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LESSONS:

THE FRAGRANCE
GLOSSARY

A glossary of notes, ingredients, and terminology to help demystify the process of shopping for fragrances online.
 

Written ByJACLYN LITTLE

Photography ByPURIENNE

ACCORD

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.

AGARWOOD

See, Oud.

ALDEHYDES

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.

AMBER

A heavy, smoky, almost balsamic fragrance sometimes compared to and combined with pine and leather. It is warm, resinous, sensual, slightly sweet, and exotic. 

AMBERGRIS

A highly-coveted base note that is rare in its pure form. It smells earthy, sweet, and almost tobacco-like.

AMBRETTE

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.

ANGELICA SEED

A strong, aromatic, green scent that is often used as a fixative. It has notes of earthy, musky, peppery, herbal, and crispiness.

APPLE

Fresh, crisp, acidic, bright, and green.

APPLE BLOSSOM

Soft, crisp, and floral. Often a top note.

BALSAM

A warm, ambery vanilla scent that shows up in benzoin and tonka bean.

BASE NOTE

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.

BASIL

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.

BENZOIN

This gives body to many perfumes, especially in the amber family. It has a vanilla quality with a little bit of spice.

BERGAMOT

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.

BIRCHWOOD

A woody scent that is still light and bright with notes of lemon, amber, and musk.

BLACK CURRANT

Tart-yet-sweet, this adds a light, fruity, woody note.

BOURBON GERANIUM

Slightly similar to rose but with a lemon-y twist, it is rich, green, and almost minty.

CADE

A smoky, tar-like fragrance from the distillation of juniper.

CARDAMOM

An aromatic, green fragrance that, depending on the kind, can be fresh and eucalyptus-y or earthy, smoky, and suede-like.

CASTOREUM

A warm, animalic, and semi-fruity scent that is used mostly in synthetic forms and is often found in leather-y fragrances.

CASHMERAN

An ingredient that provides a tactile experience to different fragrance families that almost “melts” ingredients together. It is faintly spicy, musky, and powdery.

CEDAR WOOD

A fresh, woody scent with a hint of resin.

CEYLON

See, cinnamon.

CHESTNUT

Berry, nutmeg, clove and warm vanilla sugar.

CILANTRO (CORIANDER)

See, Coriander.

CINNAMON

Cinnamon sticks smell warm, full, slightly fruity, peppery and vanilla-like. The cinnamon leaves smell spicy, woody and a bit metallic.

CIVET

Musky, inviting, and sensual, this adds warmth and radiance and is often used as a fixative.

CLOVE

A spicy, peppery cinnamon note often used in woody and amber fragrances. Clove is a popular ingredient in spicy floral and oriental fragrances.

COCONUT MILK

Sweet and creamy with a rich-but-airy scent.

CORIANDER (CILANTRO)

It has a sweet, green, and spicy character that is slightly woody and peppery. Think of early summer morning grass.

CUIR

The French word for leather. See, Leather.

CYCLAMEN

Refined, light, clean and mysterious.

CYPRIOL

A woody and earthy fragrance with a hint of spice.

DAMASCENA ROSE

Flowery green and slightly sweet, this rose smells powdery and linen-y. It can also be fruity, spicy, or lemon-y.

ELEMI

A common fixative thanks to its spicy, balsamic almost-lemony scent that gives other ingredients staying power.

EUCALYPTUS

Cool, fresh, clean, minty, woody, and citrusy. Often used as a middle note in fragrances.

FENUGREEK

A nutty, almost maple-syrup note.

FIXATIVE

A substance that restricts the volatility of other fragrances and helps to prolong the staying-power.

FRANKINCENSE (OLIBANUM)

A resin often used as a fixative.

GERANIUM

Similar to rose, but with a citrus-twist.

GINGER

A spicy, amber scent that is warm, sharp, and light.

GRASS

A sweet, herbaceous scent that lends an outdoorsy freshness.

HELIOTROPE

An ingredient used to highlight others, it can smell faintly of almonds, cherry, and/or vanilla.

HONEY

Many kinds of honey are used in fragrances and the variations can smell sweet, herbal, woody, tobacco-y, and flowery.

IRIS

One of the most expensive fragrance ingredients, this scent is powdery, soft, floral, elegant. Often used as a heart/middle note.

ISO E SUPER

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.

LEATHER

A powerful, elegant, tobacco-like, woody scent that adds elegance, depth, and character to fragrances.

JASMINE

The most widely used ingredient in fragrances, jasmine is intensely floral, sweet, and full-bodied.

JUNIPER

A powerful-but-fresh scent with a touch of sappy pine.

LILY OF THE VALLEY

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.

LINEAR FRAGRANCES

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.

MANDARIN

A smooth, sweet, floral-like citrus that becomes lightly floral and neroli-like over time.

MARIGOLD

A mix of bitter herbs, ripe apples, and green leaves that can also read as musky.

MATÉ

A bitter tea note that can tone down florals and herbs.

MUSK

Used to extend the life of fragrances, this sensual amber scent can range from fresh laundry to dark and animalic.

NEROLI

A delicate aroma that comes across as green and bitter but develops to become more floral and sweet with light citrusy notes.

NESBERRY

A sweet, woody scent that may come across as a bit musky.

NOTE

Basically means “ingredient.” but can also be used loosely to describe an “accord” of ingredients.

NUTMEG

Sweet, spicy, and earthy, it is slightly more subtle than clove and cinnamon and is often used in woody or amber fragrances.

OAKMOSS

Earthy, woodsy, green, and mossy.

ORANGE FLOWER (NEROLI)

See, Neroli.

ORRIS

Lends a rich, earthy, carroty, and powdery effect to fragrances.

OLIBANUM

See, Frankincense.

OPOPONAX

A velvety gum resin that is smokey, soft, luminous and sensual all at once. It sometimes has faint notes of caramel, mahogany, and whiskey.

OUD (AGARWOOD)

An animalic, earthy, woody, tobacco-y fragrance that can be dark and complex.

PALO SANTO

A woody note with a fresh citrusy-green quality. It can also have scents of mint and pine.

PAPYRUS

This fruity fragrance can also come across as woody, dry, and earthy.

PATCHOULI

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.

PEAR

A crisp and clean note that is more subtle and floral than apple.

PEPPER (PEPPERCORN)

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.

PINE NEEDLE

A crisp, spicy, woody scent.

PULSEPOINT

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.

RASPBERRY

A lightly-floral, tangy scent that can be juicy or light, sweet, or tart.

ROSE

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.

ROSEMARY

Pungent, lavender-like, and aromatic, this is also used symbolically in weddings, funerals and war commemorations in some countries, “Rosemary for remembrance”.

ROSEWOOD

A woody scent with a floral, slightly rose-like odor.

SANDALWOOD

Very often used as a fixative, this versatile ingredient has a creamy sweetness that blends well with other notes.

SILLAGE

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.

SUEDE

An enveloping synthetic scent that provides texture to other notes and provides a woody, velvety quality.

SYNTHETICS

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.

TOBACCO

A sweet, sexy, smokey, and mysterious amber note that gives off hints of caramel and spice.

TONKA BEAN

Similar to vanilla but with a hint of spicy cinnamon, clove, caramel, and almond.

TRANSLUZONE

A scent molecule that provides damp aquatic freshness alongside mineral notes.

TUBEROSE

A sweet, creamy, fruity floral that belongs to a class of white flowers (along with orange blossom and jasmine).

TURKISH ROSE

A powdery, woody, musky scent with fruity, clove-like undertones.

VANILLA

Used to smooth and add sweetness to other notes, vanilla adds depth and warmth.

VETIVER

Often used as a fixative, vetiver is earthy, damp, woodsy and smokey.

WATERLILY

Airy, delicate, and flowery while still being subtle.

YLANG YLANG

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
FRAGRANCES ONLINE

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.