Ultimate Perfume Guide
Here at Perfume Empire we like to make sure our customers choose the fragrance that’s right for you, so we’ve put together a handy guide to help you make an informed decision on which is best for your needs.
This handy guide will give you a basic idea of the
Don’t forget to check back our ‘Ultimate Perfume Guide’ time to time for updated news and information on the perfumes that you love!!
The perfume universe is divided into ‘families’. In reality, very few of us have a jumbled wardrobe of scents from lots of different families: often without even realizing, we tend to fall for one family time and again. Instinctively, we prefer scents from some fragrance families and dislike others – although we may tend towards one particular family for colder weather, another for sunny times.
Technically, ‘fragrance families’ are a classification system the perfume industry has used for years, to place individual perfumes into olfactory ‘groups’, based on their dominant characteristics. It’s part of the language of scent. Below are the main families identified.
Uplifting, zesty, cooling: most eau de Colognes fall into this family. They feature a whoosh of notes like lemon,bergamot, orange, grapefruit, mandarin. (These notes are also slightly randomly referred to as being ‘hesperidic’ – after the Hesperides, the nymphs from Greek mythology!) Fresh fragrances smell clean, and usually come in theeau de toilette and Cologne versions – we can’t think of a single ‘fresh’ scent in perfume concentration. Ideal for splashing, and probably more suited to summer: some conjure up a sea breeze, while others smell like bottled sunshine. There are lots of ‘near-relations’ within the fresh category, so if you like your scents bright, uplifting, sunny and airy, spend some time exploring those.
This is the most popular of all families (with lots of ‘relations’ within the family). It’s ultra-feminine (you won’t find many ‘shared’ floral fragrances), and of all the families, it’s probably the one you’ll most easily recognise at first sniff, from its bouquet of cut flowers – conjuring up June weddings, garden parties, spring blossoms… Floral fragrances tend to be garlanded with notes like jasmine, peony, gardenia, tuberose, lily of the valley, magnolia, mimosa etc.
Interestingly, two of the most famous (and most-loved) floral notes – jasmine and rose – have traditionally been found at the heart of almost every fragrance creation: they’re the perfume world’s foundation stones. In true florals, those notes are played up – but shimmering beneath the surface of other families, rose and jasmine are often there, too, holding the creation together, even when you can’t spot them.
Florals can be warmed with a touch of spice or given the juiciness of fruits – and there are quite a few ‘sub-families’ in the floral family. (And the ‘Floriental’ family is a close cousin, too.) If you like a fragrance in any of these families, you can get great pleasure exploring its relations…
The name says it all: the florientals are a sophisticated fusion of floral and oriental notes and so many fragrances now fall into this category that it’s a real family in its own right. Florientals blend flowers – including gardenia, jasmine, freesia, orange flower – with spices, warm woods and resins. The result? Fragrances that are sensual and often sweetly seductive, but generally airier and lighter than true orientals.
This family’s growing incredibly fast. Pretty soon, we expect to be able to add new family members within it, with fragrances that beef up the spiciness, the woodiness, or the fruits. For now, though, lots to explore.
With their spices, musks, incense and resins, the orientals are rooted in perfume’s own history, using many of the same ingredients today that were first enjoyed in the orient – India and Arabia – at the dawn of fragrance creation.
Ingredients like heliotrope, sandalwood, coumarin, orris, vanilla and gum resins are classically used within an oriental fragrance structure – though these can be tweaked, for men, women (and fragrances designed to be ‘shared’).
Seductive, voluptuous and with a va-va-voom, orientals tend to feel ‘grown-up’ – and many have a warm, heavy, diffusive richness that’s more suited to after-dark wearing. They linger sensually on the skin: they’re heavy on the base notes, which tend to last longer. (However, there is a new ‘mini-family’ of fresher orientals, with a lighter touch, and a more ‘daytime’ feel – which you’ll discover when you explore the other categories within this beautiful, exotic family…)
This is the newest family in the fragrance universe: the first blockbuster example was Thierry Mugler’s Angel, and since then ‘edible’ notes have become super-popular. Think: caramel, chocolate, milk, candy floss, coffee, Cognac,toffee, almonds, even bubblegum – and almost always, a generous helping of vanilla. There may be spices in there, too, or amber: in general, gourmand fragrances are warm and most wearable in the cooler seasons, when we want a fragrance to snuggle up to.
First, how to say it: ‘sheep-ra’. (From the French for Cyprus – not, as is often suggested, the cypress tree.) There are suggestions that chypre fragrance construction dates back to Roman times, and ‘chypre’ as the name for an accord is often mentioned in 18th Century perfume manuals. (This family was named after the island of Cyprus – birthplace of Aphrodite, the goddess of love – hence the slightly baffling category name; a lot of the aromatic plants which feature in chypre scents flourish on that island.)
Guerlain had two chypre fragrances in their range, early on: Chypre de Paris and Chypre. But this mossy, animalic type of fragrance was certainly popularised by pioneering perfumer François Coty, who launched a hugely successful scent (also called ‘Chypre’), in 1917, setting feminine perfumery on a whole new, sophisticated course.
Chypre fragrances are warm and dry and almost all built round a woody, mossy accord of bergamot, oakmoss, patchouli and labdanum (from the cistus, or ‘rock rose’, plant). Elements of flowers, fruits or woodiness are sometimes played up in chypre fragrances – so this family has a few ‘relations’, within it.
The clue, quite simply, is in the name – although some of these fragrances do smell like they’re closely related to thechyprefamily. It’s true: they share some characteristics, but generally without the floral flourishes of the chypres.
Perfumers have so a fabulous palette of woody elements to weave into their creations: sandalwood, cedar,agarwood (a.k.a. oud), guiaiacwood, as well as patchouli and vetiver. (These last two aren’t woods: they’re roots and leaves, respectively – but you’d never guess, from their intensely earthy, woody character.)
Woody fragrances can be given a spin by adding spices/fruity notes, or herbs – so if you like woods (or you’re simply interested in learning what they smell like), do explore the other members of this family, too… Many masculine, quie a few shared and a few women’s fragrances belong to the woody family.
Nowadays, it’s mostly fragrances for men you’ll find in the fougère category, which almost invariably featurelavender, geranium, vetiver, bergamot, oakmoss and coumarin in the blend. It’s a bit ironic, though, as this fragrance family was originally created for women, kicking off with Fougère Royale, from Houbigant, in 1882. Fougère takes its name from the French for ‘fern’ – and for anyone who’s wondering, you say it ‘foo-jair’ (with the ‘j’ a little soft – almost ‘foo-shair’…) We aren’t yet turning our thoughts to masculine perfumery – but watch this space. For now, though, if you’d like to start to understand what these ferny, green fragrances smell like, here are some classic examples to ‘sniff out’.
Fragrances today are mostly a fusion of ingredients taken from nature – or inspired by nature – together with the synthetics (man-made ingredients) that are used to make them last longer, ‘carry further’, or stay ‘true’, when worn on the skin. Perfumes are made of thousands of ingredients. Below is a description of some of the ingredients used. Check back with us time to time since we will be adding descriptions of more ingredients.
- Aloe vera
Many windowsills boast an aloe vera plant, so useful for treating burns (including sunburn) – but outside this cosmetic use, this perennial succulent plant is also – very occasionally – used as a note in perfumery: green, ‘vegetal’, fresh and aquatic.
Anise, aniseed – same thing: an annual herb (parsley family, FYI), which grows in the eastern Mediterranean region and south-west Asia, and has a strong licorice/fennel/tarragon flavour, often enjoyed in alcoholic drinks or sweeties (the famous aniseed balls of your granny’s childhood…) It’s sweet and very aromatic, and really very popular in perfumery as a result: the most celebrated example is Guerlain’s gorgeous, iconic L’Heure Bleu. (Not to be confused with Star anise – although the key component of the essential oil, ‘anethole’, is actually found in both.)
Does beeswax smell? Yes, it does: it’s honeyed, musky, softly sweet and intimate, sometimes with hints of pollen. Natural perfumers – whose palette of ingredients is limited – love it, as it delivers an ‘animalic’ quality yet is cruelty-free, generally harvested from hives that have matured over five years or so, carefully harvested by hand and then extracted using solvents. Beeswax also works brilliantly as a fixative, helping to anchor will-o’-the-wisp, volatile notes.
- Bitter orange
Sometimes bitter orange is referred to ‘bigarade’ – but many of us know it best as the too-sour-to-suck-on Seville orange, used for making marmalade. The bitter orange tree is actually incredibly versatile, in perfumery: most neroli/orange blossom and petitgrain extracts come from this single tree, giving their soft/sweet/fresh qualities to countless delicious perfumes. But bitter orange is a fragrance note in its own right, widely used ineau de Colognes and chypre fragrances, as well as adding a whoosh of freshness to florals.
Several names for this: Curry Plant, Herb of St. John, Immortelle (which you might know from the L’Occitane skincare range) – and botanically,Helichrysum augustifolium. All refer to small herb, which somehow manages to thrive in the most inhospitable, rocky, sun-baked zones in southern Europe. Amazingly, this grey-leafed toughie gives off a lovely, almost straw-like sweet scent, with hints of honey, tea, rose and chamomile – giving a flowery sweetness to perfumes…
Can a fragrance really smell of water? Issey Miyake would like us to think so: his iconic L’Eau d’Issey was created to conjure up the purity and clarity of water. (It was one of the first ‘juices’, or perfumes, to be almost as clear as fresh water in colour, too.) Mostly, ‘water’ in fragrance ingredient terms has come to mean an oceanic, salty/seawater vibe – which is actually recreated through the use of a complicated blend of synthetics. The idea is that ‘watery’ fragrances should actually should smell ‘breezy’, ‘outdoorsy’, like the mist that’s in the air when we take a walk on a beach with the surf crashing against the sand. (Because of course if you simply filled a bottle with water, you’d end up with something with no more of a scent than Perrier or Evian.)
Bracing, uplifting and almost nose-tinglingly spicy, ginger pairs beautifully with vanilla, woody notes and citrus, as well as white flowers like jasmine and neroli. This spice is used quite widely in perfumery – as well as a wide range of foods and medicines, too, produced everywhere from South America to Malaysia, the Caribbean, Japan and Africa.
Many of us are familiar with the beige-skinned, yellow-fleshed fresh spice, which adds pungency to cooking – as the Romans, who first imported it, discovered. Those same roots we love to spice up our food with – rhizomes, to use the perfume world’s word for them – can be steam-distilled to produce this useful scented oil.
We’re generally not so familiar with the flowers – which aren’t any help to perfumers at all – but aren’t they gorgeous? (Interior decorators, as well as perfumers, also love ginger – for the sheer architecture of the plants.)
Do you remember the smell of your school pencil case? That’s really the smell of cedar, which is of course also the wood used for pencils. Of course it smells woody, but that’s just too simple: it also has a freshness, with hints of resin. If you’ve ever walked in an evergreen forest, cedar will transport you back there, too. It’s mostly the foliage (from trees grown in the Atlas mountains of Morocco, or Virginia in the USA) that is steam-distilled to produce the intense oil, which is also used in aromatherapy for calming and balancing. Sometimes, the roots and the wood of this slow-growing tree are used, putting some environmental question marks over its use today. Partly for that reason, there are now quite a few cedar-like synthetic notes used to give depth and a ‘grounding’ quality across some women’s fragrances – and many men’s.
Contains 20-40% of aromatic compounds
Eau de Parfum
Contains 10-30% of aromatic compounds
Eau de Toilette
Contains 5-20% of aromatic compounds
Eau de Cologne
Contains 2-3% aromatic compounds