Ever since it launched almost a decade ago, I have flirted with buying a full bottle of Miller Harris’ odd perfume, L’Air de Rien. Depending on my mood, though, its fusty, dusty and musky deposit can leave me traumatised all day (what is that smell and is it me?!) or fascinate and nurture with its otherworldly warmth, the origin of which is hard to pinpoint. It may not be of a dark mood but L’Air de Rien does possess a quietly unsettling soul.
Lyn Harris, owner and perfumer of this British brand, worked on the perfume with iconic 60s actress Jane Birkin, also the inspiration behind the aspirational Hermes Birkin bag. Jane Birkin was never a fan of conventional scents and wanted Harris to create an olfactory memory, possibly a fantasy, that collected odours of her brother’s hair, her dad’s pipe, furniture polish, old houses and furniture. Conceptual and personal, Harris took the brief seriously, if not quite literally, and has created a smell that will be mildly offensive to some and, for the musky die-hards, catnip for others.
The first 90 minutes of L’Air de Rien, when the scent really kicks its feet up and projects, has a detectable sweatiness of a body, human I think, that has been rolling around in used hay which was once scented by vanilla. Other elements feature but Harris has blended the scent in a way that it’s not possible to easily tick off traditional notes.
After this part settles then a soft patchouli, amber, lots of musk and the vanilla can be identified and there is nothing shrill or piercing about L’Air de Rien. It becomes a snug skin scent that is indeed reminiscent of the fusty furniture and books that I imagine Jane Birkin once found comforting and reassuring – although melancholia seeps through.
Unlike the other relatively conservative scents in Miller Harris’ now considerable line-up, L’Air de Rien is a complete, genderless one-off. There are plenty of other perfume ‘stinkers’ out there but Jane Birkin’s smell wish-list is hers and hers only.
Sillage is subtle after the initial pongy period, and then the basenotes will linger for the whole work day and beyond – whether you dare to wear L’Air de Rien in company is a whole other story, of course! Personally, it still remains on my ‘undecided’ list.