Sillage : Perfume Vocabulary & Fragrance Terms

Sillage (pronounced as see-yazh) is a term used to describe a scented trail left by the fragrance wearer. It comes from the French word for “wake,” as in the trail left in the sky by an airplane or on the water by a boat.  Sillage defines how fragrance diffuses around the wearer, and a strong sillage means that a fragrance projects well. Sillage has nothing to do with the richness of the composition, however, but rather with the diffusive nature of the materials that go into it. For instance, hedione, fresh floral notes and some types of musk are extremely diffusive and radiant, while retaining an airy, light character.

Fragrances with a strong sillage include such rich compositions like Guerlain L’Heure Bleue, Lancôme Trésor, and Christian Dior Poison as well as light, ethereal blends like Bulgari Eau Parfumée au Thé Vert and Christian Dior Eau Sauvage. Conversely, minimal sillage fragances are ones that stay close to the skin and create a more intimate scented aura. Some examples include Comme de Garçons Avignon (Incense Series) and Prada Infusion d’Iris, Chanel 31, rue Cambon.

Generally, the most complimented fragrances are the ones with a strong sillage, but I find that depending on my mood, I alternate between diffusive and intimate fragrances. Plus, in some circumstances (office environment, theater outings, restaurants, etc.,) it is also a good idea to keep one’s fragrant trail as understated as possible.

Photography by Andreas via Flickr, some rights reserved.

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19 Comments

  • Vintage Lady: This term I understand it but it can change sometimes depending on the atmosphere and climate? I think that for example Cartier de Lune has a special sillage, because in my case, when I put it on, i don’t smell it all the time on me, but at times a wave comes out, and after some minutes i feel another one, it goes like this, it is like a wave, comes and goes. Perhaps this is sillage. February 14, 2011 at 5:13am Reply

  • Victoria: I think that what you describe seems more like the case of olfactory overload. At some point, we stop smelling our own perfume, because our nose gets too saturated with the smell to perceive it. However, as the olfactory receptors reset (say, you inhale deeply or smell some other very different scent,) then you can begin to perceive it again. It is cyclical, so your description makes perfect sense to me. And yes, you would be smelling your own sillage. February 14, 2011 at 10:15am Reply

  • Martha1108: Very interesting. I’ll try to figure out what sort of sillage my perfumes have.
    On another note, do you know why it is impossible to find 1000 parfum? All I can find is shower gel, EDP, and occasionally the body lotion. I really prefer the parfum. Is Patou discontinuing it?
    Love your blog!
    Martha February 14, 2011 at 12:11pm Reply

  • Victoria: Martha, thank you!
    I believe that Neiman Marcus/Bergdorf Goodman still have it. I saw the bottles at NM in Chicago a few months ago. Online, I see it at Amazon.com.
    I think that these days the retailers stock less and less of extrait de parfum, but the fragrance in that form is not discontinued as far as I know. Perhaps, its distribution is just limited. February 14, 2011 at 12:29pm Reply

  • Martha1108: Victoria, It’s all eau de parfum, which if I recall correctly did not smell the same as the parfum. I’ve just got a little bit of the perfume left. I checked BG, NM, Saks 5th, Amazon, all have EDP. Am I mistaken about the difference between the EDP and P?
    Maybe I’ll have to actually go to the Galleria to see the stock. Bummer.
    Thanks for the reply!
    Martha February 14, 2011 at 12:40pm Reply

  • Victoria: Martha, try searching for “1000 by Jean Patou for Women 0.5 oz Parfum Classic Flacon” in Amazon. I get a listing for $250.

    I would call NM or BG, because I remember 1000 pure parfum (although they have the EDP as well) being sold there. I noticed, because I was with my friend, who wanted to purchase it. Also, the website did not have it listed, only the actual brick & mortar store carried the parfum. February 14, 2011 at 12:45pm Reply

  • Martha1108: That was it! I found it on Amazon. Thanks so much!

    And in keeping with the topic of this post, would you say it has a strong sillage? I don’t put on much, so am not sure I can tell. And do you pronounce it sill-age with a short i, or as the French would? February 14, 2011 at 12:51pm Reply

  • Victoria: 1000 has a great sillage, it is strong, but it is not heavy, very elegant. A neighbor wears it, and I love it whenever I leave just after she does. I get a whiff of her sillage and it really makes my morning.

    Here is a link where you can actually here how it is pronounced: http://french.about.com/od/vocabulary/g/sillage.htm
    It is pronounced as see yazh. February 14, 2011 at 1:01pm Reply

  • Victoria: Actually, after I posted, I found online a link to another website that gives pronunciation of many different French perfume names and words:
    http://belabela.posterous.com/
    Bela has a lovely voice too, an added bonus! February 14, 2011 at 1:04pm Reply

  • Joan: I hadn’t known what sillage meant for quite some time. For me my desired sillage is entirely dependent on my mood; brash=much sillage, like Le Labo’s Patchouli 24, quiet equals less sillage, like S-Perfume’s s-Ex. I apply with a bit of a heavy hand, though, anyway. February 15, 2011 at 8:48am Reply

  • Victoria: I agree, same for me. Sometimes I want something intimate, staying close to the skin; others I crave a bolder presence. February 15, 2011 at 10:03am Reply

  • LostArgonaut: Victoria – great article! Have you happened to try or smell on other people the following:

    L’Instant de Guerlain pour Homme EdT and EdP;
    Terre d’Hermes EdT;
    Heritage de Guerlain;

    These are my top 3 fragrances in my wardrobe – sometimes they seem not as projective as I wish them to be, probably my nose gets used to the scent after a while. If you have tried, what do you think about their sillage?

    Thank you!!! February 18, 2011 at 11:40pm Reply

  • Victoria: I love these three fragrances, always happy to talk about them! L’Instant de Guerlain pour Homme and Heritage de Guerlain are of medium sillage to me, I definitely notice them, but they are the kind of fragrances that require me moving closer to the person to notice what exactly they are wearing.

    Terre d’Hermes, on the other hand, has a great sillage. People comment on Terre d’Hermes even when I myself do not smell it anymore. Whenever one of my friends wears it, I immediately notice and recognize it as Terre d’Hermes. Its effect is similar to Bulgari The Vert–great sillage, but it is airy and transparent. February 19, 2011 at 8:34am Reply

  • LostArgonaut: I think the same too – the scent life of the l’Instant Eau Extreme (EdP) seems very enduring though, while another Guerlain – Vetiver Eau Glaceu seems to have a loud sillage similar to that of Terre d’Hermes. I’d like to try it in Parfum edition for supposedly softer notes. Thank you Victoria, and keep us engaged with such a fun topic! February 19, 2011 at 12:34pm Reply

  • Victoria: It is my pleasure! I love this topic too.
    I also really want to try the parfum version of Terre d'Hermes. The idea of softer miner notes and a richer vetiver accord sounds very appealing.  February 19, 2011 at 12:48pm Reply

  • J. Johnson: In the 1980 in NYC, I found Halston Day to be a very nice nonsexual scent. But recently I can only find it online in European market. Can you describe how a perfume can have such a professionally respectable aspect? And why is it no longer available in United States? Thank you October 1, 2012 at 10:18am Reply

  • MissBelleCherie: Well I love to wear fragrances for me, and I like it when someone else appreciates my scent, and conversely I don’t want to offend people by smelling bad.

    I’ve had the most compliments for Angel (1992), Alien (2005) & Womanity (2010) by Thierry Mugler, Gio by Armani (1992), Hypnose (2005) & Tresor Midnight Rose (2011) by Lancome, Insolence (2006) by Guerlain, L’ Imperatrice #3 & Le bateleur #1 (2009) by Dolce & Gabbana, Classique Eau de Parfum (2010) by Jean Paul Gautier, Eternity Moment (2004) by Calvin Klein, Miss Dior Cherie (2005) by Dior, Coco Mademoiselle (2001) & Chance (2003) by Chanel, and Coach Poppy Flower (2011). Yes its true, Im a perfume collector & have more, but those are the ones I always receive compliments. Take a look on those I mentioned, you are not going to be disappointed. ;) December 26, 2012 at 12:00am Reply

  • Anthony Brennan: What is one of the most complimented mens Cologne, I am 22 years old but looking for something with a good sillage and longevity, something sophisticated that will get attention (please don’t say ‘Paco Rabanne 1 million’ ) ugh that is awful! September 7, 2013 at 7:25am Reply

    • Coco: Farenheit by Dior. It is my favourite on men! October 1, 2013 at 9:25pm Reply

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