Nina Ricci L’Air du Temps : Fragrance Review

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Original:

Rated 4.5 out of 5.0

Reformulation:

Rated 4.5 out of 5.0

Star rating: 5 stars–outstanding/potential classic, 4 stars–very good, 3 stars–adequate, 2 stars–disappointing, 1 star–poor.

“And only dreamed imagination Had drowned in the empty dark Its flitting visions’ pale reflections, The soul fancy’s easy mark?” Aleksandr Sergeievich Pushkin

Carnation blossoms thickly overlaid with wintergreen and dusky bitter notes. It captures a moment before autumns falls into the winter and winter into the spring, a sense of something new and unsettling in the air. Its combination of earthy vetiver and nostalgic iris makes me think of fin de siècle parks filled with marble statues. A rich veil of chrysanthemum-like bitterness—a smell of leaves rubbed between fingers as one passes through the overgrown brambles absentmindedly caressing remaining flowers—folds over the composition. Created in 1948 by Francis Fabron, Nina Ricci L’Air du Temps was one of my mother’s favorite fragrances.

Fast forward to the present. I lift the beautiful lid of intertwining doves off the bottle, spray the content on my arm and… Nothing happens, other than a whisper of something barely resembling the old beauty. It is faceless, utterly forgettable, filled with light and likable notes that together do not sing. If my grandmother’s bottle of L’Air du Temps is still preserved, I will wear it, otherwise I am not going near the reformulated version.

Poem: Aleksandr Sergeievich Pushkin (1799-1837), a greatest Russian poet of Romantic period. The excerpt is taken from “To the Fountain Of the Palace Of the Bakchisarai.”

Photo: Pushkin’s favorite statue in Tsarkoe Selo, a town near St. Petersburg, which was Russian tzars’ summer residence. Pushkin studied in the town’s Lyceum from 1811 to 1817.

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18 Comments

  • Tania: Do you know what year the reformulation was? I have an eBay watch on “vintage l’air du temps” but I don’t know how old a bottle has to be before it’s worth my dollar. June 25, 2005 at 12:22pm Reply

    • Bets: Can you tell by the color how well the perfume has lasted in an unopened bottle of L’Air du Temps?

      And how can you tell by the bottle itself when it was made?

      There is one listed in Canada on Kijiji, but how much is reasonable to pay for an unopened Lalique single dove bottle without knowing the quality of what is inside?

      I’m new to this and just found this site (but 2005?! so I hope people are still reading); I do very much appreciate your expertise!
      Thank you. May 30, 2013 at 11:52am Reply

      • Victoria: Bets, it should be fine, if the perfume was stored in a cool, dark place. The juice shouldn’t be dark though. I don’t know how to date Lalique bottles, but if it’s a parfum, stoppered bottle, then it’s likely to be older. When you buy a perfume without testing, there is always a risk, of course. Just be sure that the seller is someone reliable. May 30, 2013 at 2:32pm Reply

  • Diane: T, I believe the reformulation was in the 1990s, as I have a ’80s formula and it’s quite true to how I remember it on my aunt. V should have a more precise date though.

    V, is that your own personal photo? It’s wonderful. Take plenty of photos this summer, sweetie! June 25, 2005 at 7:55pm Reply

  • Victoria: Tania, I think Diane is right. The reformulation is not older than 1980s. I hope that you will win your bottle. Please, share your impressions then. By the way, thank you is spasibo in Russian and djakuju in Ukrainian.

    D, I definitely will! Mr. P brought a nice little camera for me to record everything to share with him later. 🙂
    xoxo June 25, 2005 at 8:13pm Reply

  • Octavian: The smell of Air du Temps was so popular that the cosmetic industry used its fragrance (but in a more cheaper version) to perfume various cosmetic preparations. It’s called the trickle down effect.In fact if you smell various hair spray / lacque / fixatives from the ’70s & ’80s you’ll see how in period of time that fragrance was everywere. Unfortunatelly the present perfume lost some of its richness. 2 perfumes directlly inspired from Air du temps are Fidji & Anais Anais. June 26, 2005 at 3:36am Reply

  • Victoria: This is interesting, as Fidji and Anais Anais are the other two fragrances I remember well being worn among women of my family. Fidji in particular was preferred. I have not sampled it in a while, however I am afraid, because I expect that it has been reformulated just like everything else. Do you know anything about it?

    Also, I have a question about Joy by Jean Patou. Have you tried the fragrance made before and after 2001 (P&G purchase of Jean Patou)? I wonder if there is a difference. Thank you for your insight–very interesting and informative. June 26, 2005 at 10:38am Reply

  • Miriam: As always, I love your evocative thoughts, V. After you finish your doctorate, you might want to think about writing a book about perfume! Or perhaps editing an anthology of articles (we could co-edit. . . 😉

    Reformulation is a grotesque thing. In the same way that, as Bakhtin says, the grotesque seems to retain elements of the real, but distorts and extends them in subversive parody, these reformulations can only be called modern grotesques.

    I’ve smelled most of the Patou reformulations and none of them even come close to the originals. Sadly, the parfum versions of the pre-1950s scents (Ma Collection) have been lost in the sands of time. My mother has worn Moment Supreme since the 1970s, and has detected a thinner quality, as well as a more citrusy (“trendy”) top note since 1999 or so. Moment Supreme is a lovely lavender-amber scent, with a heart of rose and top notes of bergamot and geranium. It will forever be associated in my mind with the warmth and comfort and style of my mother. When I went to the old Patou shop in 2001 to bring back a bottle for my mother, I was told that only EDTs were available. And apparently the new shop doesn’t sell them at all. . . However, a good friend of my family, a jeweller and sometime perfumer named Joel, has purportedly found a bottle for my mother, though of course how he did so, must remain a mystery. . . June 27, 2005 at 12:42pm Reply

  • Victoria: Dear Miriam,

    How I love your mention of Bakhtin, especially since I have been reading “The Dialogic Imagination” over the past few days. Of course, I cannot agree more with his take on the grotesque, and your extrapolation to perfume.

    I used to own an entire Ma Collection, a re-edition, and I ended up letting it go, because I would be disappointed by the thin nature of EDTs. There was something bland and citrusy in the opening notes, and while the drydown managed to achieve depth, the first olfactory impression was of something pale. I am glad that your mother was reunited with Moment Supreme afterall.

    As for your suggestion, I would love to co-edit with you, although this would have to wait till I am done with my doctorate. I can just imagine how enjoyable it is going to be! June 27, 2005 at 12:54pm Reply

  • Romina: Bless you for weaving Pushkin into that.

    However, everytime i see the bottle I remember the scene in “Pillow Talk” where Doris Day is putting on finishing touches before Rock Hudson, aka “Rex Stetson”, comes to pick her up for a date, whilst grumbling about her obnoxious lady killer of a party line share, Brad Allen (Rock Hudson) 🙂
    L’Air du Temps perches on her vanity. 😉 June 23, 2006 at 11:18pm Reply

  • mieux: And don’t forget, Clarice Starling wears it too…. (Or so the good Dr. Lecter informs us) January 26, 2008 at 5:46am Reply

  • PERFUMEKEV: Agreed. The Old L’Air du Temps is one of the greatest perfumes that ever happened.

    It is so epic in every way it is so full and broad smelling. It has the most superb diffusion. You can smell it but it is never too strong. I have been fascinated with the smell of the old L’Air du Temps since I was a child. So many Women that I know have worn it.

    I have a tiny bottle of it that my Grandfather gave my Grandma a couple years after WWII. It is the most amazing smelling thing.

    It is such a sad shame that silly regulations and less expensive manufacturing processes have turned this once eternal beauty into pale caricature of the original.

    Over the past few years I always look for unopened vintage bottles of the bath oil. I got a couple of 2oz. bottles from the 1960’s they are sublime.

    What do they smell like?

    I agree as usual with what Victoria said. It is interesting to me how the smell transforms from a very full floral bouquet First notes are touches of perfectly rounded aldehydes but barely detectable. then just like Arpege a quick succession of notes Neroli, Jasmine, Rose, Genet, which all land into a huge Carnation note that is spicy yet creamy and buttery just like the real flower.

    Then after a couple of hours the beautiful vetiver and sandalwood notes which are very rustic and autumnal like. Then the dry down that just never stops of the most airy musk, Vetiver, Sandalwood and still remnants of the flowers from the beginning. It’s Dry down is so beguiling. The old L’Air du Temps was love at first sniff. Once you are hooked you can never stop.

    I believe Nina Ricci said, “Perfume is Art it is not a commodity”. She would be so sad to see what became of her perfume. September 28, 2015 at 4:06pm Reply

    • Victoria: She really would be, but at least the classics are available in her boutiques, reformulation aside. This is not the case with so many other houses from the period. September 30, 2015 at 11:44am Reply

      • PERFUMEKEV: VERY TRUE :O) good to look at the positive side. Your Blog is so Good Victoria I love reading it every day. with kindest regards
        Kev September 30, 2015 at 4:23pm Reply

        • Victoria: Thank you very much, Kev! October 1, 2015 at 4:50am Reply

  • Luna: L’Air du Temps is an interesting fragrance – far-away, smelled from a distance, it’s a spicy floral. Up close, it turns into a sharp, slightly green, sap-like scent.

    My grandmother loved this, and thinking of her (she died in June 2014), I bought a small bottle on eBay. Worn gently spread out onto freshly-washed skin, like a veil, it has an exquisitely beautiful effect of gossamer femininity. It sounds strange (maybe to some people), but I find l’Air du Temps evokes what, to me, is the ‘ideal’ woman. It’s feminine, but not girly – it’s realistic French in style and execution. It has the sense of being restrained, it is gentle but it hints at some inner power. Considering that this perfume was developed after the war and was developed to evoke feelings of austerity and resilience, I can sense an “air” of hidden strength, of that sort of peace which comes after tragedy, and deep wells of inner beauty springing forth like flowers after a hard winter.

    It reminds me of a long sunset, of that moment right before night falls in late summer, when the sky is all different shades of rose and gold and pink, a few stars are shining, some bird in singing in a tree, and the wind has that hauntingly dry, sweet smell of burnt grass, cold evening wind, and shadows. I forgot how beautiful this scent was, and wearing it reminds me just how much I loved my Grandmother and the great impressions she left on me as a child. January 22, 2016 at 2:11pm Reply

    • Victoria: Such beautiful and dreamy perfume descriptions, Luna! Thank you. January 24, 2016 at 8:02am Reply

    • Nora Szekely: Beautiful. March 6, 2016 at 1:09am Reply

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