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Olfactory Groups: How are Fragrances Classified?

  • 3 min read

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Let us first start by saying that the fragrance industry has had a long history of discontinuity on classifications. Debates and differences exist not only with the fragrance olfactory groups (which we’ll discus below), but with fragrance oil concentration terminology (Eau de Parfum vs. Eau de Toilette) as well. The lack of continuity is found between brands, nations and new vs. old fragrance buffs. The below takes more of a ‘traditional’ view of the olfactory classifications but even by labeling it ‘traditional,’ there are many that would not agree. If there was a ‘standard’ in the industry, it might be the Michael Edwards' Fragrance Wheel (see wikipedia.com).  Either way, the below will provide you with sufficient food for thought and give one a solid understanding of the perfume and cologne industry’s olfactory landscape.

Aromatic - typically a combination of rosemary, cumin, sage, lavender and any plants or tree which displays a noticeable spicy / outdoorsy / grassy aroma. Aromatic centric fragrances are most often found paired with the Citrus grouping and are typically intended for men’s colognes (although there is no rule to this).

  • Common sub-classifications of Aromatic scents
    • Aquatic
    • Fougere – Because it is most often associated (and confused) with the Aromatic family, we’ll touch upon Fougere fragrances here. The name 'fougere’ derives from French word 'fougere' or 'fern'. Coumarin is the main ingredient in generating the fougere scent and it can be found in several plants including but not limited to: Tonka beans, lavender, geranium, moss and even wood. Fougere fragrances possess the intense scent of recently mown grass.
    • Fruity
    • Green
    • Spicy

Chypre Chypre means ‘Cyprus’ in French from which the name was derived, referring to a 1920’s popular fragrance. This aroma is sharp and contains oak moss, patchouli, labdanum and bergamot most often.

  • Common sub-classifications of Chypre scents
    • Floral
    • Fruity

Citrus - Citrus fragrances are everywhere and in most perfumes. Compositions include orange, lemon, bergamot (like Chypre), grapefruit and mandarin. Citrusy fragrances are frequently used for men and women fragrances; especially summer fragrances or an Eau Fraiche.

  • Sub-classifications of Citrus scents
    • Aromatic
    • Gourmand

Floral - This largest of the olfactory groups, Florals (as you might have guessed) smell of freshly picked flowers, aquatic/floral hints, powdery nuances, as well as aldehyde, fruity and gourmand hints.

  • Common sub-classifications of Floral scents
    • Aldehyde
    • Aquatic
    • Fruity
    • Fruity / Gourmand
    • Green
    • Woody Musk

Leather - a complex group with many avenues, Leather is not often referenced as an ‘official’ olfactory family. However, the distinguishing scent of leather is so impactful and familiar in today’s society, many perfumers give Leather its own classification. From sweet to tart, floral to smoky, this group is diverse and resonates with all. Smell this and you'll smell 'power'!

Oriental - Equally familiar as Leather, Oriental fragrances, which are predominantly amber-based, occupy their own family thanks to their familiar warmth and innate ‘sensuality’. Their opulent bouquets include intoxicating substances such as musk, vanillas, exotic resins and wood, often with a hint of exotic flowers and spices; yes, most definitely the spices!

  • Common sub-classifications of Oriental scents
    • Floral
    • Fougere
    • Spicy
    • Vanilla
    • Woody

Woody - As the name would indicate, fragrances have woody, earthy notes. Warm is defining trait. Ingredients include sandalwood, drier and sharper cedar and vetiver. Woody fragrances are often found mixed with Aromatic and Citrus notes.

  • Common sub-classifications of Woody scents
    • Aquatic
    • Aromatic
    • Chypre
    • Floral Musk
    • Spicy

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