The other day I received a sample of Etat Libre d’Orange’s Rien. A good deal has been written about this perfume which has been considered toxic and difficult and so forth and so on.
My sample of Rien came from the lovely Sigrun at Rigtigparfym, and although I had read about it from time to time, I had never come across the scent before. The brouhaha online about it does strike me as overblown. Rien is no more difficult to carry off than Absolue Pour le Soir, the other Cabochard wannabe I’ve encountered in the last six months or so. However, one thing about these polarizing scents that I do note, besides their obvious descent from Cabochard, is how blatant references to sexuality were in the perfumed past, and how muted they are now.
It’s a very odd cultural phenomenon that we are living through these days. References to sex on television are plentiful and reasonably varied, marriage is now an equal opportunity institution, but at the same time there seems to be a coyness on the part of the public to references that are not either sanitized or g-stringed by humor. It’s rather like the padded bras now available that obliterate nipples from view while inflating the wearer’s size. Sexy, yes, but not graphic or realistic about it; cartoon sexy, the CG animated territory of X-rated uncanny valley.
Perhaps the same trend has invaded perfumery, fragrances are no longer up front about sex. Old Cabochard, old Tabu, and old Femme, to cite three of the most obvious strollers up and down the boulevards of Parisian perfumery, were selling something quite blatantly. They asked you what they smelled like, but truthfully, and wink, wink, neither you nor the perfume were in any doubt about the matter. Ambroxan in this context does not make the same connection with my (no doubt) overly animalic brain.
To use another example, Rien or Absolue may sidle up to me and inquire flirtatiously what they remind me of, but my answer is usually, “chemicals”, and there’s nothing sexy about that. This is a problem for animalics in general. They work best with a large number of naturals in them. Take the naturals out, and the pheromones go out right after them.
So, does Rien smell sexy?
No. It smells like a tailor’s establishment to me. Men have passed through, and been fitted, but there is no suggestion of misconduct on anyone’s part. This is not a case of What The Tailor Saw, it’s entirely proper and even in a way, starchy, whereas nothing of the sort was true of old Cabochard, that slattern goddess with her unfiltered Gitanes.
What Rien does achieve is some longevity on skin. In contrast to another short lived chypre from the line, Afternoon of a Faun, Rien does actually stick around for three hours or so – but shouldn’t it have the fullness, the sheer naughtiness in place? Rien is well named. Absolutely rien has been going on around here!