As we come to the close of January, a month of resolutions and efforts towards self-improvement, organization and all-around dream fulfillment, it's no doubt a point in our lives where hard decisions have to be made. A fact more at the forefront this year than in others, as the January of 2019 quickly became the month of Marie Kondo and her Netflix show touting the KonMari method of organization and yes, sparking joy.
But while her mission covers everything from clothing to books and sentimental items- there was one area that seemed neglected. An overlap between the distinguished five categorical worlds. That of course, is perfume. After all, there is no aspect of one’s identity that is more sentimental than that of scent. No part of our lives so closely linked with the senses as much as the mind.
Esteemed French author Marcel Proust is famed for coining the idea of this marriage with a scene in his book, In Search of Lost Time. In it, the narrator is flung back into childhood memories with a simple dip of a Madeleine cookie into a cup of tea. The combination of these two is enough to trigger a wave of nostalgia impossible to fight.
It is a memorable scene but it is also a concept that extends far beyond fiction, and is now recognized with the phrase ‘odor-evoked autobiographical memory’ - or, to those of us at home, The Proust Phenomenon. More than that, it is something I am certain all of us have experienced at one point or another. For myself, the scent of diesel fuel immediately puts me back to being ten years old on a road trip through the desert, begging my father for a new, hot commodity - a prized and imported pack of Pokemon cards. Same as the scent of Lacoste Red Sport will forever remind me of being in college, going in for a job interview.
The difference however, is that I wouldn’t wear Lacoste Red now. I couldn’t begin to tell you the last time I wore it. And in a roundabout way this is why, despite everything, it is important to look at your scent collection this January and make a call.
We’ve all heard of capsule wardrobes. The minimalist way to keep your clutter down, and wear only things that serve your ‘identity’ or your ‘brand’. A rack of two pants, four shirts, and a whole lot of neutrals is typically the end result. Ultimately, a capsule wardrobe is rooted in the idea of simplicity and usability. All things go together, and all things serve you and who you are to the world. The same applies to a perfume wardrobe. But, when dealing with scents it's a little trickier.
If you’re trying to pare down, the linkage between memory and scent makes perfume one of the hardest things to get rid of (while moving I found a near empty bottle of Lacoste Red, forgotten but not discarded and even lugged cross country). This attachment however, is also what makes it harder to grow. Whether or not you are a perfume aficionado, or someone who has been wearing the same Bath and Body Works body spray since 2005, the role of scent in your life is the same. Your scent (or scents) is who you are. Period.
You see, when considering to buy or purge a perfume, the actuality of the scent you wear isn't so much the focus. Rather it is the idea of a scent being a representation of yourself to others. The scent you wear can signal to your friends and loved ones where you are in a room without them having to look. Before you can even say hello, it’s likely that your perfume has announced your arrival. And this is the beauty of it. A good perfume becomes more a signal of yourself than arguably any item of clothing. The wrong perfume on you will confuse your friends and loved ones or just smell terrible, but the right one?
The right one will blend seamlessly with who you are.
So with the understanding that a perfume is an integral part identity, it’s time to take a look at what consists a perfume wardrobe. It is my hope that the following will help in two ways. Whether you have too many perfumes, I hope it will you to find a way to narrow it down. If you have but one or two, then I hope it will provide advice on how to expand.
Making a Perfume Wardrobe
The ideal Perfume Wardrobe is between 3-5 scents. They should be able to cover day wear, night wear, formal events and all occasions, while also being quintessentially you.
Think of it this way. If you were to have 5 scents in your wardrobe, they would break down more-or-less like so:
1) Day Wear, Casual
2) Day Wear, Formal/ Non-Formal Nights
3) Night Wear, Formal
4) Special Occasion/ 'Power' Perfume
It may seem like a tall task, to sort down a lifetime collection or the shelves at the store into a few, somewhat vague categories, but fear not, because there are some tricks to narrowing it down.
First, if you have a large collection (yes, including Sephora sample bottles), take everything and try all of it. I recommend spraying them onto scent sticks (also available wherever perfume is sold) or, even onto something like tissue paper or paper towels. Avoid spraying the scents directly onto your skin, since they will be easily blended and too difficult to discern after a point. Instead, spray them onto a marked stick or bit of paper and take note of your impressions of it.
Do you like it? When did you last wear it? Would you wear it to class? To work? On a date?
If you cannot think of where you might wear this scent, or remember the last time you wore it, put it aside. You don't need it. If you enjoy it, and can see yourself wearing it, make note of the scent and move on to the next one.
A bit of advice - Keep a bowl of coffee beans nearby if you have more than a few to get through to prevent overloading your nose. If you don't have coffee, be sure to step outside and get some fresh air at the very least. Then return to the task.
Now, if you only have one scent you like, this task becomes something a little different. Instead, take that scent and think of the same situations. Where might you wear it? To class? To work? Would you wear it on a date to a nice restaurant, or during a special occasion? Try to think of a situation where you couldn't imagine wearing it. A time where you may want some variation. A good perfume wardrobe covers all occasions, and so if you are going to expand, it's best to come at it from the perspective of trying to fill in the holes.
Now, after you've narrowed it down to wear-ability, look at each group (or missing group) and try to identify an overarching theme. This is the fun part. There should be a common thread that connects them all and makes them appealing and representative of you. Often times this detail will be found in their 'families'.
Find your Family
In the world of perfume, each scent falls into a category known as a 'scent family'. There are four core families - Floral, Oriental, Woody, and Fresh. Each of these describe the dominating impression of the scent and hint at the notes it contains. Floral will have larger, often brighter notes like gardenia, rose, or jasmine. Woody will have strong notes like cedar or pine. Etc. Everyone favors one family over another, and if you're building a wardrobe for the seasons (such as fall/winter) you may find that makes it all the more specific.
When building a cohesive perfume wardrobe, try to find what family the majority of your chosen scents belong to. From there, delve deeper to identify the sub-families. These are usually found in descriptions of the fragrance on websites like fragrantica.com
Look on the chart below, and see if you can find a range you are most drawn to.
Narrowing it Down
So now you have a few scents that make a good wardrobe. You've identified the family and the occasion but you still have 8 or 9, and just cannot make yourself go any further. Maybe you found one or two new ones you'd like to try and think will be a good way to expand.
The idea of making a perfume wardrobe is really about tailoring and getting in control of an aspect of identity that is often overlooked. That's it. So if you feel the most comfortable with 3 options for day wear and only 1 for night, and have 2 scents that you wear every time you see your Grandmother and one that you wear during finals exams and those midnight study sessions that just really helps you focus, then by all means, hold onto them!
Or if you absolutely only intend to wear one scent every day, and could only manage to find a new one for formal occasion then that's still an excellent wardrobe. Because at the end of the day, a wardrobe should be worn, and above everything, it should represent you.
If you are still confused, or would like a little guidance as to what comprises a perfume wardrobe then let's take a look at my own personal one as an example.
First thing to note is the running theme-I overwhelmingly wear the family of perfume known as Woody Orientals. What this means is that in the breakdown of the scent compositions, the dominant notes are going to include things like edcar, peru balsam, and vetiver, as well as incense and notes of tonka and tobacco. There is a lot of overlap with Amber as well. To the nose these are all going to be somewhat sweet and grounded.
Neither my skin, nor my nose for that matter, enjoy metallic scents or cold scents, so there are no aquatics in my collection because to my nose they're too sharp, and on my skin, they're too soapy. I enjoy florals on occasion, but only wear them in the warmer months of spring and summer, and so there is no reason to include them in a wardrobe for winter. Therefore, instead of categorical variation in my wardrobe, I have a common theme of incense and smoke, as well as balsamic undertones (the upper right corner of the fragrance wheel).
While at first this may seem limiting, the idea of a close wardrobe means I actually wear my perfume much more frequently and get a good, usable rotation in. None of my fragrances sit unused for more than two weeks, but I seldom wear the same one two days in a row. Furthermore, because of the similarity in their composition and notes, the residual scents (the base notes) that linger on my clothing, do not clash with the next scent I wear. In winter, I much prefer this due to the repeat wearings of coats, scarves and wool sweaters.
Now, I invite you to take a look at the specifics.
1) Vert d'Encens - Tom Ford
"Inspired by the perfumed isle of Corsica, smoky incense and fir balsam heighten the grand atmosphere of sea and shadow."—Tom Ford
Notes: Heliotrope, Balsam, Pine Resin, Incense, Boxwood
Silage: 1 2  4 5
Wear: DAY/ NIGHT*
With its lofty price point, Vert d'Encens was a perfume that I let a long time pass before making a commitment to. But when I at last bit the bullet and invested, it was one I did not regret. Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, I was always surrounded by the scent of rain and pine; of faded campfires and incense. This fragrance encapsulates all of that nostalgia into a single, incredibly wearable scent. On my skin it becomes cool and evocative of a gray misty day, with a sweetness from the smoke and balsam that turns deliciously vanilla and yet masculine on the skin. It is marked for night wear because I believe this is where it stands out best, but in Winter and on dreary days, the cool, smokey character of it softens into something that can do well in the office or on campus as well. I like the duality.
2) Vetiver 46 - Le Labo
"The Rolls Royce of Vetivers, nurtured in Haiti and retired to Grasse in accord with local know-how, is the pillar of this perfume."- Le Labo
Notes: labdanum, vetiver, guaiac wood, pepper, cedar, olibanum, amber, bergamot and 38 more.
Silage: 1 2  4 5
Wear: DAY/ NIGHT
Touted as Le Labo's most masculine scent, Vetiver 46 is still remarkably unisex. The perfume is deeply resinous and herbal, striking a delicious balance between woody and sweet that I have yet to find elsewhere. Ideal for day wear, it is light enough to not be shocking in the morning, but lasts me well through lunch. This is an energizing, power sort of scent. The kind you spray before a business meeting, or go on an adventure to explore a new city. By far one of my most trusted scents, and certainly one others recognize me by.
3) Myrrh and Tonka - Jo Malone
"Rich, hand-harvested sap of the Namibian myrrh tree, mingling with the warm almond and lush vanilla notes of the tonka bean. Noble and intoxicating." - Jo Malone
Notes: Lavender, Myrrh, and Tonka
Silage: 1 2 3  5
Wear: DAY/ NIGHT
Categorically, this is the most Oriental scent of my wardrobe. The fragrance is heady, and full, and lingers for hours with a wonderful silage that can fill a room if I'm not careful. Jo Malone perfumes have long been one of my favorites, and I wear a few of their other's in the summer because of the emphasis on simplicity. Seldom overworked and often to-the-point, this one does not disappoint. It is the darkest of my entire wardrobe but ideal for date nights or occasions where a bit more presence is needed.
4) Tobacco 1812 - West Third
"Sweet dried tobacco leaf, aromatic spices & rich honey muddled with cocoa, Tonka Bean, tobacco flower and a layer of dried fruit and exotic wood." - West Third
Notes: Tobacco leaf, spices, honey, cocoa, tonka, dried fruit, and wood
Silage: 1 2 3  5
Wear: DAY/ NIGHT
I picked up this Eau du Toilette during a summer in Connecticut but it quickly found it's home as a winter staple. As a lover of the sweet scent of pipe tobacco, I had long been searching for a fragrance that captured it. Too often the tobacco colognes would turn to creamy vanilla on my skin - until this one. It strikes a balance between being light enough for day wear, but still complex enough to be suitable in many situations. The tobacco is strong, but not overwhelming, and can easily take me from the office to the pub making it perfectly versatile for the days I want something sweeter than vetiver.
5) By the Fireplace - Maison Margiela REPLICA
"By the Fireplace is a warm and spicy fragrance that evokes the comforting sensation of a crackling fireplace beside a frosted winter landscape" - REPLICA
Notes: Clove Oil, Chestnut Accord, and Vanilla Accord
Silage: 1 2 3 4 
Wear: DAY*/ NIGHT
Last but not least is a scent that I love but could only be categorized as a wildcard. I do not wear Fireplace often at all compared to the others mentioned before. Less than ten days out of the year if I had to wager a guess. The scent is intensely strong, but too sweet to wear on a formal night out and certainly too strong for the office. Still, it captures the winter season perfectly and is my go-to for those unique, cozy days in and around the holiday season. This is without question, a special occasion scent. But this is why despite my love for it, I only have a 10ml vial. It fills a hole in my otherwise smokey, resinous collection by being powerfully sweet, and still sharp with a background of wood and smoke that ultimately makes it still me.
So you see, even my perfume wardrobe does not stick to the rules precisely. When I consider what I'll be wearing for half of the year, its important for me to have variation, so I like fragrances that can serve me well in more than one situation. This is what I prioritized when forming my wardrobe, but others may not.
In the end, it's important to remember that perfume is all about self-expression and will always serve you in ways clothing cannot. At it's core, perfume is a beacon to others of your soul's composition, and a living signifier of nostalgia and all that delights you.
So take joy in whatever wardrobe you make, and above all, never let it lose sight of you.