Describing Fragrances

Posted by Adrian Hollister on

It can be really useful to have a language to describe the fragrances you prefer. You can use it to describe what you like, and to feel more confident experimenting with new fragrances that are similar, perhaps those in the next group within the same fragrance family using the model below.

Remember you do not always have to experiment with expensive purchases such as perfumes. You can always try out our bars of soap, or essential oils to get a pure unmixed fragrance of a different type.

Over the years there have been several ways to describe fragrances, but probably the most commonly used is the approach described by Michael Edwards. His FRAGRANCE WHEEL has been updated over four decades to keep in line with the science of fragrance perception.

He defines four scent families:

FRESH: these usually comprise of citrus, water and green notes. This means they have refreshing, zesty and vibrant smells. Citrus-based fragrances are usually created with lemon, mandarin and bergamot, while water fragrances are made with aquatic notes like sea spray.

Within the Fresh family are the following:

Aromatic -  clean and fresh fragrances fit in this group, such as lavender and other herbs possibly blended with the warmth of woody aromas from the last group on the wheel  

Citrus - the zesty, tangy, juicy smells of citrus fruits

Water - the fresh fragrance of sea spray or the first rains after a dry spell

Green - think freshly mown lawn and crushed green leaves and you've got green fragrances

Fruity - the fragrances of tropical fruits, peaches, pears and fresh apples

FLORAL: these are one of the most popular families, and one of the broadest. Fragrances with a sweet and flowery scent will belong under this family, using notes such as roses, jasmine, lilies and peonies. Floral fragrances can range from being light and delicate, to more complex and intense.

Within the Floral family are the following:

Floral - the deep smells of rose, jasmine, lily for example

Soft floral - the gentler powdery floral smells, creamy and sometimes musty

ORIENTAL: Oriental fragrances are warm, sweet and even a little spicy. A more luxurious fragrance family, oriental fragrances vary from floral oriental, soft oriental and woody oriental. Perfumes in this family are rich and sensual, often made with interesting notes of cardamom, cinnamon, vanilla alongside the likes of jasmine, orchid and orange blossom.

Within the Oriental family are the following:

Floral oriental - fragrances such as Orange Blossom, sweet and subtly spicy

Soft oriental - soft sensual fragrances of gentle incense and warm spices 

Oriental - the stronger sweeter, warmer oriental fragrances such as vanilla, musk, cinnamon and cardamon

Woody oriental - fragrances such as patchouli and sandalwood mixed with spicy sweet elements such as those from the Oriental group (above)

WOODY: these fragrances are another warm family, with a mysterious and captivating scent often using wood-based smells like cedarwood, sandalwood, vetiver and amber. Woody fragrances are split into mossy woods with an earthy, sweet undertone, and dry woods which often have a smoky, leathery smell to them.

Within the Woody family are the following:

Woods - the single fragrances of cedarwood, sandalwood, or vetiver, reminders of the smell of freshly cut wood and sawdust

Mossy Woods - these fragrances will remind you of walking through the woods after it has rained, with earthy, mossy aromas

Dry Woods - these aromas will remind you more of smouldering embers on a fire, or the leathery smell of new shoes