Using scent to create an aura of coolness comes down to tension and complexity. Picture the way Sofia Coppola or Leaf Greener throws together outfits, mixing designer and vintage pieces in an offhand way. The same combinations exist in fragrance, says perfumer Fabrice Penot, cofounder of the Le Labo fragrance boutique in New York City. The key is to look for a scent that takes a familiar note and pairs it effortlessly with an offbeat element.
• Break the rules. Fragrances created for women typically blend florals with sweet notes that are thought to be overtly feminine, such as vanilla. Instead, look for one that combines flowers with something unexpected, like patchouli or pepper. There is a darkness to these mixtures that's mildly animalistic, but still soft, with ladylike overtones.
• Be unpredictable. Wearing a masculine scent is like topping a delicate lace dress with a tough, leather motorcycle jacket—there's an attitude there that says you don't like to play it safe. Penot loves the way Monsieur de Givenchy smells on a woman, but any subtle men's fragrance that is herbal or woody can achieve this kind of contrast. Men's scents can also experiment with sex in ways that would get a women's fragrance slut-shamed. They often include intense, sensual notes, like tobacco, smoke, or spice. "There are a lot of women who want something with a little more mystery, like the leathery, smoky, dark notes you find in men's fragrances," says Karl Bradl, co-owner of fragrance boutique Aedes de Venustas in New York City.
• Leave a trail. Your scent should never be the first thing people notice. Penot suggests that perfuming the hair with an eau de toilette (two or three spritzes at most) works best—you don't smell it until the woman turns around to walk away. The effect is mysterious and memorable without being overpowering.
• Borrow—and share—freely. Don't worry about being the first to wear whatever is new or discovering a perfume that's completely unrecognizable and fiercely guarding your secret. Being secure enough to let others in on your signature scent is the ultimate in cool.