round to retesting the Tauer - I wasn't too struck on it at (the) Scent Bar in December, but felt it merited a retrial. However, I wore the Miller Harris all day yesterday...
Of the two, this was the one I was most fearful of trying again. It is the scent created by Lyn Harris (whom I always have to remember to spell with one "n") for Jane Birkin, sixties boho wild child, singer / muse of Serge Gainsbourg, and face of the eponymous Hermes bag. Prior to the development of L'Air de Rien, Jane Birkin had rejected all fragrant materials except potpourri, associating perfume properly speaking with blowsy florals worn by "heady, dark-haired women".
She goes on to explain in an interview with UK Vogue that notes "like hyacinth, tuberose and lily-of-the-valley made me vomit when they were enclosed in a bottle". Okay, I hear what she is saying, but potpourri? In my experience potpourri can be very hit or miss, and much of it is overpowering in a stifling Yankee candle kind of way. JM Pomegranate Noir I am looking at you... So I would like to know where JB got her particular blend and what was in it. I did try googling "Jane Birkin potpourri", but came up instead with a video of her singing in France last year.
Be that as it may, what Jane Birkin did want L'Air de Rien to smell of - which she reckoned would be "much more me" - was "a little of my brother's hair, my father's pipe, floor polish, empty chest of drawers, old forgotten houses." Now interestingly, her brother Andrew Birkin wrote the screenplay for the film of the book "Perfume", so it is to be hoped that his hair didn't smell of any of the ghoulish scents featured in that movie. Glancing at these notes from Lucky Scent, mercifully it would appear not - I see no dead girls listed here.
Notes: French oak moss, Tunisian neroli, sweet musk, amber and vanilla
That said, musk is down as one of the notes, and some reviewers, notably Angela of Now Smell This, have interpreted this animalistic odour in L'Air de Rien specifically as civet. Civet, as some readers may know, is my Room 101 of perfumery notes. I found it ironic that a scent reported to contain my most loathed fragrance ingredient could have the effrontery to call itself: "The appearance of nothing". For not for nothing am I known on Basenotes as "VM I hate civet". But always in the back of my mind is the niggling fact that I smelt L'Air de Rien on Danielle Osborne, aka Mrs Basenotes, back in the summer of 2009 at a Basenotes sniffing event, and it was really something on her. Not in the least offensive. A quiet animalic blur, perfectly blended with her skin. So I knew that one day I would have to square up to a rematch, and yesterday was the day.
Well, to my immense surprise I liked it immediately I sprayed it on. It had a granular texture like Eau Duelle, Habit Rouge EDT and the grandma of grit, Guerlain Sous Le Vent, but not excessively so. It was vaguely animalic, but nowhere near the levels of Jicky, where the unhappy marriage of civet with lavender reminds me unpleasantly of lavatory freshener. There was a whisper of moss and/or patchouli, which was probably as close as I got to "old forgotten houses" and their furniture. It had the warm vanillic quality I love so much in Eau Duelle, though in a much quieter register. It was like unwashed skin, but I'd like to think it actually smelt no worse than I do on those far too frequent occasions when I sit at the computer all day in my dressing gown, and come 6 o'clock decide that it is hardly worth getting washed or dressed anymore - or not on that day, at least.
Okay, maybe there was the merest suggestion of carnal filth, but not at antisocial levels. Musc Ravageur is more of a filth foghorn in that regard. A sweet filth foghorn. And I do like Musc Rav, but I don't think I would wear it outside the home, whereas I am actively planning to wear L'Air de Rien to imminent social events. If anyone asks me what I am wearing (and they never do) I can always say: "Oh, it is one of those 'barely there' scents", which I could go on to justify with the translation of the name.
Moreover, L'Air de Rien is, all things considered, not exactly like anything I have ever smelt. Which I guess the name also hints at - it has the "air of nothing" I have encountered before. I may also have to consider changing my Basenotes name from "VM I hate civet" to "VM I used to hate civet with a vengeance, but now I am prepared evaluate each case on its own merits". That's assuming there IS civet in there, which is by no means certain.
Now I hope I am not being overly optimistic about L'Air de Rien's social acceptability here, for it didn't go down too well with Mr Bonkers. He did his asking me to leave the room trick again, and described it as an "eye-stinger". If you remember, the only perfume I own which received a favourable reception from him was SJP Lovely, so I was probably always going to be on a "hiding to nothing" with something containing even suspected civet in trace amounts that don't appear to bother my hyperosmic nasal receptors. I told Mr Bonkers how the scent conjured up unwashed body parts and explained the link with Jane Birkin, and all he said was: "Who's he?" My follow up reference to 1970s school discos and the way they always played "Je T'Aime" as the smoochy number at the end of the night also fell on uncomprehending ears.
This response has definitely confirmed me in my intention to wear L'Air de Rien exclusively outside the home. I am used to Mr Bonkers ridiculing and stonewalling me over my perfume choices, and his attitude, like the scent itself, is - to quote Adam Ant - "nothing to be scared of".
Oh, look at that sweater Jane Birkin is wearing in the picture below! I know Bloody Frida said the wool she sent me was only sock gauge, but I wonder....
Photo of L'Air de Rien from Lucky Scent website, photo of Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg from frogsmoke.com, photo of monolith of writhing bodies from picasaweb.google.com, photo of Je t'aime record from vasiliska.com, photo of Jane Birkin nowadays from Wikimedia Commons, other photos my own.