Have you ever been walking down the street and smelled a mysterious and intoxicating perfume seemingly from out of nowhere?
If so, then you experienced a perfume’s sillage (pronounced see-ahj).
But what is sillage?
“Sillage” refers to the trail of scent that a perfume leaves behind you as you walk or move around. When you smell a perfume out of nowhere, you are probably smelling the sillage of a perfume worn by a person in front of you.
Let’s take a closer look.
What Is Sillage?
As I mentioned in the introduction, sillage, meaning “wake” in French, is the trail of scent that a perfume leaves behind. It’s caused by the evaporation of the alcohol in your perfume, which carries fragrance molecules into the air.
Sillage is one of the three criteria by which we judge a perfume’s performance, along with longevity (how long a perfume lasts on skin and fabric) and projection (to what degree a scent “throws” itself off of skin or fabric so that it may be perceived by others around the wearer).
Sillage is similar to projection, in that it relates to how your perfume is perceived by others. However, there is one critical difference between sillage and projection: movement.
Sillage is related to and enhanced by movement. You can try it right now for yourself.
Go and spray some perfume on your wrist, then move your arm around in the air. Smell anything? If so, then you’re smelling your perfume’s sillage.
Sillage is one of the most wonderful qualities of perfume, and one of the most often overlooked.
There are few things lovelier (in my opinion) than basking in the sillage of a beautiful perfume, especially if it’s coming off of an equally beautiful person.
But how do you know if your perfume is packing sillage or not?
Luckily, there are a few ways to test for sillage.
How to Test Sillage
There are a couple of different ways to test out your perfume’s sillage.
The simplest way, of course, is to ask somebody if they can smell your perfume when they walk behind you. This one is pretty foolproof, since that’s how most people will be experiencing your sillage anyway.
However, if you don’t feel comfortable asking another person about your perfume or there’s no one available, there are a few other methods for testing out sillage.
One I’ve already mentioned: the wrist test.
Simply spray some perfume on your wrist, move it around in the air, and extend your arm as far out as it can go. If you can smell your perfume heavily, then it has good sillage. You’ll probably be picking up whiffs of it all day as you move around.
If you need to put your nose close to your wrist to smell the fragrance, however, the sillage is lower, and you’ll have a harder time smelling it throughout the wearing.
One final test is what I like to call the “room test”.
Spray your perfume a few times in a room, and make sure that all of the doors and windows are closed. Wait for about ten or twenty minutes, then go back into the room. If you can still smell your perfume lingering in the air, then it has good sillage. If you don’t smell anything, then your perfume will probably sit closer to the skin.
Is There Any Way to Improve Sillage?
If you’ve done one of the tests above and find out that your perfume doesn’t have much sillage, what can you do?
Unfortunately, there aren’t any foolproof, ironclad methods for increasing sillage. However, there are a few things you can do that might improve your perfume’s sillage.
Spraying more perfume on is, of course, the simplest way to increase not only a fragrance’s sillage, but its performance across the board, longevity and projection included.
However, do be aware that spraying more might not mean that you can smell it more. Though you will probably get a more intense perfume experience, you also run the risk of going anosmic (“noseblind”) to the scent.
People around you, though, will be able to smell you. Just be aware of what you’re getting into – if you spray yourself ten to twelve times, you might just get more than you bargained for.
A small increase from your usual spraying regimen – say, six or seven sprays instead of four or five – will give you a small, but tasteful sillage boost.
Spray Away From Your Nose
This has more to do with your own perception of a perfume’s sillage rather than the perception of others, but the common complaint of a perfume lacking sillage might be solved by spraying in places away from your nose.
It’s all too easy to overwhelm your nose and go noseblind to a scent simply by spraying your neck and chest.
If you’re having trouble picking up on your scent, you might try spraying your wrists, clothes, and even the back of your knees. That way, your perfume slowly filters up to your nose throughout the day, rather than bombarding it.
Applying unscented moisturizer to the skin after a shower is one way to increase both sillage and longevity.
Perfume hates dry skin more than anything. The fragrance molecules in perfume need something to latch onto, and dry skin doesn’t really provide much.
If you’re having sillage problems, you might try this trick. Simply rub unscented moisturizer into the areas of skin where you plan on applying perfume, such as the neck and the wrists. Let it soak for around ten minutes or so, then spray on your perfume.
Moisturizing the skin can give you a pretty decent performance boost, and does tend to work in my experience.
Remember, however, that everyone’s skin is different. This tip might work for increasing perfumes’ sillage on your skin, or it might not. It will all depend on you and the perfume in question.
What Perfumes Have Good Sillage?
This is a tough question to answer, since good sillage depends on a few different things. Perfumes react differently to different people. One person might get amazing sillage with a perfume, while you might zilch. That’s why testing things out before you buy them is so important.
Sillage will also change based on the temperature (hot and humid conditions will give you more) and on the perfume itself.
Perfumes with large doses of aroma chemicals like hedione (Hermès’ Voyage d’Hermès Parfum or Dior’s Eau Sauvage Parfum), ISO E Super (Ormonde Jayne’s Montabaco or Chanel’s Bleu de Chanel), or ambroxan (Dior’s Sauvage or Juliette Has a Gun’s Not A Perfume) tend to be pretty diffusive.
Lower perfume concentrations like eaux de toilette or eaux fraîche (read more about that here) also tend to have better sillage and projection, albeit lower longevity.
So really, there isn’t a gold standard for perfumes with high sillage. It varies from brand to brand and perfume to perfume.
Test, test, test, and find what works for you.
The Final Word
So, to recap:
When you smell perfume out of nowhere, you’re picking up on the sillage of someone else’s perfume. Sillage refers to the scent trail that a perfume leaves in its wake behind you.
Sillage is very dependent on one’s skin. If you want to increase sillage, moisturizer up, and if you must, increase the number of sprays you apply, preferably away from your nose so that you don’t go noseblind to your perfume.
And remember, test, test, test. Find a perfume that works for your skin and for your personality. Don’t be duped by perfumes claiming “beast mode performance” – that will all depend on you and your situation.
Once you’ve followed these steps, you can spray confidently knowing that wherever you go, a beautiful scent trail will be following.
And there’s nothing better than knowing you smell good.