A Fragrance Glossary For The Scent-Obsessed


A Fragrance Glossary For The Scent-Obsessed

Did you manage to catch the ‘top notes’ from your latest ‘eau de parfum’? Do you appreciate the ‘chypre’ and ‘powdery’ notes of your ‘flacon’ of ‘eau de toilette’? All this perfume jargon got you Googling perfume terminology? Don’t stress, we’ve got you covered, with our glossary of the ‘all-you-need-to-know’ terms from the world of fragrances.  



Just like its name suggests, the accord of a fragrance is how well the different ingredients blend together. Like, say, the chords of a musical composition. A perfumer (a person who creates perfumes), will spend days and months blending different ingredients to ensure the perfect accord—a distinct smell where the components no longer have an individual identity. 



This is a technical term used by many in the perfume industry to describe softness or sweetness in a fragrance. It derives from balsams and resins. A balsam is a sticky, gummy substance from certain trees, which has been an integral part of perfumery since centuries. It lends a sweet, warm and spicy result. 



How do you pronounce this, you ask? Chypre is a French word pronounced, shee-pra. Contrary to belief, Chypre is NOT an element but a concept, or a sort of fragrance family, comprised of an accord of citrus and woody notes. Historic perfumery Coty made the first Chypre perfume in 1917 and the style was immortalised by many others. Today, many sporty, summery fragrances can be considered as Chypre perfumes.  



As the name suggests, a citrus perfume is one that is dominated by, well, citrus elements. These could be from different members of the citrus family — orange, mandarin, lime, lemon, tangerine. One of the most popular citrus ingredients in perfumery is bergamot, a small citrus fruit, which lends freshness to the fragrance.  



No points for guessing what this means. Concentration refers to the percentage of pure perfume essence/oil that is contained in a bottle. The highest concentrations are found in essences and eau de parfum (between 15 and 20%), while eau de toilette and eau fraîche have low concentrations, between 5 and 15%. As you would expect, the concentration of a perfume determines how long it will last and, of course, its price.


This evocative word tells you how a perfume ‘diffuses’ or spreads in the air surrounding you. Some fragrances have a low diffusion and are more discreet, while others really travel through the air. How it works is that the alcohol in a perfume evaporates when it comes into contact with your skin (and during the course of the day), diffusing the fragrance around you.  


Eau de Toilette  

The most standard and widely used form of any perfume is the Eau de Toilette, pronounced oh-the-twa-let. The Eau de Toilette format is popular because it has a relatively lower concentration of pure perfume oil. It is hence easier to wear for daily use. It is the exact opposite of pure perfume, which has a much higher concentration of perfume oil. An Eau de Toilette will also feel lighter and less sticky on your skin. 


Eau de Parfum  

Many fragrances propose an Eau de Parfum version in addition to the Eau de Toilette. It is simple to differentiate between the two — an Eau de Parfum (pronounced oh-the-par-faam), has a higher concentration of pure perfume oil, making it heavier, and longer lasting and, often more expensive. Most heritage fragrance brands like Chanel, Dior, Lancôme and Yves Saint Laurent start by offering an Eau de Parfum version, best recommended for evening wear.  


Eau Fraîche  

Translates from French as ‘cool water’, not to be confused with the perfume by the same name, Eau Fraîche is an extremely light and watered down version of a perfume, usually released as summer editions by brands. These are light, almost like body sprays, perfect for vacations or beach time. Pronounced oh-fresh. 


Perfume essence is one of the ingredients that go into a finished bottle of perfume, along with water and alcohol. An essence is the concentrated form of an ingredient or blend, loosely compared to an essential oil. The amount of essence used in a bottle determines what kind of perfume it is — eau de toilette/parfum/fraîche.


While you are free to call your perfume bottle, well, a bottle, there is the original French term for perfume bottle, which will show people around you just how well-versed you are in your perfumes. Flacon (pronounced fla-kon) is often used by luxury brands to add that chic element to their product description.  


No points for guessing what floral means. A perfume, which is characterised by ‘floral notes’ is particularly loved by women, though many men’s perfumes infuse their concoctions with floral notes. Rose, jasmine and tuberose are perfumers’ favourites, along with lavender and orange blossom. Some iconic fragrances like Chanel No. 5 have been based on floral notes.  



Pronounced (foo-jer)  is one of the most popular aromatic families in the perfume sphere. The French word translates as 'fern' and hence the fougère nature of a perfume often refers to its plant, hay, grass-like character. These fragrances have a very natural element to them and are often complemented with herbs, spices and wood notes for an excellent overall result. Fougère fragrances are especially popular for men.  



The French word for anything related to food, this word is used to describe elements of a perfume that might be derived from edible elements. For instance, the gourmand notes of vanilla or chocolate, or perhaps a fragrance infused with cinnamon could render it gourmand.  



Longevity describes the duration that a perfume stays on your skin. While this largely depends on the concentration and the quality of the ingredients, experts also suggest that a perfume’s longevity also varies from person to person, on how their skin reacts to the alcohol in the formula, thereby ensuring longer diffusion. 


That signature ‘musky’ aroma that comes from certain perfumes, can be attributed to the use of musk, usually in base notes. Musk was originally obtained from a particular type of deer, but, in modern perfumery, most musks used are artificially produced. Musky perfumes are known for their longevity.


Here’s some fun trivia if you are a vocabulary geek. The person who make a perfume is referred to, aptly as, the nose. So the next time you’re reading a fashion article, which tells you about the nose of the perfume, you will know exactly what they are referring to. Interestingly enough, being a nose is a highly specialised profession, which fetches big bucks. 



Possibly the most commonly used word in perfumery, is notes. Loosely interpreted as the different ‘elements’ or ‘flavours’ of a perfume. For instance, you would say that a perfume has notes of vanilla or leather. Notes are classified into three — top notes, middle notes and base notes. Top notes are the ones you sniff immediately on application, while base notes are the ones that linger, once the perfume has settled on your skin. The middle notes are somewhere in between. 


This is an easy one. Every fragrance is designed to be suited for a particular occasion or time of day. Occasion is the term used to describe the process of matching a perfume with a time of day or event. For instance, a day perfume or evening perfume, one for sports or a beach holiday or even for the workplace or a date night. 



Used widely in the world of Arabic perfumery, oud is an extremely popular ingredient, characterised by its unmistakable woody, musky, and spicy aroma. It is derived from the Agarwood tree and is a highly prized ingredient, which is why perfumes containing oud are often more expensive. Oud fragrances for the most part are considered more masculine due to their smoky, woody nature although many of the latest women’s or unisex launches contain dominant notes of oud. 



This term is used to describe a perfume that has notes of powder, or even baby powder. These could be infused by a host of delicate ingredients. There are many successful perfumes that have these powdery notes and are highly versatile for day or night wear.  


Top Notes  

The ingredients that hit your nose as soon as you apply the perfume on your skin are referred to as top notes. They evaporate the fastest and are usually the ones that determine your first impression of the fragrance. Depending on the complexity of the perfume, they can evolve into a different base note.


This is an interesting one. Pronounced see-yaaj, this term is used to describe how a perfume leaves a trail behind you as you walk past. The quality of a perfume is determined by how refined and smooth the sillage is, without assaulting the senses. A sillage is usually linked to the perfume’s base notes. 



An important ingredient in the world of perfumery, vetiver is a sort of grass, which in India we refer to as khus khus. It lends an earthy, grassy character to the perfume and is most often used in men’s fragrances. The most accurate way to describe its smell would be to compare it to freshly cut grass.  



What makes a perfume warm or cool, you ask? It’s pretty simple — one that evokes a sense of warmth and comfort, as opposed to, say light and fresh. Warm fragrances could come from notes of amber, oud, vetiver and spices like cinnamon and sage. Warm fragrances work really well for evening wear, or even in colder climates, as you would expect.  



Nostalgic, often reminding us of our fathers’ and grandfathers’ old colognes, woody fragrances usually contain ingredients from wood and resins. These are largely from ingredients like pine, sandalwood, vetiver, cedar and even patchouli. Woody perfumes are usually associated with travel, the outdoors and nostalgia.


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Words by Riaan George