Thinking Fragrance

What you need to know before creating a perfume

What are the Fragrance Families?

Whilst studying the history of perfume and the science involved, I discovered it can be really quite daunting so in an attempt to clarify the traditional and the modern aspects of perfumery I have set out below my interpretation of how things apply.


The traditional classification of perfumes emerged in 1900 and comprised of the following categories:

  • Single floral fragrances that are dominated by a scent from one particular flower
  • Floral Bouquet containing the combination of several flowers in a scent
  • Ambery which is large fragrance class featuring the scents of vanilla and animal scents together with flowers and woods which can be enhanced by camphorous oils and incense resins
  • Woody fragrances that are dominated by woody scents, typically of sandalwood and cedar, Patchouli is also commonly used in these perfumes
  • Leather is a family of fragrances which features the scents of honey, tobacco, wood and wood tars in its middle notes and base notes that allude to leather
  • Chypre which means Cyprus in French includes fragrances built on a similar accord consisting of bergamot, oakmoss, patchouli and labdanum
  • Fougere is built on a base of lavender, coumarin and oakmoss. Many men’s fragrances belong to this family which is characterised by a sharp herbaceous and woody scent
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 Since 1945 great advances in the technology of perfume creation such as compound design and synthesis as well as the natural development of styles and tastes led to new categories 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. It is a very clean, modern smell leading to many of the modern androgynous perfumes
  • Citrus or Fruity: An old fragrance family consisting 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: these are fragrances with ‘edible’ or ‘dessert’ like qualities. These often contain notes of vanilla and tonka bean as well as synthetic components designed to resemble food flavours

The Fragrance Wheel

This is a relatively new classification method that is widely used in retail and in the fragrance industry.

It was created in 1983 by a consultant in the perfume industry who designed their own method of fragrance classification.  It was created in order to simplify fragrance classification and naming, as well as to show the relationships between each of the individual classes.  

The five standard families consist of Floral, Oriental, Woody, Fougere and Fresh with former four families being more classic while the latter consists of newer bright and clean smelling citrus and oceanic fragrances that have been developed due to improvements in fragrance technology. With the exception of the Fougere family each of the families are in turn divided into three subgroups and arranged around a wheel.

The fougere family is placed in the centre of the wheel as they are a large family of scents that usually contain fragrance elements from each of the four families. As a class chypres is more difficult to place since they would be located under parts of the Oriental and Woody families.


Chypre – Based on a woody, mossy, floral fragrance 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-labdanum, patchouli and bergamot. The richness of chypre notes mixes perfectly with floral or fruity notes.  This family is made up of distinguished, instantly recognisable fragrances.

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 and Donna Karan DKNY Be Delicious.

Fruity – The cyphre 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 such as orange blossoms, petit grain or neroli oil have been added.

Floral or even chypre accords are sometimes present as well. These perfumes are characterised by their freshness and lightness including the first “Eaux de Cologne”. The one subgroup under this family is aromatic.

Aromatic – The citrus fragrance 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 Lancôme O de Lancôme.

Floral – This family is composed of a large variety of creations ranging from 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. An example of which is Estee Lauder White Linen.

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

Carnation – “The Poets 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 Lancôme Miracle.

Green – Green notes add a sharper freshness. 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, Clinique Happy, Armani Emporio Remix for Her, Cartier Delices, Dior J’Adore.

Jasmine – Also known as “The Flower” enhances the floral top notes. It helps to give perfume a complex and refined structure.  Examples include Burberry London, 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 of which include Cacherel Anais and Estee Lauder Pleasures for Women.

Orange Tuberose – Introduced in 1948, this sub-family has kept all of its appeal. It includes original scents that are unique.  Examples include Armani Code for Her and Givenchy Amarige.

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

Woody Musk – This is a floral fragrance and includes fragrances with an additional woody and/or musky note which gives a richer fragrance than that of a traditional floral perfume. Examples include Aramis Always for Her, Calvin Klein CK Be, Jette Joop Jette, Donna Karan Gold to name but a few.

Oriental – Also known as amber fragrances. They stand out because of their unique blend of warmth and sensuality. They are rich and incorporate 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.



Aromatic – Aromatic notes are mainly composed of sage, rosemary, thyme and lavender and is usually complimented with citrus and spicy notes.  These compositions’ manly character makes them an all-time favourite 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 fragrance with an ocean note. This modern family has many recent new creations. Examples include Armani Acqua Di Gio for Men, Davidoff Cool Water Game and Kenzo for Men.

Fougere – Timeless aromatic notes blend with a traditional fougere fragrance characterised by lavender, woody, coumarin, geranium and oakmoss notes. Examples include Armani Emporio Remix for Him, Dolce & Gabbana Classique, Faberge Brut Original, Hugo Boss BOSS Selection and Lucky Brand 6 For Men.

Fresh – Notes such as white flowers or citrus notes are added to an aromatic bouquet characterised by an underlying woody note. Examples include Eternity for Men, Davidoff Cool Water, Clinique Happy for Men, Estee Lauder Pleasures for Men and Tommy Hilfiger T.

Rustic – This dominant aromatic fragrance is enhanced by the addition of rustic notes carrying scents of the countryside such as freshly mowed grass. Examples include Aramis New West for Men, Hugo Boss Hugo, Ralph Lauren Polo Sport and Calvin Klein Escape for Men.

Citrus – This is a family of citrus notes such as bergamot, lemon, orange, tangerine and grapefruit. These fragrances are characterised by their freshness and lightness. The masculine character comes from the frequently strong presence of aromatic and spicy notes. The one subgroup under this family is Aromatic.

Woody – Oriental flavours composed of rich and warm notes such as vanilla, coumarin and labandum ciste are emphasised by opulent woody notes like patchouli, sandalwood or vetiver. Examples include Calvin Klein Contradiction for Men, Davidoff Silver Shadow and Burberry Brit for Men and Calvin Klein Obsession for Men.

Floral Musk – This category is characterised 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, Burberry Touch for Men, Dior Homme, Dior Fahrenheit and 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, Gucci Rush for Men, Old Spice Original and Ralph Lauren Polo Double Black.

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