Discover more about Fragrance Families from the ‘perfume expert’s expert’, Michael Edwards.
Whether you know it or not, you are drawn to particular scents. If you have a stash of fragrances, the chances are, they feature some of the same notes.
The language that can help us to understand these qualities was developed most notably by Michael Edwards in the form of the Fragrance Wheel. He devised a system by which fragrances are classified into olfactory groups based on their dominant olfactory notes. The wheel is a graphic representation of the shared characteristics of perfumes. Edwards launched his iconic guide ‘Fragrances of the World’ to great critical acclaim in 1984. Updated every year, the guide changed the perfume industry completely and became a very important resource for those in the business.
Fragrance Families are Key
According to Edwards: “People think that they can only smell three or four perfumes before their nose gets tired. So, it’s important to choose the right ones for them to smell. I thought maybe fragrance families could be the key, because if you ask people for the names of their favourite three perfumes, almost invariably at least two will fall into the same family”.
Although the work that Edwards has done is hugely important for the purposes of classification, he is, at his core, a storyteller.
“I’d always been fascinated with the stories of how perfumes came about. There were so many myths, some of which didn’t ring true. And in the early 1990s, perfumers were invisible. There were books by artists, musicians, sculptors, but nothing by perfumers,” Edwards shared in a recent interview with The Fragrance Foundation.
‘People think that they can only smell three or four perfumes before their nose gets tired. So, it’s important to choose the right ones for them to smell.’
His passion to write these stories was realised with the publication of Perfume Legends: French Feminine Fragrances in 1996. “The book came out quietly and then over time it turned into a cult,” Edwards said. The guide chronicles 45 fragrances, starting with Jicky in 1889 all the way to Angel in 1992. Edwards attributes the success of the book to its perspective. “Many people write about perfumes, but they write from their viewpoint. I didn’t. I was trying to find history, so I wrote it through the eyes of the creators.”
Copies of this cult classic are hard to come by, but a revised and updated Perfume Legends II was released in 2019 full of new research, stunning images and eight new legends. Edwards shared his criteria for discerning which fragrances can be conferred legendary status:
“I believe that you have to give a legend time. There are three criteria to make a legend: number one is an accord so innovative that other people copy it. Number two, an impact, so profound it creates a trend. And number three an appeal that is likely to endure.”
Choosing a fragrance
How then do we draw on the extensive research provided by true legends like Michael Edwards when choosing a fragrance? We have broken down the families in order that you might find your place and discover a fragrance that tells a story you want to hear.
Edwards’ Fragrance Wheel features 14 different categories into which a fragrance can fall. These are grouped into four larger family units: Oriental, Woody, Fresh and Floral.
You know the delicious aroma that throws its arms around you when you visit a top florist? The perfumes might remind you of that. They are soft and gentle yet deliciously feminine and rich. It is the largest of the fragrance families and one of the most famous accord in perfumery finds it home here: the harmony of Jasmine, Rose and Ylang Ylang, often with a touch of Violet. The range of sub-divisions ranges from Floral that is redolent of a freshly cut stem and foliage to Soft Floral to Floral Oriental that celebrates a dash of sweet and spicy. Floral notes are also used within blends that are considered ‘masculine’ to provide balance and bring a saccharine touch.
If you love the earthy tones of a sunlit, moss-covered forest floor, you will fit right into this family. The fragrances classified under this banner are tailored, refined and deliciously complex. When these blends are well balanced, every note knows its place and the harmony is pitch perfect. Within the family there are four categories featuring Dry Woods that conjure rich leather aromas, Mossy Woods that include classic Oakmoss scents, the aromatic Woods and Woody Oriental that smells soft and sweet of Sandalwood and Patchouli.
Oriental NotesThe notes in this family sit as easily in a masculine fragrance as they do in a typically feminine one. The blends are voluptuous and heady with a soft, sensual undertone that is simply irresistible. The classic Oriental blend is resinous while notes from other families such as Woody and Floral add complexity and take the fragrance in exciting directions.
This is a diverse and fruity bunch. From the Aromatic subdivision that conjures up images of lavender fields to the zesty citrus notes, clean green tones and on to fruity, berry-laden blends, these are fragrances that will brighten your day and leave you smelling good enough to eat.
Most of the world’s fragrances have been classified according to Edward’s Fragrance Wheel. However, there is a certain degree of creative license when putting a perfume in a box and there have been many disagreements over time. The wheel is an excellent guide to point you in the direction of the family with which you most connect. In our opinion, however, nothing beats your own ability to sniff a fragrance and decide whether it speaks to you or not. STORIES Parfums offer samples of No. 01 and No. 02 to help discerning customers decide for themselves. Order yours today.