Perfumes that linger: the poetic potency of sillage

A scented trail is a complex yet compelling conundrum

Perfume-wearers and boats have more in common than one might reasonably suspect. Sillage (pronounced see-yazh) is a French word that means “wake”, as in the airplane contrails criss-crossing the skies or the waves left on water by a passing ship. But it’s also used to describe the scented trail created by perfume; it defines the degree to which fragrance diffuses into the space around the wearer.

Sillage is an important quality to keep in mind when buying a perfume or when selecting it for specific occasions. Big sillage scents are the most complimented because they’re easy to notice, but their distinct presencemay make them inappropriate for restaurants, theatres, or some office environments. On the other hand, a fragrance that doesn’t bloom at all is rarely satisfying. The goal is to find the right sillage for your mood and lifestyle.

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Often sillage is confused with richness, based on the assumption that fragrances laden with plush, deep notes like vanilla, woods and ambers create the strongest scented aura. This is not always the case, because sillage is determined by the diffusive nature of the perfume ingredients. For instance, one of the most radiant materials is hedione, an aromatic that smells like lemony jasmine in soft focus. Christian Dior’s Eau Sauvage (£49.50 for 50ml EDT), a basil and bergamot cologne created by Edmond Roudnitska in 1966, made hedione an indispensable part of the perfumer’s palette, and today it can be found in a variety of fragrances, from soft floral bouquets like Van Cleef & Arpels’ First (£59 for 60ml EDP) to rich gourmands like Thierry Mugler’s Angel (£64 for 50ml EDP). Those who smell hedione in its pure state for the first time are often surprised by its ethereal quality, but there is no doubt about the powerful effect it creates in combination with other notes.

Just as light blends like Bulgari’s Eau Parfumée au Thé Vert (£58 for 75ml) and Prada’s Infusion d’Iris (£90 for 100ml) have a strong sillage, so do certain saturated and lush fragrances like Guerlain’s L’Heure Bleue (£82.50 for 75ml EDP) and Yves Saint Laurent’s Paris (£83 for 75ml EDP). L’Heure Bleue’s sillage is legendary, and while forming a rich trail of spicy iris, orange blossom and musk, it’s nevertheless luminous. Paris’s trail is even bolder, in line with the big hair, big perfume aesthetic of the 1980s. Some fragrances blend characteristics of effervescence and opulence, such as Perles de Lalique (£53 for 50ml), Clinique Aromatics Elixir (£70 for 100ml) and Flower by Kenzo (£60 for 50ml EDP).

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The easiest way to determine the level of sillage is to spray a paper blotter with perfume and leave it in the room for 15 minutes. If upon re-entering the room you can distinctly smell the scent, you’re in possession of a high-sillage fragrance. Now you can decide how big a trail you want to leave and proceed accordingly.

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