When confronted by the masses of fragrances out there, it’s easy to get lost in the different varieties of scents. Although many fragrances can be rounded down to about 60 common notes, there are thousands in perfumery.
Olfactive families aren’t a method for categorising ingredients but the notes, which are descriptors of scents. In essence, it was a way to break down and class how a perfume smells rather than what it contains.
As techniques for synthesising compounds became more elaborate in the late 19th Century, so did methods for categorising them. The first traditional classification of fragrances emerged around 1900 with 7 families.
However, by 1945 it became apparent that this model was far too primitive with the technological advances in compound design.
In this guide, you will learn the essentials on olfactive families and notes, which will help you to identify and categorise fragrances yourself. Scroll down to continue reading. Otherwise, jump straight to a section if you prefer:
What Is A Fragrance Wheel?
In 1949, Austrian perfumer Paul Jellinek devised the first fragrance wheel. A fragrance wheel works for the most part by illustrating the relationship between olfactory groups based on similarity or differences. It serves as a visual aid not only for identifying perfumes but also in developing new compounds.
In 1983, legendary perfume taxonomist Michael Edwards then rebuilt the fragrance wheel from the ground up. The Michael Edwards Fragrance Wheel was wildly successful and since went on to be an industry standard. Oenologists or professional wine tasters have even been known to use the fragrance wheel when identifying aromatic compounds in wine.
Edwards has modified and honed his fragrance wheel a number of trimes to become more streamlined. The latest 2010 revision comprises four standard families (Floral, Oriental, Woody and Fresh), which are divided into three or four subgroups.
The Bespoke Unit Fragrance Wheel
Understanding the industry’s various fragrance wheels can be particularly overwhelming for both novices and enthusiasts alike. Traditional families such as Fougère are often liquidated and dispersed among newer, broader families. Wheels can range from so complex that they are hard to understand or overly simple that families feel noticeably absent.
For this reason, Bespoke Unit has developed its own Fragrance Wheel. It endeavours to walk the fine line between comprehensiveness and comprehension. The overall objective is to be welcoming to newcomers whilst performing as a valuable resource to existing enthusiasts.
The wheel consists of two simple dividing groups, which are fresh and warm. These are then split the 8 olfactive families that we have defined across a discernable spectrum.
The 8 families are then arranged by their relationship with one another. For example, Woody and Oriental share certain dry and powdery characteristics. Their properties are occasionally used to devise Leather fragrances, which is a group found between them.
Both the Woody and Chypre families act as tangible Fresh/Warm divides. Chypres are overall known for their characteristically warm moss bases, which sharply contrast with their fresh citrus heads. Conversely, woody fragrances can vary from fresh pines to deep cedar bases.
A fragrance wheel is the starting block, which then allows the user to delve even further by exploring the identified family in greater detail.
Of course, like any fragrance wheel, there are exceptions to the rules laid out. For instance, each family consists of its own subdivisions or subfamilies. Although the fragrance belongs to a dominant family, it may share properties from others. In sticking to musical vocabulary, this technique of blending notes is called an accord.
Subfamilies can be enormous or incredibly niche, which is why they’re often absent from fragrance wheels. However, consider using both as resources when seeking to identify the notes of a fragrance. Bear in mind also that some families are traditionally more masculine whilst others are more feminine.
Read below to better understand a fragrance families and its corresponding subfamilies or jump straight to the one that interests you the most:
- The Aromatic Family
- The Chypre Family
- The Citrus Family
- The Floral Family
- The Fougère Family
- The Leather Family
- The Oriental Family
- The Woody Family
1. The Aromatic Family
Aromatics are an especially major group for men but much less so for women. As the name suggests, they overall comprise of fresh green herbs such as rosemary, thyme, sage and even lavender. Aromatics are rarely alone and are often coupled with citrus and spicy notes for fuller accords. As a result, the notes are characteristically viril and masculine.
Furthermore, the best springtime fragrances tend to feature many aromatic note. See our guide to the best spring fragrances for men to learn more!
- Aquatic Aromatic: Fresh seawater notes are combined with aromatic compounds.
- Fruity Aromatic: A young family with fresh and exotic notes that has stemmed from the Floral Fruity subfamily.
- Green Aromatic: Aromatic compounds are enriched with fresh essences of cut grass and crushed leaves, which often features pine.
- Spicy Aromatic: A harmony of herbs and spices creating a cool and fresh sensation with dry undertones.
Common Aromatic Family Notes
Aromatic Examples For Men
- Tabac Sport
- Kenzo Homme Fresh
- Jean-Paul Gaultier Le Male
2. The Chypre Family
Chypre is an old and unique family. Chypres consist of a bergmot head followed by an oak moss and labdanum heart. The name means Cyprus in French but actually derives from a fragrance developed by François Coty in 1917 called Chypre.
Chypre is in this case more of a concept than a family and can be considered largely symbolic by today’s standards.
However, it was a feat in perfumery and many fragrance houses have used the model to create their own. Their various properties range from floral, fruity, green, aromatic and leathery notes. As a result, they are hard to liquidate into other families without separating them. They can also be identified by their warm moss base that contrasts with a fresh citrus head.
- Aromatic Chypre: A dominant chypre fragrance with added aromatic compounds
- Floral Aldehydic Chypre: Application of floral aldehydic subfamily to a Chypre structure
- Floral Chypre: Extended floral heart on a Chypre base
- Fruity Chypre: Extended fruity heart on a Chypre base. Often results in a sweetened finish.
- Green Chypre: Sharply contrasting green top notes reminiscent of cut grass and a warm followed by a Chypre base.
- Leather Chypre: The Chypre structure is accompanied by leather, smoky, burnt wood and musky notes. Features citrus finish.
Common Chypre Family Notes
- Oak Moss
Chypre Examples For Men
3. The Citrus Family
Citrus fragrances have been among us for centuries. The first and most famous eaux de cologne were unabashedly citrus fragrances likely due to their low tenacity. Needless to say, citrus fragrances mimic the scent of either the juice, zest or blossom of fruit such as lemon, bergamot, orange, mandarin and grapefruit. Citrus fragrances are usually fresh and light combined with floral, tart or aromatic notes for fuller accords.
- Aromatic Citrus: Aromatic notes incorporated into a citrus build.
- Chypre Citrus: More modern base for eau de cologne fragrances. Added fresh notes that are floral in head with a mossy base.
- Gourmand Citrus: Sweet citrus combined with rounded notes of vanilla, caramel and sweet flowers.
- Musky Citrus: Heady musky properties added to citrus composition that feature floral and woody notes.
- Spicy Citrus: Added spiced notes including clove, nutmeg and cinnamon.
- Woody Citrus: Citrus structure with a woody base. Can feature barely noticeable light floral notes.
Common Citrus Family Notes
Citrus Examples For Men
4. The Floral Family
Although the largest fragrance family, Floral has been almost exclusively reserved for women until recently. However, floral fragrances are just as old as the citrus family.
They can consist of either a single flower or an elaborate bouquet of several. Furthermore, advances in synthesising compounds have allowed for more complex compounds. In fact, this is likely how the family became more common among men’s fragrances.
Dominantly floral fragrances are still a rarity today for men. Nevertheless, they are common heart notes for many men’s fragrances.
- Soliflore: Consists of a single floral note used to mimic the naturally occurring scent.
- Floral Bouquet: A concoction of several floral notes. This creates a complex composition and virtual bouquet of flowers.
- Floral Aldehyde: The build is extended by adding powdery and woody animal notes. These are usually accompanied by a citrus and floral head.
- Floral Aquatic: A floral bouquet is combined with cool sea-breeze notes.
- Floral Fruity: A comparatively modern subfamily thanks to advances in aromatic compounds. Expect a floral body with fruity notes.
- Floral Musk: A heavy musk presence accompanies the floral fragrance. Potential addition of woody and aldehydic notes.
- Floral Green: A sharp freshness is added to the composition. Presence of green notes such as crushed leaves or pine.
- Floral Woody: Floral composition followed by woody undertones.
Common Floral Family Notes
Floral Examples For Men
- Pinaud Clubman Lilac Vegetal
- Christian Dior Rose Elixir Précieux
- Tabac Original
- Dior Homme
5. The Fougère Family
Like Chypre, Fougère is something of a concept rather than a true family. Similarly, the name meaning “fern” in French is actually a reference to Fougère Royale. Launched by Houbigant Parfum in 1882, Fougère Royale revolutionised perfumery and many masculine fragrances are still designed using its framework.
However, some perfumers prefer to dissolve this broad family into other categories. Nevertheless, it’s significance to perfumery means that it has withstood the test of time. In fact, fern is odourless. Furthermore, fougère fragrances are usually blends composed of lavender, wood, oak moss, coumarin and citrus. The resulting aroma comprises of sweet and spicy notes over a herbaceous and lichen backdrop.
Finally, it’s worth noting that fougère fragrances perform particularly well during the early warmer seasons. Thanks to their bouquet of green and aromatic notes, they’re often among the best springtime fragrances for men.
- Amber Oriental Fougère: Fougère with a rounded finish through warm and spicy notes. Can also feature a floral note above the amber backdrop.
- Aquatic Fougère: Fougère dominant fragrance yet with a strong citrus palate. Herbaceous and aromatic with an occasionally spicy finish.
- Aromatic Fougère: An overall heavy musk presence accompanies the floral fragrance with potential woody and aldehydic notes.
- Fruity Fougère: Fougère with exposed fruity notes from the floral fruity subfamily.
- Spicy Fougère: Classical fougère with floral notes accompanied by a spicy finish
Common Fougère Family Notes
- Oak Moss
Fougère Examples For Men
6. The Leather Family
The leather family is particularly different from its relatives. Surprisingly, tanning leather brought about a new dawn of perfumery. As the process was so foul smelling, tanneries would scent the finished products to mask the unpleasant odours of ammonia. The pleasant fragrances created with smoke, wood, resigns and honey combined with the skins’ aldehydic notes went on to become quite desirable.
The oriental, woody and leather fragrance families would borrow off one another to mimic different aromas. Eventually, leather became so appealing that perfumers sought to simulate its characteristic fragrance. Therefore, leather fragrances can be identified today by tart, dry or smokey blends or even floral, crisp compositions.
- Floral Leather: A linear, non-aggressive leather frame enhanced by floral notes.
- Tobacco Leather: Leather tempered with wood, honey and hay, which specifically characterise the tobacco note.
- Woody Spicy Leather: A woody base is honed through leather and aldehydic notes, which feature bitter spices.
Common Leather Family Notes
- Burnt Wood
- Silver Birch
Leather Examples For Men
- Parfum d’Empire Cuir Ottoman
- Burberry Brit Rhythm
- Christian Dior Leather Oud
- Acqua di Parma Colonia Leather
7. The Oriental Family
The rich exotic essences of oriental fragrances comprise of exotic herbs and spices such as vanilla and cistus as well as aldehydes. Resins, woods and amber create markedly warm and sensual aromas that can be powdery or dry.
The musk of an oriental fragrance is often opulent and heady, which can be otherwise softened with more amber notes.
Playing with the exotic connotations, oriental fragrances can simultaneously feature gourmand properties. Tantalising notes such as vanilla, coffee, cinnamon, anise and even chocolate can also be present for a mouthwatering finish.
Thanks to their overt powdery and spicy notes, Oriental fragrances are often associated with the colder months. Therefore, it’s no surprise that they’re among the best men’s winter fragrances.
- Citrus Amber: Unlike a Floriental, the amber accord features a pronounced citrus flower note.
- Oriental Amber: A particularly classical oriental fragrance featuring soft and warm notes of amber.
- Floriental: A refined blend or oriental and floral notes that create a fresh fragrance with a spicy and rounded finish.
- Floral Hep Amber: Set on an oriental base, variations of floral head notes play with either fruity or woody heart characteristics.
- Spicy Oriental Amber: Hot spices such as cinnamon and cloves are blending in harmony with woods and resins.
- Oriental Gourmand: Warm oriental compounds are combined with enriched sweet essences of caramel, vanilla and honey.
- Woody Oriental Amber: Traditionally rich oriental essences enrich a distinctively warm or dry woody base.
Common Oriental Family Notes
- Atlas Cedar
Oriental Examples For Men
8. The Woody Family
Woody fragrances overall consist of either warm or opulent blends. Sandalwood and patchouli are among the most common warm notes while cedar or vetiver can be used for a drier finish.
Otherwise, oily resins can be introduced from an exotic heart. Usually, some perfumers will curb the warmth of a woody fragrance with fresh citrus or aromatic head notes.
- Woody Coniferous Citrus: Wood dominant with notes of pine also featuring top notes of citrus fruit.
- Woody Aquatic:.Compounds laced with woody aromas are combined with aquatic notes.
- Woody Aromatic: Particularly dominant woody accords act as a base to harmonious aromatic head notes.
- Woody Chypre:.Dominant woody notes are combined with traditionally Chypre compounds including oak moss and labdanum.
- Woody Floral Musk: A wood accord chiefly featuring a heavy musk base that can open on floral notes.
- Woody Fruity Musk:.Wood and musk notes are combined to create a spicy, fruity and aromatic fragrance with amber undertones.
- Woody Spicy: Distinctively bitter and warm spices hang over a refined woody base.
Common Woody Family Notes
Woody Examples For Men
Now that you have discovered the various fragrance families, learn how to put your knowledge to practical use with our guide to testing fragrances. Alternatively, learn how to properly wear fragrances for every occasion and environment!