Perfume Layering: Truth or Dare?


I have never had that urge to experiment mixing perfumes. I hadn’t come up with the idea of scents layering on my own but once I had been introduced to it I loved it. The idea.

In 2000 Calvin Klein released Truth. It is attributed to 3 (three!) well-known perfumers – Alberto Morillas, Jacques Cavallier and Thierry Wasser – if you ask me, any one of them would have been enough but whatever went on with this perfume creation, not knowing or caring about notes or noses behind perfumes back then, I liked  Truth and immediately bought a bottle and a set of five Truth Oil Essences. Each one represented a note in the perfume – bamboo, citrus, sapling, lilac and vanilla. They could be applied one at a time or in any combination with or without the perfume.

CK Truth Oil Essences

As I said, I liked the idea of combining notes, being my own perfumer, enhancing one aspect of the perfume or the other dependent on my mood… The unfortunate part was that oil-based components were so subtle that worn alone they gave almost no projection, I could barely smell them from my wrist pressed to my nose; and applied on top of the perfume they were completely lost (not sure if you remember but Truth wasn’t even the heaviest of this brand’s perfumes out there: CK Obsession or Contradiction it was not – and still…). Applying oils was more hassle than results so while I went through two bottles of Truth EdP my essences stayed hardly touched.

A year later, in 2001, Michael Kors launched a collection of three fragrances called Notes from Michael. The collection included three fragrances (40 ml each), which could be worn alone or combined with each other: Glenplaid, Houndstooth and Tattersall. The set was expensive (I think, $120). A bit too expensive for our budget. But I really liked the idea… My vSO got if for me as a gift for my birthday.

Michael Kors Notes from Michael

I tried playing the layering game. Tattersall was my favorite so I almost finished it. Glenplaid was fine (2/3 of the bottle found its place on my skin). Houndstooth didn’t attract me at all so the only time I used it was in the combination with one of the other two but since it wasn’t adding anything to the composition more often than not I started skipping that extra step. So the bottle went off almost full.

And then I discovered Jo Malone. I think I loved the brand before I finished sniffing through the complete line: the idea of fragrance combining itself was enough to sell it to me.

Jo Malone Perfumes

Over years I’ve added to my collection more perfumes from Jo Malone line than from any else. You can’t even imagine how many times I wore different Jo Malone’s perfumes layered! Do you want to guess? No? It’s ok, I’ll tell you: three times. I like those perfumes “as is” and do not want to mess with the original composition.

I still like the idea of layering but in reality I’m with Birgit: Who am I to tamper with well-thought out and finely balanced creations? I won’t dare.

For more adventurous perfumistas I recommend reading Victoria’s (Bois de Jasmin) Layering Fragrances : Perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena and French Elle and Elisa’s (The French Exit) On the Scent: Adventures in Perfume Layering.


Images: my own


53 thoughts on “Perfume Layering: Truth or Dare?

  1. Dearest U
    Well, one never knew there was a ‘chemistry set’ version of, of all things, Calvin Klein’s Truth.
    It sounds quite fun, what a shame it was too weak to make any kind of impression. Rather like today’s children’s chemistry sets robbed of their bunsen burners and deprived of anything that might actually cause a reaction.
    The Dandy does rather enjoy a little scented experimentation, I find that the addition of a simple ‘soliflore’ to a more complex scent can often work quite well… a muguet to extend that exquisite opening of Jacomo’s Silences, Iris to plumped up No. 19 or rose as an extra complexity to leather Lancome’s.
    There’also the less well thought out layering that seems to happen when I apply a second perfume of the day only to find it reawakens the first. Something that seems to happen with Diorissimo in particular.
    All this makes it sound as though I do a lot of layering, which I don’t, but when it happens it can be a giggle if nothing more.
    Yours ever
    The Perfumed Dandy

    • Those sets still can be found on eBay though I’m not sure how well they aged: my set isn’t good any longer, the oil is spoiled.

      Wearing the second perfume after the first one is [almost] gone is my usual practice, sometimes I choose the first one so that it either will be gone by the time of the second application or won’t interfere with it.

  2. Ok It is confession time….I do layer and do it more often than I probably should!!! sometimes I add a bit of patchouli or vanilla or sandalwood EO to my wrist before applying perfume…the oil creates a lasting power (my skin is dry and tends to eat perfume) and a nice drydown….I know i am committing a faux pas…but I am an experimenter by nature!

  3. I layer sometimes. Once in a while I spray on two scents at once. Often I’ll be in the final stages of one perfume and spray something else on. I also layer scented lotions and perfumes of different scents. Some days it works, some days it doesn’t. I have a Jo Malone set that was designed for layering Pomegranate Noir but I like that one by itself so I wear the other scents in the set separately too.

    • I also like Pomegranate Noir on its own. But I might try layering Jo Malone’s lotions with perfumes – I’ve just got a sample of one of the creams.

  4. I’ve never been a layerer because I’m afraid that it will go sour and then I’ll have to go scrub and start my day all over again. The closest I get to layering is putting a different fragrance on in the afternoon from what I was wearing in the morning. Kind of related, I wear a watch with a leather wristband every day and through time, the watchband has absorbed many perfumes. I now has a life of its own and it smells fantastic. At least my watch likes layering :)

  5. I use a lot of indie perfume oils and layer a lot with them. One brand in particular, Alkemia perfumes, seems like made for layering! All of their oils are great as is but a lot of them are really extraordinary when layered with other scents! I have one amazing woodsmoke vanilla called Smoke and Mirrors that I can layer with anything (not just other indie perfume oils) to add more intrigue or make a scent that is cloying less so. I haven’t experimented with layering mainstream or niche scents with each other but mostly that is because I don’t own many…

  6. I’m attraced to the idea of fragrance layering in theory but not in practice. You could come up with something totally unique, however if it’s a perfume you love, why would you want to mess with it? I could only imagine doing it with a very simple fragrance that I was bored with but then I’d just pass on to someone else instead.

    Very funny that it turned out you only layered the Jo Malones 3 times.

    • You actually got it right: “if it’s a perfume you love, why would you want to mess with it?” – and recently I wear only perfumes I like, I do not have time for the rest. And while I’m testing I definitely do not need to make it impossible to figure out if I do not like the perfume I’m testing or its mixture with another one.

  7. I adore Truth and have gone through more bottles of it than anything else! I never bought the separate oils, however. I loved the soap. I think it was more “bamboo-y” than the perfume.

    I almost never layer, for fear of disaster. One exception is that sometimes I will soften a strong or bright perfume with a bit of musk. I use Kuumba Made’s Oriental Musk as it’s my skinscent. It worked well to tone down Womanity yesterday, which I sprayed on remembering that I liked it last summer. It felt too loud, it was distracting. So I “cut” it with the musk. Lovely together, but I think Womanity may have to be passed on to another home.

    I hope to try more layering experiments. I think it takes a bit of courage. If you go wrong, you’re stuck with the scent!

    • I think I’m pretty much done with layering… until the next great set comes out ;) But I suddenly got an urge to try Truth again: I might still like it…

  8. I have to confess that I never really inderstood the idea of layering one perfume with another or “one part” of perfume with “another part” of perfume.
    In my case the only brand I know they make their perfume especially for a “potion maker” game is Jo Malone… but as far as I’m concerned I don’t have a regular access to the line. During months I managed to collect a vast number of Jo Malone samples but I never though about mixing two or three together. Even if JM website suggest what mixes well with what.
    What I notices is that single Jo Malone perfume doesn’t last longer than 3-5 hours on my skin and I doubt layering would change that

    • No, I don’t think layering will do anything to the longevity – unless you layer a body lotion and a cologne. But even 3 hours are fine in my book: as long as I’m not paying $100+/30 ml ;)

  9. I agree with you. I never try to layer. The way I see it, I am not a trained perfumer like the people who designed the perfumes I wear. And I take the perfumes I wear to be complete experiences.

    I know many perfume fans go from wearing perfume to wanting to buy oils and raw materials and combine them and experiment and then maybe even become perfumers themselves. I think that’s awesome, but for whatever reason I have no interest in that. I just want to try the creations of others.

    • Hear, hear! The last time I wanted to do something on my own was when I was 6 or 7 and tried to make a rose perfume from rose petals in my grandmother’s garden ;) (it wasn’t pretty)

      • Oh goodness I am laughing at what you both wrote for all I do all day long is dream up concoctions of essential oil blends in my mind! I would never consider myself a perfumer in any way,shape or form but I really do enjoy the experimenting and the creative aspect of it!

        • I think it’s something in the brain :) But Susan and I are greatful users of what others create after dozens (?) of fruitless experiments.
          I prefer numbers, as you might have noticed ;)

  10. I am not creative enough to layer different perfumes but, I have gotten much more experimental since I started collecting various Attars (oils). As Brie mentions, having the oil as a base can really enhance the sillage and longevity of a scent or just bring out something completely unique, I wore my Ta’if attar with Ormonde Jayne’s Ta’if. Not the most original pairing, I know, but it did significantly increase the wear time of the OJ which usually only lasts a couple of hours on my skin. And then later I added Portrait of a Lady to really up the ante!

    • You piqued my interest by mentioning Ta’if combination: I love OJ’s perfume but it doesn’t live long on my skin as well. I was thinking about getting it eventually in a parfum concentration hoping for better longevity but your approach sounds also promissing.
      Oh, and I love PoaL as well. You managed to cover two of my most favorite perfumes in justone comment! :)

  11. This is funny, Undina – how you’ve been so attracted to idea of layering and then can’t bring yourself to do it!

    Every once in a while I will layer fragrances but, by and large, don’t care to do so. I did come across an unexpectedly good combo by accident, though: a few years back, I was decanting two fragrances for a gentleman – Caron Yatagan and Chanel Coromandel – and, of course, Yatagan is sooo strong that I would never have thought to layer anything with it – but in the process, they both ended up on my skin and were stunning together. I’ve worn this combo more than a few times since then.

    • Suzanne, even funnier is that I didn’t realize how many times I went through the whole cycle of planning-buying-not using until I started working on this post.

      I’ve never tried Yatagan but I do see Coromandel pairing good with other perfumes: it has the right “bone structure.”

  12. I am firmly in your camp on this question, Undina. In theory, it sounds great. In reality? How often do I actually do it? I recall when I acquired the Bond no 9 Bon-bon sets (they have two), and one of them explicitly advocated blending the different perfumes to one’s own liking. I cannot really think of any two Bond no 9 perfumes that I’d want to mix together. They are all fully composed perfumes. You don’t have to like them, and many people find them too expensive, but I worry that if I combined them I’d create some sort of prelude to a bath…

    On the hand, the Molinard solinotes (patchouli, jasmine, vanilla, amber, violette, etc.) all seem perfect for blending. Still, I do not really do it–I like they way they smell as they are, even when they are quite simple!

    I think that we are not being cowardly but realistic, Undina. It’s more like: leave well enough alone! These perfumes were created by professional perfumers, after all, and I am not a perfumer! ;-)

    • Bond No 9 for layering?! And I thought I’ve seen it all. The next thing would be Xerjoff or JAR.

      I might consider a small set of quality soliflores – just to train my nose in telling those apart in different combinations but Ido not see myself actually wearing any of those.

  13. Truth is the only Calvin Klein fragrance I have ever owned (besides the original Calvin Klein which I would love to smell today). Had Truth Sensual Bedtime Fragrance and this set of oils. Never layered them and Bamboo was the only one I even came close to using up.

    When my kids were little my mother would keep them overnight while I worked afternoons and I would pick them up the next day. I had read about the Michael Kors set in a magazine and was so obsessed with the Michael fragrance I had to have them, no matter the cost. So on the morning of 9/11 I was calling the Michael Kors boutique in New York to order the set. No one was answering the phone. Had the radio on in the car and found out why. Turned on the TV at mom’s and we watched the Twin Towers falling and all the other news footage. When people ask if you remember what you were doing when 9/11 happened, I was trying to order perfume!

    Ended up buying the set at a department store and only liking Tattersall and hating Houndstooth. Can not tolerate Michael Kors at all now, gives me a headache. I suppose it’s my Giorgio, a scent of the time I couldn’t imagine wearing today. Now Truth – I should go order some right now!

    I never, ever layer fragrances!

    • Barbara, it’s a striking story, thank you for sharing!

      I missed Sensual Bedtime Fragrance! I had a sample, loved it but by the time I got to the store this flanker was gone and I couldn’t find it anywhere online.

      It’s interesting both you and I went through the same sets (and liked the same Tattersall). If you end up buying Truth, please let me knowif you still think it smells the same (I’m afraid it could have been reformulated).

  14. I’ve never layered fragrances, besides the recommendations that I’ve received from Chayaruchama. She sent me some Ava Luxe oils and recommended combining them, which I really enjoyed, and because of her I also discovered that INeke’s Evening Edged in Gold and Field Notes from Paris are fantastic together. But trying on my own? It’s not something I feel brave enough to try.

    • I will try the Ineke combination – just out of curiosity (I like FNFP on its own and was undecided on EEIG).

      Mixing oils seems like a more natural thing but the last time I had an access to oils (at a spa for my birthday)after some experimenting with four that were there I realized I liked each separately :) I’m hopeless!

  15. I love layering but I never do it to improve a perfume. It’s more of a LEGO game with perfume notes (this analogy just came to my mind and interestingly enough I had an entire room full of LEGO boxes when I was about 8 or 10). Mixing fragrances, preferably form the same house, highlights notes that where hiding in the initial composition and also gives an interesting insight on how notes interact. Having said that, I never layer perfumes as my scent of the day. It is more of an indoor experiment for my enjoyment. More of a technical game than an olfactive pleasure

    • When I’m down to, let’s say, 20-30 untested samples in my posession I’ll include some games of this sort. But now I just don’t have resources! “Too many perfumes, not enough skin”

  16. I don’t do a lot of layering anymore – sometimes I’ll do it with a perfume I don’t love to see if I can make it suit me. Someone suggested layering Cuir de Lancome with Jo Malone Nectarine Blossom and Honey which I tried and liked very much. It gave the JM some depth and complexity and the Cuir some sweetness.

    • When I finally buy a bottle of Cuir de Lancome, I’ll try layering it with Nectarine Blossom: I so enjoy this perfume on othes but on my skin it’s one of a few Jo Malone’s scents that doesn’t behave.

  17. Nice topic, Undina! Like you, I have added to my collection more Jo Malone LONDON colognes than perfumes from any other line. As to Fragrance Combining (TM) [I don’t want to get into trouble by not acknowledging the trademark] with these, I have layered them exactly ZERO times even though I have bought sets based on studying the page on the site that describes all the ways to combine the colognes.

    Pre-perfumista days, I used to layer Shu Uemura Fleur de Terre (floral woody) and Fleur de Source (flora spicy). I will have to revisit this layering as I recently acquired via swap a precious bottle of the Fleur de Terre.

    Another deliberate pairing I’ve done is L’Occitane The Vert and Lush 25:43. This amps up the citrus opening and also extends the longevity.

    Per the Olfactive Studio sales distributor who was at the launch party several weeks ago, HE layers the perfumes. If I recall, he layers Autoportrait with either Lumiere Blanche or Still Life. I’m intrigued and will try this out for myself.

    Where is that handsome boy of yours? I was expecting to see the paw of doom lurking near the Michael Kors.

    • (laughing) I was actually thinking about mentioning all that nonsense with trademarking words (I had it in my notes for the topic) but then got distracted. BTW, have you noticed that the latest collection wasn’t meant to be combined? ;)

      This time I did all the photoshooting behind the closed door (under Rusty’s protesting meows) because all these cylindrical bottles were hard to keep in placeeven without those wandering paws. But he’ll be back soon, I promise!

  18. I’m with you. :)
    I like the idea of layering, generally, but never apply it in real life. That is, I tried once but wasn’t that happy with it so I just don’t. The only layering that might happen is when I decide to apply another perfume after work but that’s not really layering, the morning one has practically disappeared by then.
    Btw, I like Jo Malone by themselves quite well – I don’t need to layer them at all. :)

    • Yeah, one perfume after another isn’t really layering :)

      I think once our collections get a certain number of really complex and interesting perfumes in them it becomes even harder to decide to mess with those.

  19. Thank you for linking to my piece! Obviously, I think layering is fun and I do actually do it sometimes! Usually in the privacy of my own home — I don’t test out new combos right before I leave the house. You can’t really predict what perfumes will smell great together, and sometimes you do discover by accident (putting on new perfume while there’s still some dregs on your sweater, for example, or when decanting).

    I have a bottle of Truth, but it is quite soft, so when I wear it’s usually to the gym or before sleep.

    • My latex gloves that I use while decanting smell great! ;)

      I remember Truth being quiet and soft (quite ;) ) – and I liked it. I need to try it again!

  20. I’m with you on this one. Though I have had a couple of good experiences layering (most notably with my wedding perfume), I largely just don’t, even with Jo Malones, for exactly the reasons you say. If I like the perfume, I want to smell it!

    • You had several perfumesfrom the same brand as your party favors, right? Were those good for combining? Did you hear anything from your guests since then?

  21. I can’t layer. Like Tara and Birgit, I just don’t see want to mess with a fragrance very much if not at all. And I also agree with the Hound: I too am afraid of creating a scrubber!

    However, on the days that I want to wear a different SOTE, and I can still smell the lingering traces of the SOTD, I will try to choose one as complementary as possible. Even with the scents mingling, I can still pick out which is which.

    Speaking of which, when I try different perfumes, I sometimes have a bunch of different ones on at once. That doesn’t bother me, but somehow the idea of spraying on on top of the other does. But wouldn’t the end result be the same smell?

    • It’s an interesting point about the testing! It doesn’t bother me as well if I test 2-4 perfumes at the same time on different sections of my skin but I do not want to mix them. The thing is that while testing I’m not wearing a perfume – I’m smelling a specific spots, it’s almost the same as if I was trying several perfumes on blotters – just a skin ones in this instance.

  22. As a former owner of CK Truth I am also most surprised to learn there was ever a related set of Oil Essences. I am a reluctant layerer it must be said, I think because I am overfaced already with the choice in my collection. If I started to imagine what permutations would be possible if I took up layering, it would surely do my head in!

    • Yeah, with the number of really great perfumes in one’s collection that don’t get enough attention as is it’s hard to justify making even bigger number by engaging combinatorics.

  23. I am the naughty one (LOL!) and definitely in the minority! I love to layer the Jo Malones….I have
    enough of the fragrances around in samples, travel sizes and full bottles so I figure, why not? I know a true perfume aficionado would tell me I am messing with perfection but, hey, nothing like a bit of wabi-sabi in my life :)

    Great post and thank you for linking it for me again!

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