Just a little note on perfume terms that you might come across as you research or buy perfumes. As always, spray a perfume and wear it around so you can see how the scent changes as you wear it. Many perfume purchases I’ve made on the spot have been ones I’ve regretted because they ended up being too sweet as they wore on my skin. Try it for a day or two and then buy it if you must.
These are determined by what percentage of aroma the product contains. Without getting into specifics, the strongest is a Perfume Oil, then a Parfum. These will be more expensive than say an Eau de Parfum which is not as strong. An Eau de Toilette is less strong, and an Eau de Cologne is least strong (it only has 2-5% aromatic compounds in it!).
Most commonly, you see the words top notes, middle notes, and base notes. The top notes are notes that we smell first and have a tendency to fade within an hour or so. These notes are usually citrus-y in nature and because citrus notes fade fast, citrus fragrances fade quicker than others too – something to keep in mind if you’re buying a citrus fragrance.
Middles notes are what you smell after the top note has faded, and the base notes are what’s smelled in the “dry down” of a perfume; that is, when a perfume has been resting on your skin for some time.
This means that a perfume doesn’t always smell the same, and that’s why it’s so important to try it on before you purchase it. You might like it after an hour of wearing it, you might not.
Now, the three kinds of notes together make a “fragrance pyramid” but you might be thinking that you know of a perfume that smells the same all the time. These are linear perfumes. They smell exactly on the skin as they do out of the bottle. If you’re ever going to buy a fragrance for someone (not something I recommend) you should make sure it’s linear. How to make sure it is? Smell it in the bottle, then spray it on a card and on the skin. Do all three smell the same? Still smell the same after a couple of hours? Then chances are that the perfume is linear in nature and will smell the same way on the recipient of the gift.
The Floral family is self-explanatory. Scent makers will either combine a variety of florals (into bouquets) or have single flower dominate the perfume.
Ambers is vanilla combined with woods or florals, while Woods are mostly cedars.
Leather is also a term that gets thrown about, and this does not mean that the perfume really smells like actual leather. In the olden days, leather used to smell bad so they used to scent it with oils to make it smell better. These oils were commonly those that smelled of woods and so these days, a leather perfume is one that smells like wood or incense.
Chypre (with a hard c) are those scents that are more old-world. Think Patchouli or Labdanum and you’ve got a Chypre scent.
Fougere is usually a scent that is quite herby and usually refers to scents for men. Think top notes of citrus blended with base notes of wood and chances are you have a Fougere.
Although those are the traditional fragrance families, these days we also have gourmand fragrances. You know the ones: Pink Sugar, Comptoir Sud Pacifique, etc. These perfumes smell like cakes, bakeries, and the like (foody fragrances).
I could go on and talk about variations and combinations but I think this is a good starting point for a perfume primer. There’s a good chance that you’ve come across these terms before and that you’ll see them again.