Sunday 6 February 2011

Miller Harris L'Air de Rien: Not Nothing, But Nothing To Be Scared Of

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, photo of monolith of writhing bodies from, photo of Je t'aime record from, photo of Jane Birkin nowadays from Wikimedia Commons, other photos my own.


ScentScelf said...

Well, that's one way to keep things under your cap. ;)

Nice subterfuge...including the surprise "it's okay!" ending. I'm going to ignore Mr. Bonkers' reaction here, as it seems prudent to pay most attention when he is NOT mal-affected by a scent. I am noting that She Who Would Rather Things Not Skank (or Even Be Somewhat Challenging, Just Pleasant and Maybe Interesting, Thank You) has found her way to this.

Screws up face--in vexation, not at scent. I think I'll need to find a sample.

Vanessa said...

Hi ScentScelf,

Under your hat, very good... : - )

I am as puzzled as the next person as to why this scent should be so congenial on a second trial - it seems only a smidge dirtier than Eau Duelle.

olenska said...

I salute your postal ingenuity! No one is going to mess with "Knitted Hat". "Knitted RASTAFARIAN Hat", maybe... but not "Knitted Hat". And DEFINITELY not "Comedy Haberdashery". ;)

I really liked L'Air de Rien but wanted it to be even more extreme. Ditto Muscs Koublai Khan. I am planning to mix up a cauldron of LdR, MKK, Miel de Bois & Yatagan, saturate myself in it and walk around. My success will be measured in the number of torch-wielding villagers it takes to chase me into the wilderness. :)

Vanessa said...

Hi Olenska,

You want L'Air de Rien and MKK to be more pungent? And Yatagan is medieval torture in a bottle to my nose - goodness gracious me! I may have to rename the Mid-Mid-Mid-Atlantic latitude where you live the Extremely-Extreme-Extreme-Mid-Atlantic. Or something like that. : - )

Carol said...

It is wonderfully weird to see that photo - I hope to see what you knit of the wool!!! That sweater is awesome!!

And super-happy that you're enjoying LaDR!!!

Now, back to the Super Bowl (Total reversal of what we usually do with Tivo -this time we're fast-forwarding through the game and watching the commercials!)

Rose said...

I think L'Air De Rien is great- like Jane Birkin it's beauty in a very different way to what we might think of- but it works. A very good choice for someone who wants to wear an interesting, slightly subversive scent

Vanessa said...

Hi Bloody Frida,

Loving the new avatar! And I will indeed tell you what becomes of the handsome hanks in due course.

Mr Bonkers sat up half the night watching the Super Bowl - in the opposite way to you, I sense!

Vanessa said...

Hi Rose,

I agree with you completely about your positioning of L'Air de Rien. That is precisely the role it is going to fill in my scent wardrobe! I think Jane Birkin looks terrific for her age - like Charlotte Rampling, Helen Mirren and other character actresses from the same generation.

lovethescents said...

I remember trying l'Air de Rien such a long time ago and running for the hills. Since I've also evolved, I think I should retry. On the wishlist it goes!

You've also prompted me to retest my sample of Carillon :-)

Now all I have to do is learn to knit again :-i

Vanessa said...

Hi lovethescents,

On Saturday I wore "L'Air de Rien", yesterday I wore *actual* nothing, and today I am trialling Carillon d'un Ange. Much superior to my fleeting nozzle test in LA. I may commit my thoughts to screen in due course.

You probably haven't got time to knit but feel free to commission me to make small garments!

Angela Cox said...

Hi Vanessa, I have never tried Miller Harris fragrances ( not that they are not on my list). I think Lavender is nearly impossible to use in fragrance without it smelling like toilet cleaner. I tried really hard to wear Jicky in my youth and have the bottle still. I gave up and swore that although I love laveender itself it should not be used in perfumes. That said I have one now ,I don't know what it is because signs of dementia are kicking in ( like watching Peppa Pig). I have Scandal on just for my pleasure . I nearly killed my sister with La Reine Margot yesterday ( the fragrance not her methods ). I love the skanky old stuff !! I rather fancy mixing a cocktail of real howlers into town now. Enjoy that lovely yarn , do you wear shawls ? If you use sock yarn and Rowan's Kidsilk mohair you can colour co-ordinate . Twenty rows of sock yarn then divide with a colour of Kidsilk in the sock yarn . It's hard to give patterns as I cast on and just go ! I will try to post two light shawls I made in sock yarns.

JoanElaine said...

I've been avoiding this fragrance, scared it would stink like...I don't know, really.. Thanks to your review, I'm going to give it a try in the near future.

Mr. Bonkers is hilarious. "Who's he"?

Vanessa said...

Hi Angela,

I know what you mean about lavender, but I am not consistent myself, because Ava Luxe No 23 has it in and is one of my favourite perfumes. As a rule though I think it works better in masculines.

What a fabulous shawl Holly is wearing over on your blog! I do happen to have some Kidsilk Mohair in my collection (for I like to surround myself with wool as I do with perfume), but it is bright tangerine and probably not right on this occasion to team up with the sludgy skeins BF sent me. But I will bear that combo in mind for a future occasion.

Vanessa said...

Hi JoanElaine,

Yes, do go ahead and try L'Air de Rien, for there aren't many people in the "fumosphere" with wimpier taste than me, so you should be fine!

Mr Bonkers is a bit of a one, it is true. I think he genuinely doesn't know who Jane Birkin is. Certainly not the bag.

Wordbird said...

Hi Bonks (Laughed out loud when I saw Bloody Frida had addressed you as that)(don't suppose she knows what it means in UK slang).

I'm a devoted L'Air de Rien wearer and have done some testing (OK, a little tiny bit) and find my guess was right about it being an ideal perfume to wear when 'on the pull'. I shall say no more. ;->

It smells to me like the warm, cosy fug you get under the bedclothes on a cold morning when you don't want to get out of bed and you pull the blankets back over your head. Warm skin and comfortableness.

It isn't like any other perfume I know, though it does have the 'warm skin' aspect I associate with warn-in oakmoss.

Another point to note is that the scent is very different when dabbed, as opposed to being sprayed on. It's well worth trying both methods of application to see which you prefer.

Carol said...

oh no! what am I saying!?

Carol said...

other than my unknowingly-offcolor-I'm - assuming-faux-pas, I'm extremely happy that other folks are digging LAdR!

Vanessa said...

Hi Wordbird,

Good to log your ringing endorsement of L'Air de Rien, and happy to hear it is working for you. A clear case of "looks like nothing - *is* quite something...!"

Will bear in mind the dab/spray difference - must get my hands on a tester when I am down in London later this month.

Vanessa said...

Hi Bloody Frida,

It is precisely its unknowingly-offcolour-faux-pas nature that makes "Bonks" such a charming moniker! It's a keeper...

: - )

Katie Puckrik said...

Hi Bonks,

It's official: with your new appreciation of funky L'Air de Rien and your new raunchy nickname, you're living up (or down?) of your father's favored expression of censure: "filthy slop".

Vanessa said...

Hi Katie,

I love my new title - "if the cap fits"! Hmm, there again, maybe not...

Ah yes, Father would have been very shocked - the stay-at-home bluestocking I never became would have worn lavender water at best. Or probably just done the ironing with it.

; - )

Judith, London said...

I love L'AdeR. A woman in the Miller Harris shop in London said that the body cream is wonderful after a bath before going to bed and I find it really works for me that way. It's sexy and comforting. I do, however, get enough of the damp books and old houses and sheepskins in the spray version to avoid wearing it outside as I work in a second-hand store half the week and in a library the other. Too close to home if you see what I mean!

Vanessa said...

Hi Judith,

Thanks for your comment and glad to meet another fan! You've got me curious about the body cream now... I have yet to try the spray version - no potential risk of a busman's holiday in my case! - and I will be interested to see if I detect the "fusty furniture" accord when I do eventually get my hands on a tester.