Glossary of Fragrance Terms


Okay, so this is a list of terms that I stole from Perfumes – The A-Z Guide by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez.  It will have you thinking and speaking like a perfumista in no time.

absolute A solvent extracted fragrance material, traditionally from more delicate natural substances, such as jasmine, which would be damaged by high temperatures of steam distillation.  Traditional absolutes are derived by using alcohol to extract the fragrance from what is known as a concrete, a semisolid extraction of waxes and other substances as well as fragrance.

accord Several notes combined to create an effect; related to the idea of a musical accord.

aldehyde An organic compound that ends in a C=O(H) group.  Perfumers use many different aldehydes in their pallets.

aldehydic Characterized by the smell of the straight-chain aliphatic aldehydes C10, C11 and C12, first used prominently in Chanel No. 5.

amber A blend of fragrant resins, such as styrax, benzoin and cistus labdanum, traditional to the Middle East.

animalic Characterized by bodily smells, or smells most associated with traditional animal materials, such as musk, castoreum, or civet.

balsamic Characterized by sweet-smelling fragrance plant resins, typically balsam of Peru, or tolu balsam.

base A prefabricated building block of fragrance composed of various materials and used as a single material by perfumers, such as the famous peach base Persicol.

chypre A genre of perfume built on a structure made famous by Coty’s Chypre from 1917, based on oakmoss, cistus labdanum and bergamot.  Chypres can be further divided into floral chypres, fruiyy chypres, leather chypres and so on.

cistus labdanum A resin extracted from the leaves and branches of a flowering shrub known as a rockrose.  Sometimes called simply cistus or labdanum, it has a sweet woody smell with smoky or leathery aspects, and is a traditional amber material.

civet Traditional perfumery material obtained from glands of the civet cat, usually cultivated in Ethiopia.  It has a powerfully feral character when pure.  Civet has been largely replaced in perfumery by synthetic substitutes.

cologne The oldest extant fragrances genre, dating at least from the 1700’s.  Traditional eau de cologne is a blend of citrus, florals, herbs and woods.

damascone Powerful materials with rosy-apple smells, related to the ionones of violets.

dihydromyrcenol Woody-citrus material much used in recent masculines.

drydown The late stage of a fragrances that develops after the top and heart notes subside and before the smell completely fades.

ester Combination of an acid and an alcohol that typically but not always gives a fruity smell.

fine fragrance Fragrance sold as fragrance and not as the scent of another product.

fougére A mostly masculine genre based on the original Fougére Royale, an abstract composition of lavender, oakmoss and the tobacco and hay note of coumarin.

functional fragrance Scent for functional products, such as soaps and cosmetics.

galbanum A plant resin used since ancient times in medicines, incenses and perfumes, notable for its distinctive bitter green smell.

gourmand A subset of orientals that has become more popular in recent years, designed to smell distinctly dessert-like with emphasis on vanilla.

green Smelling of cut grass or leaves.

heart note The middle portion of a fragrance, after the top note subsides but before the drydown, often considered to be the fragrance’s true personality.

hedione An aromachemical used to impart a feel of dewy freshness to florals, first used significantly in Eau Savage.

IFRA International Fragrance Association, the international self-regulatory body of the fragrance industry.

ionone Type of aromachemical that gives the main smell of violet flowers.

iris An extract of the rhizome of the iris plant.  Among the most expensive natural materials in perfumery.  Also known as iris butter, orris or orris butter.

irone Type of aromachemical that gives the main smell character or iris.

ISIPCA Institut Supérieur International de Parfum, de la Cosmetique et de l’Aromatique Alimentaire, the only professional perfumery school outside of private firms.

ketone A molecule containing a C=O group, which often confers a nail polish-remover odour character.

lactonic Characterized by perfumery materials containing cyclic ester structures known as lactones, such as peach lactone and milk lactone, which can give a creamy-fruity smell to fragrances.

leather In perfumery, characterized by bitter-smelling isoquinolines or smoky-smelling rectified birch tar, to replicate the smell of tanning chemicals used to prepare leather.

musk Traditionally an extract of the pods of Himalayan musk deer, used both for its smell and for its fixative qualities in perfume, now largely replaced by various cheaper, more reliable synthetics.

niche Type of fragrance firm that produces in limited quantity and sells in few shops.

nitro musk The first generation of synthetic musks, discovered in 1888 by Albert Baur, now restricted or banned due to concerns about photosensitization and neurotoxicity.

note An isolated smell in a fragrance (eg. a note of jasmine).

oakmoss (also tree moss) Different species of mosses from which are extracted dry, bitter-smelling materials essential to chypre fragrances.

oriental A fragrance genre typified by an emphasis on amber, with the oldest surviving member being Shalimar.  The genre may be subdivided into floral orientals, spicy orientals, woody orientals and gourmand orientals.

phenolic Smelling of phenols ie. like tar.

reformulation An adjustment to the composition of a perfume.  Reformulations range from minor rebalancing, to account for fluctuations in quality of materials, to major new composition, changing the character of the scent substantially.  They may be done for budgetary, aesthetic, regulatory or other practical reasons, such as the issues of supply.

resin Thick, brown, sticky plant extracts such as labdanum or styrax that resembles molasses, used frequently in amber orientals or in chypres for their sweet smells and fixative qualities.

soliflore A fragrance meant to represent a single flower.  For example, a rose soliflore is designed to smell solely of rose.

top note The first few minutes of a fragrance, when the materials with the lowest molecular weights and highest volatilities evaporate first.

woody amber A type of synthetic aromachemical now widely used to replace more expensive natural woods and ambergris.  Woody ambers smell like very strong versions of rubbing alcohol.