How To Wear Perfume

perfumeaddict

 – The Genie’s Guide To Sillage

Do you ever have the feeling that one day, a day like any other day, something will happen to shock you so profoundly, you will henceforth crash through any brand of bs and nothing can ever shock you again?

Well, today was one of those days for me, and wouldn’t you know – it’s perfume-related. Going through my Twitter feed, I came across a link to an article on the Australian Bella Sugar on the ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ ways to wear perfume, clicked it, read it, and then proceeded to howl…with laughter.

I haven’t laughed so hard since an Estée Lauder sales assistant told me imperiously that she didn’t hand out samples, since that was ‘bad for business’. (Tell that to the wonderful people at Barneys, Saks, Nordstrom, Bergdorf Goodman and every single niche/indie perfume store I’ve ever heard of in my life…)

So what, according to the perspicacious sages at Bella Sugar is the ‘right’ way to wear perfume?

  1. Don’t put perfume over scented lotion or oil. Not all scents play nicely together.
  2. Rubbing your wrists together causes uneven development, poor wear and the wrong proportion of notes. (sic!)
  3. Don’t use more than a single spritz if you’re wearing an eau de parfum from an atomizer. Your typical perfume is meant to be worn sparingly.

Naturally, I couldn’t take this lying down, or even sitting up. I’m a local Sillage Monster – mainly because the majority of perfumes I smell in the ‘wild’ are so horrible, I feel I have a moral obligation to recalibrate the noses I happen to walk by. You’d do it too, if you were gassed out of existence daily by Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, the ubiquitous Dior J’Adore and Juicy Couture.

As the seed of an idea began to sprout, I thought about all the common assumptions about perfume and perfume wearing that so many people take for granted. So here you have my own ideas…and a few popped balloons in the process, too!

What Bella Sugar Got Wrong

1) Not a few seriously great perfumes also come with all manner of matching pampering potions. For years, I swore by the ultraluxe Chanel no. 19 body crème, which was the last word in luxury – and layering. I say..go for it! Just use a little judgment here – if your perfume leans toward, say, orange blossom and you have an orange blossom body lotion/butter etc – I see no problem. I have for instance happily layered Aftelier’s delicious Lavender & Ginger body oil with vero profumo’s equally delicious Kiki extrait. Just don’t do what a former colleague of mine once did in the Bad Old Eighties, when he wore every permutation of YSL’s Kouros known to man – all at once.

On the other hand…sometimes, it’s better to be safe than sorry. I have a skin condition known as atopic dermatitis, which means I’m a walking Sahara desert hide without the dates. For this – since I pay if I don’t – I usually use a non-scented medical grade thick body lotion straight out of the shower. This does two things at once, both wonderful. It takes care of the crocodile hide and keeps it at bay, and it makes any perfumes I wear last longer. In some cases, much longer.

2) The wrong proportion of notes? WTF? This little maxim comes in other variations, too – such as…it breaks down the molecules in the perfumes. (That would take the term body chemistry to a whole new level of complexity if it were true). The ‘uneven development’ is not entirely untrue, since friction heats up the scent, which blooms evolves faster, and that means – less wear. The better a perfume is constructed, the less it will matter. But if you press one wrist over the other when wet – as I’ve been known to do when I don’t want to wear too much – it’s not going to ruin anything, and certainly not the perfume or your experience of it.

3) ‘When spraying from an atomizer’…Excuse me. But most eaux de parfums these days are in atomizers, and therefore, meant to be sprayed, and not ‘worn sparingly’. To be fair…an eau de parfum will often project more – that is, create an ‘aura’ around you – than an extrait, which is a stronger concentration but often wears closer to the skin. As for ‘a single spritz’…when was the last time that happened with a perfume you loved? Anyone?

The Sillage Monster’s Antidote

Where

Coco Chanel once famously said one should wear perfume wherever one wants to be kissed. It’s a great quote, but it’s dead wrong. For one thing, no matter how edible you smell, perfume tastes terrible. I have it on strict authority and very long experience.

Instead, look for your pulse points – anywhere you can feel your heartbeat. With two exceptions, but I’ll be getting back to those.

Perfume tends to project upwards – that is to say, waft upward with your body heat. For the full-on Sillage Monster experience, this means the following locations: The backs of your knees, the folds of your elbows and your wrists. I’ve sometimes sprayed right above my navel, but I had ulterior motives at the time.

For whatever reason, hordes of people apply perfume behind their ears. As I said – perfume tastes terrible. Which makes that a rotten idea if you like to have your neck kissed. (I do.) Instead, spray lightly at the base of your neck right below the hairline. Not only will your hair hold the scent in wondrous ways, you’ll spread the joy every time you toss your gleaming mane. Which of course is the whole idea. There’s also the ancient trick of spraying the air before you and walking into the cloud, but I don’t recommend it except for very volatile perfumes that wear close to the skin.

When

We live in perilous, scent-phobic times. In perfumista terms, this means…pick your battles wisely. Slaying your colleagues in the aisles at work is not a great career move, nor is wearing so much perfume on a dinner date that the entire restaurant can literally eat your Poison. In situations like these, stop to consider the consequences. You may not be old enough to remember when Giorgio!, Opium or Poison was banned by restaurants and some theaters (true story), but some of us are, and we’ve loathed them ever since. This is why. At work, people want to show their professional competence, not sit marooned in an interminable meeting distracted to pieces by inordinate amounts of a perfume you love but everyone around you hates. Show a little respect. Also – consider the space. Open-plan offices are more forgiving than if you work in a walk-in closet.

That said, if you go out for a night on the tiles, it will usually be hot and crowded. So you can wear a little more. Just don’t do what I did at a rock concert last year in the middle of an epic cold snap. I left my sister’s house in a nebulous fog of Amouage Epic Woman. Twelve sprays to be exact, not counting my coat and a silk velvet shirt. They must have smelled me in Stockholm. And Oslo. And Hamburg. And possibly London, too. It later took five soaks in baking soda, seven delicate cycle washes and a dry clean to get it out of that shirt. And six months for my sister to forgive me. To this day, she hates Epic. I didn’t care. The rock star gave me a hug for goodbye. I was happy.

What

If you read that little Bella Sugar article a certain way, you could get the impression that all eaux de parfums are created equal. This is so utterly ridiculous, I can either clutch my hair in despair over such inanity, or clutch my sides in utter hysterics. Well, darlings – you might know this, but if you don’t, here’s a punch line for you.

It’s not true.

I have personally experienced one notorious eau de parfum that lasted one hour before it was gone with the wind without so much as a ‘See you later, Scarlett.’. And others that lingered well past the eight-hour mark to the point where I began to feel a bit…peeved. A bit like a date that just won’t leave when you’ve said goodbye two hours ago.

You see, there really is such a thing as Bang For Your Buck. Generally speaking, certain brands are very long-lived, and others less than perfect in that respect. If you’re a perfume commitment-phobic, stay well away from brands such as Andy Tauer, Amouage and certain Serge Lutens. They want to propose on the first date and set up house by the third. Some might find that charming. That being the case, these are also the ones you’d want to apply with a lighter hand, since you can expect anywhere from 8-12 hours out of them, and sometimes more. (A month, in the case of that silk velvet shirt.)

Certain fragrance families – Orientals, ambers, some chypres, and those wonderful creatures called ‘florientals’ will last longer than citruses, fougères or green florals, or at least that’s been my experience. Likewise, perfumes containing large quantities of jasmine, rose, orange blossom absolute or – you guessed it – tuberose tend to love you most sincerely – and for not a few hours.

Natural perfumes without synthetic fixatives will not last quite so long – anywhere from 2-6 hours. This can either – say you’re in an environment where you can wear with wild abandon – be a blessing or a bane. A blessing – you get to reapply or apply something else – or a bane, darn it, why couldn’t it stick around? One of my fellow bloggers suggested applying a little argan oil before your perfume – and I’m thrilled to say it works.

Alas and alack – not a few so-called ‘niche’ brands with über-niche prices have the half-life of a dying fruit fly. I’ve been sorely disappointed by more than one dead-exclusive niche perfume that was heaven on Earth – for maybe half an hour. Before it all vanished down the black hole of time and left not even a memory behind.

Longevity also comes down to things like skin chemistry, diet and weather, believe it or not. Heat makes a perfume evolve faster, therefore, it will have more sillage in summer than in winter.

The bottom line is this: There are no hard and fast rules. Your mileage may vary. Wear what you love. Wear as much as you like when it’s appropriate for your day and the physical space you’ll take up. If you have a lot of hands-on contact with many people, show some consideration for their personal space, too. And if it’s just you and two cats – that would be me this minute, for instance – go ahead and marinate yourself. I’ve been known to perfume my person, my bed before sleep and my Tibetan prayer flag too for good measure. It makes me happy, so how can it be bad?

If you have ulterior motives, remember that trick about the back of the neck. Trust me on that one.

Because after all, as one very, very famous perfumer once said (about women, but it applies in any direction)

What is left, after a woman removes her clothes and her jewels? Her skin…and her perfume.

Wear it well – and with love. You’re worth at least that much!

27 thoughts on “How To Wear Perfume

  1. Great post! Super informative, thank you! I disagree about natural perfume having poor longevity though. On me they are the ones with the best longevity, as long as they are oil based and not alcohol based. I have found that six hours is a medium longevity for perfume oils (both natural and fragrance oil based) and many last for 12 hours or more. This is of course individual and seems to depend on skin dryness, but my skin is neither oily nor dry so my numbers should be the norm or there about. 🙂

    1. Nadja – well, as I said, your mileage may vary. I totally agree with your statement that perfume oils last longer – I have them in both all natural and mixed media versions, but they don’t project quite so much. It depends to a large extent on what kind of perfume it is – resins, ambers and base-heavy perfumes last a good deal longer than all-natural florals etc. Everyone gets a different experience, which of course is part of the thrill.

      1. Well, I do tend to avoid florals and citrus so that is probably part of why my natural perfumes last so long on me! Most of my perfume experience is with indie perfume oils and many of these perfumers have no fear of dark and heavy scents! I agree that most perfume oils haved a low to medium sillage but I have found some sillage monsters! 😉

  2. Spritz monster here. My philosophy is to wear it to enjoy it. Yeah, sometimes I go a bit heavy. The other day someone came around my area at work and was complaining about the smell that it was too strong…then another person said it smelled like room freshener. Now I was wearing FM’s Portrait of Lady on that day and was incensed that someone would say that I smelled like room freshener. As it turns out, it was the smell of Stargazer Lillies that were emanating from a bouquet of Valentine’s Day flowers in someone’s office. I knew there was a good explanation! 🙂

    1. Wow, Steve, I wasn’t aware that room fresheners and stargazer lilies had anything in common! 😉 But otherwise, I couldn’t agree more – wear it to enjoy it! 🙂

    1. Sandi, thank you! Just as you do, I believe that whatever makes you happy should be celebrated! About that navel…well, ulterior motives can make such things happen! 😉

  3. Actually the trick about the hairline is the one I plan on implementing the next time I’m spraying a perfume. 🙂
    Great post! Now I’m off to read the article that set it off.

    1. OK, that’s not even an article. 🙂 I thought there would be more than the 3 things you listed in your post but that’s it.
      Can I work as a journalist? 😉 Doesn’t seem too difficult… 😉

  4. I love that one about giving away samples being “bad for business”–hahahaha! There is so much hype and nonsensical drivel surrounding our beloved perfume obsession–you’ve just got to laugh. I enjoyed today’s read, and immediately afterward, sprayed myself liberally with DK Black Cashmere. How do you like those molecules, sillage-phobes??

  5. Well said. The popular press is completely dumb when it comes to perfume. In a recent issue of In Style, I was told to *never* buy vintage perfume, since it’s only good for a couple of years.

    1. And this is the sort of disinformation we’re up against…I was once told at a flea market that a seller always tossed vintage perfumes in a lot for being “unhygienic”. Puleeze.

  6. Great information and cautionary tales! I admit that I am a “sillage monster” too. In my late teens one of my male professors called me aside and advised me on the appropriate use of Shalimar and Sirocco. I was so embarrassed! His advise “cooled my jets”, so to speak, and made me more aware of the environment where I was conducting my scent experiments. I still don’t skimp on scent application. After all, “anything that is worth doing is worth overdoing”. Well, maybe not, but its certainly worth trying once (like that toxic combination of Shalimar and Sirocco).

  7. This is such a wonderful post, Sheila! I actually think that it should be included with the purchase of all fragrances from now on! Think of the royalties 🙂

    Sometimes when I read about these things, I just cringe. Too much misinformation out there, even from people who know better. I’m positive Coco Chanel knew that perfume tastes terrible! But I am also sure that she also knew that a comment like that would sell more perfume.

    I also think of my fragrances as a public service announcement when worn 🙂 It’s all about educating the public!

    Also, your Kouros-wearing former colleague was very, very brave.

    1. Thank you! That’s a definite compliment! 🙂 I agree – there’s way too much disinformation out there. And I suspect Mlle Chanel – no stranger to the great quote – knew precisely what she was saying… Educating the public? OMG…yes. I’m trying to convince the town I live in there’s more to life than Juicy Couture..;) Strangely enough, I never thought of that Kouros-wearing colleague as being brave. More like asphyxiating potential sales into submission! And I haven’t much cared for Kouros since…

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