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What are notes? What does a gourmand scent smell like? With the help of Heretic founder and clean perfumer Douglas Little, we reveal how to find a fragrance online without having the chance to smell it first.

Photography ByDREW ESCRIVA

Skepticism. That’s the feeling you might get when purchasing a scent you’ve never tried via the Internet. To simplify the process, the Violet Files spoke to Heretic Founder, clean perfumer, and the nose behind our exclusive scent Melrose Place, Douglas Little, to break down the sometimes complicated fragrance jargon.


Notes are incredibly important to read when scrolling through a fragrance description. Simply put and according to Little, fragrance notes are a way of describing the components that make up each element of a perfume. Most scents include a top, a middle, and a base.

Top notes: “The top notes of a perfume are made up of small, light molecules that evaporate quickly, but appear immediately after spraying a fragrance,” says Little. “These are important when making an initial impression.” Top notes usually consist of herbs, spices, and citrus ingredients.

Middle notes: Known as middle or heart notes, these appear shortly after the top notes dissipate and form the main body of the perfume. “Heart notes are usually a little more mellow and stick around for longer,” adds Little. Middle notes usually include florals.

Base notes: “These form the main body of a perfume and introduce the depth and solidity,” says Little. “Base notes aren’t usually detectable until 30 minutes or so after application, but can last up to 24 hours, depending on their potency.” Typical base notes are resins, woods, and roots.


Citrus, floral, fruity, gourmand, green-slash-herbal, exotic, and woody is how Little categorizes fragrance. Below, a category roster to help define the scent family that is most appealing to you.

Citrus: This category of fragrance is defined by its predominantly light, fresh character. It contains notes of one or more citrus fruits, including orange, bergamot, lime, yuzu, tangerine, grapefruit, clementine, or mandarin. Little adds, “Orange-tree ingredients are also common to this category, such as neroli and petitgrain, a citrus extract derived from the leaves and twigs of the bitter orange tree.”

Woody: A woody fragrance has predominant earthy woods notes. These include cedar, sandalwood, vetiver, moss, and patchouli.

Floral: Rose, peony, tuberose, neroli, freesia, jasmine, lily, lily of the valley, honeysuckle, and/or violet fall into the floral family.

Fruity: Raspberry, strawberry, peach, mango, and apple, in part or as a combination, define the character of a fruity perfume.

Gourmand: A gourmand scent is defined by its sweet character of edible notes, from chocolate and caramel to cotton candy and sugar.

Green/Herbal: This category stems from earthy, leafy, and vegetal notes, from grass and tea leaves to juniper and vetiver.

Exotic: The spicy scents of exotic fragrances include notes like peppercorn, clove, vanilla, cinnamon, and oud.


EDP stands for eau de parfum while EDT translates to eau de toilette. “Typically, an EDT is 8 to 10 percent perfume oil to alcohol and an EDP is 10 to 15 percent perfume oil to alcohol,” says Little. “The more perfume oil to alcohol will reflect the fragrance’s strength and longevity on the skin, as well as its price.”

To that end, Little notes that if a fragrance is mainly alcohol, you should ask what kind it is made from. At Heretic, he works with a non-denatured alcohol made from non-GMO sugar cane alcohol. “Ninety-eight percent of most fragrance brands make fragrance with SD40 alcohol, also known as ‘perfumers alcohol,’” says Little. “This is a grain-derived alcohol readily available to the perfume industry; however, the alcohol is made largely from GMO corn and grain.”


After 10 years of working in the fragrance industry, Little felt there was a gap when it came to clean scents sans synthetics. So in 2015, he launched Heretic, a modern and sexy fragrance brand that contains 100 percent natural ingredients. “I was told by my peers that the idea was insane and that no one would be interested,” says Little. “In fact, one person compared my idea to the work of heresy—and that’s how the company got its name.”

So what does clean fragrance consist of? While there are many options and even more opinions, Little suggests asking yourself how clean or natural you want your fragrance to be. While Heretic does not contain any synthetics, there are brands that blend with safe synthetics.


When looking for the perfect scent online, Little suggests the following:

1. Carefully read the description. Does it match what you’re going after?

2. Ask what the main featured fragrance note is. This will help to determine if it’s the right fragrance for you.

3. Do you want a bold or soft fragrance? “I go through phases—sometimes I’m in the mood for a bold, loud scent and other times I want something a bit more subdued,” says Little. He recommends asking the brand where the perfume sits on the scale of reserved to bold.


When your new signature scent arrives, always apply it to clean skin. “If you choose to moisturize first, do so with one that doesn’t have an odor,” says Little. “Fragrance should be applied to places you want it to be discovered—by either yourself or others. Spritz on your neck, wrist, cleavage, back of the knee, lower back, and at the nape of the neck.”