Okay, this is a review years in the making.
I originally heard of this in relation to Jane Birkin, and was always intrigued by how she described this perfume - brother's hair, old books, all that. But circumstance has always prevented me from my buying it - it's expensive, and I've had other perfumes to have love affairs with.
The histrionic reviews also got me: the cat's piss, the sex, the hippie and barnyard associations it seemed to stir up for everyone. Having come to the end of one of my favourite perfumes (despite its Orientalist provenance), Guerlain's heavy and beautiful Mitsouko, luck had it that I found this fairly cheap (100ml for 50 GBP).
This was an impulsive blind buy, especially as we're moving from Winter into Spring, which ordinarily should bring with it light, breezy florals. However, there's no time like the present to try L'air de Rien.
I've just had my first sprays of it and I have to say... this is a scent that even got Luca Turin, the god, on his metaphorical high horse, going on about joss sticks and burnt food. It might be that he has such a sensitive nose, but I'm honestly puzzled at how much of a flap everyone is over this.
My first impressions were: woody, incense, with something waxy or maybe even plastic, like doll celluloid. It's not a scrubber, and fresh out of the bottle, the smokiness was apparent.
That cedar closet smell is strong, along with the candle association. The incense of it is not as strong as, say, Serge Lutens' Fumerie Turque. I'd say this is because it's off-set by the body smell that everyone talks about here. I can see why this comes as a candle, and it would be a cosily lived-in room scent.
But what surprises me is that it's an edge, not something overwhelming. It's body odour but with something clean to it, or spittle. It's not even extremely fluid-y. It doesn't scream SEX, it's more refined than my own odour at the end of the day.
Sitting with it for a while now, and the prevailing image that it reminds me of is a slept-on pillow, or like my late grandma's hair wrapped up in a scarf - not unpleasant or dirty, just a few days after being washed. The smell of nooks and crannies in my house that aren't dusty or dirty, just lived in, before they're vacuumed and dusted. The smell on you at the end of the day after wearing heavy musk perfume oils you get in Pakistani bazaars or souk stalls. The living room after the guests have left and the incense is dispersing.
There's something like makeup there, or soap - I think it's the oakmoss that comes through, that smells like expensive blush powder.
There's also something watery to it that I can't quite encapsulate. I've called it spittle, but it's musky too. I suppose it's the note that people get hung up on most. But I don't find it all that visceral or disgusting. It's a full-bodied scent, it's has that papery-ness that's actually not as pungent as Lush's Hellstone, another controversial scent
i hope that L'air de Rien can make it through the change in seasons, because I have a big bottle, but also like how evocative and multi-dimensional it is. It's not for everyone, but it's quite a BIG scent. It's not as potent as Guerlain, but I will definitely be wearing it day to day.
So the summary is: you may be pleasantly surprised by this, if you like musky, wintery scents with lots of incense/candle and woodiness to them. The reviews are, by and large, overblown, and don't do justice to what is a rich and exciting perfume.