Skin & Tonics : Skincare Guides & Product Reviews

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Olfactive Families

1. Perfume Concentrations
2. The 3 Parts of a Fragrance
3. Olfactive Families
4. Common Perfume Notes & Ingredients

Grouping perfumes can never be a completely objective process, nor will the groupings ever be final. Many fragrances contain aspects of multiple families and are categorized as such. Even a perfume designated as “single flower” (or “soliflore” as it’s often called), will usually have undertones of other scents.

Classification by olfactive family is a starting point for a description of a perfume, but because perfumes are so complex and there is such a vast variety, it cannot by itself denote the specific characteristic of that perfume. Olfactive families can only serve as a general guide.

The olfactive families we see today are:


The traditional classification which emerged around 1900 comprised the following categories:

Single Floral:
Fragrances that are dominated by a scent from one particular flower; in French called a soliflore.

Floral Bouquet:
A combination of several flowers.

A large fragrance class featuring the sweet slightly animalic scents of ambergris or labdanum, often combined with vanilla, flowers and woods. Can be enhanced by camphorous oils and incense resins.

Fragrances that are dominated by woody scents, typically of agarwood, sandalwood and cedarwood. Patchouli, with its camphoraceous smell, is commonly found in these perfumes.

A family of fragrances which features the scents of honey, tobacco, wood and wood tars in its middle or base notes and a scent that alludes to leather.

Meaning Cyprus in French, this includes fragrances built on a similar accord consisting of bergamot, oakmoss, patchouli, and labdanum.

Meaning Fern in French, built on a base of lavender, coumarin and oakmoss. Houbigant’s Fougère Royale pioneered this categorization. Many men’s fragrances belong to this family of fragrances, which is characterized by its herbaceous and woody scent.



Since 1945, great advances in the technology of perfume creation as well as the natural evolution of smell preferences allowed the emergence of new categories to describe modern scents:

Bright Floral
ombining the traditional Single Floral & Floral Bouquet categories.

A lighter and more modern interpretation of the Chypre type, with pronounced cut grass and cucumber-like scent.

Aquatic, Oceanic, or Ozonic
The newest category in perfume history, appearing in 1991 with Christian Dior’s Dune. A very clean, modern smell leading to many of the modern androgynous perfumes. Also used to accent floral, oriental, and woody fragrances. A good example of recent usage of this family is Donna Karen’s Gold, which is an aquatic floral.

An old fragrance family that until recently consisted mainly of “freshening” eau de colognes, due to the low tenacity of citrus scents. Development of newer fragrance compounds has allowed for the creation of primarily citrus fragrances. Grapefruit and bergamot are extremely popular notes in this family.

Featuring the aromas of fruits other than citrus, such as peach, cassis (black currant), mango, passion fruit, and others.

Scents with “edible” or “dessert”-like qualities. These often contain notes like vanilla, tonka bean and coumarin, as well as synthetic components designed to resemble food flavors.


Great! You’re on the verge of being an expert. Last stop: a list of common perfume notes & ingredients »