A Brief Introduction to Fragrance Families

A short walk to understand how scents are classified

Photo by Trung Do Bao on Unsplash

Perfume is classified into categories, and we called them olfactive family. Knowing the fragrance families helps us to describe an odor and understand the fragrance. It’s like entering a different dimension. Beautiful one, I assure you. Furthermore, understanding the olfactive families is the first step to narrow down our options to which profile and, later on, ingredients we like in a perfume.

I will try to explain the principal olfactive families in this post.

In general, there are seven olfaction families: floral, citrus, woody, aromatic, fougere, chypre, oriental. Those seven families are followed by different facets: fruity, green, ozonic, spicy, leathery, amber, powdery, musky, aldehydic, marine, waxy, fatty, and fresh. In perfume, they can marry each other. It is possible to have a floral woody, citrus green, oriental floral, and so on.


This is the most common family to notice. To date, floral perfume is still the most popular family. Fragrances in this category are comfortable to wear in any occasion, hence easily accepted by the market. Their characteristics are often feminine and delicate, although some are daring and bold.

People usually relate floral families with the smell of rose and jasmine-the two most important flowers in floral compositions. Although various essential oils from flowers are produced to create fragrances, such as tuberose, orange blossom, mimosa, etc. In general, there are three types of florals often used to describe a scent: floral-rose, floral-white flowers, and floral ozonic.

Rose (left) and Carnation (right)

Rose is a pink-red flower. It has floral facets with balsamic (sweet) tonalities and waxy accents-a very particular character of rosy sub-family. Other examples for rose sub-family are peony, sweet pea, carnation, and geranium. Good examples of floral rose fragrance are Roses de Chloe (Chloe), A la Rose (Maison Francis Kurdjian), Rose Rose (Bvlgari), Very Irresistible (Givenchy), Portrait of a Lady (Frederic Malle), etc.

Jasmin (left) and Tuberose (right)

Flowers that are often used to describe white flowers are jasmine, gardenia, tuberose, frangipani, etc. They have fresh fruity accents and animalic undertones. These flowers are opulent. They are often described as ‘Solaire’ because of the rich cream-cosmetic accents it gives to the fragrance. Beautiful examples of this are Jasmin Noir (Bvlgari), Jasmin Rouge (Tom Ford), La Femme (Prada), Gucci Bloom (Gucci), Do Son (Diptyque), and Terracotta (Guerlain).

Lily of the valley

Another variation of the floral family is ozonic flowers. Lily of the valley is one of them. It imparts fresh and transparent notes, giving watery feelings. This type of florals also has green facets that simulate its natural scent. In fact, lily of the valley also has rosy tonalities, since it contains molecules that also present in rose. Diorissimo (Dior), L’eau d’Issey (Issey Miyake), and Daisy (Marc Jacobs) are some of the examples of this floral fragrances.

An interesting modifier of the floral group is aldehydes. Aldehydes modify the floral facet and give clean feelings to the composition. We have the perfect classic example of this: Chanel №5. Since it was first launched in 1920, Chanel №5 is still ranking in the top 5 fragrances most sold in the US and Europe.


Ingredients describing the citrus family are orange, bergamot, mandarin, lemon, lime, grapefruit, etc. This family imparts freshness and energy. The molecules are mostly volatile and heat sensitive. Usually, they don’t last for long. Materials in this group are also known as Hesperides, which means raw materials that act solely as the top note.

Citrus fragrances are often marketed as masculine and unisex. Eau Sauvage (Dior) is a very successful citrus perfume. It is indeed a very fresh and sparkling perfume. Edmond Roudnitska, the nose behind Eau Sauvage, enhanced the citrus part’s longevity by adding Hedione-a synthetic floral note. Another example of citrus perfume is CK One (Calvin Klein). Launched in 1994, this is the first perfume marketed as unisex and very successful in the market.

Feminine citrus perfume, although relatively rare, exist in the market. Light Blue (Dolce & Gabbana) is very popular with its dominant citrus notes, although mentioned as a floral citrus perfume. Guerlain’s Aqua Allegoria line also has citrus scents, Pamplelune.

Grapefruit (left) and Bergamot (right)

Modern citrus fragrances introduce more sophisticated citruses, such as grapefruit. Niche fragrance houses, such as Atelier de Cologne and Jo Malone, offer citrus fragrances in this universe. Some examples are Pomelo Paradis (Atelier Cologne) and Grapefruit (Jo Malone).


The ancestor of citrus perfumes is eau de cologne. It has a long history, which I might write about it later. In the 18th century, eau de cologne was trendy due to its fresh and clean odor. At that time, people believed that it has healing properties. Eau de Cologne’s composition consists mainly of citruses, around 90%, and aromatic raw materials. Neroli, orange blossoms, and bergamot are usually used to make the classic cologne accord.

In modern days, cologne is used as a general term for fresh smelling fragrances. Jo Malone and Atelier Cologne call their perfumes “cologne” although the fragrance concentration is as high as eau de parfum. Louis Vuitton also launches a cologne collection with eau de parfum format. However, there some brands that use the term “eau de cologne” for low concentration (around 2.5%) fragrance.


Famous raw materials in this family are sandalwood, cedarwood, agarwood, patchouli, and vetiver. Each woods grants various characteristics in the final composition, depending on the accord and modifiers. This family blends well with citruses, aromatic, spicy, and even floral.

The very famous woody perfume is Terre D’Hermes (Hermes). This woody citrus perfume is a combination of three types of woods (patchouli, vetiver, and cedarwood) and a mix of crisp citruses (orange and grapefruit), smelling very masculine and bright.

Sandalwood (left) and Oud (right)

Oud perfumes are gaining popularity these days. The wood is prestigious and closely related to Arabic culture. This type of woody scents is very particular, many times also carrying leathery notes. Typically, oud fragrances also contain rose, spicy accord, and saffron. Big niche brands have started launching their oud collections, such as Oud Wood (Tom Ford), Oud Satin Mood (Maison Francis Kurkdjian), Oud Immortel (Byredo), Oud Ispahan (Dior), and many more.

Only a few woody perfumes available for women. The first is Feminité du Bois (Serge Lutens). It was launched in 1992. In Feminité du Bois, Christopher Sheldrake, and Pierre Bourdon combined woody with fruity notes beautifully. It is still one of the best-selling perfume from Serge Lutens. Hermes also has a feminine woody: Eau de Merveilles. The combination of soft musks and woods in this creation produces a warm and luxurious perfume.

To name a few masculine woody perfumes: Declaration (Cartier), Fahrenheit (Dior), L’Homme (Yves-Saint Laurent), L’Homme Ideal (Guerlain), Spicebomb (Victor and Rolf), and Boss Bottled (Hugo Boss).


Clary sage (left) and Thyme (right)

Aromatic perfumes have a herbaceous, minty, and metallic facet. It imparts cleanliness and freshness from the herbal component. Some examples of this family are lavender, rosemary, clary sage, thyme, tarragon, spearmint, peppermint, etc. The aromatic compounds blend well with woods, citruses, and spices.

Usually, a small percentage of aromatic ingredients are enough to give an aromatic effect. They typically have a strong odor, which could be overwhelming; one drop could change the perfume’s overall nuances.

Aromatic perfumes are mostly marketed as masculine perfumes, although the ingredients are also present in feminine fragrances. Here are a few examples: Pour un Homme (Caron), Boy (Chanel), Mister Marvelous (Byredo), Lavender Extreme (Tom Ford), etc.

Fragrance basic accords

The next three olfactive groups are what we call basic accords. These groups are constructed by specific materials that blend together, resulting in a new and unique genre of perfumes.


Chypre accord is a harmony of woody, mossy, and ambery notes. The accords are often modified with citrus and floral notes.

Oakmoss (left) and Patchouli (right)

Citrus notes act as the opening. Aromatic facets then come along, followed by spicy and soft floral heart notes. The foundation of this accords is oakmoss and patchouli. These woody-mossy materials bound all materials together and giving a complex dry down. A classic chypre has bold and intense nuances.

The first chypre perfume is called Chypre by Coty, which has oakmoss and labdanum. The classic example of chypre perfume is Pour Monsieur by Chanel.

Today, a more modern version of chypre is available in the market. This chypre is combined with floral, fruity, and aquatic notes, making it lighter and fresher. Some modern chypre perfumes are Coco Mademoiselle (Chanel), Mon Paris (YSL), Ricci Ricci (Nina Ricci), Calèche (Hermes), and For Her by Narcisso Rodriguez.


Chypre and fougere accords have some similarities. They are built upon similar foundations-a harmony of mossy, woody, and ambery notes, with a fresh touch from floral and citrus notes. However, fougère has significant aromatic facets that are usually given by lavender and geranium. Fougère is also more sweet and herbaceous since it contains coumarin. While chypre is a bit heavy, fougère is fresher and lighter.

Lavender (left) and Geranium (right)

The first fougere was Fougere Royale (Houbigant), created in 1882 by Paul Parquet. A few years later, Jicky (Guerlain) was launched. It was launched as a male fragrance in 1889, but soon it turned out that women love it, so they began to wear it. Jicky was the first perfume to have synthetic material, vanillin, that helps build the accord. Another classic is Brut (Fabergé). This fougere was famous for its fresh aromatic and floral ambery accents, creating a clean soapy scent.

The market was very familiar with the fougere aromatic accord marketed as masculine fragrance. However, the launch of Le Male (Jean-Paul Gaultier) in 1995 introduced the other side of fougere, which is strong and sensual. This is the first masculine perfume in fougere family that carries oriental facet.

Some other examples of fougère are Paco Rabanne Pour Homme (Paco Rabanne), Azzaro Pour Homme (Azzaro), Drakkar Noir (Guy Laroche), Kouros (Yves-Saint Laurent), 212 VIP Men Black (Carolina Herrera), etc.


Oriental is a harmony of balsamic, vanilla, amber, and spices. This family is meant to be tenacious, bold, and heavy, and often marketed as a sensual fragrance. It is easy to recognize oriental perfumes; they are either vanilla-ish sweet or spicy ambery or both. This family is getting popularity these days. It is often combined with floral notes (floriental), woods, and gourmand notes.

Labdanum (left) and Vanilla (right)

Examples of perfumes in this category are Shalimar (Guerlain), Opium and Black Opium Yves-Saint Laurent), Hypnotic Poison (Dior), La Vie est Belle (Lancôme), Tobacco Vanille (Tom Ford), Slow Dance (Byredo), Pure XS, One Million, and Olympea (Paco Rabanne), Armani Code (Giorgio Armani), etc.

Next, describe your scent

I think the only way to make ourselves familiar with the fragrance families is by smelling perfumes and try to describe the scent. These seven fragrance families are a very basic way to describe a fragrance. I give some tips on describing a fragrance in my next post. It is very useful to smell many fragrances and describe them to train our nose and our olfactive memories. Be careful, once you go deeper, you will never want to stop discovering. It is too beautiful to resist.

Enjoy smelling! See you 🙂

Originally published at https://thesensory.club on August 25, 2020.

A professional nose. In love with writing, photography, and scent crafting. Main writer of https://thesensory.club