Last week while killing time in a used bookstore, I leafed through French Chic: How to Dress Like a French Woman by Susan Sommers. It had a short section with some predictable advice on wearing fragrance (wear perfume for a few hours before you decide if you like it; fragrance comes in different formulations, etc.), but I did find an interesting quote by Sonia Rykiel. She said a fragrance wardrobe should start with a base scent, just like a clothing wardrobe has basics, then build on it.
This advice appeals to the part of me that loves patterns and relationships. Five years ago or so I attempted to chart my perfume wardrobe to find similarities between the fragrances I own. I grouped fragrances by their families and by categories I made up — "reading" perfumes, "going out" perfumes — and drew lines between them, seeking some kind of common ground. (All this when I could have been volunteering at the food bank! Or at least cleaning the basement.) I ended up with a large sheet of drawing paper covered with perfume names splattered like constellations, without even a Big Dipper to give it form.
But I'm so attracted to Rykiel's statement. As an experiment, let's take her approach. Suppose you're a budding perfume enthusiast. You love white flowers, and you have a bottle of Estée Lauder Private Collection Tuberose Gardenia. Or maybe you're a little more trendy and have Kai. That's your daily scent. Now, how do you build off it?
First, I think you'll need a super seductive scent. Maybe Frédéric Malle Carnal Flower or Serge Lutens Tubérose Criminelle. Then, when you want to tone down the femininity, play off the green aspects of the white flowers and add Yves Saint Laurent Y or even Estée Lauder Private Collection, the original. For a breezier, clean take on the white flowers, Annick Goutal Matin d'Orage might be the ticket. For a friendly, joyful aspect of the base scent, add rose for Parfums d'Empire 3 Fleurs. There. That's a tidy perfume wardrobe.
Or, say your base fragrance is something leathery, like Robert Piguet Bandit. This is daring for a base fragrance, but let's run with it. For a fresh, warm weather scent that blends with Bandit, a green chypre like Balmain Vent Vert (also created by perfumer Germaine Cellier) would be a good choice. A more contemporary choice for a fresh complement to Bandit could be Issey Miyake A Scent. Picking up on the Cellier theme, Balmain Jolie Madame makes a more ladylike but still powerful counterpoint with its violet heart. Deepen and warm up Bandit's leather in winter with Serge Lutens Cuir Mauresque, Caron Tabac Blond, or even L'Artisan Parfumeur Dzing!, although that might be getting too far afield.
In the end, I know I couldn't stick to such a tidy, cohesive perfume collection, as much as I admire the idea behind it. My clothing wardrobe is probably more predictable than the perfume I keep. Where for clothing, I know my figure and character enough to pass up the skinny jeans in favor of the 1950s sundress, I still can't resist so many perfumes, from the forceful, opaque vetiver of Lalique Encre Noire to the bawdy starlet of Guerlain Vega to the polite but lush reserve of Jean Patou Joy Eau de Toilette.
What about you? Do you have a method to building your perfume collection? Do you see patterns and buy perfume to fill holes, or do you buy whatever grabs your fancy?