Ever since an acquaintance I met at a work event disclosed that her perfume I loved so much wasn’t one, but two fragrances combined (cruelly, she wouldn’t tell me which), I’ve been on a mission to nail the art of layering scents. Because while every perfume naturally smells a little different on each of us—thanks, chemistry—combining two different ones can create something that’s quite literally all yours. For someone who has tried to monogram just about everything she owns, the ability to customize my scent (without forking out to have an actual customized scent created by a pro) is a beauty game-changer.
In saying that, the idea of mixing perfumes felt intimidating for a long time—shouldn’t an expert be doing this?—and I spent a lot of time researching on Google before I started experimenting with my own stash at home. While I discovered a few winners—Chanel Chance and Lacoste Pour Elle combine like a treat if you like wearing light and floral scents–not every experiment ended well. (In case you were thinking of it, don’t try mixing Jo Malone Lime Basil & Mandarin Cologne with Escada Agua del Sol, unless you fancy smelling like a candy store. Just don’t.)
Hoping to unearth a better strategy than my hit-and-miss attempt at layering, I asked Steven Claisse—senior perfumer at Japanese fragrance and flavor company Takasago and the man behind the new Clean Reserve perfumes in Sephora—to help get me started.
At first, Claisse assured me that layering perfumes is really all about your own preference, so I shouldn’t overthink it too much: “Layering fragrances is a personal and customizable experience. Layering allows you to discover, experiment, and create your own signature scent that is unique to you.” As a basic rule, he suggests “pairing a brighter top-note fragrance with heavier back notes.”
For a richer fragrance, he recommends wearing a heavier scent such as vanilla, woods, or musks and to create a lighter rendition by layering fresh, fruity, or water notes on top. Oh, and it doesn’t make a difference which scent you layer first: “If they are put on at the same time, the dominant notes will always stand out.” That means fruity, citrus, and heady florals typically take over softer, musky, woody notes. Another handy tip: If you want to make the smell stronger or last longer, Claisse suggests applying a body lotion first, and then the notes on top.
There are really only a couple of combinations you should completely steer clear of, and the worst offender is green florals and orientals with gourmand fragrances. “They tend to clash,” Claisse said, adding, “They are overly juxtaposed and will likely produce a scent that is very discorded.”
If mixing and matching the perfumes you already have at home sounds like a way better option than forking out for a new spring scent—that probably everyone else will be wearing too‚ keep clicking to try the three note combinations Claisse recommend layering. You could splurge on a couple of combinations in the slideshow, or research what notes dominate in your current bathroom cabinet stash, and start experimenting. The oriental and floral pairings are my favorite, but you do you.