The most delectable of fragrances is one you'd be hard-pressed to find in a single bottle. Think of all the times a scent brought you to a halt in public. The whiff you caught at an Arabian souk? It's likely a blend of carefully layered bakhoor, perfume oil (attar) and an aerosol spritz.
Layering fragrances is at the heart of Middle Eastern perfume culture. The dancing aromas that trail Arabs have inspired perfume enthusiasts to create their own unique blend - a scent that's rare and undeniably you. And, the best part is that anyone can play chemist at home, our expert tells us.
That's how Madonna Yumnam began her decade-long journey into the world of perfumes in Dubai, where the fragrance culture propelled her into becoming a perfume influencer on TikTok.
"I could never identify what scents Arabs were wearing. It was when I began asking strangers that I discovered fragrance layering. They don't do straightforward fig or rose scents – they start by moisturising their skin and letting the smoke from bakhoor seep into their hair and clothes, then, they go in with attar and a fragrance on top. What you get is a complex scent that doesn’t exist, with an incredible sillage,” said Yumnam, founder of slow, sustainable clothing brand MY Label Dubai and media agency Last Minute Productions.
In fact, if you’re frustrated with short-lived scents, layering is the best way to stretch the performance of your fragrance, our expert adds.
How do we layer fragrances?
There’s a key component often forgotten in the art of scent cocktails – or any time you wear a perfume, for that matter – and it’s a well-moisturised skin. Yumnam’s tip is also reiterated by another expert we previously spoke to.
“Layering fragrances starts from your skincare because scents don’t stick to dry skin. You can use an unscented lotion or an almond moisturiser as your base. I layer on stronger scents first, and, then, lighter,” she explained.
Take that formula and apply it as you will. While both options could be aerosol perfumes, you could always swap the first for attar followed by a lightweight scent. Yumnam shares her favourite combination: “My go-to is floral with woody notes. So, I would layer a rose-scented attar with a layer of amber and vanilla on top.”
If you prefer a heady floral note, found in magnolia or white flowers, then consider finishing off with a citrus note, like mandarin and bergamot, “to balance it out”.
Some enthusiasts on TikTok refer to the fragrance wheel created by the British fragrance taxonomist Michael Edwards. Much like the colour wheel, opposite fragrance families and neighbouring pairs work the best. It tells us of another combination – amber (think, warm vanilla scents) and fresh (green, citrus or aquatic) notes.
You’ll find more in our list below, which includes Yumnam’s tried-and-tested combos, as well as the internet’s most recommended pairings. You'll catch some of these items at a discounted price for a limited time only. Shop with a Prime membership to get free, same-day delivery.
1. Best floral and woody combination: Swiss Arabian Rose Malaki and Xerjoff Casamorati Dama Bianca
Rose and vanilla fragrances, without fail, go hand-in-hand. First, you'll need a long-lasting layer of rose-based perfume oil, like Swiss Arabian's Rose Malaki. The attar includes heart notes of geranium with top notes of raspberry and bergamot, to cut through the Turkish rose. It perfectly marries the ambrette and vanilla bean scent in Xerjoff's Casamorati Dama Bianca, a viral pick among TikTok's perfume community. Once the initial smells of lime, jasmine and lilac evaporate, what's left behind to smoulder is a beautiful woody base. Reviewers of both say that when worn, it's compliments all around.
2. Best woody and amber combination: Yves Saint Laurent Black Opium and Swiss Arabian Secret Oud
Woody notes and amber notes sit next to each other on the fragrance wheel, which makes them a foolproof pairing. Yumnam often uses an oud attar paired with rich amber scents, like Yves Saint Laurent Black Opium. From the sharpness of pear and pink pepper, Black Opium leads you to a heart of bitter almond and coffee, snuffed by cashmere wood and vanilla. As these surface notes turn heads, your layer of Swiss Arabian's Secret Oud simmers quietly underneath. Oud wood, white musk, pepper and vanilla offer Black Opium a stable stage for hours and hours of performance.
3. Best floral, fresh and fruity combination: Prada Paradoxe and Kayali Eden Juicy Apple
For the ultimate sweet combination, look no further. The internet is obsessed with one specific floral and fruity pairing, featuring Prada Paradoxe and Kayali Eden Juicy Apple. The former is an all-rounder of sorts - TikTok users swear by layering anything and everything with floral ambery Paradoxe, and it's guaranteed to smell excellent. It almost crosses over to fresh green scents, with heart notes of citrusy neroli and Tunisian orange flower. Eden Juicy Apple brings its own flavour of crisp green notes, powered by red apple, wild berries and lychee. Both end in vanilla and musk.
4. Best perfume and body cream combination: Delina Exclusif and Delina Body Cream by Parfums de Marly
When perfumes are layered with a moisturiser from the same range, you drastically increase the scent's performance. Understandably, the internet has no qualms shelling out for Delina Exclusif by Parfums de Marly, as well as its luxe Delina Body Cream. It's a rose and vetiver fragrance, introduced by fresh notes of lychee, pear and grapefruit. The cream maintains its heart of rose and lychee with added benefits of shea butter, sweet almond oil and allantoin to nurture the skin. Reviewers describe them as soft and floral with a tinge of powdery dry-down.
5. Best winter combination: By The Fireplace by Maison Margiela and Le Monde Gourmand Lait de Coco
Spritz your way into the cooler months with a cosy perfume combination. Yumnam lists her husband's favourite woody scent By The Fireplace by Maison Margiela, and it's stunningly accurate in transporting the wearer to a smoky bonfire with a vanilla accord. Pairing opportunities are endless with this bottle, but the most popular layers feature lactonic notes. Le Monde Gourmand's Lait de Coco does a great job of balancing woody accords with creamy coconut and praline, so you get to carry the beach with you everywhere. Since it's a gourmand scent, the edible coconut notes are crafted to closely resemble the fruit, dissimilar to tan lotion scents, say reviewers.
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