How much does it cost to create a tailor made fragrance from scratch? Hundreds, perhaps even thousands of pounds. However, when it comes to the world of personalised perfume, the perfect formula could already lie in your existing scent wardrobe. How exactly? Through mastering the art of layering.
By cleverly marrying certain ingredients and textures, creating your own bespoke fragrance could be easier than envisaged. However, how do you complement without clashing and come up with a combination of notes that can make your scent sing? I booked in with some of the biggest fragrance brands around, spoke to a roster of perfume experts and got spritzing to find out how to layer like a pro.
When it comes to layering your scent, finding your ideal combination relies more on being experimental than adhering to strict rules. Essentially, have fun with it. “Any combination is possible - it’s a personal choice – so be brave, try anything, there is no right or wrong,” says Jo Malone London Fragrance Director Celine Roux.
Try not to overload
That being said though, there are some useful guidelines that can help ensure your time (not to mention your money) is best spent. Simplicity makes for the most stable of building blocks for scent success and for ensuring each layer flows fluidly to the next. “Think of fragrance like a palette of colours and approach in a painterly fashion - the scents must complement and not clash and blends should be nuanced (think Monet not Jackson Pollack),” says fragrance expert Michael Donovan. “In terms of layering different scents - I think this is wonderful as you can create something unique.” This does come with some useful provisos though. “There are dangers with this - the biggest is that the brain will 'tune out' the first scent that you are wearing and therefore mean you don't smell the combination accurately. If the combination is not a good one, you may not realise.”
Clarity and the use of notes that complement, not conflict with one another are the aims of the game. Three is generally the magic number according to Celine Roux. “There are no rules when it comes to your fragrance combinations, however try not to layer more than three fragrances,” she says for keeping the finished product transparent and modern and to allow for better recognition of each scent's ingredients.
Keep it in the family at first
When it comes to the most complementary of notes, look to keep things relatively close as a first port of call. “Firstly, stick to the same fragrance family - match floral with floral, green with green, fougere with fougere - this is the best way to avoid clashing,” recommends Michael. “Try to pick scents that will complement each other but that add something new: i.e. don't layer scents that have very similar notes,” advises Michael for giving your fragrance the desired twist. “If you're wearing jasmine, don't just layer over another jasmine - add a tuberose or another sensual bloom like tiare, lily or frangipani for the evening - these flowers blend beautifully together.” A spritz of Aerin Ikat Jasmine Eau de Parfum , £92, for day layered with a touch of Guerlain Terracotta Eau de Parfum , £47, for example gives it a sun-drenched slant, and provides a great way of taking your first tentative step outside your scent comfort zone.
Michael's top pick? “Diana Vreeland has cleverly created two different versions of its best-selling ‘Simply Divine’ fragrance. This glorious tuberose scent comes in a fresher EDP version , £135, where the central blossom is surrounded by crushed green leaves, orange flower and jasmine - it’s uplifting and a wonderful realisation of this flower for the day. However if you have a date or a romantic evening planned, then layer on the extrait version , £250 - a scent of a very different character. This is a little black dress of a fragrance and the zip at the back is not done all the way up if you catch my drift...this is Seductive with a capital S - opulent, intense and intoxicating. The cedarwood and amber woods light a fire beneath the flower and there is no escape. The end of the evening is inevitable. I adore the combination - fresh into velvet sensuality.”
In terms of ingredients that boast impressive versatility, fragrances incorporating different types of roses also work extremely well together. “Roses are one of the most flexible flowers and go with virtually anything,” recommends Michael. “They are therefore great to mix and match. Blend a Turkish and a Bulgarian rose - the former is earthy and sensual, the latter an iconic scent that is more naturalistic, like a garden rose.”
This point also serves as a perfect way of illustrating how layering can transform traditionally daytime scents into instant night time glamour by giving a delicate floral an extra edge. This was indeed something that I experienced first-hand when I booked in for a ‘Wardrobing’ appointment at Tom Ford at Harrods’ Salon de Parfum - a must-visit for learning how to carefully layer scents of higher concentrations. Fragrance consultant and specialist Remiziye Latif advised that the pieces of my own personal perfume puzzle should act like chess pieces (a reflection of Tom Ford’s architectural background). My ideal combination? Café Rose , £148, (containing both Turkish and Bulgarian roses) and Noir de Noir , £148, (containing black rose) - a pairing of enveloping Oriental scents that was akin to ‘a lady wearing a man’s tux’ and the perfect mixture of the sensual, the sweet and the sophisticated.
Take care with citruses
Can you layer a citrus scent without paying homage to an air freshener? Most definitely. However, achieving the right balance can be a little more difficult to achieve. “Citrus can be tricky to layer - there are metallic notes in citrus and if they are combined, they can smell like a steel bar or toilet duck,” cautions Michael. “Use softer citrus scents like Mediterraneo by Carthusia , £60, which uses crushed lemon leaves and green tea to smooth out the acidity. This mixes very well with a host of other citrus scents and can lift your spirits - especially in the autumn and winter months. I like this with Forte + Forte by Profumi del Forte, £148 (available at Fenwick), a very bright lemony scent and also the yuzu of Tokyo Mamma Fizzzzz by Smell Bent , £45, which has a sherbet fizz to it. These show different facets.”
While I love the freshness of a citrus, I often prefer something a little more multi-faceted for the evenings. So to provide a helping hand, I booked in for a Fragrance Combining appointment at Jo Malone London (one of my favourite brands for citrus scents) to find out more. “The concept known as Fragrance Combining™ was originally born from the idea that fragrance can be tailored to embrace a mood or occasion or simply to express your individuality,” says Celine Roux. “There is certainly a trend towards more bespoke fragrances, as it gives people the freedom to create something that is really unique to them. It is becoming more and more popular for us as a brand. All our fragrances are designed to be layered and combined to create your unique scent.”
A complimentary service, it certainly gets your creative juices flowing - particularly in the citrus department. While sticking to the same fragrance family is generally a good rule of thumb, here the unexpected is also encouraged for adding a new dimension to a fresher scent. One such example was seen when the brand's Wood Sage & Sea Salt Cologne was used as a base for the more citrusy Lime Basil & Mandarin. The result? A warmer and richer finish.
A combination that is also one of Celine’s go-tos, this cross-category approach is certain to appeal to those who like using a mixture of body products and fragrances and want to take their layering to the next level. “Everyone has their favourites; we encourage creative and playful experimentation to find your bespoke scent,” says Celine. “One of mine is to shower using our Lime Basil & Mandarin Hand & Body Wash , £14, for a fresh start and then massaging our Wood Sage & Sea Salt Body Crème , £50, onto skin; hydrated skin is the best foundation for a long lasting scent. Lastly, I apply Tuberose Angelica from the Cologne Intense collection, £105.” Other recommended routes also extend to adding a citrus zing to freshen a rich floral or adding something spicy for added warmth. For those who have a sweet tooth like me, my perfect pairing of the fruity Nectarine Blossom & Honey Body Crème , £50, and a spritz of the floral Peony & Blush Suede , £86, on top, is certain to pique your taste buds too.
Save or splurge - the choice is yours
Worried that this layering business will make you bankrupt? It needn’t do so. As long as these basic guidelines are adhered to, you can experiment with anything in your existing fragrance ensemble regardless of its price tag. As with layering skincare , it’s the components that play the most important role.
“The wonderful thing about layering is that there are no rules so you can experiment,” says Michael. “A luxury fragrance usually has depth and a more rounded character as it contains natural ingredients, so this will blend well with a more commercial fragrance that is molecular in structure - some of these are linear i.e. they do not change during the dry-down - and it is great to team these with a luxury scent that does.”
He adds, “The easiest way when you are beginning is to stay within fragrance families, i.e. floral, citrus, chypre, oriental etc. I would also suggest then that you use one short formula fragrance - these perfumes have fewer notes in them (often around 12-20) and are more likely to blend easily. If you use two very complex scents the result can be rather muddy. The simpler the structure, the easier it will be to blend.”
One such example is Caddy Island Lavender Water , £16, which acts as an easy yet effective way to instantly transform any fragrance. “This is just about the best soliflore (single note) scent in the business and can be used with dozens of fragrances to add a minty freshness,” says Michael.
Other brilliant add-ons include Maison Margiela’s duo of fragrance enhancing perfumed oils - Glow and Blur (£45 each). Designed to be layered underneath the brand’s Replica collection, they also work beautifully with a range of different fragrances too - an Instagram filter of sorts to either brighten or soften your scent accordingly.
Don't be afraid of oud
When it comes to the most potent components, oud holds the reputation as being one of the biggest powerhouses around. Does its potency mean that it can’t be layered though? Not necessarily, as my appointments at Kilian and Tom Ford showcased. When combined with fresher and zestier fragrances such as those in the Tom Ford Neroli Portofino line or Bottega Veneta Knot , £54, or even deep florals with notes such as jasmine or musks, they can help create an overall softer finish to make it infinitely more wearable (a real trend that’s being seen with both brands’ male and female clientele). Avoid anything too intense or woody though to keep the line between heady and headaches significantly less blurred.
A spritz across chest and back before dressing will release the scent slowly through the clothes and hold it to the body for longer
Multi-layer with body and hair products
As touched on by Celine Roux earlier, layering different textures by using shower gels, body creams and hair fragrances can create a halo of scent from top to toe.
“This multi-layering not only ensures that the fragrance will last, but it also means that the whole body is scented rather than just the pulse points which is delicious and makes the personalisation much more accessible,” says Michael Donovan. “A toss of the hair, cross of the legs - any movement will release perfume!” This is particularly the case when increasing the intensity of one scent specifically. His top recommendations? “ Frederic Malle Hair and Body Oil , £130, and Shower Cream , £40, in his phenomenal fragrance Portrait of a Lady,” he says. “This illustrates the point perfectly - start the day with shower gel and then add the body oil and the EDP.”
Penhaligon’s Quercus Body Cream , £33, and Quercus Bath & Shower Gel , £27, also work wonderfully as pretty universal undercoats. Recommended during my Penhaligon’s Fragrance Profiling appointment by store manager, Stoyka Glazer to complement my sweet citrus match, Empressa , £134, its clean fragrance enhances whatever you put on top subtly yet effectively. A personal service that takes account of your lifestyle, passions and hobbies, the two stage process sees fragrances whittled down in what’s akin to a scent X Factor and provides a great way to better understand each fragrance's particular properties.
Try a hair fragrance
Do you really need a hair fragrance? Admittedly, I was dubious at first, but I’m now a believer thanks to its ability to provide a quick, easy and more affordable layering option. "Hair is porous and will hold onto the scent," says Michael. "Plus, in the winter it is also the only thing accessible to the air - people cannot smell through a thick coat! I think the hair toss is used to great effect by most women and a toss with scented tresses is very chic indeed.”
Chanel No.5 The Hair Mist , £38, leaves locks luxuriously scented in a beautifully lightweight way and Oribe Cote d’Azur Hair Refresher , £21, provides both scented and (re-)styling qualities in one.
The delicate notes of Byredo La Tulipe Hair Perfume , £40, adds a dose of subtle scent to mid-week mid-lengths and Sachajuan Protective Hair Perfume , £40, leaves ends feeling noticeably more nourished and hydrated. My personal favourite though? The weightless Miss Dior Hair Mist , £34, due to both its sweet yet modern scent and the nostalgia it conjures up for me on a personal note.
Master the art of application
Every expert I’ve spoken to has stressed the importance of delicate application, particularly of perfumes, to ensure their ingredients aren’t compromised. The overwhelming consensus was to never rub in your chosen scent. As I was told at Jo Malone London, treat the fragrance like a flower to prevent its components from crumbling.
So what’s the best scent strategy? Smoothing your cream and spritzing your fragrance(s) behind the knees and on the décolletage acts as a great way to add subtle accents. Seeing it as your first piece of ‘clothing’ also makes for an effective plan of action: “I always suggest that you put on fragrance when naked, before underwear, for several reasons,” says Michael Donovan. “Perfume is the most intimate thing that you wear as it reacts with the body which clothes do not. It is an essential part of everyday toilette - NOT the icing on the cake.
“A spritz across chest and back before dressing will release the scent slowly through the clothes and hold it to the body for longer - then add a spritz on the pulse points."
If you suffer from allergies however, one fragrance let alone two can throw all manner of skincare spanners in the works. While you can definitely wear perfume if you have sensitive skin (with hair fragrances proving particularly valuable in this area too), another option worth exploring is the world of wearable fragrance. While there isn’t much choice at the moment in terms of variety and range of price points, there are some buys which make for impressive Christmas/birthday/payday wish list inspiration. Taylor Black’s high end range of solid perfumed lockets and Kilian’s beautiful line of fragranced jewellery for both men and women make for pretty eye-catching eye/arm/neck candy, with the latter containing a porous ceramic inside (and a spare too) which can be saturated with any fragrance of your choosing. Furthermore, the line’s tassled necklaces , £120, can also be spritzed, providing a unique way to combine and layer your fragrances too.
Your nose knows best
Finding the perfect combination is such a personal choice and while guidelines exist, there is no substitute for first-hand experience. Thankfully though, a bevy of fragrance brands offer complimentary services on the subject. From Jo Malone London to Tom Ford at Harrods’ Salon de Parfum to Penhaligon’s Fragrance Profiling, each offers a detailed and educational look at the properties that transform a scent from simple spritz to signature. With no pressure to buy, taking away samples is highly advisable to allow the scent enough time to develop and flourish to its fullest when being tested. “Do not forget that a good fragrance is like a good book,” says Michael Donovan. “It has a beginning, a middle and an end. The fragrance may blend well at the beginning, but clash in the middle.”
Certain fragrances can also prove to be a real investment, so if you’re not 100% sure, don’t be worried about taking your time to make a final decision. “Don't be afraid - if you are unsure, spray blotting paper and place inside an envelope for an hour. Then add the second scent, replace in the envelope for a further hour and then sample the results,” says Michael. “This way your nose comes to the combination fresh and you will get a true impression of the ‘blend.’" If it's got you coming back for more, next try it on your skin to see how it develops with the heat of your body. "The scents need to be worn to ensure that they work on your skin - it is all very well loving a fragrance, but it needs to love you back.”
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