Fragrance Layering: A Case for the Signature Scent

Finding that perfect signature scent, the one that we feel represents us—in essence, our essence—is a feat worth the time and effort. When we find it, the last thing we want is to discover our signature scent on someone else. And that pang of hesitation before divulging our signature scent is evidence of our desire for uniqueness and exclusivity.

Perhaps this desire for individuality is the driving force behind a fragrance market that offers thousands of new options every year. We’re no longer looking for a signature brand to call our own; we want to tailor even that to suit our complex personalities and moods.

Market research shows a shift in interest towards indie fragrance brands and, as for the classics, consumers are flirting with the Eau de Toilette and the Eau de Parfum versions of old favourites. Each month seems to bring about a new edition of a recognized perfume. Intensified “Absolutes” (Lancome’s La Vie Est Belle L’Absolu De Parfum is a headier version of the classic), and “Extracts” (like Dolce & Gabbana’s new The One Essence—the most potent concentration of the original composition), or even the lighter, fizzier “L’Eau” interpretations let us enjoy our favourites tweaked to suit the season, mood, or occasion; lighter for the workday and warmer for a date night.

And while one school of thought maintains that every finished fragrance is a work of art and should remain untouched, another is taking notes—the fragrant kind—and blending scents to build an individualized version. The result is personal, an olfactory way to capture the attitude we’d like to project.

The market has noticed this, too. Indie brands and major fashion houses, is offering fragrance layering guidance in the form of multi-fragrance sets and rollerball kits. Demeter Fragrance Library offers Fool Proof Blending Trios in Clean, Light Floral, and Vanilla collections, while CLEAN’s Rollerball Layering Collection includes five combinable options. Jo Malone, a pioneer in the world of fragrance blending (the brand has actually trademarked the tag “Fragrance Combining”), has a web-based application that helps users match pairings.

But even brands offering more complex fragrances are taking notice of the trend. Dior’s new J’adore Touche de Parfum gives consumers an entirely new experience—the dry-oil-based formula is applied with a unique “touch” dispenser, and is made to mix. The deep, rich perfume smells divine on its own, but it can be layered with any of the J’adore fragrances, and has a unique chemistry with each scent when combined.

For those brave enough to venture outside the confines of expertly pre-paired fragrance sets, the potential for expression is endless. The most common piece of advice from fragrance experts is to start simply. Mark Crames, Demeter Fragrance Library CEO, explains that the company’s singular scents “are the notes and accords perfumers use to create the more complex designer and prestige fragrances.” He explains that blending them is “like using a palette of paints to paint a picture.” Another perk to using singular scents like these, says Crames, “is that they express their nature immediately and do not change over time.” A complex fragrance takes time to evolve and can change drastically as its base notes develop and its top notes fade. A combination that smells divine at first might be less desirable hours later. “Anything more intense is going to take longer to fully express itself,” he says.

Still, Crames is quick to point out that layering a single-note scent with a complex fragrance is something people, himself included, do all the time. “I like adding Demeter’s Patchouli or Black Pepper to accent Halston Z-14,” he says. “A favourite single note, like citrus, with a complex fragrance can create an entirely new fragrance.”

As for a strategy that a fragrance layering rookie should keep in mind, Crames advises sticking to a single fragrance family, or related families. “Blending three different vanilla scents is easier than a vanilla, a flower, and a wood,” he says, but quickly adds that “citrus, fruit or vanilla scents work well with most florals, green notes, and woods, while animalistic ones, like leather, present greater challenges.”

First and foremost, Crames advises choosing only smells that we love. But the only way to really be sure if a fragrance combination works is trial and error. Luckily, we have more options than ever to play with, and an industry that’s more than ready to help us get started.✦

Photo by H. Armstrong Roberts/Getty.