What Gives A Fragrance Its Staying Power?

Narciso Rodriguez talks to us about fragrance longevity and being overwhelmed at the perfume counter.
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Anne-Marie
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Narciso Rodriguez talks to us about fragrance longevity and being overwhelmed at the perfume counter.

According to NPD, a marketing firm that tracks, among other things, trends in the beauty industry, there’s been a decline in the consumption of fine fragrance over the past five years. NPD cites cost as one of the big reasons for this shift, and it’s not difficult to understand why: The average price for a prestige (AKA, department store) scent is around $70, which isn’t cheap by anyone’s standards.

There are a lot of reasons why designer fragrances are so expensive, and we’ll get into that another time. But given that there are upward of 1,000 new perfume launches a year (there were 1,400-ish alone in 2012, both men’s and women’s), how is anyone supposed to know what’s truly worth it?

For me, a fragrance’s worth-it-ness is judged on its staying power, or sillage, if you’re fancy, which is French for “wake.” It’s used to describe a scent’s trail, its ability to linger in the air behind you when you sashay-shante down the street.

Sillage isn’t about whether a scent contains strong or powerful ingredients. Put differently, a perfume can be powerful but not lasting. It comes down to how long it radiates off of your skin. It relates back to scent memories, why a smell (not just perfume) out in the air somewhere can stop in your tracks because it reminds you of a long-lost friend, a departed relative, a past relationship, etc.

Recently, I had the chance to talk a little about this concept with Narciso Rodriguez. He just launched Narciso, a new women’s scent that not only comes in one of the chicest bottles I’ve ever seen, but contains a fragrance that manages to capture the idea that it’s been around for a long time, yet seems totally new.

Narciso Rodriguez. Such a nice guy.

Narciso Rodriguez. Such a nice guy.

“Walking through the fragrance area in a department in a store is overwhelming,” Rodriguez says. “Fragrance can be an assault--this is a much more personal experience. This one is beautiful to me, because when I look at it, there’s something quite elegantly classical and profoundly modern about it.”

The classic feeling comes from traditional notes like rose, gardenia, and vetiver. But that floral piece is spiked with a ton of amber and musk--like, a lot of it. So over time, Narciso becomes this warm, creamy, powdery situation. It smells like heat coming off of clean skin. That’s the best way I can describe it to you. It’s very, very… I don’t know, intimate. And yes, it lasts a long time.

“[Fragrance is] very hard to talk about, because I find myself doing these interviews and starting to say these things that make no sense because it’s so abstract,” he says. “The things that are very clear to me are what is sensual, what is provocative and not vulgar. When things are a little kicky and sexy you’ve gone in the wrong direction.”

He’s right, I think, in that the perfumes traditionally marketed as “sexy” are often not even close. The “kicky” effect he’s referring to? That’s alcohol, which, to use fragrance parlance, flashes off the skin almost immediately. You get this big powerful blast of notes at the top that fades into something totally insignificant as the day wears on. In other words, the complete opposite of sillage.

“I’m curious about the longevity and lasting power of style and fragrance. I’m curious about things that are classical--not stodgy--but lasting and having impact,” Rodriguez says. “These are the things that give you great joy today--that in a day or a year will give you the same feeling, whether it’s a dress, T-shirt, or bag. Not something you throw in a box and get rid of.”

What are some of your favorite built-to-last perfumes? Which of the 1,000+ new launches of 2014 are you loving right now?