July 29, 2007

Sillage: ephemeral beauty

Some enjoy a big sillage, the ephemeral, trailing cloud of scent left behind in the wake of a perfume, that acts as a distinctive signature to a stylish persona.
The humidity of summer creates a very conducive atmosphere for the sense of smell. Sillage gets much bigger in summer. The molecules containing the materials collect and hang in the warm humid atmosphere. Luckily the heat also brings periodic rainstorms that cleanse the air.
Others much prefer the close to the body effect of scents using natural aromatic materials, which are never as strong as those that are man made. That is my preference.
In the working world, or during athletic activities it isn't practical or appropriate to exude a strong trail of scent. But there are only so many hours in the day, and those activities take up a lot of time, so it's only for a small part of the day that there is the freedom to indulge in distinctive perfumes that cast fragrance far around. When discovering and becoming enamored of a number of new scents over the course of the year, it sometimes seems like there's not enough time to wear them all. The favorites follow one after the other, too. It becomes like a series of short lived love affairs, and then nostalgia is accessed every time the perfume is tried again. The succession of perfumes can become like a diary of associations, creating a memoir of personal history.
Classic French perfumes from prior decades, like those by Guerlain and Caron, are part of the big sillage category. I think it was a quality most sought after prior to the days when women routinely pursued careers. Even up to the recent past the glamorous image of a woman strong by virtue of her feminine charisma alone was the image of the ideal woman. Contemporary perfumes, especially those that contain a high percentage of natural materials seem to have evolved a convention of being held much closer to the body, with some notable exceptions. Carnal Flower with its pervasive tuberose can become almost overwhelming in the heat and humidity of summer.
Sillage can be very enjoyable but that depends so much on the immediate environment and individual taste. Personally, and probably unusually, on a crowded train I enjoy big sillage as a beautiful surprise; in other small enclosed places such as in elevators or cars, I find it an imposition. There are personal turf wars being waged on this issue by those who find some perfumes trigger unpleasant symptoms, and unfortunately the fragrance free movement is becoming strict enough to present perfume use as an inconsiderate, generally unhealthy indulgence.
There is no such thing as completely scentless, though. Each of us has a personal odor as distinctive as our fingerprints, as Diane Ackerman said in The Natural History of the Senses. Animals can distinguish one individual or their belongings from another's easily, no matter how disguised by frequent washing or perfumes.
This is the mysterious body chemistry that combines so well or ill with each fragrance to enhance our individuality.
Our personal scent chemistry is acting on everyone around us at all times, whether we are conscious of it or not.

1 comment:

chayaruchama said...

True enough !

It makes me sad that our sense of olfactory decency has altered to this extent.

Like losing your sense of humor.