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!
Image: Jane Birkin