Perfume seems simple enough, but when you dig in, even just a little, you quickly find out that it’s a complex beast. Maybe, by now, this fact is something you’re quite familiar with. Because as complex as notes, drydown, or fragrance families can get, there’s also a whole other aspect – how fragrance behaves on your skin, and in the air.
And yes, in the formulation of it, even this is calculated too. In our world, what’s around you is part and parcel of what’s on you, and how to talk about that interplay is confusing to some. Keep reading, and some of the magic aura made by your favorite scented elixir might make a little more sense.
Sillage (pronounced SEE-yajh)
You’re about to be able to sound like an immense fancy pants in conversation, so listen close. Sillage is a French word that literally translates to “wake”. More in the sense of leaving something in your wake (like vapor trails behind planes), rather than jumping out of bed.
Have you ever gotten into an empty elevator and known exactly what the person that was in it before you smelled like? Or maybe on a crowed city street, as you’re just walking along, you suddenly get a blast to your nostrils of some fruity, flowery, spicy.... something?
First and foremost, we here at Olfactif are pleading with you to never bethat person. Perfume is meant to be an experience for you and maybe... maybe... the two people closest to you.
What you were smelling is that person, and their perfume’s sillage - the scent trail that it leaves behind. Some fragrances naturally have quite the trail to them. However, you can also put a fragrance’s sillage on steroids by applying too much of it.
Some fragrances are specifically composed to make a statement, and part of the development and formulation of them takes sillage into account. The perfumes of old with their bold florals, deep animalistic bases, and very high fragrance concentrations are very much known for being great examples of sillage monsters, no matter how much is applied. There’s absolutely nothing wrong if you like it that way, but knowing this can help you decipher how much to apply, by how it behaves around you.
Another way to think about your fragrance, especially as you put it on, is what kind of trail you’d like to leave today.
Projection is another term for how your perfume can radiate off your skin. And while it can be related to sillage, it’s slightly different.
Remember that person we passed on the street earlier that slapped us silly with their sillage? Now imagine if you were standing face to face with that person, and talking about the weather.
What you would smell would be their stationary ‘bubble’, how their scent travels on air in general – casting itself off skin, under any given circumstance. This is the projection of a perfume.
This can be related to sillage, and while it’s rarer, sometimes a fragrance can have a hearty projection, but not leave much of a trail. This can be common with a lot of men’s scents based on citrus notes, and aquatic synthetics that might not last very long in the ether.
So while someone’s skin could be radiating heat and projecting the fragrance - as they turn to walk away, you might only catch a brief whiff as they leave. Thus, they’re not leaving much of a wake - low sillage. The perfume poltergeist now haunting the elevator, conjured by the lady standing there, moments before you – that fragrance was high sillage.
Most often, a perfume that’s a beast of a projector, will turn around and also leave a hefty trail. This is why, at times, sillage and projection are used interchangeably. They are indeed the very best of friends, but not always the same thing.
Has this happened to you: You try on a new fragrance, and it blows out of the bottle like a high speed rollercoaster, swirling in a dense cloud, as far as any nose can smell, only for you to smell nothing merely a couple of hours later? Frustrating, huh?
Not to call anyone out, but this can often happen with mass-market fragrances, perfumes that are quickly shopped and decided on, on someone’s way to their next thing, promoted by pushy salespeople and branded swag-bag gifts with purchase.
And why wouldn’t it happen like that? In this realm, it’s the initial impression that triggers an impulse sale, and what happens later isn’t that fragrance house’s biggest worry.
Ok, maybe we called some people out.
How long a fragrance noticeably lasts on your skin refers to the longevity piece of the puzzle. As we just saw above, it’s not necessarily related to projection or sillage. You can absolutely have a high-projecting, and high-sillage fragrance, that has low longevity.
This can be related to the quality, or composition, of the fragrance. If you have a fragrance that’s not the best quality, simply made to impress on first impressions, then longevity can be an issue. Longevity can also be an issue due to the type of fragrance it is. If you’re a person that’s most often attracted to a lot of top notes – citruses, sparkly aldehydes, light florals, and breezy aquatic notes – you might have this problem too.
No matter what, often, these notes are quite volatile in air, and by nature, won’t be around for too long in even the most top-notch, thoughtfully composed fragrances. “Fresh” fragrances can, indeed, often mean low longevity. By all means, enjoy your favorites, you might just have to reapply.
The last thing that might affect longevity, we hate to say, might actually be you. There are some people that, as a rule, don’t have skin that fragrance attaches to very well. These tend to be people on the opposite extremes of the skin spectrum – either those with small pores and drier skin, or those with larger pores and more oily skin. Whatever genetic card you may have drawn in life, all hope is not lost.
Now that you know how to talk about how your fragrance behaves, below are some tips to boost each aspect of your favorite scent’s airy symphony:
Now go impress your friends with your fancy vocabulary and leave them smitten with your sillage. And tell them Olfactif sent you!
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