Building Perfume Wardrobe Guide Part 5 : Essentials


Part 1: Florals ~ Rose
Part 2: Florals ~ Jasmine and White Florals
Part 3: Florals ~ Lily of the Valley and Violet
Part 4: Florals ~ Blends
Part 6: Orientals

The idea of a perfume wardrobe vis-à-vis a signature fragrance runs counter to many concepts held dear by perfume marketers as it does not engender brand loyalty. This is perhaps the main reason why magazines are full of suggestions on what perfumes to buy, but never on how to create a varied and interesting collection of scents. Some may argue that there are no steadfast rules as to what fragrances one must have and that sartorial categories do not apply to scents. If one feels like wearing Dior Poison (a ball gown equivalent) to work and Demeter Gin & Tonic (T-shirt and jeans) to a cocktail party, why on earth not? This may be true, but when one is just starting to enjoy fragrances and building a collection, it helps to keep a few guidelines in mind. One can always break them later!

My list of essentials may be whimsical and personal, but I hope it can highlight how to create a perfume wardrobe full of diverse scents suitable to different moods and situations. The categories are not gender specific, and I give examples of both masculine and feminine fragrances.

Refreshing, Uplifting Fragrance

This is a fragrance that will give you an immediate lift whenever you feel tired or worn down. I crave effervescent fragrances on grey winter mornings when the alarm clock wakes me up many hours earlier than I want. Or on swelteringly hot days when the air feels as thick as pea soup. Ô de Lancôme, Chanel Cristalle, Atelier Cologne Orange Sanguine and Hermès Eau de Gentiane Blanche are some of the bright, crisp and vivid compositions that I like. My choices for this category tend to fall into citrus and green blends, which may not be the most long-lasting of fragrances, but they provide a pleasant jolt like nothing else.

Daytime “Office” Perfume (Smart, Casual Outfit)

One of the most common questions I receive on Bois de Jasmin is what fragrances could be appropriate for the office environment. Some workplaces are less tolerant of perfume than others, but it is best to err on the side of subtle when choosing a scent to wear in close quarters. This applies to theaters, movie theaters, restaurants and airplanes. Subtle does not have to be boring, and I can think of plenty of interesting understated blends with discrete sillage: Prada’s Infusion line (Infusion de Vétiver, Infusion d’Iris,) Hermès Un Jardin en Méditerranée and Hiris, Lalique Encre Noire, L’Artisan Eau de Navegar, and Tom Ford Violet Blonde. Be careful with fragrances that appear delicate and fresh at first, but that have a strong, penetrating sillage such as Dolce & Gabbana Light BluePaco Rabanne Black XS  or other dry ambers. Some incense and leather blends like Armani Privé Bois d’Encens and Lancôme Cuir, on the other hand, may appear potent, but they wear quite close to the skin and create an intimate aura.

Of course, one can always tone down a favorite perfume by applying less. To have the most intimate experience of perfume, I find that applying a tiny bit on one’s chest (rather than neck) works best.

Day-to-Evening Perfume (Little Black Dress/ Crisp White Shirt)

This category includes the most versatile fragrances that are truly along the lines of a little black dress or a crisp white shirt: compositions with enough subtlety to make a great day time perfume and plenty of character to make the transition into the evening. Christian Dior Eau Sauvage, Love, Chloe, and Serge Lutens Bois de Violette are some of my favorites. For this category I find that woods, fougères, chypres and green floral blends work remarkably well, since many fragrances in those genres tend to possess understated elegance, distinctive aura and decent tenacity.

A few months ago, I ran a thread on the topic of favorite LBD fragrances, and you can find more ideas there.

Evening Perfume (Floor Length Ball Gown/Tuxedo)

Now forget about being safe and subtle! Some occasions call for bold, dramatic perfumes that make a statement: seductive orientals, sumptuous ambers, high-volume florals, etc. Guerlain L’Heure Bleue has one of the richest sillages, as does Robert Piguet Fracas. Chanel Coco Mademoiselle, Paco Rabanne One Million and Thierry Mugler Angel  are examples of modern fragrances with powerful sillages. Some of my “ball gown” favorites are Guerlain Habit Rouge, Frédéric Malle Carnal Flower, Parfum d’Empire Ambre Russe, Yves Saint Laurent Nu and Serge Lutens Bornéo 1834.

Calming, Relaxing Perfume (Nightgown/Pajamas)

I am agnostic on the scientific claims of aromatheraphy, but I do know from personal experience that some scents are wonderfully calming and soothing. Orange blossom and violet blends have that effect on me: Penhaligon’s Violetta, Annick Goutal Néroli, Jo Malone Orange Blossom Cologne, Atelier Cologne Grand Néroli. For more ideas, please see this post with interesting comments: Relaxing Fragrances : How Perfume Alters Our Moods.

Something Eccentric and Fun

Consider your fragrance collection, see what you tend to like the most, and then try and go into the opposite direction. If you have mostly florals in your collection, sample some orientals, or vice-versa. Even if you do not end up liking that particular fragrance style, just trying something different is enjoyable. It helps me remember that perfume is pure pleasure, first and foremost, and that if I do not have some fun with it, I lose out on what makes this hobby so satisfying.

What about you? Do you have a perfume wardrobe? How do you go about building yours? Did I miss any essential categories?



  • Tulip: Perfect, perfect perfect post. I love it. January 6, 2012 at 8:19am Reply

  • AnneR: I always wear Chanel No 5 to funerals because it just seems to fit the respect required for the occasion to me. It started with my brothers’ funeral and Chanel No 5 was his favorite. I don’t really have a negative association with this fragrance, I just smile and think of my brother and its like a visit with him. January 6, 2012 at 11:00am Reply

  • Dionne: Our categories are similar, although I have different names for mine, plus, some of mine seem to coincide with seasons. Refreshing? Definitely. (Silences, Par Amour Toujours). These are very much my summer fragrances, as I’ve discovered that wearing them in winter does NOT help, but only reminds me that I live where there’s snow 6 months of the year. Being a SAHM, I don’t need office fragrances, but I do need “Smart and Confident” (eg. Infusion d’Iris, Incense Pure) Your day-to evening category is my Elegant category, although I don’t worry about sillage (eg. Ormonde Woman, Parfum Sacre). And your Evening Perfume is my *ahem* “How YOU doin’?” Seduction category (Black Cashmere every time.) Your calming is my comforting, usually fall and winter frags(eg. Tibetan Mountain Temple, Coromandel) and I’ve also got a girly, feminine, “I feel pretty…” category, that usually pops up in spring: eg. Heure Exquise, 28 La Pausa. For me, Eccentric and Fun is simply my curious nature that loves to sample new things, so I’m constantly pushing my boundaries. Yesterday I came home from Sephora with a Fracas sample, my first foray in tuberose. January 6, 2012 at 1:49pm Reply

  • Vasilisa: I think one category is perfumes for funeral wear. I wear L’Artisan Passage d’Enfer to funerals and in crisis, as it smells like someone had raided a cathedral and wiped frescoes away with detergent. I find the perfume gloriously stoic. January 6, 2012 at 9:23am Reply

  • Victoria: I am glad! It is fun to think of perfume this way, and it helps me figure out what to wear easier. January 6, 2012 at 10:31am Reply

  • Victoria: I usually do not wear anything on sad occasions. I always worry that a scent will become associated with the event. However, you have a good point–something comforting in the time of grief is essential. January 6, 2012 at 10:33am Reply

  • Annemarie: The idea that you can choose a fragrance like you choose a piece of clothing is very helpful for me. Last summer I got interested in perfume and started a little project to find myself a fragrance. I started sniffing around and reading about it (found your beautiful blog!). After some sniffing expeditions I felt that I probably will end up with not just one fragrance but with several because what I like to smell depends so much on my mood and my activities of that day. Letting go the idea of finding the one fragrance was very liberating, now I can happily enjoy all kinds of perfumes. I don’t have to totally commit to just one of them and I don’t have to find a fragrance that covers all my ‘needs’. Imagine you have to buy just one piece of clothing that has to suit all seasons, all moods and all situations; that could only be something that is dull and uninteresting. January 6, 2012 at 3:40pm Reply

  • Olga: I love the methodical approach of building a perfume wardrobe, but I am afraid I am less than methodical myself. I buy perfumes I love, and so far that has me with lighter and softer perfumes as well as some orientals (thank you for a word “Plushometer”, Tolu comes to mind) and some whimsical and eccentric for me (1740 comes to mind). No conscious choice of looking at my collection and asking myself, “what do I NEED?” Nope, I don’t feel I really NEED anything, so I buy and wear (mostly at home, as I work from home) what I love. January 6, 2012 at 4:31pm Reply

  • Victoria: Anne, you have such a great outlook, very wise. January 6, 2012 at 11:57am Reply

  • Grusheczka: What a fun series! Thank you for posting it. I personally love those sexy musky/oriental/spicy/leather/dirty blends and find them most comforting and therefore relaxing. I have to be careful when I put them on, and not to overdo it, as most people don’t feel the same way about these types of scents. It’s also the same thing with jasmine/tuberose/gardenia fragrances, whatever is sexy and fleshy, I want to sleep wearing it! January 6, 2012 at 11:59am Reply

  • Victoria: Oh, so true, sexy musks are very comforting! Also, some jasmine fragrances are wonderfully relaxing for me–A la Nuit by Lutens, for instance. January 6, 2012 at 1:11pm Reply

  • Victoria: I love these categories and their names! Such a fun way to think of your wardrobe. 🙂 January 6, 2012 at 2:07pm Reply

  • Victoria: Exactly! One cannot contemplate wearing the same piece of clothing over and over again or eating the same meal over and over again or listening to the same piece of music… Then why wear only one scent?
    I also find that my moods determine a lot what I feel like wearing. On some days, especially when I feel tired, I want not a bracing fragrance, but something that will wrap me like a warm cashmere sweater. Then I would pick something like Shalimar Ode a la Vanille, which never fails to do just that! January 6, 2012 at 3:46pm Reply

  • Sujaan: I wish I had a methodical bone in my body. It would come in very handy. I have just been sampling and sampling because my mood seems to change every month. I loved L’Air du Desert last summer but now in winter it just doesn’t seem to fit. In fact, I’ve noticed that I’ve really begun to choose seasonally more than any other reason. I guess here in NY our weather changes so drastically, whereas when I lived in southern California the “seasons” didn’t have such a great effect. Now I’m cold and I want warm, yummy, comfort scents or when I go out I want something glorious, rich, and spicy. It’s all such a wonderful journey of discovery. January 6, 2012 at 11:00pm Reply

  • Victoria: When I first started out on my perfume journey, a methodical approach helped me to be organized about my perfume purchases. But it is so personal, and I can relate to your "falling in love" way of adding perfumes to your collection. 🙂 January 6, 2012 at 8:19pm Reply

  • bulldoggirl: I don’t consciously buy bottles of perfume with the intent of fitting them into a specific wardrobe category, but my tastes are pretty varied—and I do tend to wear perfume based on mood, occasion, sometimes even outfit. Refreshing/uplifting perfumes are a definite must for me, since I live and recreate in the desert southwest. 4711, Eau de Givenchy, Cristalle, Eau de Rochas, Mandragore, etc. are all staples when the heat is on or I need to spring to life. I have another category into which I place certain ‘fumes (although I wear them at other times as well): Vacation. Whenever I travel, I pack suntan lotion scents (Datura Noir, Bronze Goddess, Balenciaga Michelle) and bright florals (PdN No. 1 and EL Private Collection Tuberose Gardenia). January 7, 2012 at 4:20pm Reply

  • Victoria: When I live in the warmer climate, I wore very different fragrances, but then again, my tastes were also different then. I do not really pick perfume along with the seasons anymore, but rather in following my mood. My absolute favorites get worn regardless of the weather. January 7, 2012 at 6:32pm Reply

  • Victoria: A vacation category is an important one. I usually pack florals with me–L’Artisan La Chasse Aux Papillon (mostly because it already comes in a tiny bottle,) Annick Goutal Neroli and Lutens’ A La Nuit. They never fail to relax me and to put me in a good mood. January 7, 2012 at 6:34pm Reply

  • Maria: It’s an interesting list! And I had to laugh at the question what to wear for funerals. What about going to medic? And many other occasions (like meeting your former ex or visiting grandma in a senior house). I am amazed that these kind of lists have strong presumptions like: we are white collars (working in certain kind of offices)), live mostly in temperate climate, have a certain budget for perfumes etc. Mostly, we are all that kind of decent women that you are not afraid to invite for dinner with friends. So they are in line with centuries old tradition of what is proper to wear.
    I love your posts and await them everyday. January 8, 2012 at 8:42am Reply

  • Jenna: I’m a perfume novice, so this is a perfect post for me! I struggle to figure out how to start building my collection, there is so much out there. I love the idea of a perfume wardrobe. How fun! Thanks, V! January 8, 2012 at 10:34am Reply

  • Victoria: Maria, as I said in the intro, this is my personal list (that's the operative word!) As what rules on what's appropriate, yes, I think that they exist and should be followed to some extent not for the sake of tradition, but out of consideration for other people. Perfume is not a completely intimate thing, it invades the space of others easily. January 8, 2012 at 9:46am Reply

  • Jennifer: Diane Von Furstenburg has been getting me many compliments at the office. It is quickly becoming my go to frag! This might be the ultimate day time perfume (and no one paid me to say that:) January 8, 2012 at 6:27pm Reply

  • Victoria: You are welcome, Jenna! There are many ways to think about perfume. I like to think of my collection as my wardrobe. 🙂 January 8, 2012 at 8:16pm Reply

  • Victoria: I still have not smelled it! I’m adding it to my to-try list. I read many good reviews of DVF so far. January 8, 2012 at 8:17pm Reply

  • bregje: i love these articles!They teach me so much.Although in every catagory there are fragrances i love but also perfumes i hate which always confuses me.
    On paper i should love chanel 5 and also estee lauder’s tuberose and gardenia(i bought this one blind but i don’t like it at all) but i don’t.

    Didn’t expect to like apres l’ondee but i love it!(i think it smells like the ‘old version’ of l’air du temps;at least it reminds me of what my mom smelled like when i was little.It could also be the mimosa;i love mimosa)
    A flanker i really love is/was eternity summer 2005.I can’t find anything like it.
    People have told me to get a signature scent for years but i guess i’m not perfumonogamous because i can’t decide on just one.
    In summer i like aquatic and sweet and the jardin-series by hermes.I get coco-moods all year long.Allure when i feel sexy.
    Baiser volee in spring.Stella nude spring to summer.
    So i’m glad that you compared fragrance to your clothes-wardrobe…i’m not one of those minimalists who only wear black pants,white shirts and ballerina’s.
    Even though i can admire people like that;i feel the need to express myself in different ways.From skinny jeans to little silk dresses.from high heels to sneakers and i hardly ever wear black for some reason…;) April 15, 2014 at 6:47pm Reply

  • Kaitlin: I really love this article – picturing scents as garments help me understand why I should explore different scents, not just stick with the scents I know.

    I like choosing a scent to sleep in best. I love to spray on Chanel Eau Premiere when I want to feel like a rich starlet going to sleep after a day filming. I also love to spray PR One Million on my sheets to feel confident and audacious. January 27, 2017 at 5:19pm Reply

    • Victoria: I’m very glad to hear it. It’s true that when you visualize a perfume and its image, it’s much easier to decide whether it will suit your style or not. January 28, 2017 at 10:15am Reply

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