You wouldn’t wear one outfit every day, all year round, for every occasion. So, why do the same with your scent? The idea of a fragrance wardrobe follows the idea that, when you look in your closet, you’ll pick out what to wear based on all manner of reasons: the weather, the event, the mood you’re in… the mood you want to create. Just like a well-chosen outfit can enhance an experience, a complementary perfume can do the same and more, especially given its ability to tap into your mood and memory.
The question is, where do you start if you’re building a fragrance wardrobe from scratch? We called upon perfume stylist, Isabelle Langlois and Harrods director of buying, beauty, Mia Collins, to steer us in the right direction.
What is a fragrance wardrobe?
The good news is, it doesn’t involve an actual wardrobe (some space in your bathroom cabinet or on your dressing table will do). “A fragrance wardrobe is a personalised curation of favourite scents that are worn alone, or paired together to perfectly match the mood, persona, or occasion,” confirms Mia.
“You open your wardrobe at home and you have all your clothes – your jumpers, T-shirts, blouses and trousers,” says Isabelle. A fragrance wardrobe follows the same logic. “You can have a jumper, so it would be cosy. You can have a sexy dress that’s a bit more feminine. Maybe you want dungarees – something a bit more casual. It’s a collection of fragrances, ranging from fresh florals and citrusy greens, to something warm, leathery or woody – depending on your taste – that can suit any outfit, any mood, any season and any occasion,” she explains.
“Quite often we see fragrance lovers build their collections quite organically over time, curating a wardrobe, where each fragrance has a purpose and is entirely intentional and purposeful,” says Mia.
How to start building a fragrance wardrobe
Your starting point will depend on your existing attitude to perfume. “There are two categories of people. People who only have one signature scent who at some point may start to think: ‘OK, I’m bored now,’ and start to look around for different scents for different moods, seasons and occasions. Maybe they want something specific for when they go out with friends, or a business meeting, or a holiday – so they will start to leave their single perfume to explore. Other people, like me, are curious from day one about having different scents for multiple personalities and moods. For instance: today I feel bubbly and bright. Another day I’ll want something invisible, buttery, creamy and personal. And another day I want something very sexy. This is where people will start to build a fragrance wardrobe,” explains Isabelle.
But both experts agree it’s best to start with the basics. “Every fragrance wardrobe is built around the necessities – starting with the one that you (at least at a point) implicitly reached for and wore daily, the one that captivated you from the first spray,” says Mia. “Next typically comes either your ‘special occasion’ scent, whether that’s a scent that reminds you of a moment in your life, such as your wedding or a significant birthday, or is the fragrance that you reach for the most when dressing up – choose the perfume that empowers and elevates your mood, no matter the occasion,” she adds.
Once you have your signature and special occasion scents, it’s a good idea to think seasonally. “What do you want in spring?,” asks Isabelle. “Maybe something bright and floral. There are so many facets in the floral – it’s not just girly, classic floral perfume, you can have something fresh and bright. In the summer you might want something citrusy – a fresh cologne, or something with fig. For the autumn, you might want something indulgent or comforting, maybe some spice, maybe something a bit creamy. And then winter you might want something that keeps you warm – something heavy, maybe a woody floral or something leathery,” she says. “In 38-degree summer heat, you may not want to wear a heavy, leathery, spicy floral. You might want something that will lift you up and refresh you. So this is where we can start with the basics – one perfume per season [this can include your signature and special occasion scent if you like]. Start with that,” says Isabelle.
Mia concurs, explaining that certain scents may be better suited to specific seasons. “Some scents based in gourmand notes, warm woods and skin-like musks are inherently more matched to the colder months, whereas in the warmer months we see customers reaching for solar scents, bright and refreshing citrus or green tea accords and a wonderful dose of coconut or a salty, oceanic note never goes amiss either,” she adds.
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How can I work out what I like?
There’s no cheat sheet here, so you’ll need to do a bit of exploring. “The beautiful aspect of fragrance is that it is an entirely unique experience for everyone, and while of course there are suggestions around matching scents to different seasons or times of day – it’s totally open for individual interpretation,” says Mia. One easy way of exploring at your own pace without fully committing is to try some fragrance discovery sets. “They are an amazing way to fully test a perfume before you invest, to make sure that it both smells and lasts the way you want it to – I really recommend it,” Mia says.
As for landing on The One(s): “you just need to trust your sense of smell,” says Isabelle, but she has some advice for getting a proper read on the scent. Number one, always try it on your skin, not a blotter. Then: “wait to let the alcohol dry, then smell it to get an instant reaction. Wait 10 minutes more then smell again. When you smell a perfume at first, you get a mix of top notes and heart notes. After 10 minutes the top notes will evaporate and you will smell a mix of heart and base notes,” she says. But if you really want to appreciate a perfume, “you have to wait closer to 30 minutes to get the dry down. This is the moment you can tell whether you like it,” Isabelle says.
Also, she says, ignore trends and conventions. “If you are a man and you want to wear coconut, rose, jasmine? Fine. If you are a woman and you want to wear leather, aromatic, geranium? Fine. It’s really for you. If you like it and it suits your skin and it doesn’t turn weird on your skin because of your pH, great. You have your new perfume, that’s what matters.”
Finally, be careful when committing to fragrance families you do and don’t like. They don’t always translate and you could miss out on scents you’ll actually enjoy. “What is fresh for me is not fresh for someone else, but in general, if you like fresh, go toward citrusy, fresh, aromatic and green perfumes. Some women will see me and say they don’t like woody or vanilla scents, then they leave the session with a woody, spicy vanilla. This is why when I offer my perfume boxes, they always come with a card of the top, heart and base notes of each of the perfumes, because it helps you to identify, ‘oh actually, I don’t mind leather, or cumin or saffron in my perfume’,” says Isabelle.
Basically: “people will know what they like, they just need to search and ask the right questions. If you want something comforting? What comforts you in life? Hot chocolate? OK go towards sweet scents, warm milk, chocolate, praline, even candyfloss. For me, musk is comforting. Something warm, powdery, musky and creamy,” Isabelle concludes.
How many fragrances should a fragrance wardrobe have?
It’s not an exact science, just like the clothes in your wardrobe. You can build your fragrance wardrobe intuitively over time. As a good benchmark though: “I would say at least four fragrances is good: one per season. That’s a reasonable start, considering the price of fragrance. Then from there, you can grow to how many you want,” says Isabelle. “There are so many fragrance categories and within the fragrance families you have facets, or sub-families. If you want one fragrance per family and per sub-family, you can have hundreds of perfumes,” she adds.
“Fragrance wardrobes, as with clothing and accessories will fluctuate and change over time,” agrees Mia. “They can be as minimalistic as two or three specific favourites that are your trusted go-tos, varied scents, or for those that like to play with more there are unlimited options across all different ingredient profiles – the sky truly is the limit,” says Mia.
One tip – if you want to create breadth – is to opt for more fragrances, but in smaller volumes. “I would go for smaller bottles because it’s easier to swap and you don’t waste the perfume, and keep your bottles for years and years,” says Isabelle. Again, this is where discovery sets are great. “I offer fragrance boxes where you have three 8ml perfumes from three different brands,” says Isabelle. Likewise, little 30ml bottles are great once you know it’s a scent you like.
Some fragrances to get you going…
“If someone is looking for something fresh and light, I will direct them towards a very delicate, very ethereal perfume such as Les Fleurs by Maya and Njie. It’s an ethereal white musk, with neroli, fig, magnolia, a bit of citrus and a bergamot top note,” says Isabelle.
“If a woman is going on a date I might direct her towards something floral and seductive. A good example of something sweet – with flowers and some spices – is Libertine by Contradictions in Ilk. It has rose and leather with an incense base and then you have a bit of cumin, saffron and cognac in the top note. It’s quite a wow, complex perfume. Women love it and men love it too,” says Isabelle.
“Isla Rose from Memoize is also great. It’s rose with a bit of vanilla, oud, amber and raspberries. Men are crazy about this perfume on women. It’s seductive,” Isabelle says.
“Istanbul from Gallivant is an amazing amber, vanilla perfume. It’s a bit aromatic with some spice,” says Isabelle.
For more from GLAMOUR’s Beauty Editor, Elle Turner, follow her on Instagram @elleturneruk
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