Miller Harris L’Air de Rien : Perfume Review



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

While the average US perfume buyer is put off by the idea of an animalic note in fragrance, for many fragrance aficionados (your author included), the mention of leather, civet or horse sweat is a selling point. Whenever I read about Miller Harris L’Air de Rien, a fragrance created in 2006 for the actress Jane Birkin, it would invariably be described in terms of dirty underwear and cats’ rear ends. Perhaps I draw a line somewhere after all, because it took me years to finally try L’Air de Rien. So now I can report that the musky amber of L’Air de Rien is reminiscent more of a moss festooned garden shed, rather than an outhouse. In fact, its slightly rough charm perfectly fits my image of Jane Birkin.

Like Etat Libre d’Orange Rien (Nothing), L’Air de Rien is certainly more potent than its name implies. The composition is built on an accord of orange blossom and labdanum, and the effect of this combination is quite enchanting. For a moment, L’Air de Rien is reminiscent of Guerlain Habit Rouge, where the orange blossom decorates the typically plush Guerlain accord of balsams, amber and vanilla. Yet, soon a vision of dandified elegance is completely obscured by the assertive sweet incense notes that call to mind Woodstock and tie-dyed skirts.

As L’Air de Rien dries down, the raw silk roughness of indoles that comes from the accord of neroli and orange blossom gives way to the balsamic amber and vanilla. Yet, even though I do not get particularly offensive notes from L’Air de Rien, it certainly has a musky animalic twist that eventually gets amplified by the dark orange blossom and resinous labdanum. There is something very comforting about the caressing warmth of L’Air de Rien at this stage. For a relatively dark fragrance, L’Air de Rien feels lighthearted and uplifting. Perhaps it is the combination of its French accent and English sense of humor. At any rate, a delight!

Miller Harris L’Air de Rien includes notes of neroli, orange blossom, oakmoss, amber, musk, and vanilla. Available directly from the Miller Harris website, Saks 5th Avenue, Luckyscent, New London Pharmacy, Fourseasons, Beautyhabit, or Min New York. In the UK, it is sold at Musthave, Liberty and the Miller Harris boutiques.

Sample: my own acquisition

Image credit: Jane Birkin from



  • Nancy C.: Love, love, love this. It’s one of my favorite summer scents and definitely is a tie-dyed maxi skirt and sandals fragrance.

    BTW, I did try Rien after your review and I see the similarity to Aromatics Elixir. Much fizzier and not as in your face assertive as AE but still wonderful in its own way. May 17, 2011 at 6:30am Reply

  • ines: This sounds very promising! 🙂
    I’ll definitely give it a try next time I’m at the store here carrying the line. May 17, 2011 at 4:52am Reply

  • bee: you seem to be reviewing many of my favorites lately! So, yes l’air de rien seems to be the only neroli/orange blossom-based scent that works well for me, I guess it’s in the combination,I find the dry down earthy (like in gardening – handling nice, moist soil) but not skanky, I don’t think I’m missing something, but who knows?. It is potent stuff though, one of the few scents which need only one spray for the whole day
    ps: I don’t find it that hippy actually, it works well with DVF wrap dresses too… May 17, 2011 at 11:14am Reply

  • Victoria: I do not care for MH aesthetic overall, but l'Air de Rien is a surprise. Love this kind of mossy, retro ambers.
    Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile May 17, 2011 at 10:36am Reply

  • Victoria: I wish someone would comment who finds it very skanky. Although I'm glad that I do not find it offensively dirty, I still feel that I'm missing out on something. 🙂

    I wore AE and Rien side by side once, and I find the same thing. Rien is not as assertive. AE is so much bolder in comparison.
    Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile May 17, 2011 at 10:42am Reply

  • Miss Kitty: Oh, boy. I just get a fishy smell from this. If I went on your description alone I’d think you were talking about a different perfume! What a shame that I can’t smell whatever everyone else is getting from it. 🙁 May 17, 2011 at 3:48pm Reply

  • bloody frida: Absolutely one of my top favorite perfumes!!! It is to me a bit skanky – but more skanky in the way you would feel if you were rained on and the humidity kept you from totally drying out your clothes and hair and then went into a used clothes or book store.

    LOVE IT!! May 17, 2011 at 12:45pm Reply

  • Victoria: It works with everything for me too. Just as well, since I don't own a single tie-dyed thing. :).
    Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile May 17, 2011 at 1:05pm Reply

  • Victoria: Earthy, musty–that I can see. Carol, your description is so spot on! Love it!!
    Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile May 17, 2011 at 1:07pm Reply

  • anatole: One of my winter’s favorite. To me, L’air de rien smells like reading an old book in a leather armchair, cosy and warm, yawning dog by your side and a dying fire in the chimney. May 17, 2011 at 5:38pm Reply

  • vanessa: I used to find this offensively skanky – it was up there with Jicky in the bodily malodorous stakes – but I like it now. Bloody Frida has converted me! May 17, 2011 at 2:00pm Reply

  • As Victoria says I find most MH fragrances a bit underwhelming. They are… “nice” which I think is a four-letter-word when it comes to perfumes. I liked Fleurs de Sel, Figue Amere and… L’ Air de Rien. Although it is a bit too sweet for my taste I cannot help but think that it is the closest thing to smelling a baby’s head. Some call it skanky, animalic, I call it pure heaven. I don’t wear it very often because it is strong and sweet but it definitely is a bottle I want to have at arm’s length.

    _Christos May 17, 2011 at 2:43pm Reply

  • March: I complain about this scent periodically and everyone comes out of the woodwork to defend it! It’s … more dung-like to me (more barnyard?) Like partly composted manure, or the horse barn at the state fair. While it’s a nice, interesting smell, it’s not one I want to wear. (More intensely civet-y things are okay, for some reason.) May 17, 2011 at 3:55pm Reply

  • Millicent: I was so curious to smell this, after reading so many comments and opinions like the ones above. Sadly, it reminded me all too much of dirty hair smell. Not an interesting musky, skanky, sexy smell but a kind of stale body smell. Like being too close to the wrong person on a crowded subway. May 17, 2011 at 9:20pm Reply

  • sweetlife: You give me courage, V. Have had a sample of this untried for forever. May 17, 2011 at 5:21pm Reply

  • Victoria: Jicky is now so tame, it is a pity. It is my top reformulation disappointment.
    Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile May 17, 2011 at 6:47pm Reply

  • Victoria: Those were my favorites too, but I'm not tempted to add them to my collection. L'Air de Rien is an exception. I agree, it is strong, but not as much sillage as I would expect. That's ok though, I like its close to skin aura.
    Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile May 17, 2011 at 6:49pm Reply

  • Victoria: Well, one thing less to crave then. 🙂 that's how I think of it.
    Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile May 17, 2011 at 6:50pm Reply

  • Victoria: Yes, I can totally see that–earthy, musty, vegetal… I can also see why some people dislike that.
    Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile May 17, 2011 at 6:52pm Reply

  • Victoria: Give it a go, A! It is not as scary as you think. 🙂
    Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile May 17, 2011 at 6:53pm Reply

  • Victoria: Another fantastic description! I love the musty smell of old books, which is why I like this perfume, I suppose.
    Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile May 17, 2011 at 6:54pm Reply

  • Victoria: I can see how the combination of notes can give this impression. It is an odd fragrance and definitely it is a love or hate perfume. May 18, 2011 at 9:15am Reply

  • Judith, London: Love it!
    It is skanky but not in an animalic way, I think. It makes you smell like you live in a damp bedsit. Now I’ve lived in damp bedsits and wouldn’t revisit that experience if the only alternative was a park bench. But the fragrance makes me smile – perhaps because it reminds me I’ve escaped that life, or because I was younger then and innocent, I don’t know, or more likely, it is simply a witty and rather naughty fragrance and utterly unexpected in a mainstream department store like John Lewis. I totally agree that there is a comforting aspect to this scent and that is why I wear it in the perfumed cream version at night. May 21, 2011 at 8:51pm Reply

  • Victoria: I haven't tried the perfumed cream, but it sounds very good!
    Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile May 22, 2011 at 10:11am Reply

  • Dl: Hi! have you smelled this pre and post- ifra’s ban on oakmoss? do you if it has been affected dramatically by it? January 11, 2012 at 4:43pm Reply

  • Dl: That’s good to know. it is a lovely comforting scent. i get more old books and dusty libraries than skank from this one: for once the official description is spot on. January 11, 2012 at 5:45pm Reply

  • Victoria: To be honest, no, I did not compare it this way. I have an older sample, which might or might not be pre-ifra, while my newest sample is from this year. They smell fairly similar to me. January 11, 2012 at 5:00pm Reply

  • Ana: I have been reading through your post for a couple of days but only now I could think of searching a review for my actual fragrance L’air de Rien.
    I started to use it a bit by chance because it was left to me by a friend, I was first tempted to sell but then I slowly got to like it every time I put it on. It didn’t feel skanky to me but it felt dry, I didnt think it suit me. At that time I was becoming interested into niche perfumerie and well made fragrances so I decided to be patient with L’air de Rien. It bloomed into a surprising sophisticated fragrance to me. I know want to explore more the area of woody scents. January 25, 2013 at 12:02pm Reply

  • rosestrang: I’ve been wearing it for 6 months now in a variety of weathers, also sprayed lightly and heavily. It’s one of those perfumes that change each time I find. The first notes I find to be leathery labdanum, then a slight element of horse sweat/hair arrives. I used to work in stables as a teenager and spent a lot of time grooming horses so I find this comforting – not a ‘cashmere’ scent, but cosy and mildly animalic (not indoles though)

    Underlying all of this though is a subtle fudge-like sweetness which grows into the note you exactly describe – hippy incense! I’d say specifically Nag Champa. I call this my posh hippy perfume. I find it sexy, but I’ve learned to spray a light mist in hot weather, not concentrated on the usual pulse points June 23, 2013 at 2:58am Reply

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