Fragrance wheel

Perfumes and fragrance families

Searching for the perfect fragrance can be not only challenging but also very confusing, especially if you are not familiar with the different notes combined in a particular scent.  There are hundreds to choose from and they all have their own unique fragrance.

In order to make life a little easier it is recommended that you familiarise yourself with the fragrance wheel and scent families.

 It is likely that you have smelled each of the scent families at some point in your life but perhaps did not recognise what family the scent was from.

What is the Fragrance Wheel?

The fragrance wheel is a round diagram that displays the different scent families and subfamilies.

The scents are grouped based on their similarities and differences to show their relationship to one another.

The scent groups that border each other share common olfactory characteristics, while those that are further away from one another are less related.

This fragrance classification system was developed by fragrance expert Michael Edwards in order to assist retailers to suggest perfumes to consumers more efficiently.

Each family consists of a prominent scent, while the subfamilies are blended versions of these fragrances.

Michael Edwards.
Michael Edwards

Types of Scent Families.

Scent families are broken up into four main categories:

 Floral, Oriental, Woody and Fresh and they each have their own subfamilies. A scent family has distinctive characteristics and depending upon the type of aroma you prefer an individual will be drawn towards one scent over another when choosing a personal fragrance.

Before you go shopping for a new scent it would be helpful to know which family you are attracted to. Most products are not labelled with the scent family but you should be able to find out what components make up the fragrance.

Experts who have been working with perfumes for years can tell which family or sub-family straight away as they are familiar with the different families.

 Although there are some differences between the fragrance community as to the organisation and description of each family, most agree to the following families and subfamilies.

 The floral scent family is one of the most common families and are used in many well-known perfumes. They are most used in women’s fragrances but they are also used in some men’s fragrances as well.

The scent is best described as fresh-cut flowers or they may have a powdery note to them.


  • Fruity: Sweet, edible and tropical like peach, pear and apple
  • Floral: Smells like fresh-cut flowers like rose and lily
  • Soft Floral: Soft, powdery and sweet with a hint of creamy
  • Floral Oriental: Florals with subtle spice notes

Common Floral Notes

  • Rose
  • Jasmine
  • Orange Blossom

Fragrance Examples

  • Bloom – Gucci
  • Red Door – Elizabeth Arden
  • Rockin’ Rio – Escada

The oriental fragrance family consists of rich exotic scents.  They consist of herbs and spices or dry, powdery resin notes. These notes are often softened with amber or sweet notes. This family is commonly known as exotic and seductive.


  • Soft Oriental: Soft, floral notes mixed with incense and warm spices
  • Oriental: Sweet, warm notes like cinnamon, vanilla and musk
  • Woody Oriental: Earthy notes like patchouli and sandalwood mixed with spicy and sweet notes

Common Oriental Family Notes

  • Vanilla
  • Myrrh
  • Anise

Woody perfumes are usually warm and opulent, mixing incense-like fragrances like sandalwood and patchouli with drier notes like cedar. 

To tone down the warmth of these notes, fragrances will sometimes incorporate some fresh notes like citrus or floral. Notes in this family can be described as coniferous or woody and bitter.


  • Woods: Aromatic scents like cedarwood, sandalwood and vetiver
  • Mossy Woods: Sweet, smooth and earthy scents like oakmoss and amber
  • Dry Woods: Smouldering and smoky mixed with leather aromas

Common Wood Family Notes

  • Patchouli
  • Vetiver
  • Sandalwood

The fresh scent family comprises of clean, bright scents. Herby, Citrusy and oceanic scent all fall into this category.

They are more often used in men’s fragrances that women’s fragrances, fresh scents are paired with spicy notes to create a more robust fragrance. Aromatic tart notes can also be found mixed with zesty or fruity scents.


  • Aromatic: Clean and fresh herbs mixed with lavender or woody scents
  • Citrus: Zesty or tangy notes like mandarins or bergamot
  • Water: Aquatic scents that smell of sea spray or rain mixed with oceanic notes
  • Green: Smells of freshly mowed lawns and crushed green leaves

Common Fresh Family Notes

  • Sage
  • Bergamot
  • Grapefruit

Similar to when you match certain colours that go together, certain fragrance families go together as well.  The scent wheel makes it easy to see this.

Fragrance subfamilies that are side by side on the fragrance wheel will almost blend well.

You can also pick a sub-family to start with and see which note appears across from it on the fragrance wheel. This means that those notes are complimentary to one another. For example soft oriental will compliment citrus and oriental will complement water.

You can also select three fragrance sub-families that create a triangle on the fragrance wheel.

 You will find that these compliment each other nicely. For example, if you like floral oriental notes, look for a scent that contains mossy and water notes as well.

After you have decided which families you like best and what secondary notes you will be looking for, it is time for you to start researching the perfect perfume for you.

You could go to a local perfume shop or you could order fragrance samples on line.  You must however be sure to test them on your skin to ensure you are still happy with the scent.


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