Perfumes can be categorized into several different families, which share certain characteristics, notes or accords. Although categorizing fragrances can help greatly in defining them and drawing distinction between perfumes, each perfume is unique. It is not uncommon for a perfume to belong to more than one fragrance category.
Some fragrance families seem to be traditionally associated with one gender or the other. For instance: florals and sweet ambery scents usually are categorized as feminine, while Fougere and leather tend to be classified as masculine. Citrus compositions are usually considered unisex.
Though these distinctions can be made, I will here describe the fragrance families as they relate to both masculine and feminine scents. It is my personal belief that gender is not defined by the perfume one chooses to wear, but by the person’s own identity. I believe that once a person wears a scent, it becomes an extension of who they are, including gender orientation. I encourage women to try different scents that may be considered more bold and masculine, and urge men that love flowers or sweet soft scents to indulge in scents rich in flowers, vanilla and amber and explore how those interact with your own body chemistry.
The main fragrance families are:
Oriental perfumes are perhaps the oldest fragrance family. The first perfumes of antiquity were made of resins, balsams and spices that were mixed or melted into oil, since the methods of extracting essential oils were not discovered until medieval times. Oriental perfumes are based in the aromatic as well as religious traditions of ancient cultures such as Egypt, India, Persia and Arabia and were also used by Jews in their temple and later on in Christian churches. In antiquity, incense, perfumes and unguents were used in religious rituals as well as aphrodisiacs by those who could afford to use such luxury. Oriental perfumes are rich with woods, balsams, incense, amber, musk, vanilla and spices.
1.1. Oriental Ambery
Based on the contrast between fresh citrus (or green herbaceous) notes, and culinary base of amber or vanilla-amber.
Examples: Democracy. Fête d'Hiver, Palas Atena
1.2. Oriental Spicy (Dry Orientals)
These are dry Orientals spiced up with cloves, cinnamon, coriander, cardamom and other exotic spices. The base can vary between a dry-woody (sandalwood, agarwood), ambery sweet or animalic (Musk, Civet, etc.). The heart is usually saturated with florals – jasmine, rose, ylang ylang, orange blossom, champaca, etc.
Examples: Epice Sauvage, Indigo, Palas Atena
A contemporary sub category of the Oriental family is of the “edible” perfumes – such as Angel (the trendsetter of the genre from the 1990's). These are rich with notes such as vanilla, chocolate, coffee, tea, green tea, and others – that were until recently associated with food only. Other Gourmand examples: Black Licorice, Guilt, Finjan, Film Noir
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Floral compositions are the most popular and account for more than half of the perfumes today. Florals are extremely versatile and there are many different sub categories in this family.
Single Florals. These are floral compositions that are simply designed to highlight the beauty of a single floral essence. The most popular soliflores are of rose, lavender, violet, carnation, orange blossom, jasmine and lily of the valley. Examples of soliflores: Viola, Lovender, Zohar, Yasmin..
2.2. Floral Fruity
Sweet, floral bouquets that are often accentuated by fruity or fruit-like notes such as cassis, peach, apple and apricot. Fruity florals have a sweet tenderness about them that is soft innocent. For example: Tamya, Fetish, Magnolia Petal, Rosebud.
2.3. Floral Green
Leafy green notes such as galbanum, hay, coumarin, violet leaf and iris are added to the floral bouquet creating a dewy garden or meadow like impression.
Vent Vert (Balmain) was the leading floral in this category, followed by classics such as No. 19 (Chanel), Ivoire (Balmain) and Private Collection (Estee Lauder). In Ayala Moriel's ready-to-wear collection you can choose from Rainforest, Grin, l'Ecume des Jours.
2.4. Floral Fresh
Fresh florals are light florals, often accompanied by citrus notes. Hyacinth, lily of the valley, neroli, linden blossom, mimosa and lilac are the most common dominant notes in the floral fresh family. For example: Charisma.
2.5. Floral Aldehydic
Aldehydes are naturally occurring molecules that are present in high concentration in citrus and spice oils as well as some herbs. They are highly diffusive and provide a sparkle and a lift to fragrances, mostly in the floral and Chypre families. Strictly speaking, there is no “floral aldehydic natural perfume” although a similar effect can sometime achieved to some extent by using the proper proportions between the different components of the perfume. However, they will never have the intensity of synthetic or isolated aldehydes.
2.6. Floral Ambery (aka Floriental)
These are also known as “Florientals” – heavily blossom themes such as Jasmine, Narcissus, Ylang Ylang, etc.) Usually with a sweet, amber base. For example: White Potion...
2.7. Floral Powdery
Floral bouquets dominated by the notes of violet and orris root are characterized by a powdery, soft aroma that is delicate and subtle. Après l’Ondee is a classic example from this family, and so is Viola, which is an all-natural violet soliflore.
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Chypre is French for the island of Cyprus. The first modern perfume from this family is Francoise Coty’s legendary Chypre (launched in 1917) – inspired by ancient Greek aromatic paste of oakmoss, labdanum and other herbs and flowers. Chypre perfumes are extremely versatile and are based on the contrast between the earthy notes of oakmoss with the fresh notes of bergamot. Other citruses are also used to create a Chypre accord, so do the sweet earthy notes of labdanum, patchouli and vetiver.
3.1. Chypre Fruity
Heavy with a peach-like fruitiness. Often combine notes of peach, plum and apricot – which highly complement the dark earthy notes and the sparkling citrus notes of Chypre.
For example: Mitsouko, Femme, Diorella and Le Parfum de Therese (the perfume created by Edmond Roudniska for his wife). For an all-natural fruity-chypre try Autumn and Megumi.
3.2. Chypre Floral Animalic
The most innovative and feminine of all the Chypre family, Chypre Animalic Florals sometime have a leathery, dry effect that suggests masculinity. For instance – Madame Rochas, Paloma Picasso and Schizm.
3.3. Chypre Floral
Usually gardenia infused chypre. Chypre Florals now contain many other florals as well – such as rose. Patchouli is added to the base, for emphasizing the floral notes. For instance: Ayalitta and Schizm.
3.4. Chypre Fresh
Though extremely long lasting, these Chypre feel fresh and radiant. Eau Sauvage and Diorella (Dior) are two classical examples for this family, and ArbitRary is an example for a natural Chypre Fresh fragrance.
3.5. Chypre Green
These are the lightest chypre – usually with a leafy-green, at times herbaceous and coniferous notes. For instance – Ayalitta and Rainforest.
3.6. Chypre Woody
Prominent base notes of sandalwood, patchouli and vetiver add a dry, clean edge to those Chypre compositions – usually (but not always) these are very masculine. For instance – Mitsouko by Guerlain, although considered a fruity chypre is also very woody. Megumi and Democracy are two other examples for a Chypre Woody.
3.7. Chypre Leathery
Dry, smoky compositions those are dark and masculine. Tobacco, castoreum, cade and birch tar are the notes that lend a smoky, leathery feel to a perfume. Examples: Rebellius and Espionage.
3.8. Chypre Coniferous
With an outdoorsy scent – these are sporty and refreshing, due to the coniferous notes added to them, i.e.: pine, juniper, fir, spruce, etc. Pino Silvestre and Rainforest
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Most of the fragrances in the citrus family are equally suited for men and women. Fresh and crisp, with the citrus tart sweetness, citrus colognes are extremely popular; despite their usually short life on the skin (citrus notes are extremely volatile and evaporate very quickly). 4711 Eau de Cologne and Eau de Cologne Imperiale are two historic examples for citrus eaux.
4.1. Citrus Floral
These citruses usually have an Eaux de Cologne top note with a mildly masculine base note, and an elegant floral heart. Many times a very light chypre accord is added to the base of citrus florals. These have a dry and fresh impression. For example Zohar.
4.2. Citrus Fantasy
Chypre citrus compositions – and very different from one another. They all have a prominent citrus top note, of course. Example: Fetish.
4.3. Citrus Fresh
The classical Eau de Cologne – light and short lasting, refreshing, simple, clean and elegant. The eaux de colognes mentioned above are examples for citrus fresh scents.
4.4. Citrus Green
Bright and short lasting, green citruses have a radiant fruity top note which makes them especially refreshing.
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The Fougère (French for “fern”) family is named after Fougere Royale – the first Fougere composition, launched in 1882 by Houbigant.
Fougere compositions are based on the unique effect achieved by pairing oakmoss, lavender and coumarin notes. These three together create an unusual soft aura. Additional notes of vanilla, spices, woods, florals, herbs and citrus may create different aromatic Fougere.
5.1. Fougère Fresh
Dominant lavender freshness and dryness. These Fougères are herbaceous, spicy, fresh and woody. For instance:
5.2. Fougère Ambery
Additional vanillic notes may increase the softness, to create a Fougere Ambery fragrance. These are soft and enveloping, and somewhat powdery. Canoe by Dana is an example of such composition, which is further sweetened by tonka and heliotropin.
5.3. Fougère Woody
Additional woody notes such as sandalwood, agarwood and vetiver create a cleaner and drier impression.
5.4. Fougère Floral
These Fougères are very complex, with the addition of bright florals such as neroli, lily of the valley, and cyclamen. The dryness of lavender and spicy, ambery and woody notes makes these more masculine. The classic perfume Jicky is a good example for such floral – with neroli at the heart, and a soft tonka and amber base accompanying the Fougère accord.
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