Sillage Redux

I am fascinated by sillage in perfume. Sillage (‘see-yazh’) is the trail that a scent weaves and leaves as the wearer walks by.

Some people make a distinction between sillage and ‘projection’, or ‘diffusion’, the latter two words being used to describe the cloud around the wearer if they stand still. However, ‘sillage’ is derived from the French word for wake, referring to path left on the water by a boat. The distinction between projection and sillage may not be useful, really, for we hardly ever keep stock still for very long, do we?  Often all three words are used interchangeably.

I was pleased to read some remarks made recently by Bertrand Duchafour, as reported by Tara on Olfactoria’s Travels. Tara was lucky enough to attend an event at L’Artisan Parfumeur marking the UK launch of Seville a l’Aube. Late in the development of the perfume, the woman whose story had inspired it, Denyse Beaulieu, found that people around her were not noticing it. Betrand ‘rebalanced’ it to increase its ‘amplitude’, and random compliments from strangers in the street confirmed that the adjustment was successful.

Tara notes that Bertrand explained to the audience at L’Artisan that  diffusiveness is key to the success of a perfume. This is because, he said, good sillage is the best advertising a perfume can get and it is important for him that a perfume is a commercial success.

I love the ‘scented trail’ as an idea, but it can be a tricky thing to get right. It is hard to judge the sillage of your perfume when you are the source of it. My rule is that if I can smell my fragrance clearly but not powerfully, other people should be able to smell it subtly.

To me, a perfume  should not announce your presence ten feet in front of you and have people backing away as you approach them. It should be a sensation that is noticed  mostly after you are gone. It is the result of interaction between your body, hair and clothes and the perfume you are wearing. Indefinably, it alters the shape of the air. People glance over their shoulders, wondering where that lovely scent is coming from. They blink – and it is gone.

‘Sillage monsters’ are perfumes that if over-applied, transgress these boundaries. Giorgio, Amarige, Obsession, Opium, Youth Dew and Angel top the list for many people. I wear  a teeny spritz of Opium occasionally on a winter day, and use Youth Dew the way Lauder intended it originally: only in bath.

Lauder is responsible for some big fragrances but they project beautifully and last for ages on skin. Estee Lauder wanted her products to represent value for money, and this respect for her customers has in turn earned my respect. Beautiful, Private Collection, Pleasures and White Linen are technically perfect, I think, but I always apply lightly.

The only Duchafour I own is Penhaligon’s Amaranthine, and I think (hope!) that this has the definite but subtle sillage I am after. Another favourite at the moment is Dior’s Dioressence – pre-reformulation – because I think it balances a steady sillage with the warmth and intimacy of a skin scent, and two or three small spritzes last all day.

If you want to wear a big fragrance lightly, the body products are obviously good options. Or try this: spritz the perfume into a dab of unscented lotion in your palm, rub with your other palm, and apply to your body.

Over to you: how important is sillage to you? What are the perfumes that satisfy you the most in terms of sillage?

  • Dionne says:

    Count me in as another who cares more about longevity than sillage. I actually like it best when you can only smell me if you’re sitting beside me or giving me a hug.

    In terms of huffing the wrist, I’ve gotten in the habit of applying on the back of my hands. You can huff yourself in a subtler way when you do that. 😉

    • annemariec says:

      Yes indeed. Back of wrists is good too. I know that the scent is meant to diffuse more if applied to pulse points, ie inside wrist, but I can’t say I’ve noticed much difference.

  • Joan says:

    For me, the lasting power is more important than the sillage, but I like my perfume to take up just the right amount of space. Ideally I like perfumes that take up maybe a foot or two of the area around me. Amouage Gold, like Sherri said, manages space well.

    Sometimes a wafting perfume like Poison is useful, if I’m at a club or something. Close-to-the-skin scents have a place too. I like those for intimate moments: fragrance feels more intimate if only the person closest to me can smell it.

    The best are scents that smell natural and waft a bit, like Cuir de Russie.

    • annemariec says:

      In other words, I guess, the aim is to choose the right perfume for the right occasion.

      A new love of mine is Ginestet Botrytis (honey and tobacco, to my nose). After about 20 minutes or so the sillage is minimal, but on me, at least, it last hours and hours. It’s like a little secret that is mine for the day and which cheers me up no matter what is happening.

      On the whole, tho’, I do love a bit of waft. A foot or two, as you say.

  • Joao says:

    I’ll put it simple:
    No sillage, no beauty.
    No beauty, no porpose.

  • FragrantWitch says:

    I love catching a whiff of scent as someone passes by and I hope others feel the same about my fragrance! One of the most complimented perfumes I have ever worn is the original Dolce and Gabbana Femme (red cap)- I worked in a bank at the time and frequently had people asking. Cheap and cheerful Body Shop Neroli Jasmin garners compliments as well. Both of those scents are heavy on orange blossom- maybe Dinazad is onto something?
    Shalimar remains my most frequently noticed scent, though and that is fine by me!

    • annemariec says:

      Orange blossom again? How funny. I’ll have a sniff if that D&G next time I’m at the mall. I know the one you mean.

      Shalimar is perfect. Just perfect.

      • FragrantWitch says:

        D&G have ‘updated’ Femme and who knows what they have done to it so you should probably try a Perfumania or somewhere that would still be working through old stock. Enjoy! Oh, and sniff Covergirl Navy if you can-another cheap orange blossom gem.

        • annemariec says:

          Good tips, thanks. A perfume retailer once told me in a very snooty tone that the online discounters only sell ‘old stock’. I grinned and walked away. Useless to explain that that ‘old stock’ can contain pre-reformulation treasure!

  • Gwenyth says:

    Perfume is my passion, so I wear it primarily for me. A perfume is Perfect if I detect a lovely waft of scent around me as I move AND if others detect a soft sillage of scent as I walk by.

    I have a private office at work so I am not forced to be utterly conservative in my scent choices there. In fact, over the years I’ve worked at my job, a number of co-workers have commented positively on my fragrance choices. One gentleman, in particular, frequently pops into my office “just to have a bit of aromatherapy”… as he refers to his visits.

    I know that I adore catching a wiff of someone’s perfume— It brightens the day in that moment and I share in the sensory beauty. I look at my sillage in the same way and, based on the nice comments I receive from time to time, people like to smell something beautiful during the course of the day.

    • annemariec says:

      You sound like a wonderful person to be around. And how lucky you are to have your own office!

      I must say I save my earthy patchouli fragrances and so on for non-work days. I suspect most of the young people I work with would not appreciate them.

  • Oh, I completely agree with this post. Big sillage makes me uncomfortable in the same way that speaking loudly does. I prefer a more subtle scent trail.

    • annemariec says:

      Claiming too much space in any form is not good. I love the term ‘scent trail’, by the way. It fascinates.

  • March says:

    Such a great topic, thanks. I love me some sillage monsters, although I try to wear them appropriately. I do wonder if people with a “signature scent” can’t smell it anymore, or do they deliberately overapply? Sillage monsters come in different sizes, and if you’re killing me on the other side of the elevator it’s probably too much.

    • annemariec says:

      I’ve seen mixed opinion on whether you start to lose the ability to smell a fragrance if you wear it every day. I think yes. Worthy of a post in itself!

  • Poodle says:

    I love sillage, scent clouds, all of it. Even if its a scent that I don’t like I still appreciate that the wearer likes the perfume and I’m always supportive of a fellow fumie. I’m a heavy spritzer because stuff disappears quickly on me but there are a few I do go lightly with like Alien.

    • annemariec says:

      Yes, I’m okay with even a fragrance I don’t like too. It brightens my day, regardless.

  • Sherri says:

    Well, I think the goal of silage is to be gentle and pleasant to those close to you. I like perfumes that make a nice fragrant bubble with just two sprays–if I spray more I run the risk of getting that chemical, alcohol smell that takes a few hours to wear off.

    I love Amouages for their beautiful silage. Most of the ouds have great projection. My husband affectionately calls Oud Ispahan “Fluffy Cloud” (that and “Oud is Fun”) 🙂 so I think Dior is doing something right with the silage thing there!

    • annemariec says:

      A fragrant bubble – yes! Dior is still the sort of house that can produce a good but not montrous sillage. Is it something to do with being French? Guerlain is famous for it too.

  • dinazad says:

    Sillage can be the loveliest thing. Walking up to the traffic lights and getting that snippet of scent left by someone who crossed the street a moment ago is just beautiful, like a splinter of sunshine on a rainy day. Curiously enough, I’ve only really experienced this in France, although I certainly have been moved to compliment people on their scent in a shop or bus in other places – but that would be the aforementioned personal fragrance cloud.

    I get the best sillage from orange blossom scents: Seville à l’aube at present and Mandarin Mandarine in winter. It feels as if I were trailing spring (and thankfully, they are longlasting. Because I agree, longevity is important).

    And IMHO the greatest of sillage monsters is the original Youth Dew. It comes with a built-in retinue and gaggle of bodyguards, opening the door for you, elbowing people out of your way, making sure everybody is aware that you’re there and you’re SOMEONE.

    • annemariec says:

      That’s interesting about the orange blossom. I love your phrase ‘trailing spring’. I’m wearing Le Temps d’Une Fete tonight and noticed something similar about its narcissus.

      That is a marvellous image you conjure for Youth Dew! You are so right. In a different context, you remark reminds me of the old ad for Charlie! – the girl walks into a restaurant and all heads turn.

  • Lisa D says:

    Sillage isn’t as important to me as other aspects of a perfume, like longevity. I wear scent primarily for myself, so I’m really content with a small cloud hovering very close to my body. On me, the biggest sillage monster is Bois de Paradis – I usually spritz it onto a tissue, pat the tissue over my wrists and neck, and then toss it into a lingerie drawer.

    • annemariec says:

      Sounds lovely! I must try Bois de Paradis. And scented lingerie and hankies and so on feel so luxurious!

  • Ann says:

    Hi, Anne-Marie! What a thought-provoking and informative post. I tread very carefully when it comes to spraying a scent; one spritz to the wrist, then lightly touch it to the side/back of my neck, then to the other wrist and that’s it. I have been around too many perfume “haters,” so I go easy, unless I’m by myself. But I do huff my wrist quite frequently. And thanks for the body lotion tip — will have to give that a go.

    • annemariec says:

      Thanks Ann! I used to be a light applier too, butI am getting bolder. Huffing the wrist: I have polished a technique of seemign to be scratching my nose fleetingly with the side of my wrist – but I’m really just huffing perfume. Hope the body lotion idea works for you.