Here’s a riddle for you: What fashion accessory is unseen, yet has the amazing power to herald a woman’s arrival and prolong her departure? Answer: Perfume — one of the most underestimated weapons of the femme fatale.

I don’t know when I first started wearing perfume, but I do remember going into Macy’s as a really young girl with my mom one Christmas and spending hours at various fragrance counters, spraying on this, spraying on that. I was absolutely mesmerized by all the pretty colorful bottles, wondrously shaped, each one containing the elixir for romance, sensuality, elegance and style. Let’s just say that my nose came home very happy that day, even if slightly dazzled and befuddled that the world could contain so many intoxicating smells.

My experience of “perfumania” is certainly not unique, especially considering that women from Cleopatra to Empress Josephine to Coco Chanel have all treasured its mystique. And with its ability to whisk us away at the merest whiff of an evocative aroma, perfume is the magic carpet of the imagination. Who needs Aladdin when you can have Beyond Paradise by Estee Lauder?

As my knowledge of and appreciation for perfume has grown, so has my eclectic fragrance wardrobe. But, despite my parents’ protestats at seeing the credit card bill, I am adamant about maintaining an expanding collection because, in my opinion, a fragrance wardrobe is like a clothing wardrobe: you’ll want scents for different occasions, moods, hours and climates. Some people are real sticklers for wearing only one perfume, which they then think of as their “fingerprint,” or signature scent, but that quickly gets too boring for me — and, I would think, for the people around me. Pity those Balanchine and Russian ballerinas who were assigned one perfume to wear at all times, and in intense amounts, on stage. That’s like eating pizza for every meal!

Perfume is my golden ticket into the fantasy world where I can assume different personas, because each scent gives me license to a different identity — hmm, perhaps I’ve been watching too much Alias? The first time I sprayed on some of my mother’s Christian Dior Poison, I felt as empowered as Catwoman on one of her nightly prowls around the city. But my mood quickly changes into something much more romantic and soft when I dab on some of Bath & Body Works’ Night-Blooming Jasmine. And who could blame me for feeling sophisticated and suave when I wear something like Elizabeth Arden Red Door or Chanel No. 5, the queen of classics? At this point, I probably have enough perfumes in my cache to diagnose me with clinical multiple-personality disorder.

But having all the fragrances at your disposal is only half the fun. The other half is discovering when’s the best time to wear what, and this is as much a venture into self-understanding as you’ll ever get with any psychology class. My habits, I’ll admit, are hard to break. After showering, I invariably reach for Bath & Body Works’ Cotton Blossoms, with a smell that’s true to its name. It has a miraculously soothing effect on me, helping me to de-stress even in the face of a 12-page paper due tomorrow that — hmm, what a surprise — I haven’t even started. But if it’s a Friday night and I’m feeling particularly saucy or flirtatious, then I rely on Victoria’s Secret’s Garden Collection to get the right signals across. This collection tends to be extremely feminine, fruity and floral, hence perfect in the summer when the oppressing heat and humidity beckon for a light, ethereal perfume as opposed to the much more full-bodied fragrance (think spicy scents or warm-wooded aroma) that is usually the staple of winter. My all-time favorite Victoria’s Secret fragrance is Love Spell, and trust me, it’s not named that for no reason: wear this and cast a come-hither look at that guy you’ve been checking out for the past half-hour, and you just might cast a love spell that’s irreversible.

Of course, I didn’t just graduate from kindergarten yesterday. I know wearing J. Lo Glow won’t give me curves nearly as dangerous as hers, and if perfumes alone could get us dates — well, then we’d all be wearing them and the world would smell a lot better. But what perfumes do add to my wardrobe is this cloak of mystery that I can don whenever I wish: it is the transparent veil that turns heads in its wake and transforms dull anonymity at a club into a second glance into a few free drinks into — yeah.

Investments in perfume are certainly not to be taken lightly, especially with those hefty price tags that designer brands come with. Beware of buying a perfume simply because your favorite supermodel or actress has her gorgeous face plastered all over the label. Similarly, try not to get influenced too much by gimmicks like those fancy artistically-designed bottles –because what you should be paying for is not the container, but the stuff inside. The stuff of fantasies and desires. The stuff that will determine your personal aura for many days and weeks to come. Now excuse me while I go re-spray.

Ting Ting Yan recommends daily showers as a part of your fragrance routine.