What is Sillage

Perfume wearers and boats have more in common than one might reasonably suspect. Sillage (pronounced as see-yazh) is a French word that means “wake”, as in the airplane contrails criss-crossing the skies or the waves left on water by a passing ship. But it’s also used to describe the scented trail created by perfume. Sillage defines the degree to which fragrance emanates from its wearer and diffuses into the space around them.

Sillage is an important quality to keep in mind when buying a perfume or when selecting it for specific occasions. Big sillage scents are the most complimented because they’re easy to notice, but their distinct presence may make them inappropriate for restaurants, theatres, or some office environments. On the other hand, a fragrance that doesn’t bloom at all is rarely satisfying. The goal is to find the right sillage for your mood and lifestyle.

Often sillage is confused with richness, based on the assumption that fragrances laden with plush, deep notes like vanilla, woods and ambers create the strongest scented aura. This is not always the case because sillage is determined by the diffusive nature of the perfume ingredients. For instance, one of the most radiant materials is hedione, an aromatic that smells like lemony jasmine in soft focus. Christian Dior’s Eau Sauvage, a basil and bergamot cologne created by perfumer Edmond Roudniska in 1966, made hedione an indispensable part of the perfumer’s palette, and today it can be found in a variety of fragrances, from soft floral bouquets like Van Cleef et Arpels’s First to rich gourmands like Thierry Mugler’s Angel. Those who smell hedione in its pure state for the first time are often surprised by its ethereal quality, but there is no doubt about the powerful effect it creates in combination with other notes.

Just as light blends like Bulgari’s Eau Parfumée au Thé Vert and Prada’s Infusion d’Iris have a strong sillage, so do certain saturated and lush fragrances like Guerlain’s L’Heure Bleue and Yves Saint Laurent’s Paris. L’Heure Bleue’s sillage is legendary, and while forming a rich trail of spicy iris, orange blossom marshmallow and musk, it’s nevertheless luminous. Paris’s trail is even bolder, in line with the big hair, big perfume aesthetic of the 80s. Some fragrances blend characteristics of effervescence and opulence, such as Perles de Lalique, Clinique Aromatics Elixir and Flower by Kenzo.

The easiest way to determine the level of sillage is to spray a paper blotter with perfume and leave it in the room for fifteen minutes. If upon entering the room you can distinctly smell the scent, you’re in possession of a high sillage fragrance. Now you can decide how big of a trail you want to leave and proceed accordingly.

What style of sillage do you prefer?

Photography by Bois de Jasmin



  • Nina Z: You might be interested to know that some perfume collectors on Facebook refer to fragrances that have a very strong sillage as “beast mode,” which many find desirable.

    I myself live in a very perfume-phobic area so I prefer a weaker sillage, especially during the day when I’m out and about. I have noticed the effects of hedione that you described in Love and Tears by Kilian. Although it’s a lighter green jasmine scent, people notice it on me even outdoors so I’m very careful just to dab on a bit rather than spraying.

    Fortunately my husband enjoys perfume and vintage L’Heure Bleue is one of his favorites so I can wear whatever I want at night when it is just us.

    Do you think that an extrait typically has less sillage than an EdT or EdP? That it is richer but wears closer to the body? August 25, 2023 at 10:05am Reply

    • Danica Radovanov: My experience is that extrait does wear closer to the body, but it can still have radiance in close contact. Vintage YSL Y for example has wonderful close projection. August 25, 2023 at 12:33pm Reply

    • Victoria: I find that the extrait stays closer to the wearer and does not project as much, but it lasts well and creates the best kind of sillage in my opinion. I don’t care for the “beast-mode” perfumes. August 28, 2023 at 6:46am Reply

  • Mingzhe Wang: What a nice method to determine the sillage of a perfume! I will definitely try that! I personally like perfume that is persistent but with a moderate sillage, I don’t want to announce my arrival for the whole lobby! 🙂 I also find it so interesting that a very quick glance at the user comments for Bulgari Thé Vert on sites such as fragrantica, almost everyone complains about the weakness of the perfume, or the lack of sillage, etc. But this turned out to be one of the most persistent and long lasting perfume that I have. I used to think it is weak, but I realized that I just got nose blind. August 25, 2023 at 1:19pm Reply

    • Victoria: It seems light, but it’s remarkably persistent. August 28, 2023 at 6:46am Reply

  • Sandra: Some By Kilian fragrances leave a nice trail. I wore one by this house and a man caught up to me on the street to tell me how lovely I smelled.

    I would say Coco Mademoiselle and Santal 33 are smelled on the streets of NYC. Curious to know what others smell on the streets where they are from? August 25, 2023 at 4:08pm Reply

    • Victoria: I smelled a lot of Coco Mad around here at one point. I smelled Mitsouko on someone the other day. August 28, 2023 at 6:47am Reply

    • Maria Perry: I live in Berlin now and every time I’m in busy streets or at a restaurant I can smell BR540 or some copycat of it. Sometimes it is even more than one person, and this happens very frequently now…I don’t know what to think of it, I feel like the whole town wears the same perfume. September 3, 2023 at 6:40pm Reply

  • Alityke: I was a nurse, a supposed scent free profession. I used to wear a single spray of something refreshing on my cleavage/bra when on clinical duty. If I needed a pick me up I’d pull my uniform away from me & get a personal whiff. O de Lancome was perfect.

    The Friday Girls nights out smelt of hairspray, Euphoria, Lovely, Envy, No5 & Light Blue. A huge sillage! August 26, 2023 at 6:41am Reply

    • Victoria: Like a scented talisman. August 28, 2023 at 6:48am Reply

  • Hamamelis: I was thinking about what kind of sillage the perfume I was wearing, Mohur, would have. I was in the car with my husband, and he popped out to get something from a bakery while I remained in the parked car. When he came back and entered the car he exclaimed: what a wonderful perfume you are wearing! I smell rose and something soft and creamy….so the sillage test worked in our car and quite a good scent detection he has don’t you think?
    I don’t think sillage is an issue for me when I wear perfume, I think I prefer a moderate one generally. August 26, 2023 at 10:52am Reply

    • Victoria: I also prefer something moderate. August 28, 2023 at 6:48am Reply

  • Aurora: This made me think, I don’t take sillage into account much when choosing a perfume, longevity yes, I like my perfume to stick around. That said Terre has a wonderful diffusion I find and you mention l’Heure Bleue which I love. I don’t want to invade a space with my perfume so I wouldn’t want a sillage monster I think on the other hand it’s nice to get a compliment. August 26, 2023 at 12:22pm Reply

    • Victoria: I agree with you, it’s not my top consideration that others smell my perfume. I prefer that they do not. August 28, 2023 at 6:49am Reply

      • Kari: Me too. I don’t like my fragrance to shout too loudly. August 28, 2023 at 9:56pm Reply

  • Klaas: I love to wear discreet perfumes. And I’ve come to understand that the richness of a fragrance doesn’t always translate to a bigger sillage; some big and bold perfumes wear perfectly close to the skin, while some of the lighter fare sometimes diffuses like crazy.

    Sillage is overrated in my humble opinion, I like to think that we wear fragrances to transport ourselves rather then force them upon the people around us who might not even like our perfume of the day…… August 26, 2023 at 2:09pm Reply

    • Victoria: I completely agree. Sillage is not the most important characteristic, and certainly not the most important one for determining whether a perfume is well made or not. August 28, 2023 at 6:49am Reply

  • John Luna: Thank you for this helpful article…I always appreciate the way that you provide classic examples to help to illustrate topics such as these. One aspect of sillage I find fascinating is the way that some (like Eau Sauvage) feel effervescent, while others (such as Aramis, which I wore yesterday, enjoying how it carried in the warm weather), feel softer and more dense… I agree with Klaas’ opinion regarding the overrating of sillage. Too many reviews posted on Fragrantica (especially for fragrances marketed to men) focus on rating performance as if sillage were universally desirable regardless of the composition. There is nothing nicer than someone who you wish to appreciate your scent comments on it positively when you know you have applied it lightly. August 27, 2023 at 12:57am Reply

    • Victoria: Yes, I also notice that people care about projection a lot, but there are many occasions when you don’t want that. August 28, 2023 at 6:51am Reply

  • Sherri Danger: I recall when Giorgio of Beverly Hills showed up on the scene – major sillage! August 28, 2023 at 5:14pm Reply

    • Victoria: That was definitely in the beast mode category. August 29, 2023 at 2:06am Reply

  • Tara C: I have been very disappointed with the level of sillage of a lot of recent perfumes I enjoy. I’m not looking for huge projection, but I do want to be able to smell it on myself without having to put my nose up to my skin. I like a small scent bubble I can enjoy all day. September 1, 2023 at 9:09am Reply

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