What’s That Sillage?

What’s that smell? No, not the stuff in the silo (silage)—that distinct odor of fermenting corn or hay—but that lovely, faint, lingering scent …



(n.) the scent that lingers in air, the trail left in water, the impression made in space after something or someone has been and gone; the trace of someone’s perfume.

French, literally, wake/trail

A poetical word, to be sure, when romancing over a love long-gone.

But perhaps you find sillage in other places and spaces …

… like when you pull up in your car to pick up your children from school and they sense the lingering aroma of the cheeseburger you wolfed down a moment earlier. Suspicion arises.

That kind of sillage … not so poetical.

Or when you move into a new house and smell the persistent bouquet of a woman’s perfume. But only at midnight. On Halloween.

Thanks to that type of sillage, you now know to pack up and move once again.

How about the sillage of your grandmother’s hand lotion, your dad’s motor oil, or the scent of a new baby’s scalp?

Only the nose knows.

Photo by Angela Andriot via Wikimedia Commons


Leave a comment 3 Comments

  1. BB king says:

    Ah, the sillage of my “aunt’s” ( she was a foster mother to me in my childhood through my 20’s) signature scent. Mitsouko by Guerlain, a 1920’s scent, very distinctive. I inherited her bottles of perfume when she passed and wear it be reminded of the love that she gave. It never fails to make me happy.

    My signature scent is Shalimar and I actually lived where the famed Shalimar Gardens are in Srinigar Kashmir, India where I was a teacher.
    see: http://www.srinagaronline.in/city-guide/shalimar-garden-of-srinagar

    Daddy wore ” Old Spice ” his entire life- an a whiff of that brings back his hugs.
    Scent stirs the memories better than any other of the senses. Diane Ackerman’s ” A Natural History of the Senses” waxes lyrical about Scent in particular. Be sure to read this evocative book

    • Karlyne says:

      Perfume bottles used to be everywhere, but I rarely see them in thrift stores these days (maybe they’ve all been collected!). Your post reminded me of English Leather (all the cool boys wore it), and the little blue bottles of Evening in Paris. If I were to get a bit of sillage from them, I’d recognize them at once!

  2. Krista says:

    I have a few things that I smell and they bring back memories. None of which involve purfume. My dads truck has a very distinct smell, not sure what causes it, but every time I catch a whiff it automatically takes me back to my childhood when he would take and pick me up from school or when we would go to lunch at the park. Another smell I remember is the strong smell of spices from when I visited your farm many many years ago. Every time my family opened food from your place it took me back to our visit and making “stew” with Emil!! Crazy how I can smell both now just thinking about it!

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