I know she wears Lancôme La Vie Est Belle – it’s been her perfume since forever – so my nose does the searching like I’m some kind of fashion truffle hound. I catch a hint of nutty crème brûlée. Bingo.
It’s hers – no doubt about it – stamped with this silent ID, which feels movie-level romantic, but so damn cool, too. It says: “I can be a chameleon with my make-up and clothes, but I know precisely who I am through this one gesture.” I want to be that person.
I want friends and family to recognise me by a beautiful, invisible autograph long after I’ve left the room. I want my daughters to breathe in a snapshot of their mama, all dressed up and twirling out the door. But just like any relationship – dating, fitness, double-cleansing – not all of us have the willpower for 24/7 full-on commitment.
Dilemma: you love the idea of a signature scent but the perfume aisles tempt you to cheat. Relax, Alice du Parcq serves up a whole new way to spray…
“It’s the denim one,” says my cousin, four Aperols later as we’re leaving the pub. I’m fumbling for our jackets while she orders an Uber and there are three denim ones on the coat stand. Srsly?!
My issue, along with the 54%* of GLAMOUR readers who own a wardrobe of fragrances, is that I’m a scent superfan with a wandering nose. I’ll binge-spray all the new testers. I’ll fling open my at-home perfume cupboard (yes, I have one) and ad-hoc spritz to match a mood: a dark, devilish cologne when I’m out-out or a lemony splash to pull me out of a slump.
It’s too fun out there in the spraying field to hang out with just one fragrance BFF. And yet…
I yearn for steadiness and the simplicity of having just that one stunning default in a life packed with a million decisions. So, to meet somewhere in the middle, I’ve devised a strategy: The 5:2 Fragrance Plan. Think of it like the famous eating plan (freestyle for five days, restriction for two), but in reverse. In this version, for five days a week you only spray one single, utterly special ‘you’ scent. Something that clicks into you like a puzzle piece and seeps into your identity through ritualistic immersion. Then, on the other two days, go nuts.
Wear anything, pile up your perfume plate. It’s for those times when you want to escape into a new persona or feed an emotion, like the job interview, the hungover brunch, the bridesmaid duty, the night at the ballet, the summer holiday. The strategy works because, like the eating plan, it’s about forming a new habit so you subconsciously repeat the same action.
In his book The Power Of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life And Business, author Charles Duhigg says, “If you believe you can change – if you make it a habit – the change becomes real.” You can create your own signature scent stamp by committing to a new ritual, which then becomes auto-pilot. And the good news is the cheat days don’t have a lasting impact, since they’re too few and far between.
Eau de indulgence
But how do you find your five-day soulmate? The scent that says ‘It’s me!’ without uttering a word, standing out in a sea of denim jackets. In the 15+ years I’ve been writing about perfume, the best way to find The One is to block out time and visit a favourite perfume brand’s counter or store, for a one-to-one with an expert who can delve into your fragrance history and match you up with suggestions.
Hit up a few in one go at Harvey Nichols, Selfridges, Harrods; they have the biggest counters for broad-choice perfumery houses such as Dior, Louis Vuitton, Guerlain, Chanel, Hermès, Byredo and Diptyque. Or have an immersive experience at an own-brand boutique (try Penhaligon’s, Floris London, Atelier Cologne, Jo Malone London or Le Labo).
Another brilliant option is to dive into the heady magic of a mixed-brand perfumery, such as Les Senteurs, Liberty London, Bloom Perfume and Fortnum Mason. Plan a loose perfume profile ahead of your shopping trip, as if filling out a dating app. Think of favourite ingredients and your fragrance type on paper (maybe ‘light floral’, ‘powdery’, ‘aquatic’ or ‘earthy’?) and absolute turn-offs (I don’t want to smell of rose).
Give scent an hour to develop on your skin, so that you can see past the first-date chemistry. BTW, signature scents can be anything you like, but the expertise you’ll get is your fast pass to The One – and you can use the advice to head off on your own.
For the two other days you can tuck in guilt-free, knowing that your beloved scent signature won’t be rubbed out. The epic rise of accessible niche and high-street perfume means you don’t need to spend a fortune building your fragrant fancy-dress wardrobe. H&M, Anthropologie, Zara, Banana Republic, Other Stories and Beauty Pie work with esteemed perfumers, often let loose to concoct mad-but-delicious recipes that luxury brands might be too cautious to release.
Craving pure, unadulterated sticky vanilla? H&M’s Vanilla is your £4.99 for 20ml EDT hit. Need a dark smoky forcefield so you can ruminate in a bad mood? You’ll love Banana Republic’s 83 Leather Reserve £55 for 75ml EDP.
Not forgetting free-to-roam Boots, Debenhams, Superdrug and The Perfume Shop: they’re brilliant for tasting designer newness, such as Chloé, Marc Jacobs, Kenzo and Gucci, and foraging for incredible vintage classics – think ’90s Calvin Klein and Jean Paul Gaultier, or ’80s shoulder-pad power-sprays by YSL and Estée Lauder.
My 5:2 plan
I’m a Guerlain girl. My mum always wore its iconic Shalimar and it’s a heritage perfume house with magic, craftsmanship and sustainable practices. So it made sense for this to be my signature-seeking starting point. I visited Guerlain’s new (free) consultation service at Harrods: it’s a ‘phygital’ experience combining the physical smelling of perfumes with a digital touch-screen questionnaire.
After selecting your preferred category (mine was ‘oriental’) and swiping through lifestyle questions, it suggests five scents using a meticulously designed algorithm based on its 100+ fragrances. You smell, then rate them, and a final set of options is presented. Mine were so bang on I felt like I’d been on First Dates and got perfectly paired up. Guerlain’s Cuir Beluga £185 for 75ml EDP stood out.
It’s the perfume equivalent of a soft cream suede trench coat, nuzzled up by vanilla and amber, with the familiar, velvety talcum powder of my mum’s Shalimar. You can have it poured into a bottle colour of your choice, too. As for my cheat-day options?
Acqua di Parma’s original splashy Colonia £45 for 20ml cologne is my Sunday-morning go-to; Beauty Pie’s Love £16.60 for 100ml EDP has that laundry-fresh chill for clear-headed work meetings when I need to #Adult; and Jo Malone London’s new Wisteria Lavender £50 for 30ml cologne is my SS20 trend fix. It’s literally the smell of a ’grammable Notting Hill townhouse covered in hazy purple wisteria.
It’s been three months since I started the 5:2 Fragrance Plan and Cuir Beluga is now fully part of my identity: as I put my winter coats and scarves into storage recently they all smelled of its distinct butter-soft amber and leather trail, ingrained into each thread, despite being doused with an occasional renegade spritz on my ‘two’ days. Now spring is here: time to mark my own denim-jacket territory.