(image Jane Birkin)
Perfumer Lyn Harris
L’Air de Rien is one of those super funky oddballs that fumies go to when retreating from the mainstream, but surprisingly its greatest virtues are quite old school. It has true top, middle and basenotes in the classical and grand manner. l’Air de Rien’s fullness highlights a critical part of what has been lost in some current classics.
What we’ve come to expect from current examples of extant perfumes of the old school, composed before 1978 or so, is what they were, but less.
An opportunity for nuanced, reflective discussion has gone the way of ambergris, castoreum, nitro musks and great bucketsful of oakmoss and coumarin. This isn’t nostalgia. Perfumery has lost the ability to produce richness in a manner that it used to.* There are no true replacements for certain well understood materials, and the perfumes made with those materials smelled beautiful. For those of us who’ve exerienced the classic perfumes in heir heyday, there is a threefold problem:
1) We’ve had the experience.
2) We are aware of its present lack.
3) We don’t even have a proper vocabulary to discuss it.
Many currently produced, veteran perfumes have been reformulated to have opening notes that favor strength over richness. The topnotes contain everything in the perfume and the middle and basenotes are subsets of the top. The perfumes don’t evolve. They just dismantle over time as the more volatile bits fly away and richness fades.
l’Air de Rien has that truly kaleidoscopic feel that vintage perfumes had. The top notes are full-bodied and, while bigger than the middle and base, are not any richer per se. l’Air de Rien can be likened to a three act play, where each act contains the same theatrical roles, but contains critical plot elements.
* The International Fragrance Association [IFRA] was founded in 1973 and started to restrict perfume materials incrementally by the early 1980s. The degree of restrictions grew exponentials in the 1990s and 2000s. In 2014, the 350 page 43rd Ammendment to to the IFRA standards was released. More restrictions are added and acceptable percentages of materials decrease. Neither of these trends has ever reversed. The IFRA moves in one direction and is gaining speed.