Making Sense Of Scents

Categories Grooming



A brief guide to decoding the language behind men’s fragrances…


This describes the cumulative scent made up from several perfume notes blended and balanced to create an entirely new smell sensation.


A major accord of Oriental fragrances, this is a sweet, warm accord made with perfume notes like vanilla, labdanum and balsams with tree bark resin origins. Originally developed to mimic ambergris.


A base note with sweet, earthy and tobacco-like scents that’s usually used in synthetic form. That’s because in its natural form it’s mind-bogglingly expensive as its created by sperm whales crapping out inedible cuttlefish bones that then oxidise in the sun before washing ashore.


Describing ingredients that were originally animal-derived, such as ambergris, castoreum, musk and civet. Rather disgusting in pure concentrations, at smaller dilutions they provide a sensual edge to fragrances.


Clean, modern, fresh scents created by mixing an ocean (or sometimes citrus note to the base aromatic accord. The style of many unisex fragrances. Armani Acqua Doi Gio and Davidoff Cool Water are prominent examples.


Base Note

Think of this as the anchor in a perfume formula – it’s literally the heaviest ingredient, which enhances the scent of other elements and causes them to last longer.


This is an oil from a small bitter orange that gives a fresh citrus zing to fragrances.


An accord that combines elements of spice, amber, musk and florals to create a powdery, velvety aroma invoking the smell and feel of cashmere.

Chypre (sheep-ra)

Fragrances built on a  similar accord consisting of bergamot, oakmoss, patchouli and labdanum.


Bergamot, lemon, orange, tangerine and grapefruit are some of the key citrus notes used to create fresh, light scents, with men’s citrus fragrances given an extra zing from aromatic and spicy notes.


Civet was a cream taken from the anal gland of civet cats to create an “animalic” base note. Fortunately most civet is now synthetic.


This refers to the concentration of perfume oil ingredients, which determine the fragrance’s potency and longevity, in a percentage to the alcohol in which they’re contained. There is, however, overlap. At the strongest end, Extrait or Extract is like the whisky of fragrances, with concentration of 20 to 40 per cent; Eau de Parfum clocks in with 10 to 30 per cent; Eau de Toilette has 5 to 20 per cent and Eau de Cologne’s dilution is 2 to 5 per cent.


The French word for “leather”, it’s pronounced “queer” and describes perfumes with accords made from perfume notes that include our old friend castoreum, along with myrtle, cade, birch tar and styrax.


Think of this as the “sequel” or “spin-off” fragrance meants to capitalise on the success and adulation of a “pillar fragrance” or master brand.


Named for the French word for “fern”, this is one of the fragrance families centring around a herbaceous accord and one of the most common types of men’s fragrance.


As it suggests, a fragrance derived form the aroma of flowers. More commonly associated with women’s fragrances, it wasn’t always the case. Men of the 19th Century would commonly wear floral perfurmes… and they are making a comeback, either expressly directed at men or via the rise of ‘unisex’ fragrances.


Heart note

Also known as the “middle note”, these are the mid-range ingredients in terms of weight and longevity and usually constitute the enduring impression and memory of the fragrance. They’re usually herbs like anise or florals like jasmine, as well as spice like cinnamon or clove.


A highly common description of many men’s fragrances as producers sought to establish ‘masculine’ credentials for scents, meaning the presence of honey, tobacco, wood and wood tar characters in the accord.



The term applied to master perfurmers – self-explanatory really. It’s the expertise of this organ that makes them their livelihood.


Scent compositions considered rich and sophisticated, and based on substances such as amber, resin, tobacco, spices and exotic woods.

Top Note

The top note is the initial, lighter smell of the fragrance that hits the nose immediately after application to the skin, lasting from 15 minutes to 2 hours. Floral, citrus, fruit, powder, marines and aquatics are usually discernible in the top note.


A ‘fragrance wheel ‘classification describing warm and opulent scents with a ‘woody’ heart note, often based on sandalwood, patchouli and vetiver  with hints of citrus and aromatic notes. See Calvin Klein Obsession and Chanel Allure Homme.