No More Layering! – Why One At A Time Is Enough For Me

In my early days of Perfumista-dom I experimented with layering perfumes. When I look back, I really don’t see why I thought I had the ability to do that, and what’s more – I don’t see why I felt the need.

Well, one reason probably was that my collection was smaller, so layering what I had into new combinations seemed like a great way to increase the possibilities. The operative word here is seems, though.

Now that I have more experience and undoubtedly a larger collection too, I am horrified at my audacity. Who am I to tamper with well-thought out and finely balanced creations? (We are not talking about “Smell one, know them all!” mainstream scents here!)

I am a lot humbler now, because I realize the kind of work that goes into a well thought out perfume much more.

I shake my head at myself and my early lack of respect for perfumes.

I know some lines encourage layering, Jo Malone for one, makes it sound like the done thing. But honestly, there is a reason for that, and the reason is more sales. Why not make the customers buy two or more bottles if you tell them to…

On the other hand there are undoubtedly some combinations that bring out the best in one another, but personally I do not layer anything anymore. I have become a purist.

What do you think about layering? What do you layer, when, how and why?

Image source: timelessvintage.com
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About Olfactoria

I'm on a journey through the world of fragrance - come with me!
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71 Responses to No More Layering! – Why One At A Time Is Enough For Me

  1. Undina says:

    I love the idea of layering, always did but I almost never do an actual layering. Even with Jo Malone’s colognes “designed” for it. I think I can remember exactly two occurances last year when I went for it. Both – with Tea Collection from Jo Malone. Once because I was curious how a “tea” scent will combine with “milk” (it was good) and the second time because a co-worker complained about my Sweet Milk perfume (out of all the perfumes I wear!) and I tried to dilute it with, again, a “tea” scent. Other than that, I always wear everything “straight”.

    • Olfactoria says:

      Sweet Milk got a complaint? Unbelievable!
      I understand layering the Tea Collection, I tried one of the tea scents layered with the Lemon scent in the store and I remember that to be nice.

      • Vanessa says:

        I am going to try that – I have three JM teas Undina sent me on the desk and today’s the day!

        Ordinarily I am as cynical as you, especially when an Armani Prive SA tried to flatter me into buying Eclat de Jasmin and Rose Alexandrie in one go, because they smelt so divine together on my skin, apparently. (Yes, “apparently” is also the operative word here… Well, in fact it was a nice combo in actual fact, but I still wasn’t having it.)

  2. I’m with you on this 100%!

    I did some experiments with layering, and whilst some of the results were good, I still couldn’t help but think that I like the stand-alone perfumes on their own. I mean, they’re not created with layering in mind so why should I fiddle with them? Or upset the apple-cart?

    That said, Tara did send me a link to an interesting article on layering over at Bois de Jasmin, with some layering suggestions from Jean-Claude Ellena:

    http://boisdejasmin.typepad.com/_/2011/03/layering-fragrances-perfumer-jean-claude-ellana-french-elle-suggestions.html

    (I don’t know how you feel about links being posted, so please feel free to delete it if you like :D)

    The Opium/Fleurs d’Oranger combo is really lovely!

    • Olfactoria says:

      I know that post from Victoria, and I always wondered that a purist like Ellena recommends it. But he should know after all. 🙂

      Upsetting the apple-cart is my fear exactly, I rather leave well enough alone.

  3. Ines says:

    I can’t layer. I just can’t.
    Nothing pops into my mind as a possibility that might work with something else so I just don’t try it. The perfumes I have seem complex enough on their own and I just don’t feel the need to add to them. 🙂

  4. lady jane grey says:

    I only ever combined Jo Malone scents, which I was a big fan of in the past (and still keep coming back to them on hot summer days : Lime Basil & Mandarine; Grapefruit; Nectarine Blossom; Blue Agava & Cacao….). With other scents I wasn’t even thinking about – when I felt a scent incomplete I never wanted to complete it by myself, but continued looking for another scent I’d found perfect as it is. I’m a simple mind, looking for easy solutions…

  5. FearlessBG says:

    I agree that layering isn’t necessary in many cases. As you say, most fragrances have been balanced and thought out to the point where they are fine on their own.. but there are some exceptions. The Annick Goutal range for instance can easily be layered because many of their scents are quite sheer, and so it doesn’t feel like you’re making a childish smelly mess on your skin ;). I also love to layer their Ambre Fétiche (a rather heavy and dense one) with Eau d’Hadrien to lighten it up a little, works rather well IMO. But all in all it usually takes a lot of time and effort to figure out whether a combination of 2 scents actually works for you. And I can’t imagine any Lutens or Amouage that would tolerate company 😛

    • Olfactoria says:

      Annick Goutal promote layering their fragrances.
      I can imagine that Ambre Fetiche can benefit from the citrus boost of Eau d’Hadrien.

      The Candy Perfume Boy wrote about how Amouage killed off any competition in no time. 🙂

  6. Alexandra says:

    I completely agree with your sentiment, and someone (sorry I can’t remember who) compared layering to drawing a moustache on the Mona Lisa. For the most part perfumes are designed to be enjoyed as they are (just warmed slightly by ones skin), and I really don’t think I am knowledgeable enough, or have an artistic enough nose to start meddling with this. Lady Jane Grey was spot on: if I find something lacking I search for it in a different perfume.

  7. Layering is an abomination to me. As simple as that.

    How a true perfume lover can play with carefully crafted formulas?

  8. furriner says:

    I haven’t had any success layering… the times I have attempted it I ended up smelling of mothballs.

  9. andrea says:

    Purist through and through, I tried layering with JM to some success but I think if a fragrance is good enough for you to buy a FB, why mess around with it, I am not a perfumer so I am never going to improve upon it (despite me thinking I could in a head in the clouds kind of way) Can you imagine messing around and layering La Femme Bleue, that is sheer perfection as it is and should be left that way.

  10. ElizabethW says:

    As I emerge from my perfume-newbie-ness, I find that I don’t want to layer. I used to layer only because I was comparing scents on my skin and would have 2 or 3 going at once. But now that I know my frags (and how to “read” a new one developing), I tend not to do that.

  11. Vanessa says:

    My main reason for not layering comes at the subject from a slightly different tack, though I quite take the point that it could be construed as disrespectful, where the perfume house in question didn’t directly promote that approach. Simply put, I suffer from option anxiety on many levels – info overload on the Internet and on TV with its myriad channels, too many dishes on the restaurant menu so I never know what to have and am terrified of disappointment, too many holiday destinations in the world, too much of a promising jumble of clothes on the racks of T K Maxx etc. And of course there are too many perfumes out there, never mind trying all the combinations. Just when I think I have tried a fair few of the current launches of interest, I would suddenly remember the umpty zillion permutations of existing scents I hadn’t tried. That would do a person like me serious mental damage. ; – )

    Not for nothing is my byline on Basenotes: “So many scents, so little skin”.

  12. Tara says:

    I like the idea of layering perfumes more in theory than in practice. Coming up with a new and unique combination sounds appealing but if you love your perfumes the way they are why would you bother? It would seem more likely to experiment with a perfume that you weren’t happy with but as you and lady jane grey say, just move on in that case. Sounds like The Candy Perfume had fun and some success though.

    So all in all I would like to think I am also a purist but as ever, each to their own!

  13. malsnano86 says:

    I’m not a fan of the concept, because – like Vanessa – my brain seems singularly unsuited to the permutations of combinations. It gets mind-boggling waaaay too fast.

    That said, I have occasionally layered. By accident, I came across a fortunate combination: the far, far far drydown of Havana Vanille with BK Beyond Love (tuberose + vanilla is AWESOME) – but that tuberose is pretty much a soliflore and the far drydown of HV is very simply pretty vanilla, so we’re not talking about anything terribly complex.

    And I layered a tuberose soli with a rose soli once – it was inoffensive but bland. Any other layering combos, none of which I can remember at this point, were far less successful, and I just don’t bother with it anymore.

  14. I normally don’t layer, because I assume the perfumer “meant it” in the same way that a visual artist or composer would. But that’s not to say layering can’t be done creatively and well. There are wonderful visual artists in the “rasquachismo” movement who collage bits and pieces of found objects together into exciting new creations. And many jazz and hip-hop musicians “sample” – tucking snippets of pre-existing themes and recordings into a dazzling new composition. So I suppose a person could become a perfume emcee, rocking the house with their scent-spinning skillz….. 🙂

  15. Warum says:

    I don’t layer because I barely have time to smell perfumes straight! (yes, Vanessa’s comment “so many perfumes, so little skin” resonates here).
    Most of the time I even shower between scents because I have a scent holding skin, and when I’m testing, I’d like to smell a perfume on its own. But a scent holding skin is potentially an asset if you are into layering, so I may have inadvertently wore some perfumes on deep drydown of another. I try to avoid it when testing, but when wearing — why not?

    But if one morning I wake up thinking, “Humm, I wonder what ** and *** smell like together”, I’ll layer and see what happens. So far a thought like that did not cross my mind, although I am aware of layering.

  16. Dionne says:

    I have no problem with people trying layering, I just haven’t tried it very much myself. The two times I’ve done it were both suggestions that came from chayaruchama, and both were successful. She recommended trying two of Ineke’s fragrances together: Evening Edged in Gold and Field Notes from Paris, and it was a great combo. I also won some samples from her for Ava Luxe’s line, and Cafe Noir is even better layered with Ambre Fonce – but then I think some of AV’s scents are made to be layered.

    Layering makes more sense to me if the perfumes are less complex, or at least one is more straightforward. But I have no interest in fiddling with my loves.

    • Olfactoria says:

      Hi Dionne, I have no problem either, of course. Suggestions from Ida are something I would certainly follow as well, she is so experienced.

      Layering simpler, one-note perfumes can surely be very interesting.

  17. unseencenser says:

    I have only occasionally even tried to layer; I was feeling very brave at those moments, I think. 🙂 Mostly if it’s a perfume I love, then I love that it smells like itself. I wouldn’t want to mix any other smells into that. The smells I remember the best are the ones that smell the most like themselves and nothing else.

    • Olfactoria says:

      We all had/have our brave layering moments, I think. 😉
      What is your favorite perfume at the moment?

      • unseencenser says:

        I am wearing Vert pour Madame every chance I get (any even slightly warm, moist day), because it was a Christmas gift and I want to enjoy it. It’s too light/tame for colder dry days. I’ve really been enjoying Un Petit Rien, it’s oddly comforting and all-situation, and I’ve got a new CB I Hate Perfume, In the Library, that I’m also trying to wear. Also things I’ve gotten in swaps from the Perfume Posse – Ange ou Demon Le Secret is surprisingly good; Memoir Woman is unsurprisingly good.

        I’ve switched up what I have sitting out on my bureau since I’ve got through a fit of acquisition these last few months and I will truly feel stupid if I don’t wear what I got. 🙂 But then sometimes I look through and remember something I already had that I haven’t worn enough either. I’m rotating more.

  18. Julie says:

    I agree with everyone else – too many options, if you like it, why mess with it etc. But i did a tiny bit of layering yesterday! I put on Eau de Merveilles and it seemed a bit too masculine, so I added some solid vanilla perfume (Yves Rocher Vanille) to it. It was prety good! I think that is as adventurous as I will get.

  19. Alexis says:

    The only layering I would attempt is a light scented lotion that would give a great contrast or compliment with a note in a perfume that I would wear on top of it. I don’t understand the layering concept – I do see it from a marketing perspective (I do work in the Consumer Goods world) and why not push two or even three fragrances that you are “supposed” to layer. I mean if it’s a single note then I can see how layering can work but when it’s a scent that is complex and just perfect, why mess with it?

    • Olfactoria says:

      Layering over a complimentary body lotion or cream seems like a good idea, it probably intensifies and prolongs the wear time. I stick with unscented lotion most of the time though, to be able to change my SotD. 😉

  20. I love the perfume absolutes from CB I Hate Perfume. Brosius makes individual accords that are fantastic on their own or great for layering. When I was at the store, Brosius helped me choose three accords specifically for layering–Smoky Tobacco, Old Leather, and Black Tea. Individually they are incredibly evocative and they open your imagination, but together I feel like I have made my own perfume creation. CB’s perfume collection is stupendous, but his whole philosophy is about making perfume about YOU so that you couldn’t possibly smell like someone else. This is one of the reasons I’ve been so drawn to niche perfumery–so many great perfumes are wonderful works of art unto themselves. It feels good to be an artist every once in a while!

  21. annemariec says:

    There used to be regular discussions of layering on the blogs, but I don’t see it so much any more. I don’t layer myself.

    I did have an odd moment this morning while I was waiting for my coffee. A male colleague, also waiting for coffee, strolled by wearing a fragrance with a slight coconut note to it. Not a beach-y coconut, something rather severe and masculine. For about 15 seconds it mingled with the Amaranthine I was wearing. It added to the creaminess of Amaranthine, and toned down the rather sharp green that to me is quite prominent in Amaranthine. It was if the colour of the scent I was wearing brightened a little – and then the moment passed. It was a great moment; just two scents blending in the air and then separating.

    For a few reasons there is no possibility of asking this guy what scent he wears. It was like coconut for grown-ups (like the dry, non-foody vanillas you can get). I wonder what it was?

  22. Natalie says:

    I very, very rarely layer. The only time I do is when I have an almost-one-note fragrance that I want to use to amplify that note in another fragrance. I have used a few of the Hermessences (the ones I don’t like as well on their own) in this way. But that’s about it. In general, I am happy with my perfumes the way they come. 🙂

  23. fanip says:

    I layer a lot, but apparently I’m belong in the minority:) I end up layering a lot, usually not because I don’t like a perfume too much, but because I’m too indecisive to pick up only one perfume to wear per day. Also because I like the idea of ending with something quite original to wear. I find the easiest notes to add to any perfume are citrus or incense ones and sometimes vanilla. My most successful experiments have been Passage d’enfer with Marc Jacobs EDP, Beautiful Sheer with Jo Malone Orange Blossom (wore that for months and got tons of compliments), Encens Flamboyent with pretty much anything (Un Bois Vanille or Hypnotic Poison work great) and my latest, unexpected discovery, SL Chene with Daim Blonde.
    I have also ended up with some disgustingly awful combinations, like Ambre Fetiche with Hypnotic Poison, but I think that these were less than the successes I’ve had. In general, complex heady fragrances (Coco, Ambre Fetiche, Chergui, etc) are much more tricky to mix with and require some knowledge of how to do so (and thus out of my reach), while the sheer ones that focus on one note (gardenia, incense, lily, rose, citrus, etc) are the easy ones that seem to blend well with most perfumes.

    But then, I don’t know much about perfume so my failures may be more than I realize, just that no one is willing to say so in my face:D

    • Olfactoria says:

      Hello fanip,
      thanks for chiming in! I agree with you that sheer, transparent perfumes lend themselves to layering much more easily.
      Ambre Fétiche and Hypnotic Poison layered does indeed sound like a bit too much of a good thing. 😉
      The most important thing is that you have fun and enjoy your fragrances! And it is hard to choose just one every day! 😉

    • Elisa says:

      Another good SL combo is Datura Noir with Un Bois Vanille (trashy but fun!!)

  24. deeHowe says:

    Late to the party, so sorry!

    I’m that heathen, the neandertal, who still loves to layer! I like the way Meg put it, like an emcee sampling another track into a mix. While I don’t do it very often, there are a few combinations that really make me happy– the first one that comes to mind (and always does when layering comes up) is Bronze Goddess with Jil Sander Sun, which is such a happy combination, and always reminds me of my beloved bestie 🙂

    Would I layer an Amouage? Never! Puredistance? Hey, I’m not crazy! 😉

  25. Elisa says:

    I’m going to go against the crowd. I’m actually writing an article about this right now. I usually don’t bother to layer, especially with my favorite perfumes (because they’re fabulous on their own!), but I think layering is fun now and then. I put it in the same category as making up my own recipes or cocktails, or even creating new outfits with items I already own. (A better example would be a mashup of two songs, but I’m a better cook than I am a DJ!)

    I do think it works best when one or both of the perfumes are relatively simply (I would never mix Angel and L’Eau d’Issey, which JC Ellena advocates doing!!!).

    • Olfactoria says:

      The idea of layering Angel with anything is pretty radical, this coming from Ellena is astounding.

      Thanks for adding your voice for the “other side”. 😉 I look forward to reading your article on the topic!

  26. Philipp says:

    The only fragrances I’ve ever successfully layered were Diptyque’s Tam Dao (sandalwood) with Memo’s Shams (pepper and aoud).

  27. Philipp says:

    Oh and one day while decanting several small Ambre Gris samples into a larger spray atomizer I mixed Guerlain’s Heritage with Balmain’s Ambre Gris. I was livid when that happened, because I should have paid more attention. The end result smells nice, but it is still 10 ml of ruined juice.

  28. Alice C says:

    I’m with you on this one! I want to smell my faves on their own. I’m sure some things combine very well, but I just don’t feel the need to do it.

  29. I haven’t done much layering at all. Mainly because I wear so little. One or two spritzes of any fragrance is enough for me. I know there are some good-smelling combinations, though.

  30. Pingback: Perfume Layering: Truth or Dare? | Undina's Looking Glass

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