The Language of Perfumery - Beginner's Guide to Fragrance Chapter 9
"Perfumes are a language everyone understands, but few people can speak"
François Demachy, French Perfumer
The world of perfumery has its very own language, which some fragrance fans find confusing or intimidating (just like winery or other art forms). I completely get this as I felt the same in the early days of my love affair with perfume.
While I now live and breathe its language, I want to help make the fragrance world more accessible and inclusive for all.
Making Fragrance Accessible
In our 9th Beginner's Guide to Fragrance, I'll walk you through some of the official terminology used to describe perfume. I hope this helps you feel more comfortable with the lingo - and perhaps discover a new understanding and appreciation of scent.
Before we delve in, this seems the perfect opportunity to share that in line with our ethos of sustainability and inclusivity, STORIES Parfums will no longer use the term, 'Oriental' - in our website, content or product descriptions. Traditionally used to describe a major fragrance category with intoxicatingly warm, opulent ingredients on a base of amber, it has become clear that the term 'Oriental' is outdated and offensive to many. Going forward, we will describe this category as Ambrée or Ambery.
Learning the Lingo
So let's take a look at some of the most used terms in the language of fragrance, with a brief overview of each one...
Notes - in basic terms this means 'ingredient'. Read more about Top, Heart and Base Notes in our third Beginner's Guide.
Accord - a blend of different perfume notes.
Olfaction - a term for the act of smelling.
Olfactory - relating to the sense of smell or how a perfume is constructed.
Jus / Juice - a nickname used to describe fragrance itself; a literal translation of the liquid in a perfume bottle.
Drydown - another term for base notes, this grand finale of scent often appears up to six hours after initial application. The essential component of a fragrance’s base note is its ability to last, formed of ingredients that are heavier and slower to evaporate, such as the sandalwood and vetiver in STORIES N⁰. 01. These notes are known as fixatives, literally fixing the scent to your skin.
Flanker - new versions of an existing perfume, often with similar notes, packaging or theme.
Absolute - a concentrated, highly aromatic oil extract, similar to an essential oil.
Sillage - a French word originally used to describe the trace left by a boat in water as it splits the waves, sillage evokes the scented trail lingering in the air behind a perfume wearer.
Chypre - a category of perfumes composed of citrus top notes.
Woody - an aroma extracted from trees, resin, moss, bark, and roots, providing deep, earthy character that adds richness and warmth to a fragrance.
Oud - one of the world's most precious perfume ingredients, this dark fragrant wood from aquilaria trees is often used in production of incense and perfume, especially in the Middle East.
Cuir - the French word for leather, often used to describe sensual smokey scents with leather accords (pronounced queer) cuir.
Tonality - the dominant note or theme of a fragrance.
Aldehydes - an organic compound used to add an uplifting sparkle and airiness to perfumes or heighten their projection.
Gourmand - scents made up of smooth, sweet notes that smell ‘good enough to eat’, such as honey, vanilla and almond.
Layering - applying multiple scents to create a long-lasting, unique aroma, using different perfumes or layering with body and skincare products (a personal favourite of mine!)
The list is endless and I must draw the line somewhere. If I've missed any that you're interested in, please get in touch on social @storiesparfums - I love to hear from you and am always up for perfume chat!
Read more about the notes found in our Eau de Parfums in our Fragrance Glossary.
Driven by a passion to create a space for others to share their journey and stories, we launched STORIES Hosts - a series of inspirational conversations, live on Instagram.
This month I chatted with:
- Sophie Stanbury - Interior Designer
- Melanie Lawson - Founder, Bare Biology
- Jean Queen, Donna Ida Thornton.
If you missed out, there's still time to listen in here.