L’Air de Rien Eau de Parfum by Miller Harris Review

Collage of L'Air de Rien by Miller Harris and its notes, including neroli, patchouli, oakmoss, vanilla, amber, and musk.

I don’t understand Miller Harris’ L’Air de Rien.

This isn’t spitty. I was led to expect spitty. I almost wanted spitty, dammit.

Some people talk about L’Air de Rien like it’s the literal bottled embodiment of sex and sweat and spit. Like it’s some sort of hot-and-heavy, spitty-spitty-bang-bang, oh-those-naughty-French-people-with-their-liberated-sexuality-and-hairy-armpits sort of perfume.

And it just… isn’t.

Warm, intimate, spicy, sure. Maybe a little musky. But it isn’t at all eyebrow-raising or literally sexual. Not on me, anyway. On my skin, L’Air de Rien is a warm and pleasant amber, safe and faintly spiced.

It’s like the warm spicy musk of Rochas’ Femme Rochas and Chloé’s Nomade Absolu. It’s amber, amber with warm spices and resins, maybe frankincense, myrrh. Sweet resinous warm spicy amber. Vanilla, labdanum, sweet musky spiced warm amber. A tasty warmth a little like cinnamon, like davana, fruit and sweat and pies.

A leather-bound book with yellowing pages flipped open to a page near the end, with a pair of glasses sitting on top of it.

This is Femme Rochas and Nomade Absolu without the jammy plum. Just the warm, sweet spices, cinnamon and vanilla and resins. Rich, rich musk. It’s not nauseatingly sweet or spicy, though.

This is a very nice spiced amber. A touch delicious at times, in more vanilla-forward moments.

An hour in, L’Air de Rien becomes more and more warm, delicious and vanilla, with a little less spice. It’s getting just a little bit powdery and old-book dusty. But just a hint. Mostly still delicious. Just a little bottom-of-an-old-cookie-tin mustiness.

Maybe there is something like saliva in here. Very faint and warm. The sort of unsalted warmth and fluidity innate to spit.

But honestly, I’m just trying to see it. If it hadn’t been suggested to me that there’s some sort of human or cat saliva note in here, I wouldn’t have gone looking for it. L’Air de Rien is a pretty, cozy amber. It isn’t spitty. Not even cat-spitty.

(Plenty of reviewers have compared the note to the smell of a familiar cat’s hair. This sounds intriguing and potentially enormously comforting. Unfortunately, I’m not quite getting it.)

A brown striped tabby cat with clever golden eyes sits at attention.

Two hours in, things are cozy, warm vanilla, lightly spiced.

Here’s what my boyfriend had to say four and a half hours in: “Ooh. I like that. I really like that a lot, actually.”
*Does the Morticia Addams arm kiss thing, romantically*
*Mimes devouring my arm like it’s corn on the cob, slightly less romantically*
“It’s very sweet. But not too sweet. It’s almost… Like a fruity sweet? Almost like a little chocolatey? A little like lilac? Yeah, I don’t know. But I like that one.”

No sweat. No must. No dust. Just sweet vanilla that feels almost almost chocolatey, almost fruity.

In fact, it feels, oddly enough, like it’s gotten fruitier as time goes on. I can make out the golden outline of a fresh peach, fuzzy and clean and sweet, a fresh spurt of juice amid the musky vanilla.

It’s musky, but it isn’t musty. Perhaps at certain moments there’s a faint dustiness to the spice accord if you squint, but the impression I get is not at all of dust and cardboard boxes and old books and lived-in and then abandoned spaces. I just get a rich, sweet, incredibly warm vanilla musk, gentle and smooth and rich, at the very edge of fruitiness. I get, honestly, the cinnamon and plums of perfumes like Femme Rochas and Nomade Absolu.

Maybe, maybe there’s a faint idea of something like saliva. Maybe. If I really go looking for it. It’s a texture thing, a lukewarm temperature thing, a faint saltiness and sourness dried on the skin so deeply under layers of vanilla and chocolate and peaches and plums that I almost thing I’m imagining it.

A heart-shaped amber charm on a pendant and chunky wire chain.

Is it familiar, warm, musky, safe? Unquestionably. I can see where it might feel lived in. Is it human and sweaty and spitty? Not really.

Five to six hours in: okay, fine, L’Air de Rien is a little dusty at some moments. Still at the spicy edge of the amber vanilla. Bottom-of-the-butter-cookie-tin-in-the-basement dusty. Dry enough not to be musty, but not too powdery-dry. At times there’s a texture a little like sand to it — fine and slightly damp sand, aromatic and just a wee bit gritty.

L’Air de Rien stays sweet and warm-spicy through the drydown. It keeps up that musky sweet cinnamonesque davana sort of vibe.

Seven hours in, if I really focus, I can sort of make out what must be a faint oakmoss note in the base of L’Air de Rien.

Nine hours in: okay, I’m calling it. This is linear. No hidden secret surprises. No surreptitious sweatiness. Just warm, spicy-sweet vanilla amber, just a little dusty.

I suppose waking up the morning after there is something just a little naughty about it. A very faint musk and, at last, the faintest imprint of cool, gentle oakmoss, reminiscent of a man’s aftershave. At this point, the sweet vanilla is finally gone, just leaving oakmoss.

A blue-toned monochromatic whale.

It’s extremely quiet on the skin, but I suppose I can finally understand that waking-up, morning-after, boyfriend’s-button-down effect people are talking about some twenty hours in. The hint of musk left is mostly salty and sour, almost like ambergris, with a hint of almost-fetid sweetness occasionally floating through.

Alright, L’Air de Rien, you win. I guess this feels a little dirty if you squint, a little hypnotic with animalic notes, faint sweetness and sourness and indole and salt, bare traces of vanilla that now smell like the sweetness of skin.

So there it is. That human skin effect others described in their reviews. Intimate and creamy sweet, almost milky vanilla, drenched in musk, a wash of oakmoss cologne, a hint of delicious spice. It just took a long while to kick in, and was so far into the drydown when it did that I really have to put my wrist up to my note and pay attention to get the effect.

Still, it’s there, and continues fading that way until it disappears after around 24 hours. L’Air de Rien’s lasting power on my skin is impressive.

Grayscale portrait photo of an unsmiling, forlorn young woman looking away from the camera, with long hair and bangs.

Perfumer Lyn Harris designed L’Air de Rien for actress, singer, and style icon Jane Birkin in 2006. (This is the same Jane Birkin that the famous Hermès Birkin bag is named after. Jane was a natural muse, inspiring iconic art and style left and right.)

L’Air de Rien seeks to embody Jane Birkin’s chic, simple, clever French style, as well as the smells of her favorite things. “Jane wanted something that represented an essence of quietude, hints of weary books, dust and loved skin, closeness and distance,” says the Miller Harris website.

And L’Air de Rien really does deliver on that. It’s a quiet, simple sort of perfume, an intimate perfume with a certain skin-scent quality to it, as well as a sweet, dry whisper of what feels to me like fruit and cinnamon, a pie baking downstairs as you read in your personal library.

The name of the perfume, L’Air de Rien, really is as clever and chic as the scent itself. It’s a French phrase with a variety of meanings:

L’air de rien, adverb: with a poker face, without revealing one’s thoughts or intentions.

L’air de rien, noun: describing an apparent lack of merit of special attention or remark; unremarkability.

L’air de rien, literal translation: the air of nothing, also used to mean nonchalantly.

L’air de rien, common use: drily.

What a puzzle, eh? I can’t quite tell which meaning was intended for the perfume L’air de Rien. Perhaps all of them. Perhaps none.

Botanical illustration of neroli, the flowers of the orange tree, on a branch with leaves.

I honestly get no patchouli of note in L’Air de Rien. A hint of rich and earthy moss, sure, almost like faraway tea, but no patchouli.

Nor do I get any neroli or orange blossom on my skin, personally, and it doesn’t seem like many people do. This isn’t a floral perfume, it’s a minimalist amber wearing an orange blossom hat to appear more chic. If what you want is neroli, look elsewhere. (And if you’re looking for a yummy orange-blossom-vanilla-amber perfume and don’t mind a bit of tea, Maison Martin Margiela’s Matcha Meditation is simply delish.)

A light gray-green-colored clump of oakmoss.

Most of all, what L’Air de Rien reminds me of is a vampy, raunchy fruity-spicy perfume like Femme Rochas or Nomade Absolu without the fruit. This is the rich, musky, warm amber at the base of these chypres, with just a hint of oakmoss, a touch of sweat, and a dusty dryness that feels, to me, like cinnamon.

But that’s just me, and that’s just my skin. What does L’Air de Rien smell like on yours? Let me know in the comments!

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