How is it possible for a handful of scented molecules to move my soul so much? How is it possible for a handful of scented molecules to smell so human, so warm, so alive and yet so nostalgic? How is it possible for a handful of scented molecules to feel like the aura of a beloved? or the glow of a place where we were once happy?
L’air de rien it’s not a perfume. It’s a distillation of human skin and hair, of the crumpled cotton bedclothes that still retain the aroma of the one you love more than you love yourself, of the snuffed beeswax candles, of the creaky well worn honey colored wooden floors, of the old, yellowed fairy tales books that you used to read as a child and that you still leaf through sometimes, of the warm and soft rabbit furs that lined the small sleigh pulled by a pair of laughing mother and father, of the comforting woodsmoke from the fire that was awaiting at the end of the snow ride.
L’air de rien was created for Jane Birkin by the perfumer Lyn Harris. Miss Birkin must’ve been quite the interesting muse because the end result is on a different level than all the other Miller Harris creations. It is incredibly atmospheric and suggestive, very emotional and it does capture the brief given by Jane Birkin. She wanted the smell of her father’s pipe, of old forgotten houses, empty chest drawers and her brother’s hair. Something sensuous and simple that could be worn as a veil over one’s body.
But simple it is not in spite of the short list of notes. It is actually fascinating how many facets this perfume reveals, melting in and out of one another and with the wearer’s skin. Although composed mainly out of base notes, it never feels heavy, too dense or overwhelming. It has a velvety, light yet warming touch, transparent but substantial at the same time. It doesn’t feel luxurious, just very comforting and moving, like some of the things that really matter in life.
The most captivating part of this perfume in my view is its uncanny humanness. It really does smell of warm skin. Not any kind of skin but the one of someone you love and feel really close to. A skin that has been kissed, caressed, hugged. A skin that is a bit dirty, or better said not squeaky clean, just lived in. And it also reminds me of warm bedrooms. Intimate spaces with cozy, unmade beds, candlelight and a glowing fireplace. Lyn Harris really proved her talent with L’air de rien using just a few brush strokes like oakmoss, neroli, sweet musk, amber and vanilla to capture an indefinable and alluring halo. The scent moves constantly around its wearer with great delicacy and precision, revealing all its subtleties: the delicate smoke which reminds one of both incense and extinguished beeswax candles, the musky warmth, a certain dustiness or powderiness which gives this fragrance a vintage feeling, a little bit of vanilla creamy sweetness, the cozy amber which wraps soothingly around the woody elements.
The reputation of L’air de rien is that of a dirty fragrance. It does have a sensual element more so than erotic in my view, and the musk used is indeed not one high up on the clean spectrum although it is a lot tamer than, for example, Parfums d’ Empire Musc Tonkin but quite a bit riper than Serge Lutens Claire de Musc. I think it’s on the same level as Musc Koublai Khan (on my skin MKK is a harmless, fluffy kitten) in terms of the musk used but they are different fragrances otherwise. L’air de rien is smokier and has a darker side due to the oakmoss.
It is sexy in a gentle way. It does evoke naked lovers together but more cuddling and being tender to one another rather than full on sexual.
In the end is up to every individual wearer to rate this fragrance high or low on the dirty meter. I have a high tolerance, and in fact I adore animalic, skanky perfumes, so yes, this particular Miller Harris fragrance, somehow unexpectedly considering the brand’s general output, might be difficult to wear even for seasoned perfumistas.
An interesting piece of info is that Andrew Birkin, the perfume muse’s brother, co-wrote the screenplay for the movie Perfume:the story of a murderer. I don’t know if all of you have seen the movie or read the book, but Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, the main character, was born with an extraordinary sense of smell, and yet his body didn’t smell of absolutely anything, be that good or bad. L’air de rien is what he should’ve worn to seem like one of ours instead of the half supernatural being he actually was.
For me, ultimately this fragrance feels like home, my sanctuary, my retreat, the place where I am at my most open and vulnerable, but also at my strongest. An assuaging mini temple, with a messy bed and one dear person that always manages to make me laugh.