What is perfume sillage?

 Flashpop/Getty Images

Have you ever bought perfume, only to find people around you don’t really notice it? It might be that you also don’t really smell it too well after a while, in which case you should read  “Why can’t I smell my own perfume anymore?” Or conversely you might feel all smug, yet notice people wrinkling their noses as you pass by. That’s because perfume has “sillage.” But what does this term mean?


Origin and explanation of "sillage" or "fragrance trail"

Like many things in the perfume world, the term derives from the French and it’s pronounced “see-Yahzh” (trust me, it doesn’t rhyme with “village”!) Recall how a ship journeying leaves a mark on the water that trails behind it? A similar thing happens to a person wearing fragrance; one leaves a trail of scent, leaving people in your wake. It makes your presence remembered, creating intrigue; “Who was that woman?” If, on top of that, you already have a signature scent, then your presence will act as a calling card and a sign of benign authority.

Mind you, magic happens when the ratio of trail to "volume" is tuned just right. You don’t want to gas the room. People will remember you, for sure, but in horror!


What you can do to smell enticing, not repulsive

If you want to go for the generally lighter eau de toilette concentration versus the denser eau de parfum, so be it. This is highly variable depending on how "heavy" your fragrance is to begin with. One option which you might consider (and this is the most luxurious one, as it’s the costliest) is the pure perfume (sold as extrait de parfum): it leaves a subtler trail. That’s because sillage is dependent on diffusion, in turn aided by the alcohol content; in pure perfume the ratio of alcohol to fragrant oils is lower. 

Fragrance oils are another option; they usually stick to the skin, trailing minimally due to the lack of alcohol in the formula. It's therefore a more intimate way of wearing scent. 

Please note that the fragrance's lasting power isn’t the same as the perfume's trail. A perfume that trails behind for miles, might actually dissipate quickly (many bright citrus colognes fall in this category, being made of highly volatile components), while a very lasting one with musk notes and woods might “stay close to the skin”. 


An easy trick to test your scent trail

The trick is to know thyself. Choose a perfume among the fragrance families that is neither too “loud” nor too subdued. You can test this out easily: spray once into an empty, clean room and close the door. Ten minutes later open the door and sniff the air. You will immediately know if your perfume of choice is too strong smelling or not enough!  


And what about increasing your scent's trail?

To heighten sillage, spray an item of clothing, a leather bracelet/strap (note it will stay with you for long), or a wool scarf. If a trail of scent is important to you, you also need something that melds with your own skin chemistry but not totally. High sillage is attained via notes that are not totally compliant to skin and therefore not “eaten” up by it, such as patchouli, caramelic/vanilla notes, berries, melon…

This makes things like Mugler’s Angel, L’Eau d’Issey, Hypnotic Poison and Farhenheit (both Dior), Aromatics Elixir (Clinique), Le Male (Gaultier), Guerlain Insolence, Aramis for men, Givenchy Amarige, Obsession, CK Eternity, Joop Homme, Giorgio Beverly Hills and others the “sillage monsters” they are.  So be easy on the sprayer!

If you really want to wear heavy perfume in a subtle way, you can turn to the range's body products (body lotion especially) Or create your own scented body lotion out of it; here's how.

And if you notice your sillage is accidentally monstrous, you can grab a cotton ball dipped in rubbing alcohol and swipe off skin where you have sprayed too much. Your fellow commuters will thank you. 

Related Stories