L'Air by Nina Ricci is the latest major fragrance launch by the house. It was reportedly "...composed around the vibrant smoothness of magnolia, L'Air has a luminous, floral bouquet, with a sparkling signature and trail." It follows up in short order on the success of the younger Ricci Ricci, a perfume equally inspired by the showcasing of a floral note, that of a Belle-de-Nuit one. I find it easier a task, but also somewhat a more superficial one in this case, to give an account of the story of L'Air than of its olfactory profile, given the subtle, understated complexity of the latter. In its imagery, the perfume taps into the bygone days of Parisian youth culture of the 1960s offering a mixed message of vintage youth culture relying on icons such as actress Jean Seberg, the French New Wave cinema and of course, Paris. To summarize, the narrative message of the scent tends to be a sedate, heritage-oriented one. The perfume's own story-telling is subtler, I find. At first blush it apears to aim to smell younger than its semantic predecessor L'Air du Temps while opting to recreate well-received current olfactory cultural patterns.
L'Air would seem to be a perfume of continuity in time rather than a challenge to our representations and sensations where olfactory motifs are concerned. On the other hand, its structure, its behavior as a perfume is absolutely resistant to any easy reviewing, a trait I find fascinating pointing more surely than anything else in my opinion to its unique nature as an object which is a perfume and nothing else. The scent is a discreetly multifaceted composition, chameleon-like with an incredible presence as a perfume, a fact, I think I am able to perceive in the glimpses I get into its sillage and capacity to surf on the air waves and smell different each time...
Notes: freesia, honeysuckle, violet leaves / magnolia, jasmine sambac, Bulgarian rose / palisander wood, patchouli.
The Eau de Parfum signed by perfumers Louise Turner and Michel Girard opens on a delicious veil of notes smelling of hyacinth, lilac, lychee, rose, aldehydes and warm skin notes heated up by a transparent yet velvety amber. It is immediately reminiscent of another perfume. After thinking briefly about Serge Lutens Bas de Soie and giving a thought to Love, Chloé, the latter also incidentally co-signed by nose Louise Turner, I realize this is familiar because at one level it is the recreated scent of wisteria filling a garden with its aroma in the springtime. The last time I caught a glimpse of the delightfulness of wisteria bottled was in Narciso Rodriguez Iridescent Musk for Her where it was a palpable nuance but not as central a sensation as here.
The grape-y, langorous and musky note of wisteria very much predominates to my nose in the composition of L'Air to the point of feeling that this is a pas-de-deux perfume based on a dual balance, or shall we call it simply, a two-note perfume. Its more subtle body which appears in the sillages it traces around you in the air, is in fact much more complex, keeping your mind busy and guessing. Most visibly, wisteria and a light, modern amber are dancing together a slow, tight dance. One cannot help but make a connection with the recent Guerlain Idylle Duet, advertized several months prior to its launch as a rose-patchouli duet. This is also when it becomes clearer that the link is not fortuitous, going beyond the familiar balance of a dual scent: the tobacco-ambery-iris accord of Idylle is in fact perceptible in L'Air.
In perfumery there is nothing more flattering to a perfumer - although it is also avowedly maddening - than to be copied. Plagiarism arguably ensures the lastingness of a perfumer's creation for decades instead of it merely appearing as a shooting star in the sky of fragrance launches. Copying perfume - it can be argued - is a necessary and healthy activity to the establishment of the classics of perfumery otherwise they would vaporize more surely than when you sprayed them onto your skin. The reasoning is a bit perverse unfortunately -- a balance between tradition and inventiveness has to be sought. The reason being that olfactory classics rely very much on the innate conservatism of the 5th sense of which one of its most fundamental needs is to recreate the past, to find a shortcut to long gone days.
Now I am more firmly walking on a familiar terrain. There is quite a bit of Guerlain Idylle in Nina Ricci L'Air. Its forebear L'Air du Temps by Nina Ricci appears less as a motif and more like a discreet, subtle watermark-signature perceptible in the waft-backs of green, soapy nuances that evoke Fidji by Guy Laroche, a descendant of L'Air du Temps. Except for the cloud of aldehydes that appears and then disappears quite quickly in the high notes of the composition, there is no immediate, visible linkage at first. Instead, Nina Ricci goes in part for a capture of the contemporary pillowy pink ambery accord one finds in Narciso Rodriguez for Her originally and which has been revisited many times since then. It is also a prolongation of the iris-and-tobacco twist found in Idylle by Guerlain which itself is a debtor to Narciso Rodriguez for Her.
Then L'Air plays with the floral notes of wisteria which evoke pale nuances of pearlescent mauve, a certain fruity heaviness suggestive of indoles dipped in thick oil although magnolia is the advertized central floral note. As the scent develops, lighter lychee and citrus facets lift the fragrance a bit. A woody-spicy facet smells of sandalwood, cedar, rosewood and patchouli.
Where L'Air by Nina Ricci remains faithful to the spirit of the perfume house and the heritage of L'Air du Temps in particular, is that it continues to assert its belief in a feminine composition being preferrably a floral one. L'Air furthermore coherently explores the rich, heavy, narcotic notes of the more recent launch Ricci Ricci rather than the more aerial and sparkling heritage of L'Air du Temps. Yet, the perfume-behavior of L'Air is astonishingly good and seems to have been designed by aeronautical engineers rather than perfumers. I said in the past that we should remember that air is the element on which perfume blooms, not just skin. Here is a good illustration of this idea.
Targeted towards a younger segment of the perfume-wearing denizens, L'Air plays it safe to a large extent. It seems to have noticed the success of Idylle. It further encodes contemporary perfume language which is already familiar and well-accepted. It then adds a less-often smelled note of narcotic wisteria. Where it captivates, is in its amazing trail.
More generally speaking, it seems that we are all invited to rediscover the scents of flowers in the beginning of the 21st century. I said previously that soliflores were back with a vengeance in 2011. The interest in floral scents is confirmed with L'Air. As we are all re-discovering nature through the organic, green movement, it is only natural - pun intended - that the perfumes of flowers would be explored more in depth. If this is a coherent societal trend as well as a technological one, the latter as pointed out by Michael Edwards, it might overly encourage the innate conservatism of the nose and the Medieval-copist attitude in perfumery to the detriment of creativity, a potential already direly challenged by the needs of a commercial industry and our use of the 5th sense for nostalgic games.
While one may long to roll in meadows filled with flowers and plunge one's nose in luscious varietals, it is also important not to forget to keep our distances with nature. "Botanical" perfumes will always be appreciated. I appreciate the attentiveness to the empirical world of the encyclopedical mind. But we should also never forget that there are more distorting ways to look at reality. It is perfumery's particular challenge to oscillate between a deep-seated need for conservatism through the artful triggering of emotions long buried and its capacity for making us smell the world through new, disorienting sensations. Perfumery can make us imagine a world that does not exist nor will ever exist.
Meanwhile, L'Air will take you back to the familiar, then knock you out with its near-divine sillage. It is to a large measure, a perfume for the others. Make a prayer on the wind and hope L'Air wafts back towards you to seduce you too. Just like its shapely feminine bottle, the perfume sings a general praise of femininity which should be reason enough for many to wear such a flattering and alluring perfume. L'Air is on a mission to glorify you.