A Glossary Of Basic Perfumery Terms

Accord:Combinations of single notes that are used to produce other fragrant effects for a perfumer. An accord might be two ingredients; it could run into several hundred.  

Aromatic: This tends to mean smelling herbal or “green” (such as lavender, thyme, rosemary etc.) – but “AN aromatic” is another word for an ingredient.

Assam:A black tea grown in the Northeast section of India. A strong full-bodied tea with a rich robust flavor. Considered by many tea lovers to be a wake-up tea to be consumed in the morning. Often used in blends because of its strong flavor and body.

Astringent:A flavor (i.e. tea tasting) term which describes a liquor which is pungent, creating a "dry" feeling in the mouth.

Autumnal:Describes the liquor from teas grown in Autumn, in cool weather. The term is most often applied to teas from Northern India.

Balsams: These are resins that are rich in oil and tend to smell soft and sometimes faintly sweet. Examples are Peru balsam, benzoin and tolu balsam. They’re base notes, too.

Base Notes: The deepest and most tenacious notes in a fragrance, which tend to last longest on the skin – such as patchouli, vetiver, vanilla, sandalwood and cedarwood.

Black Tea:The most commonly consumed tea in the world accounting for approximately 68% of all consumption. In the United States well over 80% of the tea consumed is black. There are five major types of teas: Black, Green, Oolong, White and Dark. (Some consider Yellow tea as a 6th category.) Black teas are fully fermented (oxidized).

Blend:A blend is a mixture of scented ingredients.

Body: The heart or middle of a fragrance (see above), which is the main part.

Chypre: A classic fragrance family of great sophistication, which tends to include bergamot and oakmoss somewhere in the blend. There are men’s and women’s Chypre scents.

Citrus: Can refer to a scent that is predominantly citrusy or to individual ingredients from the citrus family, including grapefruit, lime, lemon, tangerine, orange and petitgrain.

Cologne: The lightest concentration of perfume, taking its name from Eau de Cologne (which has been around since around the early 18th Century). A Cologne has just 2-4% of perfume oils and will last on the skin for up to two hours.

Compound:Another name for a fragrance, flavour, aroma or chemical compound – basically, a technical word for a scented ingredient.

Diffusion:  How a perfume travels from the body into the air around the wearer – diffusion is why you can smell someone’s perfume when they walk by.

Distillation:Distillation is a form of extracting a scented ingredient from plant material, mostly through the use of steam; the fragrant plant oils travel to the surface and can be drawn off.

Eau de Toilette: This fragrance has between 10-15% aromatic ingredients in a base of water or alcohol. It will last up to three to four hours on the skin.

Eau de Parfum:A 15-20% concentration of aromatic ingredients in a fragrance, with a life on the skin of around four to five hours.

Floral:  Can refer to a fragrance that gives a particularly flowery impression or to a single floral ingredient like rose, jasmine, iris or ylang ylang. (Rose and jasmine are present in most fragrances.) This is the biggest family of fragrances.

Fruity:Fruit notes tend mostly to be blended with florals rather than be the star of the show, but may include plum, blackberry, peach, apple, cherry or strawberry.

Gourmand:A relatively new (25 years) family of fragrances that takes its inspiration from the food world and makes stars of ingredients like chocolate, praline, caramel and vanilla.

Leather:A family of fragrances that tends to have a smokiness that evokes traditional leather goods. (Most leather scent comes from ingredients like birch.)

Middle Notes: As top notes dissipate, the middle or “heart” of a fragrance makes itself known. Floral notes usually sit in the middle of a fragrance, as do fruity elements. They’ll last for a couple of hours on the skin, rarely longer.

Musk: Once upon a time this was an ingredient taken from the musk deer glands; that’s since been outlawed, and modern synthetic musks can either smell clean or offer a downy sensuality to perfume.

Noses:A word that refers to formally-trained perfumers — and they don’t necessarily like it! There are fewer noses in the world than astronauts – somewhere around 400!

Top Notes: The very first notes you smell in a fragrance, which might last just a few minutes – often citrus notes like bergamot, neroli, mandarin or lemon.

Undertones:Not widely used. But according to bellairecreations.com, these are “subtle characteristics of the fragrance background creating pleasant nuances that are an important part of the fragrance character.”

Woody:A fragrance family that evokes the scent of fresh-cut or dry woods and may feature ingredients like vetiver, sandalwood, cedarwood or oudh.