My friends who know about my fragrance hobby always ask me which perfumes might be appropriate for office/work situations and which might be overkill. In today’s cramped spaces, the question is more important than ever. Joy might be a joy for you, but not for your office mate!
I don’t wear perfume to work, but I don’t feel cheated. I only wear it socially. This break from perfume also means that I am not competing with the strong smells occasioned by my job—I’m an events photographer and I attend a lot of catered functions where the air is often thick with garlic, cheese, coffee, chocolate, and wine. Phew! I do my part not to contribute to the overload. Believe me, a ripe Brie duking it out with Frédéric Malle Noir Epices is not entirely pleasant.
While some workplaces are specific about wearing scent, others have no restrictions. Still, even if you work in a space where there are no rules, it’s always a smart idea to practice discretion. If you do receive a complaint, by all means stop wearing the perfume in question. Since not everyone would have my personal limitations, I’ve compiled a list of ways to wear fragrance and even certain fragrances that shouldn’t trip anyone’s alarm. They are discreet enough to only remind you that you are wearing fragrance. Since most of us spend a better part of our day at the office, finding ways to enjoy scents in the workplace without disturbing others should not be an afterthought.
Creams, Dry Oils and Lotions
Soap, shower gel, lotions, and oils are excellent ways to wear fragrance in a low-sillage form. I adore Chanel soaps (No 5, Coco Mademoiselle, and the now discontinued Coco soap) for the light trace of scent they leave on the skin. Soaps don’t need to match a perfume, either: Another favorite is Maria Evora Black soap, which leaves a pleasant nutty/herbal aroma of carob behind. On a more prosaic end, Whole Foods 365 brand of lavender soap is divine.
I always keep a giant container of original Vitabath Original Spring Green in the shower, for its wonderful pine, patchouli, and rosewood scent that lingers on the skin. If I have sensory overload at work, this is what I want to smell.
Dry oils are an excellent way to wear a softer version of a fragrance. Brands like Ahava make dry body oils with light scents that act as fragrance and as skin conditioner. Cult favorites Nuxe Huile Prodigieuse, Fresh Sugar Body Oil, and Nars Monoi Body Glow (original and II) are delectable and low-key. Fans of L’Artisan Parfumeur La Chasse Aux Papillons will swoon over the dry oil version.
Lotions and creams offer more scent and can stand in for perfume when used as one would a perfume; namely, a dab on the wrists and neck. This is a way to wear stronger perfumes that might be too forceful for the workplace. Sisley Eau du Soir body cream, with its pungent grapefruit opening, is one I enjoy. I also have Chanel Coco body cream, Donna Karan Black Cashmere lotion, Rochas Femme lotion, among others.
I often like to wear light fragrances just because. There are whole lines of fragrance that are on the lighter side (L’Artisan and Fresh are two examples). I love L’Artisan Mandarine, which is as delicate a fragrance as you are likely to find. White, so-called “laundry” musks from Clean are engineered to smell like t-shirts, skin, and warm cotton. They are so understated that they blend into the surroundings. For a more complex white musk, try the gently fruity L’Artisan Mure et Musc. For citrus, Christian Dior Eau Sauvage is crisp unisex perfection, and their Escale series of women’s scents are like tonics rather than perfumes. Maître Parfumeur et Gantier Bahiana is a tropical escape in a bottle featuring pineapple and dry woody base.
Sometimes, purported strength has nothing to do with actual sillage. For instance, Bath & Body Works Cherry Blossom may appear light, but its sillage is as strong and as persistent as Thierry Mugler Angel‘s. To test a sillage of your favorite perfume, spray it once on a blotter or a piece of paper and leave it in the room. Come back 15 minutes later and see how strong the scent is. Is it light and gentle, or heady and rich? If someone is worried about wearing perfume to work, the latter might not be a good choice.
You can also consider your method of application: I know of people who spray onto a cotton ball and tuck into their shirt, or who use just a small dab of body cream in the cleavage. Take what you think is a rational application and cut it in half: Two spritzes become one; one spritz might get mixed into a non-scented body lotion before applying.
Perhaps my favorite un-perfumey perfumes come from the men’s counter and are made by Hermès. These are Eau d’Orange Verte, Eau de Pamplemousse Rose, and Eau de Gentiane Blanche. A traditional orange cologne is Frédéric Malle Cologne Bigarade, which works the orange note through kitchen spices. Also from the Malle line-up comes L’Eau d’Hiver, or “Winter Water,” a gentle and transparent heliotrope. There is also good old 4711, and for those desiring a Seventies flashback, Jean Nate.
I’d love to hear your best workplace hints and tips, and which fragrances you find suitable for the workplace! Have you ever had negative or positive comments on your favorite scents?
Image: Catherine Deneuve in Belle de Jour.