A glossary of notes, ingredients, and terminology to help demystify the process of shopping for fragrances online.
Written ByJACLYN LITTLE
The “soul of the fragrance,” created by pooling 6 to 10 different components or “notes”. The same way different notes of music create a chord, so it does with fragrances.
A family of chemicals that give fragrances that fizzy pop right out of the bottle, similar to carbonation in champagne. These tend to make floral notes more bubbly and airy, fresh notes greener, and woody and amber notes softer. They can also help increase sillage, or the projection of a scent.
A heavy, smoky, almost balsamic fragrance sometimes compared to and combined with pine and leather. It is warm, resinous, sensual, slightly sweet, and exotic.
A highly-coveted base note that is rare in its pure form. It smells earthy, sweet, and almost tobacco-like.
A rich, musky scent that is extracted from the hibiscus flower. It is sometimes used as a fixative, enhancing the natural quality of other ingredients and helping scents to linger longer.
AMBROXAN (OR AMBROX)
A complex note that is velvety, rich, and long-lasting. Some find it salty, creamy, and musky. It is often used as a base note for its staying power.
A strong, aromatic, green scent that is often used as a fixative. It has notes of earthy, musky, peppery, herbal, and crispiness.
Fresh, crisp, acidic, bright, and green.
Soft, crisp, and floral. Often a top note.
A warm, ambery vanilla scent that shows up in benzoin and tonka bean.
The heaviest ingredients in a perfume formula that linger on the skin the longest. Base notes help to “fix” other notes in the perfume formula (i.e. make them last longer) and enhance the scent of other ingredients.
Green, slightly sharp, and spicy. Different basils have different fragrance qualities so basil notes can be lemony, or tarragon-y, or more straight-forward basil-y.
This gives body to many perfumes, especially in the amber family. It has a vanilla quality with a little bit of spice.
The fragrant citrus fruit of an evergreen tree. It has a fruity, mildly spicy scent but is also fresh and airy. It is often used as a fixative and is found at some level in most modern perfumes.
A woody scent that is still light and bright with notes of lemon, amber, and musk.
Tart-yet-sweet, this adds a light, fruity, woody note.
Slightly similar to rose but with a lemon-y twist, it is rich, green, and almost minty.
A smoky, tar-like fragrance from the distillation of juniper.
An aromatic, green fragrance that, depending on the kind, can be fresh and eucalyptus-y or earthy, smoky, and suede-like.
A warm, animalic, and semi-fruity scent that is used mostly in synthetic forms and is often found in leather-y fragrances.
An ingredient that provides a tactile experience to different fragrance families that almost “melts” ingredients together. It is faintly spicy, musky, and powdery.
A fresh, woody scent with a hint of resin.
Berry, nutmeg, clove and warm vanilla sugar.
Cinnamon sticks smell warm, full, slightly fruity, peppery and vanilla-like. The cinnamon leaves smell spicy, woody and a bit metallic.
Musky, inviting, and sensual, this adds warmth and radiance and is often used as a fixative.
A spicy, peppery cinnamon note often used in woody and amber fragrances. Clove is a popular ingredient in spicy floral and oriental fragrances.
Sweet and creamy with a rich-but-airy scent.
It has a sweet, green, and spicy character that is slightly woody and peppery. Think of early summer morning grass.
The French word for leather. See, Leather.
Refined, light, clean and mysterious.
A woody and earthy fragrance with a hint of spice.
Flowery green and slightly sweet, this rose smells powdery and linen-y. It can also be fruity, spicy, or lemon-y.
A common fixative thanks to its spicy, balsamic almost-lemony scent that gives other ingredients staying power.
Cool, fresh, clean, minty, woody, and citrusy. Often used as a middle note in fragrances.
A nutty, almost maple-syrup note.
A substance that restricts the volatility of other fragrances and helps to prolong the staying-power.
A resin often used as a fixative.
Similar to rose, but with a citrus-twist.
A spicy, amber scent that is warm, sharp, and light.
A sweet, herbaceous scent that lends an outdoorsy freshness.
An ingredient used to highlight others, it can smell faintly of almonds, cherry, and/or vanilla.
Many kinds of honey are used in fragrances and the variations can smell sweet, herbal, woody, tobacco-y, and flowery.
One of the most expensive fragrance ingredients, this scent is powdery, soft, floral, elegant. Often used as a heart/middle note.
Used to enhance other fragrances and oils, this can be used to “personalize” your fragrances, creating a couture-like effect when worn alone or with other fragrances.
A powerful, elegant, tobacco-like, woody scent that adds elegance, depth, and character to fragrances.
The most widely used ingredient in fragrances, jasmine is intensely floral, sweet, and full-bodied.
A powerful-but-fresh scent with a touch of sappy pine.
Often used to let other floral fragrances “breathe” (like air helping develop wine), this sweet green note can also have hints of spice and lemon.
Where traditional fragrances are designed with top, middle, and basenotes that develop over time, a linear fragrance is designed as a “what you smell is what you get” experience that lends a true impression from the first spritz.
A smooth, sweet, floral-like citrus that becomes lightly floral and neroli-like over time.
A mix of bitter herbs, ripe apples, and green leaves that can also read as musky.
A bitter tea note that can tone down florals and herbs.
Used to extend the life of fragrances, this sensual amber scent can range from fresh laundry to dark and animalic.
A delicate aroma that comes across as green and bitter but develops to become more floral and sweet with light citrusy notes.
A sweet, woody scent that may come across as a bit musky.
Basically means “ingredient.” but can also be used loosely to describe an “accord” of ingredients.
Sweet, spicy, and earthy, it is slightly more subtle than clove and cinnamon and is often used in woody or amber fragrances.
Earthy, woodsy, green, and mossy.
ORANGE FLOWER (NEROLI)
Lends a rich, earthy, carroty, and powdery effect to fragrances.
A velvety gum resin that is smokey, soft, luminous and sensual all at once. It sometimes has faint notes of caramel, mahogany, and whiskey.
An animalic, earthy, woody, tobacco-y fragrance that can be dark and complex.
A woody note with a fresh citrusy-green quality. It can also have scents of mint and pine.
This fruity fragrance can also come across as woody, dry, and earthy.
Dark and earthy, this amber scent is sweet, spicy, smoky, and cedar-y. The most powerful of any plant-derived essences, this should be handled with care.
A crisp and clean note that is more subtle and floral than apple.
There are a variety of peppers used in fragrances, but typically they are all dry, spicy, sweet, and slightly floral. Pink pepper is less spicy and more rose-y than black pepper.
A crisp, spicy, woody scent.
The areas on your body where blood flows closest to the surface of the skin and where it is recommended to apply body fragrances (as to “heat” the fragrance) for better sillage––the neck, wrists, behind the knees, behind the ears, etc.
A lightly-floral, tangy scent that can be juicy or light, sweet, or tart.
Warm, sweet, and soft with spicy undertones, Considered “the queen of flowers”, rose appears in perfumery in hundreds of varieties. This rose absolute is a warm, sweet floral with soft, spicy undertones. It can be used any number of ways: as part of a floral bouquet, combined with rich amber, or lifted by sparkling citrus.
Pungent, lavender-like, and aromatic, this is also used symbolically in weddings, funerals and war commemorations in some countries, “Rosemary for remembrance”.
A woody scent with a floral, slightly rose-like odor.
Very often used as a fixative, this versatile ingredient has a creamy sweetness that blends well with other notes.
The trail of scent that diffuses around its wearer. If you can smell the perfume of the person across the room, the perfume has a predominant sillage.
An enveloping synthetic scent that provides texture to other notes and provides a woody, velvety quality.
Man-made molecules that are used in the creation of fragrances. Many “natural” fragrances can no longer be sourced, are costly to source, or are unethical to source. Do not be scared of synthetic scents, as it is very rare to find a 100% natural fragrance.
A sweet, sexy, smokey, and mysterious amber note that gives off hints of caramel and spice.
Similar to vanilla but with a hint of spicy cinnamon, clove, caramel, and almond.
A scent molecule that provides damp aquatic freshness alongside mineral notes.
A sweet, creamy, fruity floral that belongs to a class of white flowers (along with orange blossom and jasmine).
A powdery, woody, musky scent with fruity, clove-like undertones.
Used to smooth and add sweetness to other notes, vanilla adds depth and warmth.
Often used as a fixative, vetiver is earthy, damp, woodsy and smokey.
Airy, delicate, and flowery while still being subtle.
Similar in quality to jasmine, but far less expensive, this fruity, floral scent is intensely sweet and rich and can have an almost wintergreen top note.
HOW TO SHOP FOR
We asked David Moltz, perfumer and founder of D.S. & Durga, about assembling a capsule fragrance wardrobe online and broke it out into 6 easy steps.