Fragrance families and descriptors: Tying loose ends

fragrance notes

Happy Friday! 

Picking up from where we left off, there are a few more fragrance families we've left behind. Here they are:


Aromatic fragrances are dominated by herbal notes like lavender, clary sage, basil, rosemary, thyme, eucalyptus etc. The aromatic family can be accompanied by several sub-families including green (Chèvrefeuille by Creed), spicy (Figuier Ardent  by Atelier Cologne) and fruity (Eau de Cartier Zeste de Soleil by Cartier). 

My personal favorite would have to be Eau de Gentiane Blanche by Hermès. Very minimalistic yet so intriguing! 


The last of the traditional fragrance families, the leather family was exemplified by a single perfume when it was taught to us at ISIPCA: Bel Ami by Hermès from 1986. This family is dominated by the leather accord, which can be constructed using birch tar oil, animal ingredients like civet and castoreum and/or synthetic molecules like Suederal LT. I have to say it is a unique challenge to construct a balanced and rounded leather accord in perfumery. 

My pick for this family would of course be Cuir de Russie from Chanel. Quite a rich perfume with substance and character. 

So this is the end of the traditional group of fragrance families, but there's more! With new molecules being discovered every year in light of new technologies, new fragrance families have emerged in the recent years, such as the Aquatic family that features molecules like Calone to give a fresh, watery effect - first used in wildly popular Cool Water by Davidoff in 1988. And then there's the Gourmand family that incorporates notes that smell like food: loads of maltol and ethyl maltol to give a cotton candy or caramel note, vanilla, cocoa, tonka bean, molecules that give a buttery popcorn note like diacetyl... Smelling like dessert definitely has been in fashion for the last 30 years. And let's not forget the Green family with notes like galbanum, cut-grass and cucumber - fresh, green and dewy with the help of cis-3-hexenol (freshly cut grass smell) and cucumber aldehydes. 

I wonder what the next new fragrance family will be...

Aside from the families you might encounter certain fragrance descriptors that sound strange. Let's say, animalic. What the heck is an animalic note? It usually refers to the notes that come from actual animal ingredients or their synthetic counterparts: civet, castoreum and ambergris are the most well-known examples of this type of note, however, they are mostly replaced with synthetics due to ethical issues and also raw material costs. Lactonic refers to milky and creamy notes, Phenolic is used to describe notes that smell like burnt tires, leather or black tea, Terpenic is a term used for sharp, pine-like notes that can occur in flowers and fruits as well as woods. 

Just as we have colors and shapes to describe what we see we have these families, sub-families and descriptors to describe what we smell. The challenge is that while we all learn about colors and shapes in kindergarten we are not taught a universal way to communicate about smells - so it becomes a little frustrating when we're not equipped with the right tools to efficiently communicate what we smell or be able to imagine the smell of something we've never smelled before accurately. 

Here's to hoping this basic scent education will become a thing some day, why not!

Until next time, 
- Merve


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