Viewer Mail: How Do I Layer Perfumes?


What gives you the idea to try two fragrances together? Do they have a common note and the rest differs? Or do you just have an idea that they would be compatible? Ever have any that you thought would be great and turned out to be a bad idea?


SoS -- I really don't multi-stack perfumes that often (though when I'm evaluating a bunch at once, that is often an unintentional, and usually horrible, combining exercise). My general feeling is that wearing more than one perfume at a time is like sloshing two wines into the same glass: likely to give you a headache and make you unpopular with your friends.

But when perfume blending does work, it is, as you surmise, a matter of matching a note with one in another perfume. Or matchmaking accords that have a natural affinity with each other, like rose and incense, or saffron and vanilla, or citrus and leather -- which you figure out through another great combination: trial and error.

In the case of my wearing Comme des Garçons Avignon and L'Artisan Parfumeur Vanilia together, it was an adaptation of advice given by a L'Artisan Parfumeur SA advocating the twinning of Vanilia and another incense, Passage d'Enfer. The SA had obviously pegged me as a two-for-one patsy, but whatever, I bought the Vanilia along with the Passage d'Enfer. Then I realized I kind of hated Passage d'Enfer.

I passed through Angi’s 5 Stages of Bad Perfume Grief, first detailed in the comments for the Francis Kurkdjian Aqua Universalis pen pal post. Let’s review these essential steps for healing:
The 5 Stages of Bad Perfume Grief

1. Outraged Anger
2. Disgusted (at self for buying it) Anger
3. Disgusted (at whoever made this crap) Anger
4. Angry Anger
5. Angry, Angry Acceptance

Angrily accepting, I re-applied the vanilla+incense formula to Avignon, and it worked even better. Avignon has a slight vanilla undercurrent that links it to Vanilia, and Vanilia has an ashiness that compliments Avignon’s eye-smarting frankincense. And Vanilia’s playfulness lightened up the cerebral Avignon.

In the “random brain wave” category, I was once in the thick of enjoying Le Labo Labdanum 18’s powdery-musk-meets-long-distance-zoo, when it occurred to me that L18 might work alongside the flowers’n’barnyard of Bal à Versailles. A dab or two later, I proved myself correct, though others might protest its Coldstone Creamery-style overkill (like the time I ordered scoops of praline, crème brûlée, and toffee ice cream, rolled in Heath Bar pieces and smothered in caramel sauce, also known as “too much of a good thing”).

No “mad scientist” failures so far, but fumies, I’d be interested to know if any of you have experienced olfactory car crashes -- along with scent-layering success stories!


  1. Hi Katie,
    I had success layering Flowerbomb and Black Cashmere, and got trainloads of compliments - the enthusiastic kind - shiny eyed people saying, 'You smell A*M*a*Z*I*N*g! Very nice it was too, but I am nearly out of those two.
    I went through a stage of layering Lipstick Rose and Narciso Rodriguez edt, I think because I find the former rather shrill and buzzy (though I like it in my head), and the NR creamies it up a bit. I felt confident in this duo, and mainly wore it to concerts where I wanted good sillage. Might try this again.
    Sometimes I layer Brit and Champs Elysees, usually to work. The combo becomes a little hoppy, reminiscent of drinking good, sweet, pear cider outside in a pub garden on a summer's day, papillon fluttering in the flowers. I think this one works because of the similar, complimentary notes.
    Mia <3

  2. At the moment I think my only real sucess of layering has been with BPAL scents as they lend themselves to it.
    So naturally, Whip goes with De Sade (roses and leather, what's not to love) and Smut (boozy) goes beautifully with Bliss (milk chocolate).

    Yesterday I accidentally ended up layering En Sens de Bois with Shalimar eau de cologne. They sort of co-existed side by side, I got whiffs of both but they were very distinct, rather than complimentary.

  3. i have a weird imported amber tincture in a bottle not unlike one you showed in your perfume series 3.
    put this under white patchouli and though the amber faded to my nose, it lasted three times as long.

  4. About 15 years ago I discovered layering by accident when I wore a jumper that had been spritzed with Cabotine de Gres on one day and CK One on the next. The citrusy freshness of CK One helped cut through lighten the heavy floral scent of the Cabotine perfume. But trial and error taught me that both needed a very light application when they were layered intentionally...

  5. Hahaha. Olfactory car crashes. Kind of like the ones we have after a day of sniffing with a group of friends, after running out of skin space, when we take to shoving our elbows into each others noses. "Here! That's where I sprayed the (fill in miscellaneous Guerlain/niche/L'Artisan/Serge)! It's right in that spot!" And everything sort of blurs together into something that we can no longer smell, until we get home and the spouse gets that wide-eyed look of horror.....

    Layering successes? During a long and enthusiastic phone call, one of the SAs at the Guerlain Boutique in Las Vegas suggested layering scents from the L'art et la Matiere line. He was right. I think I tried Cuir Beluga, Tonka Imperiale and some Tokyo (different line) the next day. Sounds a bit like your Coldstone Creamery overload, but it was great and I received multiple thumbs up.

  6. Wow Mia, you just go for it, don't you? Those are some baroque mash-ups there that make Bond No. 9 perfumes seem like wallflowers by comparison! I applaud your audacity. I'm more cautious, more along the lines of Sarah layering essential oil combos.

    And like Amber J, I've also had the "Hey, you got chocolate in my peanut butter!" experience of enjoying accidental juxtapositions of fumes. There's such a moment in an upcoming Perfume Collection vid where I hit upon the delight of Tea Rose layered with Miller Harris Fleur Oriental. The former freshens up the later, giving it a bit of lift, emphasizing the "fleur" and putting some jut in its strut.

    m61 - oh the contortions as I struggle to find an un-squirted-upon spot for perfume sampling. And the subsequent "am I being tear gassed?" looks on friends and familiy's faces.

  7. Hi Katie, thanks for responding. However, I sort of lost my train of thought after you described your Coldstone Creamery treat. It sounds right up my alley and "too much of a good thing" seems to be my mantra. With the possible exception of creme brulee. The one and only time I have had it was on a trip to the West Coast. Initially, it was yummy, but soon got into the TMOAGT realm and it wasn't pretty after that.

    Thanks to everyone for sharing their sniff-successes and fumie-failures.

  8. SoS - perhaps it was dulce de leche rather than crème brûlée-flavored ice cream, but all I know is that I tried to cram every iteration of caramel known to ice cream into one bowl, and ended up with an iceberg of sugar that overpowered my tastebuds and made me feel...not well.

  9. Katie:
    I, too, have had a hard time cozying up to Passage d'Enfer! Lilies? Really? Glad I'm not the only one...

    Today I had a serendipitous layering experience. The new l'Eau Serge Lutens (fresh musk)on one wrist with YSL Rive Gauche pour Homme on the other. Barbershop + fresh musk = very nice!

    I have a feeling this new Lutens "anti parfum" may actually be a very handy layering tool....It's kind of neutral, no distinct florals, just musky clean and a little flinty.

  10. Scott, sounds like you may be on to something, here. "Serge Water" just might be the new fragrance foundation garment.

  11. LOL--I somehow missed this until today! Thanks for including me. I feel really special. :)

    I have to share that my best layering experiences have been with mixing together two or more things I didn't really like. My latest masterpiece was EL Brasil Dreams and Origins Ginger Essence. Of course, I still wasn't that crazy about the result, but it worked in that sort of "they at least blend well together way."

  12. This evening I'm experiencing a bizarre mix of Serge Lutens 'Gris Clair' and Satellite 'Padparadscha'. The first is courtesy of a post-work comfort trip to Sephora. The latter because I wiped perfume off my fingers onto my pyjamas after a sleepy attempt to make my sitting room smell nice this morning. Don't ask. It smells OK, but I think the SL is too... acrid?

  13. amber j, perhaps the lavender in Gris Clair is resisting a group hug with Padparascha?

    Angi, your "5 Stages of Bad Perfume Grief" is pithy, apt, and every so helpful to all sufferers amongst us.

  14. Oh and Angi, that "greater than the sum of their parts" seems like a good perfume layering approach.

  15. I am chuckling myself as I read this because just the other day I took out my little sample of L18 that I keep in my special anique shot glass with my other "exotic pets..." Anyway, I put it on and closed my eyes and breathed in all the powdery goodness...and then I realized, I was left unsatisfied. I thought it really needed a lil' kick of something...So, I grabbed my mini-bottle of Bal...oh, so cute...and dabbed it on and voila! It was just perfect. Just what the doctor ordered...This dab of spicy scotch really brought the powder to its knees...forcing the vanilla to rise to the top! Love.

  16. HTH - well, that is quite a specific coincidence! Or I'm not quite as Coldstone Creamery Crazy with my L18/Bal blend as I'd thought. And I like how you calle BàV "spicy scotch".

  17. LL18 and BaV? I'll have to try that. I have a little bit of my 18 decant left, and BaV has been my go-to for -- well never mind how many years.

    I once wore Jean-Louis Scherrer 1 and Paloma Picasso EDT together on a really hot day. They were perfect, and garnered the most sincere "OMG you smell SO GOOD!" compliment I've ever gotten.

    Mistakes? I give them away.

  18. Waaaouw, I'm really impressed by what everyone has come up with, ya sorcerers.
    I tried layering Montale Black Aoud with Stella McC In Two Peony the other night when I went to a little opening in a darkroom (it was a vernissage! nothing raunchy), 'cause I thought I could add some depth and life-force to the Stella, but Black Aoud overpowers all... just came back from a 6 day trip and my scarf still smells of it.

  19. kleinzaches, getting the balance right is the trickiest part of layering. So easy to kill the very thing you're trying to artificially respirate.

    Olfacta, I'm with you on giving away the mistakes. I passed on my full bottle (2 squirts down) of Serge Lutens Miel de Bois to a friend, and on my next visit, saw it perched on her toilet tank as a powder room air "freshener". Made me giggle. Then I was at the theatre with another friend and kept smelling an entrancing fragrance curling off of her in the dark. I struggled to place it. Turned out it was Miel de Bois, and now I was tempted to reclaim it from Friend No. 1's lavatory.

  20. @Sarah
    after reading that you'd accidentally layered Shalimar edc, I pulled out my Shalimar edc and put it on with some cheap vanilla body spray i had laying around. i then promptly spilled the bottle of vanilla stuff onto some important paperwork, but that's not the point. the point is, i hadn't been sure about Shalimar before, and i had decidedly disliked the body spray. but the combination was great because the Shalimar predominates and that's the one i prefer, but the extra vanilla somehow made it smell smokier and rubbery-er, like Shalimar edc + burnt tires. in my daydreams i like to imagine that's closer to what the edp smells like.


  21. xaryax - my favorite concentration of Shalimar is the edp because it smells to the smokiest to me. The parfum emphasizes the gourmand side more.

  22. ah! my daydreams have been confirmed!

  23. The only blend I work is 3 parts Ambre Sultan to 1 part Tubereuse Criminelle. Weird, compelling and delicious.

  24. StyleSpy, that's interesting, because I've been enjoying a similar blend, inadvertently: my brand new bottle of Incense Pure by Sonoma Scent Studio, which packs the punch of an incensier Tom Ford Amber Sultan, along with the ghost of Frédéric Malle Carnal Flower left on my shirt. They don't exactly blend, but they do smell...delicious.