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The Main Fragrance Categories

Eau de Education: Get Schooled on the 4 Main Fragrance Families

Any fine perfumer knows that categorizing scents can be a complicated process. There are florals and chypres, orientals and gourmands, fougère and fresh, and even more subcategories. If you have trouble understanding the lingo, here's how you can expand your aromatic vocabulary.

The first step is to determine the notes. Top notes disappear quickly, middle notes are the heart of the fragrance, and about 30 minutes in, the base notes take over. All of these ingredients combine to reach a heady aroma. And some scents fit more than one fragrance mold. Find out which category is your favorite and which notes to look for when you read more.

Family Notes Smells Like Sample Scent
1. Floral Jasmine, gardenia, violet, rose, peony, or many other flowers (the combinations are endless). These light and feminine scents are easy to identify by nose. Fragrances in this category can have a single flower as the base or mix multiple petals for a full bouquet. Chanel No. 5
2. Oriental Amber, vanilla, musk, and resins topped with fruity or floral notes. This group is primarily categorized by a heavy musky smell, but woody or floral notes usually temper the bolder aromas. One whiff of these seductive scents calls to mind a night of elegance. Guerlain Shalimar
3. Woody Oakmoss, patchouli, sandalwood, cedarwood, pine, vetiver, leather, and tobacco. At first sniff these scents might be considered masculine, but fresh citrus notes often accompany woody fragrances, lending a crisp, warm finish. Ralph Lauren Romance
4. Fresh Grapefruit, bergamot, orange blossom, apple, apricot, berries, and cucumber. This category can be subdivided into the citrus, fruity, green, and water scents. But practically every fragrance in this family possesses a bright and uplifting aroma (read: a day frolicking in the park). Clinique Happy
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