Fine Fragrances

Notes in perfumery are descriptors of scents that can be sensed upon the application of a perfume. These notes are created carefully with knowledge of the evaporation process and intended use of the perfume. The presence of one note may alter the perception of another—for instance, the presence of certain base or heart notes will alter the scent perceived when the top notes are strongest, and likewise the scent of base notes in the dry-down will often be altered depending on the smells of the heart notes.

The idea of notes is used primarily for the marketing of fine fragrances. The term is sometimes used by perfumers to describe approximately scents or the perfumery process to laypeople.

Notes are separated into three classes; top/head notes, middle/heart notes, and base notes; which denote groups of scents which can be sensed with respect to the time after the application of a perfume

Fragrant materials are listed by Poucher in order of volatility and are grouped under respective evaporation coefficients (perfume notes) that range from 1 to 100.

Note Evaporation coefficient
Top Notes: 1 to 14 (most volatile)
Middle Notes: 15 to 60
Base Notes: 61 to 100 (least volatile)
Top notes

Top notes are otherwise called the head notes.

Perceived immediately upon application of a perfume, top notes consist of small, light molecules that evaporate quickly. They form a person's initial impression of a perfume and thus are very important in the selling of the product. The scents of this note class are usually described as ``fresh``, ``assertive`` or ``sharp``. The compounds that contribute to top notes are strong in scent, very volatile, and evaporate quickly.

Although not as saliently perceived, the heart and base-notes contribute much to the scent in the top notes.

Citrus and ginger scents are common top notes.

Middle notes

They are also called the ``heart notes``.

The scent of a perfume that emerges just before the top notes dissipate. The middle note compounds form the ``heart`` or main body of a perfume and emerge in the middle of the perfume's dispersion process. They serve to mask the often unpleasant initial impression of base notes, which become more pleasant with time. Not surprisingly, the scent of middle note compounds is usually more mellow and ``rounded``. Scents from this note class disappear anywhere from twenty minutes to one hour after the application of a perfume.

Lavender and rose scents are typical middle notes.

Base notes

The scent of a perfume that appears close to the departure of the middle notes. The base and middle notes together are the main theme of a perfume. Base notes bring depth and solidity to a perfume. Compounds of this class are often the fixatives used to hold and boost the strength of the lighter top and middle notes. Consisting of large, heavy molecules that evaporate slowly, compounds of this class of scents are typically rich and ``deep`` and are usually not perceived until 30 minutes after the application of the perfume or during the period of perfume dry-down.

Some base notes can still be detectable in excess of twenty-four hours after application, particularly the animalic and musk notes.



The traditional classification which emerged around 1900 comprised the following categories:

  • Single Floral: Fragrances that are dominated by a scent from one particular flower; in French called a soliflore.

  • Floral Bouquet: Containing the combination of several flowers in a scent.

  • Ambery: A large fragrance class featuring the scents of vanilla and animal scents together with flowers and woods. Can be enhanced by camphorous oils and incense resins.

  • Woody: Fragrances that are dominated by woody scents, typically of sandalwood and cedar. Patchouli, with its camphoraceous smell, is commonly found in these perfumes.

  • Leather: A family of fragrances which features the scents of honey, tobacco, wood and wood tars in its middle or base notes and a scent that alludes to leather.

  • Chypre: Meaning cyprus in French, this includes fragrances built on a similar accord consisting of bergamot, oakmoss, patchouli, and labdanum. This family of fragrances is named after a perfume by Francois Coty. Pronounced: sheep-ra

  • Fougère: Meaning fern in French, built on a base of lavedner, coumarin, and oakmoss. Many men’s fragrances belong to this family of fragrances, which is characterized by its sharp herbaceous and woody scent. Pronounced: foozh-air


Since 1945, due to great advances in the technology of perfume creation such as compound design and synthesis as well as the natural development of styles and tastes; new categories have emerged to describe modern scents:

  • Bright Floral: combining the traditional Single Floral and Floral Bouquet categories.

  • Green: a lighter and more modern interpretation of the Chypre type.

  • Oceanic/Ozone: the newest category in perfume history, appearing in 1991. A very clean, modern smell leading to many of the modern androgynous perfumes.

  • Citrus or Fruity: An old fragrance family that until recently consisted mainly of “freshening” eau de colognes due to the low tenacity of citrus scents. Development of newer fragrance compounds has allowed for the creation of primarily citrus fragrances.

  • Gourmand: scents with “edible” or “dessert”-like qualities. These often contain notes like vanilla and tonka bean, as well as synthetic components designed to resemble food flavors.

Fragrance Wheel

The Fragrance wheel is a relatively new classification method that is widely used in retail and in the fragrance industry. The method was created in 1983 by Michael Edwards, a consultant in the perfume industry, who designed his own scheme of fragrance classification after being inspired by a fragrance seminar by Firmenich. The new scheme was created in order to simplify fragrance classification and naming, as well as to show the relationships between each individual classes. The five standard families consist of Floral, Oriental, Woody, Fougère, and Fresh, with the former four families being more “classic” while the latter consists of newer, bright and clean smelling citrus and oceanic fragrances that have arrived due to improvements in fragrance technology. With the exception of the Fougère family, each of the families are in turn divided into three sub-groups and arranged around a wheel:



1. Floral 1. Soft Oriental
2. Soft Floral 2. Oriental
3. Floral Oriental 3. Woody Oriental



1. Wood 1. Citrus
2. Mossy Woods 2. Green
3. Dry Woods 3. Water


The Fougère family is placed at the center of this wheel since they are large family of scents that usually contain fragrance elements from each of the other four families.  As a class, Chypres is more difficult to place since they would located under parts of the Oriental and Woody families. For instance, Guerlain Mitsouko, which is classically identified as a chypre will be placed under Mossy Woods, but Hermès Rouge, a chypre with more floral character, would be placed under Floral Oriental.

According to Osmoz, there are eight major families: Chypre, Citrus, Floral and Oriental (feminine), and Aromatic, Citrus, Oriental and Woody (masculine). Each one of those olfactive families is then split into several subfamilies.


Chypre – Based on a woody, mossy, floral accord, which can include leathery or fruity notes as well. Chypre perfumes have a rich and lingering scent. Chypre by Coty enjoyed such success in 1917 that “chypre” is now a generic name for a whole category of classic perfumes. The compositions are based on oakmoss, ciste-labdanun, patchouli and bergamot accords. The richness of chypre notes mixes wonderfully with fruity or floral notes. This family is made up of distinguished, instantly recognizable fragrances.

Subgroups under this family are Floral and Fruity:

Floral – floral notes such as lily of the valley, rose or jasmine are added to the chypre structure. Examples include: Badgley Mischka, Clinique Aromatics Elixir, Givenchy Amariage Mariage and Donna Karan DKNY Be Delicious

Fruity – The chypre accord is enriched and embellished with fruity notes such as peach, mirabelle plum and exotic fruit. Examples include: Guerlain Mitsouko, and Dior Miss Dior Cherie.

Citrus – Each perfume in this family is primarily composed of citrus scents such as bergamot, lemon, orange, tangerine and grapefruit, to which other orange-tree elements (orange blossoms, petit grain or neroli oil) have been added. Floral or even chypre accords are sometimes present as well. These perfumes are characterized by their freshness and lightness including the first “Eaux de Cologne”.

The one subgroup under this family is Aromatic.

Aromatic – The citrus accord is enhanced by the addition of aromatic notes, such as thyme, rosemary, tarragon or mint. Examples include: Calvin Klein CK One, Rochas Eau de Rochas, and Lancome O de Lancome.

Floral – This family is composed of a large variety of creations ranging from sumptuous bouquet arrangements to “soli flora’ compositions. Perfumers can let their creativity run wild, enriching florals with green, aldehydic, fruity or spicy hints. With its natural scent, the floral note is one of the most widely used in women’s perfumes.

Subgroups under this family are Aldehyde, Aquatic, Carnation, Fruity, Green, Jasmine, Muguet, Orange Tuberose, Rose Violet and Woody Musk:

Aldehyde – Animal, powdery or slightly woody notes often enhance the floral bouquet. The top note is a marriage of aldehydes and hesperidia.  Example: Estee Lauder White Linen.

Aquatic – A traditional floral bouquet is enhanced with several marine notes during the evaporation process. Examples include: Aramis New West for Her, Davidoff Cool Water Woman, Issey Miyake L’Eau d’Issey for Women, Davidoff Cool Water Game Woman, and Escada Into the Blue.

Carnation – “The poet’s flower” is also found in perfumery and plays a part in the development of rich and harmonious fragrances. Examples include: Calvin Klein Eternity for Women, Nina Ricci L’Air du Temps and Lancome Miracle.

Green – Green notes can add a sharper freshness to the floral bouquet. Galbanum is a typical ingredient in this type of perfume as well as combinations that evoke freshly-cut grass. Examples include: Ralph Lauren Lauren, and Estee Lauder Beautiful.

Fruity – Since 1995, new fruity notes have blossomed in the world of perfumery. The floral body is easily identifiable, and the fruity notes are obvious. Among these are apricot, raspberry, lychee and apple. Examples include: Armani Acqua di Gio, Cacharel Amor Amor, Carolina Herrera 212, Clinique Happy, Armani Emporio Remix for Her, Cacharel Noa Perle, Cartier Delices, Dior J’Adore, Escada Pacific Paradise, Juicy Couture, Vera Wang Princess, Guerlain Insolence, and Nina Ricci Nina.

Jasmine – Also know as “The Flower”, jasmine enhances the floral top notes. It helps give perfume a complex and refined structure. Examples include: Burberry London, Ferragamo F, Dior Pure Poison and Jean Patou Joy.

Muguet – A floral bouquet whose keynote is lily of the valley, a timeless white flower which gives perfume a fresh note of springtime. Examples include: Cacharel Anais Anais and Estee Lauder Pleasures for Women.

Orange Tuberose – Introduced in 1948 with Fracas de Piguet, this sub-family has kept all of its appeal. It includes original scents of a unique sensuality. Examples include: Armani Code for Her and Givenchy Amarige.

Rose Violet – The key floral accord of this sub-family is rose and violet. This widely used flower duet was launched by Paris, the famous Yves Saint Laurent perfume. Examples include: Lancome Tresor and Yves Saint Laurent Paris.

Woody Musk – Always based on a floral accord, this family includes fragrances with an additional woody and/or musky note, which gives a richer, more contemporary structure than that of a traditional floral perfume. Examples include: Aramis Always for Her, Calvin Klein CK Be, Jette Joop Jette, Lanvin Rumeur, Bulgari Blv, Donna Karan Gold, Kenzo Kenzo Amour, Lucky Brand Number 6 for Women, Sarah Jessica Parker Lovely and Stella McCartney Stella in Two Peony.

Oriental – Also known as “amber” fragrances – stand out because of their unique blend of warmth and sensuality. They draw their richness from heady substances like musk, vanilla and precious woods, often associated with exotic floral and spicy scents.

Subgroups under this family are: Floral, Spicy, Vanilla and Woody.

Floral – Traditional Oriental base composed of sweet, powdery element, accompanies by an exotic floral note such as tiare flower or “spicy” flowers such as carnation. Examples include: Britney Spears In Control Curious, Dolce & Gabbana The One, Gaultier Jean-Paul Gaultier, Guerlain L’Heure Bleue, Calvin Klein Euphoria, Donna Karan Cashmere Mist, Givenchy Ange ou Demon, Guerlain L’Instant de Guerlain, Tom Ford Black Orchid, Van Cleef & Arpels First Love, Kenzo Flower by Kenzo, and Stella McCartney Stella In Two Amber.

Spicy – Spices such as cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg join the Oriental accord to enhance the originality and character of these unmistakable perfumes. Examples include: Sonia Rykiel Belle en Rykiel, Estee Lauder Youth Dew and Yves Saint Laurent Opium.

Vanilla – Vanilla and classical amber notes accentuate the original Oriental aroma. Examples include: Armani Emporio She, Guerlain Shalimar, Lolita Lempicka “L”, Ralph Lauren Ralph Hot, Calvin Klein Obsession, Dior Hypnotic Poison, Lancome Miracle Forever, and Thierry Mugler Angel.

Woody – Warm and opulent notes like amber and sandalwood, or dry notes like cedar are added to the Oriental accord to further accentuate it. Examples include: Bulgari Eau Parfumee au The Rouge, Lancome Hypnose, Thierry Mugler Alien, Guerlain Samsar and Molinard Habanita.


Aromatic – Aromatic notes are mainly composed of sage, rosemary, thyme and lavender usually complemented with citrus and spicy notes. These compositions’ manly character makes them an all-time favorite in men’s perfumery.

Subgroups under this family are Aquatic, Fougere, Fresh and Rustic.

Aquatic – The compositions of this subfamily brighten up the basic aromatic accord with an ocean note. This modern family boasts many recent creations. Examples include: Armani Acqua Di Gio for Men, Davidoff Cool Water Game, Bulgari AQVA Pour Homme and Kenzo for Men.

Fougere – Timeless aromatic notes blend with a traditional fougere accord characterized by lavender, woody, coumarin, geranium and oak moss notes. Examples include: Armani Emporio Remix for Him, Dolce & Gabbana Classique, Guy Laroche Drakkar Noir, Loewe Escenia Loewe, Azzaro Pour Homme, Faberge Brut Original, Hugo Boss BOSS Selection, and Lucky Brand 6 for Men.

Fresh – Fresh notes such as white flowers or citrus notes are added to an aromatic bouquet characterized by an underlying woody note. Examples include: Calvin Klein Eternity for Men, Davidoff Cool Water, Liz Claiborne Curve for Men, Clinique Happy for Men, Estee Lauder Pleasures for Men, Tommy Hilfiger T.

Rustic – The dominant aromatic accord is enhanced by the addition of rustic notes carrying scents of the countryside such as new-mown hay or grass. Examples include: Aramis New West for Men, Hugo Boss Hugo, Ralph Lauren Polo Sport, Calvin Klein Escape for Men and Kenneth Cole Reaction.

Citrus – This family includes all perfumes mainly composed of citrus notes such as bergamot, lemon, orange, tangerine and grapefruit. These fragrances are characterized by their freshness and lightness. The first Eaux de Cologne belong to this category. The masculine character comes from the frequently strong presence of aromatic and spicy notes.

The one subgroup under this family is Aromatic.

Aromatic – The hesperidium accord is enhanced by the addition of aromatic notes, such as thyme, rosemary or tarragon. Examples include: Armani Pour Homme, Dior Eau Sauvage, and Azzaro Chrome.

Oriental – Refreshed by aromatic or citrus facets, Oriental compositions draw their richness and sophistication from precious substances such as amber, resin, tobacco, spices, exotic woods and animal notes.

Subgroups under this family are Fougere, Spicy and Woody.

Fougere – These timeless Oriental fragrances emanate a traditional top note of fern scent composed of lavender, coumarin, and oak moss. Examples include: Gaultier Le Male, Joop Homme, Hugo Boss Boss in Motion and Prada Pour Homme.

Spicy – A distinct spicy note livens up the amber accord with nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon or cardamom. Examples include: Armani Code, Cartier Must for men, Hugo Boss Hugo Dark Blue, Burberry London for Men, Hugo Boss Boss Soul and Yves Saint Laurent Body Kouros.

Woody – Oriental accords composed of warm and rich notes such as vanilla, coumarin and labdanum ciste are emphasized by opulent woody notes like patchouli, sandalwood or vetiver. Examples include: Balenciaga Cristobal for Men, Calvin Klein Contradiction for Men, Cerruti 1991 Black, Davidoff Silver Shadow, Burberry Brit for Men, Calvin Klein Obsession for Men, Guerlain Habit Rouge, Thierry Mugler A*Men and Viktor & Rolf Antidote.

Woody – These perfumes with their woody middle note, are warm and opulent when based on sandalwood or patchouli,. Cedar and vetiver make them dryer. These warn, dry and elegant masculine accords often contain a dash of citrus or aromatic notes.

Subgroups under this family are Aquatic, Aromatic, Chypre, Floral Musk and Spicy.

Aquatic – This composition if often harmonized with an aromatic woody accord, and ocean notes complement its structure. Examples include: Aramis Always for Him, Issey Miyake L’Eau d’Issey for Men, Donna Karan Red Delicious Men.

Aromatic – The woody accords form the core of these compositions and always start on an aromatic note such as thyme, rosemary or sage. Examples include: Azzaro Pure Vetiver, Cerruti 1881 Pour Homme, Kenneth Cole Black for Him, Lacoste Pour Homme, Calvin Klein Euphoria Men, Guerlain Vetiver, Lalique Encre Noire, Yves Saint Laurent Jazz and Ralph Lauren Safari for Men.

Chypre – The addition of chypre notes such as oakmoss and labdanum ciste enhances the predominant woody accord. Examples include: Aramis and Ralph Lauren Polo.

Floral Musk – This category is characterized by its predominant woody note, which can either be cedar, patchouli or sandalwood. The diverse floral top notes include violet and freesia. The lingering scent is mostly composed of musky notes. Examples include: Armani Emporio He, Bulgari Pour Homme Soir, Carolina Herrera 212 Men, Burberry Touch for Men, Dior Homme, Dior Fahrenheit, Paul Smith for Men, Yves Saint Laurent L’Homme.

Spicy – A soft sandalwood fragrance warmed by bold spicy notes such as pepper, nutmeg, cloves or cinnamon. Examples include: Armani Mania, Cacharel Amor Pour Homme, Gucci Rush for Men, Bulgari Blv Pour Homme, Christian Lacroix Tumulte Pour Homme, Guerlain L’Instant de Guerlain Pour Homme, Hermes Terre d’Hermes, Old Spice Original and Ralph Lauren Polo Double Black.