The 4 Things You Need To Know When Choosing A Fragrance

Finding what type of fragrances you prefer can become a daunting experience, there’s just so many types and scents where should you begin? What’s a fragrance note? The difference between an Eau De Toilette and a Eau De Parfum? There’s a whole lot of funny names and words and you have no idea what they mean. 

You find yourself simply testing each fragrance with total disregard to what the label actually is saying.

At face value fragrances can seem rather complex and unknown, in this guide we’re going to be breaking down everything there is to know about fragrances but more importantly narrow down the type that’s best for you. This will save you a world of time and confusion as instead of testing each and everyone you can go straight to what you know you want. 

Here’s what we will be covering:

The Two Types of Fragrances You Need to Know

Before we dive into all the different types, notes and concentrations. You’ll need to know the core differences between the two main fragrance types. Whichever category you decide will dictate just about everything else in the fragrance you choose.

Designer Fragrances

A designer fragrance is what you see when you visit your local shopping mall. These fragrances are produced by the big name brands such as Burberry, Chanel or Armani to name a few. Their costs can vary from 25$ to 150$ per bottle. 

They’re mass produced and created for huge amounts of consumption. They’re produced from cheaper materials and generally are the lowest quality of fragrance. They source cheaper ingredients and stay away from any distinct or strong scents because they can cause problematic reactions, but also unique scents tend to be more polarising or love hate. When you’re creating fragrances for the masses you can’t be polarising half of your potential customer base.

Niche Fragrances

On the other hand there’s niche fragrances, they’re far more expensive but their higher prices reflect far better quality than their designer counterparts. Created usually by the best industry artists, formulated for customers who are looking to wear something that’s unique, bold and something fewer people are using. 

They don’t have the universal appearance that designer fragrances enjoy and understand there’s people who don’t have a taste for their uniquely bold and strong scents. They cost at a minimum 50$ and continue into the hundreds even thousands.

What Are Fragrance Families?

This first step to understanding fragrances is that they’re made of families. Knowing the differences between each family of fragrances will make it far easier for you to know what you want and choose. Other people refer to them as olfactory families but what it all really means is that each family has a unique scent. Within each family there are subfamilies that break each scent down further.  We’re going to be breaking down each fragrance family to find out exactly what they’re composed of.

The Floral Family

Floral is one of the most popular but also broader fragrance families, quite obviously it’s made up of different types of flowers but also includes a variety of herbs and roses. If you smell something that has a sweet and flowery scent it’s most likely the floral family using notes such as jasmine, peonies, lilies and roses. This family can range from being light and fresh all the way to more complex and intense. The floral family is almost exclusively for women and is very rarely used in men’s fragrances.

Floral Subfamilies

  • Floral Green: Sharp freshness is added to the combination, green notes such as pine or crushed leaves
  • Soliflore: A floral note that’s used to replicate the naturally occuring scent
  • Floral Woody: The same floral composition, but woody undertones follows.
  • Floral Bouquet: A mixture of floral notes. This composition creates a virtual bouquet of flowers.
  • Floral Musk: The floral fragrance is accompanied by a heavy musk fragrance. Sometimes with woody and aldehydic notes.
  • Floral Aldehyde: The subfamily is created by adding powdery and woody animal notes. Citrus and floral heads usually accompany them. 
  • Floral Fruity: Quite obviously a floral body combined with fruity notes
  • Floral Aquatic: sea-breeze notes are combined with a floral bouquet
Common Floral Family Notes
  • Jasmine
  • Rose
  • Geranium
  • Patchouli
  • Iris

The Aromatic Family

Aromatic’s are especially popular among men, they usually are made up of fresh green herbs such as Lavender, thyme, rosemary and sage. Usually aromatic’s are accompanied by other citrus and spicy notes. Because of this they smell charartiscly masculine and and powerful. 

Aromatic Subfamilies

  • Fruity Aromatic: Stealing some of the fresh and exotic notes from the floral fruity family
  • Spicy Aromatic: This combination of herbs and spices creates a fresh and cool sensation accompanied by dry undertones.
  • Green Aromatic: Aromatic compounds are enriched with the freshness of cut grass and crushed leaves, and often feature pine.
  • Aquatic Aromatic: Seawater notes are infused with aromatic compounds.
Common Aromatic Family Notes

  • Rosemary
  • Sage
  • Thyme
  • Eucalyptus
  • Lavender

The Citrus Family

itrus has been used as a fragrance for centuries, it’s passed the test of time and for good reason. Citrus scents in a fragrance mimic zest, juice or the blossom of citrus fruits such as bergamont, lemon, grapefruit, mandarin and orange. These fragrances are generally quite light and fresh, and can be combined with other notes such as tart or aromatic for fuller accords.

Citrus Subfamilies

  • Woody Citrus: The structure of citrus, combined with a woody base. Sometimes has light floral notes that are barely noticeable. 
  • Aromatic Citrus: Aromatic notes combined with a citrus build.
  • Spicy Citrus: Combining spicy notes such as clove, nutmeg and cinnamon.
  • Chypre Citrus: A modern base for eau de cologne fragrances. fresh notes that are floral in the head that lead to a mossy base
  • Musky Citrus: Musky properties from the head combined with a citrus composition that features woody and floral notes. 
  • Gourmand Citrus: Sweet citrus combined with vanilla notes, sweet flowers and even caramel. Anything with a sweet tooth will love this sub family.
Common Citrus Family Notes
  • Bergamot
  • Lemon
  • Mandarine
  • Grapefruit
  • Orange
  • Lime

The Chypre Family

A very old but unique family of fragrances, the chypres are made up of bergamont head, trailed by labdanum heart and oak moss. Chypre is more of a concept than an actual fragrance family and in today’s world while it is accepted it’s more symbolic and doesn’t make up any real family. 

Many fragrance houses still use it’s model to create their own and for a time it was a feat in perfumery. The various properties stretch from leathery, floral, fruity, aromatic and green notes. Because of this it’s hard to liquidate these into other families without separating them. They can also be characterized by the warm moss bass that contrasts the citrus head. 

Chypre Subfamilies

  • Leather Chypre: leather, smoky, burnt wood and musky notes accompany the chypre structure with a citrus finish. 
  • Aromatic Chypre: Chypre fragrance combined with aromatic compounds
  • Green Chypre: Green top notes that are sharply contracting followed by a Chypre base.
  • Floral Aldehydic Chypre: The Chypre structure is combined with the floral aldehydic subfamily
  • Fruity Chypre: Fruity heart on top of a Chypre base. 
  • Floral Chypre: Chypre base under a floral heart
Chypre Family Notes
  • Bergamot
  • Oak Moss
  • Patchouli
  • Labdanum

The Fougère Family

Fougère is arguably the largest fragrance family focused on men. Unlike other families such as Chypre or floral. It’s dominated by masculine scents. Similar to chypre it’s more of a symbol or concept rather than a family made up of certain smells. Launched in 1882 it innovated mens perfume and many mens fragrances still using the design using its structure. 

Some perfumers would say that this family should be dissolved into other families. Although we thought it’s best to include it in this ultimate guide. Fougere uses blends of lavinder, oak moss, wood, coumarin and citrus. This results in a distinct aroma of spicy and sweet notes, on top of a lichen and herbaceous backdrop.

Fougère Subfamilies

Spicy Fougère: Fougère and floral notes with spicy finish

Amber Oriental Fougère: Fougère with spicy and warm notes. Sometimes features floral notes above the amber backdrop.

Fruity Fougère: Fougère containing fruity notes from floral fruit.

Aromatic Fougère: Floral fragrance is accompanied by a heavy musk sometimes with woody and aldehydic notes.

Aquatic Fougère: Strong citrus palate mixed with a Fougère dominant fragrance.

Common Fougère Family Notes
  • Citrus
  • Lavender
  • Oak Moss
  • Coumarin
  • Geranium

The Oriental Family

Oriental fragrances are some of the most popular due to their rich and exotic spices, herbs that include aldehydes, cistus and vanilla. Or woods, resins and amber marked with sensual aromas that can both be dry powdery.

Oriental fragrances are most commonly heavy and opulent which are then weakened with notes such as amber. The oriental family dance with exotic connotations. Featuring fourmand properties and fantastic notes like cinnamon, coffee and vanilla. Anyone with a sweet tooth should love some of the scents this family produces.

Since the oriental family consists of a lot of spicy and powdery notes, they’re commonly used in the colder months of the year. That’s why they’ve commonly used as the best mens winter fragrances. 

Oriental Subfamilies

  • Woody Oriental Amber: Warm or dry woody base is enriched with oriental essences. 
  • Citrus Amber: The amber accord has a citrus flower trait.
  • Oriental Gourmand: Oriental compounds infused with essences of caramel, honey and vanilla. 
  • Oriental Amber: Utilizing Warm and soft notes of amber.
  • Spicy Oriental Amber: Cinnamon and cloves are infused with woods and resins.
  • Floriental: Blends of floral and oriental notes that create a fragrance with a spicy finish.
  • Floral Hep Amber: Floral head notes dance with either fruity or woody heart characteristics upon an oriental base
Oriental Family Notes
  • Myrrh
  • Atlas Cedar
  • Vanilla
  • Sandalwood
  • Cinnamon

The Leather Family

The leather family is a particularly distinct type of fragrance and has it was first produced is quite an interesting story, the creation and tanning of leather brought about a whole new family of fragrances. 

Since the creation of tannery brings with it such foul smells, and new leather jackets can quite commonly smell very poorly after being first produced. Tanneries decide to create a scent that would mask these poor smells and replace them with something far more pleasant. 

They created this type of fragrance using wood, smoke resins of honey, which were all then infused with the skins’ aldehydic and actually become a very sought after scent. 

Many fragrance families borrow off each other but none more than the leather, oritental and woody families, taking from each other to try to mimic different aromas. 

Eventually this leathery smell was so appealing that perfumers noticed the market and decided they would try to recreate these smells. These days leather fragrance can be characterised by dry, tart or smokey blends of crisp, floral combinations.

leather Subfamilies

Woody Spicy Leather: A woody base is acuminated through leather and aldehydic notes, accompanied by spices.

Floral Leather: A leather framer accompanies by floral notes

Tobacco Leather: Leather tempered hay, wood and honey.  These ingredients characterise the tobacco note.

Leather Family Notes
  • Smoke
  • Tobacco
  • Burnt Wood
  • Silver Birch
  • Vetiver

The Woody Family

Last but not least the woody family consists of opulent and warm fragrance blends. Commonly used ingredients that are pleasant to the nose such as sandalwood and patchouli. Other ingredients used for dryer finish can be cedar or vetiver. For an exotic heart oily resins might be introduced and even some perfumers will reduce the warmth of wood by combining citrus and aromatic heart notes. 

Woody Subfamilies

Woody Spicy: Warm and bitter spices over a refined woody base.

Woody Coniferous Citrus: Dominant wood notes combined with pine but also featuring citrus fruit top notes.

Woody Fruity Musk: Wood and musk are combined to produce fruity, spicy and aromatic with amber undertones.

Woody Floral Musk: wood accord mainly using heavy musk that can feature floral notes.

Woody Aquatic: Woody aromas are infused with aquatic notes.

Woody Chypre: Chypre compounds  such as oak moss and labdanum infused with woody notes.

Woody Family Notes
  • Sandalwood
  • Pine
  • Patchouli
  • Vetiver
  • Cedarwood

Understanding The Life Cycle Of Fragrance Notes

Often you’ll see fragrances referred to as top middle and low notes. What they mean is the smell of the fragrance as time passes. Think of it as a pyramid broken up into three parts. Each part of the pyramid contains certain ingredients and smells that change over time. 

You may not know but when you test a fragrance what you’re smelling is only for a certain period of time before it progresses into a different scents. Most cheap fragrances don’t have this process of transition. 

Top Notes

Top notes are the initial smell of the fragrance that hits you right as you’ve sprayed it. Top notes can last anywhere from 15 minutes to two hours. General speaking top notes are made up of light floral scents, citrus, fruity scents, powdery scents, marines or aquatics and spices such as cinnamon.

Medium Notes

Commonly referred to as the middle or heart note. The middle note presents the core elements of any fragrance. Once the top notes have cleared middle notes will last from three to five hours. Most medium notes are composed of green scents like grass or stone, heavier floral scents like jasmine. Then also spices so things like clove and cinnamon. Lastly they can actually use fruit scents every now and again.

Base Notes

This note is the last to develop and is a lot stronger becoming more apparent throughout the day. They last the longest out of the three bases and will decide how long the fragrance will last on your skin. Generally a base note can last anywhere from five to ten hours. Usually they’re composed of musk, tobacco, leather, smoke, moss, vetiver, and sandalwood. 

Understanding Fragrance Concentrations

Something that trips a lot of people up when trying to understand the infinite complexities of fragrances are their concentrations. Concentrations simply decide how long the fragrance will last. It would be easier to simply say how long they last instead of giving them these funny names but I’m not the one making the rules.

Eau Fraiche

The most diluted of fragrances, it doesn’t last long at all. Infused with 1-3% perfume oil in alcohol and water. We wouldn’t recommend this fragrance because why wear it when it will be gone so soon? Generally Eau Fraiche lasts for less than an hour.

Cologne

One of the older terms for perfume but commonly used in anglo saxon countries for a masculine scent. Composed of fruitiness, light and fresh. Usually containing 2-4% perfume oils in water and alcohol. Although older folk do use cologne it tends to be more popular among the youthful crowds. Cologne Usually lasts 2 hours

Toilette

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Perfume

In the past it was known to as a genderless fragrance, and is what’s most commonly used when speaking on fragrances. Contains 15-20% of perfume of pure perfume essence. Perfume usually lasts 5 to 8 hours.

Parfum

Less commonly known, but the most concentrated and expensive of all the fragrances. Parfum can last for astoundingly long periods of time. It comprises 20-30% pure perfume essence. Applying Parfum can last you an entire 24 hours.

In Conclusion

I think we’ve covered just about all there is too picking a fragrance. While there’s so many different names and types, variations and ingredients. When you sift through it all it actually becomes quite simple and is only daunting at the very beginning. Remember what we’ve spoken about in this article and it shouldn’t be too difficult when picking a fragrance.