Perfumes have been used for centuries as a way to enhance one’s personal scent, express emotions and even evoke memories. But let’s face it, it can be a bit intimidating for beginners.
Floral or Gourmand? Oud or Oriental? Where do you even start?
Well, no worries – we’ve got you covered!
Let’s start with the famous “Fragrance Wheel”.
What Is The Fragrance Wheel?
One way to categorize perfumes is to group them into fragrance families based on their dominant notes.
The fragrance wheel, created by Michael Edwards in 1983, is a popular tool used by perfume makers and enthusiasts to classify and understand different fragrance families.
Let’s go round the main sections.
One of the four main fragrance families is Oriental, also known as Amber. Oriental fragrances are known for their rich, warm and exotic scents. They often contain notes of musk, vanilla, spices, and wood. These scents can be heavy, strong and bold. Examples of Oriental perfumes include Thierry Mugler’s Angel, Tom Ford’s Black Orchid, and Yves Saint Laurent’s Opium.
Woody fragrances are another fragrance family that is known for its warm, earthy and natural scents. They typically contain notes of sandalwood, cedar, and patchouli, and are often combined with citrus, spice, and floral notes. These perfumes are great for everyday wear and are considered to be versatile. Examples of woody perfumes include Jo Malone’s English Oak and Hazelnut, Tom Ford’s Oud Wood, and Dolce & Gabbana’s Velvet Wood.
The third fragrance family is Floral, which is one of the most popular fragrance families in the world. Floral perfumes contain notes of flowers such as jasmine, rose, and violet, and often have a fresh and delicate scent. These perfumes can be categorized into different subfamilies such as floral woody, floral oriental, and floral fruity. Examples of floral perfumes include Chanel’s No.5, Dior’s J’adore, and Gucci’s Bloom.
Lastly, Fresh fragrances are often referred to as “aquatic” or “citrusy.” These immensely-popular perfumes are known for their clean, crisp, and energizing scents. They typically contain notes of citrus, fruits, and marine elements, and are great for summer wear. Examples of fresh perfumes include Acqua di Parma’s Blu Mediterraneo, Creed’s Virgin Island Water, and Chanel’s Chance Eau Fraîche.
Over the years, we’ve collected quite a few lists of perfumes in different categories. Heres some you might want to check out:
It’s pretty clear just from a brief look at the wheel above that there are few bright and clear lines here. Most scents have elements that could fit under more than one category.
In fact, a rich, complex perfume will deliberately create a blend of complimentary notes from around the wheel to create something unique.
Nevertheless, there’s usually some note or notes that dominate, leading people to describe a perfume or cologne as a “Fruity Floral” or an “Ambery Gourmand”.
Wait, what was that last one?
Other Ways To Describe Perfume
The fragrance wheel above is very useful for classic scents.
However, there are other ways to group scents together, particularly synthetic scents that evoke memories of ingredients that can’t really be used in their natural state.
What is a Gourmand perfume?
One interesting way to group some complex scents is when the combination resembles something edible (vanilla is perhaps the most obvious, but think about the scent of dark chocolate, or cotton candy.
A gourmand perfume is one that (literally) smells good enough to eat. Heres’s some example collections we made earlier:
- Perfumes that smell like candy
- Perfumes that smell like chocolate
- Perfumes that smell like cotton candy
- Perfumes that smell like coconut
- Perfumes that smell like dessert
- Perfumes that smell like honey
- Perfumes that smell like marshmallows
- Perfumes that smell like vanilla
Perfumes that smell like specific scents (but aren’t)
It’s pretty clear that no-one is taking leather car seat covers, putting them in a blender, and using them as the basis of a perfume.
Nevertheless, there are a lot of “leather” fragrances on the market – so what gives?
Leather fragrances can vary quite a bit, from woody notes, to spices, to smokey. The common point though is that something in the mix triggers a scent memory of the type of scent that comes off a great leather jacket.
There are a lot of different scents that people label as resembling a familiar scent. It’s a shorthand for saying something like “It’s a sort of fruity chypre with some animalic, musky undertones and a cheeky sandalwood base”.
Just for fun, here are some collections we’ve put together:
- Perfumes that smell like baby powder
- Perfumes that smell like fresh laundry
- Perfumes that smell like laundry detergent
- Perfumes that smell like leather
- Perfumes that smell like the ocean
- Perfumes that smell like soap
- Perfumes that smell like sunscreen
What is a Chypre perfume?
Chypre (pronounced “Sheep – ruh”) is a name often used to describe perfumes that cut across a few part of the fragrance wheel above.
This earthy scent family is usually built on a woody, mossy accord. Floral notes also often feature heavily, but not always – meaning any given chypre scent could fit into different sections of the wheel above, but still have that characteristic mossiness.
A classic example of an oakmoss-oriented fragrance was the original version of Halston perfume.
Perfumes that evoke a particular mood or environment
Sometimes perfumers will aim to create something that isn’t targeting a given, familiar note, but instead ties to evoke a scent memory of a mood, or a location. Think about the classic scent of freshly mown grass, or the earth after a rainstorm.
Here’s some collections we think you might like:
Before You Go …
OK, that’s all for today. We’ve barely scratched the surface though! There are many ways to describe and categorize perfumes – but hopefully we’ve given you some place to start. When you’re ready to decide on a signature scent though – we’ve got just the guide for you:
How To Find Your Signature Scent
Michael Edwards Interview About How He Created The Fragrance Wheel.
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