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Monday, October 02, 2006

Perfume Review: Miller Harris / Jane Birkin L'Air de Rien

L’Air de Rien was created by Miller Harris in collaboration with Jane Birkin who first had the idea for this scent when she was staying at her brother Andrew's house in Wales playing in a perfume lab he had created while writing for his film, Perfume. In Birkin’s own words, she “have never liked perfumes" and always preferred to carry pot pourri in her pocket instead. Creating L’Air de Rien thus “was an interesting exercise” in finding out what she didn't like. And what she did not like were “all the things usually associated with heady, dark-haired women like hyacinth, tuberose and lily-of-the-valley”. In her scent Jane Birkin wanted “a little of my brother's hair, my father's pipe, floor polish, empty chest of drawers, old forgotten houses." (From

L’Air de Rien is one of a couple (I almost want to say the only one, but I probably should not overlook Cumming) of “celebrity” scents that truly feel like bespoke fragrances created by a perfumer for her famous clients, to perfectly suit the client’s wishes, tastes and personality, with no thought given to whether anyone else might possibly like the scent too. The supposed preferences of general public were not taken into the consideration in any way here; L’Air de Rien is strikingly original, strange, not at all a “pretty” scent, in short it is what might be called an acquired taste. Jane Birkin’s taste. It seems so “personal” somehow that at first I felt as if I was intruding, as if I entered Birkin’s private space, smelling and wearing her perfume. I felt a little star-struck and a little self-conscious. As time went by, however, the scent settled or rather melded into my skin and, feeling much more comfortable and “at home” in it, I understood the idea behind the name, “Air of Nothing”. Birkin meant for the scent to be worn “simply, like a veil over one’s body”, and indeed, when enveloped in the warm, earthy ambiance of L’Air de Rien, one does not feel as if one is wearing a perfume. Instead one feels as if one is existing in an attractive and strange world of a wistful and vivid dream.

The scent starts powdery, subtly sweet and dark green; the oakmoss note, which I smell throughout the scent’s development, is appealingly and unexpectedly sweet in the beginning, softened and warmed by vanilla and amber. Little by little the cozy softness starts to dissipate and the fragrance grows darker, sharper, and drier. It acquires salty, wet earthiness, it makes me think of the smell of peat, of seaweed, of the murky surface of a pond in a neglected, enchanted garden of an “old forgotten” house. The very distinct and very dirty musk note that enters the scene somewhere in the end of the middle stage is incredibly attractive. Combined with this dark-wet-green accord, it makes the blend all the more sensual, all the more atmospheric. The drydown brings us full circle, back to the softly-mossy, powdery, ambery beginning. It is subtle, elegant and enveloping.

I am captivated and extremely impressed by this unusual, evocative fragrance. I cannot think of a single other perfume that smells like it. L’Air de Rien is refined, understated and striking. It is a little melancholy, it is haunting. It has that ugly-beautiful quality that I adore in perfume. It is, to me, one of the most interesting new releases this year. It is a must-try, and, for me, a must-have.

I believe it is not sold in the US yet. Right now it is available at, £75.00 for 100ml.

The photo of the bottle is from The painting, Le Bassin aux Nympheas by Claude Monet, is from


Blogger Caitlin Shortell said...

Beautiful and seductive review. I can't wait to try this.

3:33 AM EDT  
Blogger chayaruchama said...

Captivating and quirky, like dear Jane herself...

Must try !

Thank you for your exquisite review.

6:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Marina said...

Thank you, Cait! I thought the scent was just amazingly interesting.

8:46 AM EDT  
Blogger Marina said...

It's definitely captivating and definitely quirky, quirky in an elegant kind of way.

8:46 AM EDT  
Blogger Marina said...

It's strange but not hard to wear. I realize that someone could find what I perceived as the smell of peat and seawed unappealing, but it might not even smell that way on you, you know? And surely you can't be scared by some animalic musk! :-) So I think you should try it!

8:51 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

*Nods head in utter agreement* Yep, definitely an acquired taste, and, yep, definitely atmospheric. I think I quite like it myself now.

P.S. Very shocked March didn't love it. Very.

10:17 AM EDT  
Blogger marchlion said...

That is hilarious. All I got was ... well, you know what I got. I am actually betting that Patty will like it, because to me it was somewhat reminiscent of Borneo, which she loves and I don't.

10:17 AM EDT  
Blogger Kelley said...


That was an absolutely breathtaking review. I am swooning already.

Can we talk about something else for a minute. Is there such a thing as scent addiction? Is it an illness? Should there be a twelve step group? I have more bottles than I can possibly wear in...(let's say months and months), and yet I am always buying more! When I read your reviews (I consider you my pusher, my enabler, my scent pimp!) I want to run right out, that very second and buy more! What is that?

I was talking to a friend about saving money and she pointed out that if I just didn't spend on fragrance for a while I would have enough...(I am sure we have all heard that one). I spent at least 30 minutes justifying my spending habbits. I am not hurting anyone. I am making the world a better smelling place!

Oh, well. This is definitely my drug of choice. I can't even imagine leaving the house without wearing fragrance...I would be half naked!

10:35 AM EDT  
Blogger Marina said...

I am counting days till it is available in the States...although I don't know when it is going to be available, so I might have to count weeks or months.

10:39 AM EDT  
Blogger Marina said...

Like Ina, I am surprised you didn't like it. You are a tricky on, aren't you, just when we thought we figured out your tastes, you do this :-)
PS. I get no Borneo here, none. Hmmm. If I had to compare it something, and let me preface it by saying that the similarity is very, very, very slight...I'd say it reminded me of certain aspects of Eau des Merveilles.

10:41 AM EDT  
Blogger Marina said...

LOL at scent pimp. I feel a little lacking in the bling department though :-)
Look at it this way. As you said, it isn't hurting anyone, our perfume addiction. It IS making the world a better smelling place (well, in certain parts of Canada they'd beg to disagree, but...). It could have been much, much worse. We could have been addicted to gambling or drugs. That's more expensive and socially-irresponsible :-)

10:51 AM EDT  
Blogger Solander said...

Oh, I can't wait to try it! I placed a bid on a sample on Ebay...

11:32 AM EDT  
Blogger Marina said...

I would love to know what you think about it!

11:43 AM EDT  
Blogger tmp00 said...

This is one I would love to try- can't wait 'till it gets to Saks

1:06 PM EDT  
Blogger Marina said...

Do you know when it's coming, Tom? I can't wait to get my greedy mitts on a bottle :-)

1:23 PM EDT  
Blogger tmp00 said...


I only know that Saks carries Miller Harris. Despite the fact that it's centered exactly between Neiman's and Barneys on the same side of Wilshire, I hardly ever go in. That's going to change....

2:40 PM EDT  
Blogger Marina said...

I'd love to hear/post(?) what you think when you do get to try it!

2:43 PM EDT  
Blogger Marina said...

It is intriguing. I am really impressed with it.

9:59 PM EDT  
Blogger lilybp said...

Adding a day late--I really like this one, and I have from the beginning. As I mentioned before, LHarris is supposed to be at the sniffa, offering MH deals! I am hoping this one will be there and be discounted (since I already caved for Vetiver Bourbon, and I can't believe she will be offering her Liberty exclusive). If so, I will probably get it (compared to VB, after all, it looks veritably cheap:)!

7:41 AM EDT  
Blogger elle said...

I love the fact that they created a scent that didn't take into consideration popular trends! For that alone I'm seriously predisposed to like it. And after your review it sounds like there is almost no way I won't love it madly. Am praying it will be sold in the US *soon*.

8:09 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmmm, well, I ´ve to admit, I don´t get anything that you mentioned in your reiew...I´ve an original sample from MH & I like the scent (it´s probably my favourite MH fragrance), but on me it´s very, very, very sweet, orange flowers & musk. It gets a bit softer the loger I wear it (stayingpower is incredible), but it stays sweet & musky from beginnig to end.
It´s all about skin chemistry, isn´t it?!

8:32 AM EDT  
Blogger Marina said...

It does not suprise me at all that you liked it! Somehow it is very "you" scent. Not that I can explain what makes it "you" or anything. It just is :-)

9:26 AM EDT  
Blogger Marina said...

I am almost positive that you will love it...unless, of course, something there disagrees with your skin chemistry. Who would have thought, for example, that I won't be madly in love with Chergui (or POTL), but they just don't sit well on my skin *sigh*

9:27 AM EDT  
Blogger Marina said...

Oh the mysteries of skin chemistry! :-) I do get plenty of musk, but no orange blossom or any prominent flowers really. It is all earthy-green-musky goodness on me :-)
Did you like the scent?

9:28 AM EDT  
Blogger lilybp said...

Is it the fact that (as March notes) it's "poopy" that makes it seem like me?:) j/k -- I can see March's point, though; I wouldn't describe it quite that way, but it is a bit relentless. I do like it a lot, but I'm not completely convinced yet that I need a FB. There are so many interesting new scents coming out (Cuir Ottoman, Bois d'Ombre, MeB, Yosh winter rose, etc., etc.), and I am broke, so I must pick and choose; going to the sniffa will most probably weaken my resolve, though.

PS I ended up mixing (not exactly layering--the result of wanting to spritz something new) the Rien with Knize 10 (on one hand) and Havana (on the other)--liked both results:). Now I just need to try it with CB Musk!
PPS I get no neroli at all here!

1:35 PM EDT  
Blogger Marina said...

Ah, great minds truly think alike. I layered Rien with Knize Ten last night and loved them together. Rien just asks to be layered with a leather scent. If I am brave enough I'll ty that musk combo too :-)

1:38 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

well, either my smell buds are not developed or my skin played a little trick with me - it didn't smell like "pond in a neglected, enchanted garden of an “old forgotten” house (c)", no no no, it was far worse. Smelled like neglected old person who sh**t in their pants.

Sorry to be so un-poetic, Ms Colombina, but for me it was one of the most repulsive smells I've ever tried.

Thank you for your blog - I truely enjoy reading it!

1:21 PM EDT  
Blogger Psychebelle said...

I believe that the Diagnostic Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM),the handbook for mental health professionals that lists different categories of mental disorders should come up with a perfume addiction category soon. In fact, I've coined a word for it, "perfumephilia", - "philia" coming from the ancient greek word for love and hence my monicker
"the perfumephile". Indeed, I'm addicted to perfume like many of you. Everyday, the postman knocks on my door delivering perfumes I've ordered from all over the world. My cupboard's glass shelves are in danger of caving in from the ever-multiplying stash of scents. The situation has prompted me to sell some of them at an internet auction site and give them away to my very grateful sisters and nieces. And so, one goes out, two comes in.....But it makes me happy, opening the boxes, brimming with excitement how the first spray is going to be. We are lucky, us perfume addicts, because we are not harming anyone, as you all say, only perhaps our pockets. But other addicts, they hurt their pockets as well as their bodies. As humans, we all need to escape from life's daily hassles, and what a great coping mechanism the likes of us have found - the safe beautiful world of scents!

10:17 AM EDT  
Blogger Unknown said...

I love Jane Birkin and I loveMiller Harris. Your review honours both, and also the olfactory obsessions that dwell in the lymbic system to create a language of memories, desires and instinctual wisdom. A perfume writer like you brings perfumes to a deeper life.

2:36 AM EDT  

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