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A Guide To Summer Scents

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The Violet Files

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When choosing which fragrance to wear in the summer, there are some things that you may not have considered.

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Summer is a time of simple sensorial pleasures — the bracing herbaceous greenness of garden paths, the salty tang of windswept beaches, the radiant aura of sun-warmed (SPF-prepped) skin. And as we find ourselves gravitating toward salad instead of pasta, or to silk instead of cashmere, it also feels natural to reach for an airier, more transparent fragrance, something that floats around you like a chiffon scarf rather than enveloping you like a blanket.

It’s a psychological shift, certainly, as the atmosphere gets steamier and sultrier–who wouldn’t want to pivot into the breezy and bright? But it’s also chemistry: Fragrance molecules evaporate and rise into the air more rapidly in heat, so scents become more noticeable and smell more intense. That’s why the smoky, woody, spicy spritz you might have loved in winter suddenly makes you want to open a window, and why marine, green, and floral notes that seemed negligibly lightweight in January are exactly the right pitch for July. “You have to think of a perfume like you think of garments,” says renowned perfume maestro Frédéric Malle. “Some are fresh and light, to be worn in the summer or as something intimate in the winter. And some are warm, soothing, but probably too heavy for the summer, except at night.” Because perfume, like fashion, is about self-expression, there are no rules. But consider these suggestions for finding, and wearing, your perfect seasonal sillage.

As the planet tips towards the sun, imagine the aromas carried by the gentle breezes on the Mediterranean coast, or the narcotic spell of gardenias blooming in the sun. “When I think of summer, I think of white flowers,” says Malle. “Perfumes such as [Frédéric Malle, Editions de Parfume] Rose & Cuir would be ideal. I would love to smell it on the beach.” Heat, after all, can do some deliciously sexy things to floral notes — a rose, for example, may deepen into something voluptuous rather than prim; a tuberose will foreground its carnal facets. Green notes, too, can take on a crisp clarity that really sings on a summer day. Effervescent citrus fruits come into their own as the mercury rises, and watery, aquatic notes feel especially fresh and revitalizing, like a cool shower or a dip in the sea. For most, it’s a time to shelve smoky, woody, and spicy fragrances — but they don’t have to be completely abandoned. “I personally like heavy amber, patchouli, and oud in the heat as a way to accept the dank humidity of summer,” says D.S. & Durga perfumer David Seth Moltz. Just remember that anything you do spray will smell stronger, at least at first.

While the evaporation-boost that perfume molecules get from warm air means that their scent is more diffusive, it also means that they don’t last as long on the skin. So, if you think your perfume disappears faster in summer, you’re not imagining things. You can help your favorite eau linger longer, however. Scent clings better to hydrated skin, so make sure to moisturize before spritzing (and you can really amp up a specific perfume by using a matching perfumed body lotion to anchor it). Another trick? Layer on an aromatic oil. Moltz suggests sandalwood, patchouli, or rose to give oomph, dimension, and staying power to an airy fragrance.

Because scent is more diffusive in summer weather, it can also be the perfect time to play with different formats or with layering techniques. There are now countless ways to wear fragrance without applying anything to your wrists — from sumptuously scented body oils to featherweight hair perfumes. “Hair mists are ideal for summer months as they are lighter than the real perfume yet quite present,” says Malle. “I also love the idea of using perfume oil as there is nothing more soothing for your skin after a sunny day, though amazingly fragrant.” Keep in mind: All of these formats can be mixed and matched to create a multi-dimensional scent effect. Plus, having multiple fragrance points on a body in motion means that you will leave an even more dynamic, ethereal wake.