What you need to know about fragrance families
Whether you’re a fragrance newbie or a seasoned connoisseur, knowing different types of fragrance notes characteristics will help you find one that suits your style. For this task — a fragrance wheel is your best friend.
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Keeping track of the terms can be difficult, though, so I’ve created this guide to both traditional and modern fragrance families and included a few of my favorite bottles in each olfactive family.
Traditional vs Modern Fragrance Types
There are two groups of olfactive families that you can identify on the fragrance wheel above – the “traditional” and the “modern.” The “traditional” fragrance types emerged in the early 1900s and include single floral, floral bouquet, amber / Oriental, woody, leather, chypre and fougère.
In 1945s, technology allowed for the creation of a whole new world of scents, and a new set of categories was created to describe these fragrances. The six modern fragrances are bright floral, green, aquatic, citrus, fruity, and gourmand.
Traditional Fragrance Families
Referred to as “soliflore” in French, these fragrances highlight the scent of a single flower. While it’s not typical to find single florals in mainstream men’s fragrances, that doesn’t mean they don’t exist at all. Parfumiers have found ways to take the scent of a flower and blend it with musky, leathery notes to give these fragrances a masculine feel.
As opposed to single florals, which highlight the scent of a single flower, floral bouquet fragrances highlight the scent of, well, a bouquet of many different flowers. You’ll find many men who will insist that florals are for women, but that’s just not true. Those who venture into this fragrance category will find scents that blend the softness and freshness of florals with more typically masculine notes to create beautiful, complex fragrances.
Amber / Oriental
Although this fragrance class is large and varied, all amber scents have an aura that’s unmistakable. Ambers combine notes of vanilla, animals, and florals to deliver warm, sensual fragrances. This intoxicating fragrance family is perfect for colder weather – wear an amber in the fall or winter to give yourself an irresistible warmth.
For a scent that’s inspired by nature and has an unmistakable masculine edge, look no further than the woody fragrances. This powerful fragrance family uses notes of sandalwood, patchouli, and oud to create scents that call to mind images of a dense forest or a bed of moss. They’re also typically warm and dry – perfect for a night out on the town.
Here’s another fragrance family that delivers highly masculine fragrances. By blending notes of honey, tobacco, wood and wood tars, these scents will remind you of the smell of a warm leather jacket or a leather couch in a smoky study. You can also typically expect to find notes of smoke, tobacco, burnt wood, silver birch, and vetiver. These are perfect fragrances for guys who are looking for a classy, masculine scent.
The term chypre comes from the French word for the island of Cyprus. These fragrances evoke the Mediterranean by contrasting citrus top notes with a warm, woody, mossy base. Chypres are one of the tougher fragrance families to define because they can be leathery, smoky, green, or floral.
Fougere fragrances fall somewhere on the border between woody and fresh. Fougere means “fern-like” in French and, like woody fragrances, fougeres are inspired by scents from nature. Though these are typically sweeter, fresher, and less intense than woody fragrances. Expect to find notes of lavender, oakmoss, and coumarin. This family member is represented by dark green on the fragrance wheel.
Modern Fragrance Families
These fragrances use either the scent of a single flower or a combination of scents from different flowers. Many men write florals off as better suited for women, but that’s just not the case. Floral colognes have a decidedly masculine aura, but use floral notes to soften the fragrance, making these perfect for warmer months and daytime wear. My favorites include Dior Homme and Burberry Brit for Men.
Green fragrances are a lighter twist on the traditional “chypre” fragrances, which consist of bergamot, oakmoss, and patchouli. Just as the name suggests, this is represented by green on the fragrance wheel, and needing no explanation, these scents are characterized by earthy tones, including grass, moss, and leaves. These fragrances carry the luxury and sophistication of old-school chypres with a freshness that’s perfect for hot, summer days. Creed Green Irish Tweed and Hermes Un Jardin Sur Le Nil are a couple I love.
Imagine sitting on a beautiful white sandy beach with the sun reflecting off the clear blue ocean water. Aquatic fragrances, also referred to as “oceanic” or “ozonic,” take the feeling of that perfect beach day and put it in a bottle. They’re light and crisp, so they’ll keep you feeling fresh on those hot summer days. You can’t go wrong with all-time best-selling Davidoff Cool Water for Men or the more upscale Creed Virgin Island Water.
Just like aquatics, citrus scents are a go-to for the warmer months. With notes like lemon and grapefruit as the stars of the show, these fragrances tend to be sweet, tart, and playful. Some must-try’s are Acqua Di Parma Cologne Spray for Men and Eau Savage by Dior.
If neither citrus nor aquatics tickle your fancy, then you need fruity fragrances in your rotation for those hot months. You’ll find this scent represented by orange in the fragrance wheel. These fragrances focus on the non-citrus fruits, using notes like peach, mango, and passion fruit. Check out Jo Malone’s unisex Pomegranate Noir Cologne and Millesime Imperial by Creed.
These fragrances use notes of food-like smells — frequently chocolate, tonka bean or vanilla to round out their scent. Many also use synthetics to emulate food smells. They’re relatively new but if this sounds like it’s up your alley, there are some solid, elegant gourmand fragrances that you should try.
For instance DKNY Be Delicious intriguingly blends coffee and apple notes — it sounds bizarre but they manage to turn it into a pleasant daytime scent. For something more sensual, try Rochas Man with it’s basenotes of vanilla and mocha.
Hopefully, this article and the fragrance wheel above gives you a good start on understanding the basic groupings of fragrances and how scents compliment each other. For a deeper dive, see the individual pages for each fragrance family.
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