Imagine owning your own, distinct fragrance. This can be achieved by combining several layers of perfume. Think of it as if you were putting together a look, each different layer, like clothing, bringing something unique to the final outcome. The art of layering perfume – blending together warm, exotic base layers with citrus or floral spritzes on top – goes hand in hand with our desire to personalize things for ourselves. It can heighten a mood and add oomph to occasion.
It’s is a concept that resonates with Mona Kattan, co-founder of fragrance label Kayali, the perfume sub-brand of Huda Beauty. The four-piece debut perfume collection intends for each fragrance to be layered. “Every time you create a new fragrance, you’re creating a bookmark into your life at that particular moment. Every time you smell that scent, you remember back to when you smelled it the first time. As humans, we have so many stories and so many layers. With Kayali, you can choose what mood you want to bring out.”
The culture of layering perfume to add depth and create incredible, complex scents rather than wearing a single fine fragrance à la française, is at the heart of the Middle East’s olfactory landscape. Consider the use of oud, ambergris, bakhoor, frankincense, and musk as base layers. Such old-world ingredients and methods of application are enshrined in our collective memory. “Creating perfumes based on layering goes back to Arab culture and traditions,” says Amna Al Habtoor, founder of local fine fragrance line Arcadia. “We love to elevate our fragrances by layering them with bakhoor – it makes the scent distinctive, while keeping true to the notes of the scents.”
This enveloping approach to fragrance is being picked up by a new wave of perfumers. Alongside the use of ingredients in the oriental style, perfume oils are on the rise, as are hair mists and lightweight lotions, such as Byredo’s Gypsy Water and its Rose of No Man’s Land hair perfume. New British perfume label Ostens introduced a range of scented oils to accompany its eaux de parfum, each precious oil taking the perfume lover on an olfactory adventure. The Préparations can help to lift or deepen a scent, invigorate or quiet, transform or balance it.
At Experimental Perfume Club, perfume enthusiasts can mix and match fragrances. Founded by perfumer Emmanuelle Moeglin, who seeks to encourage clients to experiment with perfume at home. For this, she created Layers, a collection composed of three scents: top, heart, and base, either to be worn individually or combined in any manner of ways. “I originally started EPC to make the world of perfumery more accessible to everyone, specifically the art of creation and formulation,” she explains. “I want the wearer to take creative control over what they are wearing and have their own voice by becoming the perfumer and the creator of their own signature scent without worrying about getting it wrong.”
But how do you layer scent? Warm, sweet, fresh, vampy? When it comes to putting a fragrance together, according to Al Habtoor, there is no right or wrong. “If I want to enhance a scent that is light, I opt for Oud Wood alone; the scent itself is very strong. A light scent layered on top makes a beautiful combination. If I wanted a deeper scent, I go for a lighter bakhoor and a strong perfume.” Her ritual for fragrance layering is to first prepare the bakhoor, allowing the smoke to permeate her abayas and clothes. These are then sprayed with a scent that suits her mood of the day. Oud oil or musk is put on the wrists and behind the ears to complete.
Linda Pilkington, founder of London boutique Ormonde Jayne, recommends using Cambodian oud perfume as a base and to stick to the same family of scents for additional layers. “If you’re going to mix, I would go for another oriental or a soft creamy sandalwood to layer with oud. A light perfume such as cologne wouldn’t work.” Kattan refers to her Kayali Vanilla 28 perfume as the icing on the cake. “Vanilla is a fragrance that I use on top of everything, I usually put it on last. It makes everything a little bit warmer and super yummy,” she says.
Perfume is so personal. How you layer it is about understanding how you want your fragrance to speak. Rose and jasmine speak of seduction, citrus is business-like, and musk is “matte red lipstick” chic. Whatever the language, no longer do you have to put a fragrance on in the morning and commit to it all day. It’s as close to bespoke as you get.
Originally published in the October 2019 issue of Vogue Arabia