Miller Harris L’Air de Rien and Un Petit Rien

Call the caterers, it's love!

Normally, I try to tune out the foofy narratives that accompany perfumes. Bully for you, Bare Escentuals creator Leslie Blodgett, you’ve had a rich and rewarding life. But does your Perfume Diaries line really smell like “cherished childhood memories” -- memories which in my case would involve stirring grasshoppers into jars of mud to create “bug pies”?

And you, Daphne Guinness. Your jet setting, skunk-haired lifestyle is a marvel to be sure, but I don’t need to know that you’ve literally tiptoed through the actual tuberoses of Tuberose Land for me to enjoy your trashy-flashy Queen of Sheba elixir, also known as Comme des Garçons Daphne. (But hey, call me if you need a shopping buddy on your next vaycay.)

Sure, if Andy Tauer, Linda Pilkington and I are all enjoying cocktails some fine twilight, by all means, guys, trot out the fume tales and tribulations. But while I’m pondering whether or not to purchase Tauer’s L'Air du Désert Marocain, do I need to know that Andy’s “eureka” moment occurred when a sand squirrel got trapped up his shorts during a Saharan camping trip?

Okay, maybe I would need to know that. If it really happened. But what I’m trying to say here is: spare me the misty-eyed spiel -- does the juice smell good, yes or no?

If I’m a little gun shy of PR bumf, I blame Miller Harris L’Air de Rien. Swingin’ Sixties beauty Jane Birkin was the muse for this one, and I eagerly lapped up the perfume’s back-story. It was inspired by Jane’s favorite smells of “father's pipe, floor polish, empty chest of drawers, old forgotten houses”.

The issue here is that in this instance, the PR actually delivers, but in an uncomfortably vivid way. Sure ‘nuff, a huff of L’Air de Rien puts you smack dab in Dad’s dark, dusty den, closed to light and air. The oxygen in the room has been recycled through Papa’s pipe, lungs, and bum for a generation or more.

L’Air de Rien’s listed ingredients include oak moss, neroli, musk and vanilla. I see no mention of halitosis, bleach and mothballs, which is my first impression. The vanilla halitosis warms up into cloying sweetness on the border of sour sweat.

But L’Air de Rien has been a connoisseur’s favorite since its release in 2006. Luca Turin adores its “boozy kisses, stale joss sticks, rising damp, and soiled underwear”. It’s many a musk-lover’s top pick for “Your Skin But Better -- Animalic Category”. Reluctantly, I have to concede that where L’AdR is concerned, I’m a rube.

But Un Petit Rien, which I didn't even know existed until Miller Harris slung me a surprise bottle, is a whole ‘nother story. Un Petit Rien is the Cliff Notes version of L’Air. There’s no halitosis here, no staleness -- just a powdery little puff of summer weight incense.

It reminds me of the incense in my beloved Fleur Oriental, also by Miller Harris: burred, warm, cozy. And as in L’Air de Rien, there’s a haze of neroli’s happy orange at the opening, but instead of getting sucked into Dad’s pipe, here it stays present, applying a bit of friction against the dusty ambered incense with an effect similar to Guerlain Habit Rouge.

The Miller Harris peeps tell me that rather than just a re-jig, Un Petit Rien is an entirely new formulation to L’AdR, calling it “clearer, brighter and lighter”. Can I get an “amen”, people? The family resemblance is still there, but Un Petit Rien throws open the doors and windows in Papa’s den and ventilates L’AdR’s oppressiveness. The fact that it’s a cologne strength, rather than an eau de parfum, assists the overall sheerness.

And though this may sound too fume-nerd-fussy to even mention, Un Petit Rien’s atomizer delivers the finest, mistiest mist ever. It’s ridiculously pleasurable to spray on the skin, in a way that makes me wonder why more fragrance houses don’t focus on this simple aspect of packaging. Spray misty for me, indeed.

In the way that my enchantment with Chanel No. 5 Eau Premiere made Chanel No. 5 more accessible for me, Un Petit Rien has opened me up to the appeal of L’Air de Rien’s musty, “personal space” smell. It’s still not for me, not today, but I may get there yet. But as for Un Petit Rien -- call the caterers, it's love!

L'Air de Rien and Un Petit Rien are available from, starting at appx $90 for 50ml

Image: Jane Birkin


  1. Three or four samples of L'Air de Rien later and I still can't quite manage it. I'm not sure why, because I like a number of other musky undergarment scents. Maybe it's the halitosis? Whoever thought of bottling that! Un Petit Rien sounds so much more wearable.

    As for ad copy, I'm trying to imagine what it would look like to do away with all of the fluff. Maybe they should just hire the honest writers for the narratives. Like you did above.
    You know, like "a skin-scent with oak moss, neroli, musk and vanilla and a generous dose of halitosis, bleach and mothballs in the topnotes. Eventually drying down to cloying sweetness on the border of sour sweat. Perfect for the morning after when you absolutely must go to work, but you want the coworkers to blame the odors on your perfume."

  2. I adore LaDR - it's all Last Tango for me - not that I want to be engulfed in that movie every day, but for certain times, it's perfect. Looking forward to trying UPR one day soon.

  3. dammmmmn.
    halitosis? really? i get none of the awfulness described above with LaDR. suffocating? heavy? jeez. DCG Daphne could snuff a flame out faster than this one.
    The only disconcerting association I get from it is an "after sex" smell (and there are times when that is not disconcerting at all . . .it's exactly what I want.)
    Whatever! More for me and Frida to enjoy.

    I will have to get some of the petite rien asap.

  4. He got a sand squirrel... trapped... in his shorts?

    I am speechless.

  5. A slight re-jig to L'Air de Rien and it's love now, eh? Doesn't it make you wonder how many other "not quite rights" could be made perfect for you with a small tweak?

    I have such a hard time thinking there could be a version of L'Air de Rien light and fluffy enough for summer wear while still maintaining it's essence. I look forward to trying it though.

    And I was just resampling Fleur Oriental yesterday. I only have the EDP, and wonder how the parfum compares -- KT could you speak to that? And maybe it's just me, but I kept smelling L'Air de Rien hidden in there inside Fleur Oriental. They must share the same bone structure.

  6. okay, wait. wait. wait. wait a minute.

    i just realized this might indicate that when others are smelling halitosis and dirty bums, i smell sex. and that is just wrong. super wrong.

    it's totally not like that. totally. not!

    p.s. could "sand squirrel trapped in shorts" be a euphemism for something else?

  7. I guess I'm just a literalist. Sand squirrel lost way, trapped in shorts... could happen, couldn't it? That's the kind of stuff you can't make up.

  8. Literal sand squirrel or euphemistic little creature, I will never be able to smell L'Air du Désert Marocain without wanting to rub some strange image out of my eyeballs.

  9. Relax, everyone. Andy Tauer's shorts don't do double duty as a sand squirrel trap. I was just trying my hand at some PR drivel. I think I have a future!

    M61, you're suggesting the old "bait and switch" routine for shifting responsibility for your stank. The real switcheroo would be to spray L'Air de Rien liberally as an olfactory signal that wild times were had the previous pm...when all you'd really done was stay in with a cup of tea and your scrapbooking.

  10. Bloody Frida, L'AdR definitely falls into your "Last Tango in Paris" category. A very useful classification indeed.

    I know you love that one, dea, and I anticipated your howls of protest! I really do think I could come around to L'AdR, but my nose would have to do serious battle with my brain to vanquish my initial impressions. But Un Petit Rien is helping in my rehabilitation.

    S'funny, another "suffocating" scent that I actually like is Perfumerie Generale L'Ombre Fauve. That really is like my nose is pressed up to the fur of a living critter. But it's also not "easy" to enjoy, for that reason.

  11. ahsu - I so concur that there's some shared skeletal mass between L'Air de Rien (and Un Petit Rien) and Fleur Oriental. And I just applied both the edt and the parfum to do my consumer comparison test.

    Immediately, the parfum is plusher, richer, thicker - more radiant with citrus and more smoky in a way that smells like a cross between incense and almonds. The edt is leaner, sheerer, more vegetal and citrus-y. I don't pick up on the musk so much in the edt, but that might be cuz my nose is blown out on the parfum. Also, the florals seem to have more of a presence in the parfum.

    I'd say the parfum is more "womanly" and vintage -style than the edt, which has a lighter step and more contemporary feel.

    But they do share that vanilla/musk/soiled underwear DNA with the Riens, so I'm guessing that must be Miller Harris' flavor of "Harris-ade".

  12. Oh NO! Katie! I just read your comment above on L'Ombre Fauve... and my interest was piqued, so I watched your review... and then read other reviews... and this sounds like the most fascinating scent I have never known I was looking for all along. Dzing comes to mind based on this description, but it smells like a leather handbag full of caramel popcorn to me, and I love it dearly for this... but now I feel like I must try L'Ombre Fauve if it's the last thing I do! And surprise surprise, It's limited edition and not in production anymore. Despair! Utter despair!

  13. Oksana -- I believe you can still get L'Ombre Fauve from Lucky Scent. But you have to call them to order it. They aren't allowed to sell it online.

    And yes, it's very much how Katie describes it -- furry, warm and sweet, but weirdly sweet, in a "I just spilled honey on the family chinchilla" kind of way. If you're a fan of Dzing!, then L'Ombre Fauve should be easy for you to appreciate.

    And Katie, LaDR is one of my surprise likes, as in "Surprise! I'll bet you never thought you'd like it!" It's musky and warm and fleshy, and while I don't ordinarily enjoy this particular combo, something about LaDR rings the right bell.

  14. Oh YES! Oksana! You SHALL go to L'Ombre Fauve ball. They still carry it at LuckyScent. I bought mine at Les Senteurs, and I see it listed on their website as well. So despair not! And please don't let smelling L'Ombre Fauve be the last thing you do! But hurry and buy some!

    It's not leathery like Dzing! It's more "furry" and powdery and musky. I'd put it in the "Last Tango in Paris" category for how close and personal it seems.

  15. Nathan, of all the mishaps that could befall the family chinchilla, spilling honey on it is certainly one of the more whimsical.

    I just rushed to apply a bit of L'Ombre Fauve (had to find a spot not covered with Fleur Oriental parfum and Perfumer's Workshop Tea Rose.

    I would adjust your metaphor to it smelling like the family chinchilla after two fancy ladies, dressed up and perfumed for a night out, cry out, "My goodness, isn't your pet Chinchilla just the darlingest thing!" and proceed to smother it in hugs and kisses. The resulting blend of fur, animal, powder and perfume equals L'Ombre Fauve.

    This perfume should've been called "The Family Chinchilla".

  16. Love the phrase: "Your Skin But Better - Animalic Category"! I am still completing my education in the YLBB Category with a couple of Clinique numbers...

    L'Air de Rien was a no no for me - I lobbed it into the same scary quarantine drawer as Jicky.

    Yet L'Ombre Fauve I can and do do, and I think that that Moroccan one I am keen on, Soir de Marrakech, is to L'Ombre Fauve what Un Petit Rien is to L'AdR, not that I have tried UPR. A wearable, more floral version, but with a hint of what a rather prim male friend of mine refers to as "rude business".

  17. flittersniffer, prim men do come up with funny euphemisms. My elderly father, if pushed to describe "it", coyly refers to it as "gettin' cozy".

  18. Haha! My late father used to call it "filthy slop".

  19. I just breathed a sigh of deep relief and ordered a sample of Family Chinchilla. I love "cozy"/"filthy slop"/"rude business" fragrances... but I'm afraid to wear them in public. Ironically, I tend to wear them when I have to hole myself up in my room and write a long paper. I can't tell if I'm being noble by not subjecting others to my love of Dzing! against their will or cowardly because I'm too afraid people will judge me for smelling like a) I sleep inside an enormous leather handbag or b) I'm too interested in "gettin' cozy"... Hmm... I feel like I would elicit a lot of horrified reactions if I wore L'Air de Rien in public, but on the other hand, I can just imagine eliciting a knowing grin and a wink from someone who was young in the '60s, and feeling great about that.

  20. oksana, I think all those fragrances you mentioned hover pretty close to the body, so you wouldn't necessarily be broadcasting your familiarity with "coziness"

    flittersniffer - "filthy slop" - the hell? Does that refer to the act itself? As in, "Your mother and I reluctantly resorted to filthy slop, and the result was you, our darling daughter".

  21. Grasshopper pie? Funny - I have had that at a restaurant and it was minty good! But seriously, I get the fascination. I was curious about grasshoppers in my pre-K days which led me to smearing one on the side of the house. Hey - I wanted to see what color they were inside (Greenish yellow - I know you wanted to know).

    I haven't tried these fragrances. I am slow to get the samples - so many to try - only one nose!

  22. flittersniffer - "filthy slop"??? I experienced an unexpected snort at that! I can see "getting cozy" but "filthy slop"? Ohhhh, noooooo.

  23. Criminea, you all! I am reading through these comments and laughing consistently and then I see SOMEONE LET L'OMBRE FAUVE OUT OF THE BAG and more people are talking about getting some. C'mon, I'm on the slowly trying to buy a full bottle plan.

    If you get the last one, share?

    BTW, as a person who has known those who have spent some time in their life slopping out pens, I now have some rather odd imagery of cozying up in filthy slop. And now that I said that, my brain played a little game, and brought in a high jump. "Fosbury flop."

    In order to get cozy, s/he did a Fosbury Flop into the slop.

    Splashdown involved L'Air du Rien. L'Ombre Fauve sits off to the side, wondering who really is the animal around here?

  24. Katie, that is exactly how my father would have deployed the term. It is a miracle that my brother and I are here at all really. : - )

  25. ScentScelf, there's certainly a dance-off due for all of these Fosbury Fop frags. And "someone" did let L'Ombre Fauve out of the bag. But it seems there's more to go around, so don't fret yet.

    flitterniffer - Damn that filthy slop. So self-soiling, yet so irresistible!