Star rating: 5 stars–outstanding/potential classic, 4 stars–very good, 3 stars–adequate, 2 stars–disappointing, 1 star–poor.
Anyone familiar with the provocative aesthetic of Etat Libre d’Orange will suspect at once that the fragrance named Rien (Nothing) is likely to be a dramatic mélange. The first whiff of the fragrance proves that one’s suspicions are indeed correct—Rien is a blast of civet and leather, with bitter green and earthy iris notes weaving a dark tapestry. Bold, dramatic, overwrought, it hits all of its accords at once. Yet, those who love classical fragrances and leather notes will find Rien thrilling, since it offers a glimpse into the vanishing grand parfum tradition—challenging, complicated, and memorable. Rien has the complexity of Clinique Aromatics Elixir, the intelligence of Chanel No 19, the brashness of Robert Piguet Bandit and the sensuality of Serge Lutens Muscs Koublai Khan. It is exciting in its blend of classical themes and modern effects.
Created by Antoine Lie in 2006, Rien was his challenge and his rallying call against the restrictions on raw materials and the standardization of effects in modern perfumery. As he explained recently in an interview with Denyse of Grain de Musc, “I indulged myself…I was tired of all the restrictions on raw materials. You can’t use castoreum, galbanum, oak moss, large quantities of patchouli, or iris because it’s too expensive. So I took all those notes and I tried to rewrite them in a modern way.” The lovers of classical perfumery with its rich, complex effects will at once feel an affinity for Rien, which opens on a vibrant accord of aldehydes, galbanum and iris. The starchy metallic timbre that aldehydes lend to fragrances in large doses can tend towards aloof and cold, yet this is not true for Rien. While it suggests a certain sophistication, the composition does not shy away from the heavy hitters of the perfumer’s palette—spices, animalic notes, patchouli and heavy ambers.
As the shimmery veil of aldehydes dissolves into a general fresh sensation, Rien segues into the seductive and smoldering domain. The chocolate bitterness of patchouli married with spicy leather notes and the inky darkness of oakmoss gives the composition a femme fatale aura. A few rose petals, a whisper of incense smoke, a foil of dark musk, and Rien becomes a delightful valse-fantasie of different impressions. One moment, I imagine myself in a sari shop in Delhi surrounded by the scent of warm silks and sandalwood incense. The next, I think of Anouk Aimée in A Man and A Woman, with her character simultaneously conveying strength and fragility and wrapping herself in cigarette smoke, cashmere and leather.
The leathery amber drydown of Rien suddenly puts everything in perfect harmony—the elegance, the mystery, the seductive, and I find myself unable to resist it. While I generally think of this style of perfumery as melancholy, since nothing is more bittersweet than the reminder of the things from the remote and elusive past, Rien has a streak of playfulness to make it joyful. It is a pleasure to wear, especially on days when I do not mind a perfume with an attitude, and it has a fantastic sillage. For all of its challenging facets, I get a surprising number of compliments on Rien. The most recent one I have received captures the spirit of this perfume perfectly: “it smells devastatingly seductive!”
Etat Libre d’Orange Rien includes notes of aldehydes, rose, cumin, black pepper, patchouli, iris, leather, oakmoss, amber, labdanum, incense, and styrax. Available from Henri Bendels and online from Luckyscent. $80, 50ml
Sample: my own acquisition