Most people are not aware that there are two different types of fragrances, and by fragrance type I’m referring to the actual construction of the fragrance as opposed to fragrance families (which deals more with the ingredients of a particular fragrance) or with concentrations such as eau de parfum and eau de toilette. While having an understanding of fragrance types is by no means a prerequisite for their enjoyment, it does help to know how fragrance types react when applied to the skin and how this affects the fragrances you choose.
Traditionally, fragrances have been developed using a three stage formulation and you will often see references to fragrance ‘notes’ which can be explained as follows:
This is essentially what gives off the first impression of a fragrance and is usually comprised of lighter, more volatile ingredients which can give a fragrance a sense of freshness. Typical top notes include citrus (lemon, grapefruit, bergamot), green notes (pine, mint, galbanum) and aldehyde.
After several minutes, the top notes begin to blend with middle notes or what is often referred to as the ‘heart’ of a fragrance. The dominant notes of the heart are what defines a fragrance and are used to classify it into one of the fragrance families such as floral, woody or oriental. As the fragrance family names suggest there are a vast number of ingredients which can be combined to create unique scents.
Useful tip: if you’re interested in fragrance families and would like to find out more about them then visit The Fragrance Foundation (fragrancedirectory.info/usadirectory/). This site has a comprehensive directory based on the work of Michael Edwards, a recognised guru in the world of perfume. Not only does the directory list all of the various families and sub-families but you can also look up your favourite perfumes to see what family they belong to and which other perfumes may be similar.
As the name suggests, these notes make up the underlying tones of a fragrance and what give it lasting appeal. Base notes are made up of the least volatile ingredients and popular ingredients include amber, vanilla and rare woods.
Although traditional fragrances have these separate notes, the transition from top to base should be almost imperceptible and the end result should be a harmonious blend of ingredients. In recent years however, a second fragrance type has emerged where there is no discernible transition from top to base. These fragrances are said to have a vertical formulation and tend to have a single dominating note as they settle.
So why is it useful to know how a particular fragrance formulation reacts when worn? Well it’s really useful when testing perfumes. Think about the last time you tried a new perfume in store. Chances are you sprayed a little of the perfume on a blotter card or on your skin and had a quick sniff. While this may have given you an initial impression of the fragrance, it certainly wouldn’t have given you a true sense of what the fragrance is like. For vertical fragrances this is less of an issue but for traditional fragrances that need time to develop, a quick sniff is usually not enough to decide whether or not a particular fragrance is for you. By understanding that fragrances need time you are less likely to judge a fragrance on first impressions. I test perfumes all the time and I can’t count the number of times I’ve been initially disappointed by a particular perfume, only to come to love it as it has settled through the day. So keep this in mind next time you’re looking for that signature scent and remember, fragrances, like most good things in life need time to fully appreciate them.