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?