A Beginners Guide Chapter 3: Top, Heart & Base Notes
Have you ever seen, heard or smelt something so mesmerising that it instantly transports you to a significant moment in your life? To me, fragrance is an art form - and just like painting, poetry, prose and music - it can evoke powerful emotions, reignite memories and enable us to express deeply embedded narratives.
I often liken perfumery to composing a beautiful piece of music: a balancing act of notes and accords aligned in perfect harmony, bringing pleasure, comfort and healing to our senses.
Traditionally, individual scents are divided into three categories: top, heart and base notes - each experienced in turn, yet simultaneously. These are often illustrated in a pyramid with a timeline of evaporation that runs from top to bottom... the top notes evaporating the fastest.
Fragrance interacts with the warmth and oils in our skin to develop over a number of hours - as if alive - gradually adapting from the first burst of top notes to reveal the heart notes and ultimately the base.
Notes are the raw materials that form perfume. They can be either natural or synthetic in origin and are grouped into different facets. These ingredients may share common characteristics in their olfactory profile and volatility - for example, rose and geranium belong to the floral facet and bring balance to other notes.
The top notes of a fragrance tend to be zesty, punchy and short lived, creating an all-important first impression that instantly attracts (or repels) the wearer when first applied. Like an elegantly designed book cover, they are there to be enjoyed and entice you to explore further, yet do not comprise the full story.
When applying STORIES N⁰.01, hesperidic accords of bergamot and grapefruit create an intense, initial aroma. Lively, bright and suggestive, they are the introduction to a much deeper, more complex story that will develop throughout the day. This enticing citrus beginning serves as the perfect opener for STORIES N⁰.01.
STORIES N⁰.02 opens with the rich headiness of bergamot and Bulgarian rose alongside spicy notes of ginger, cardamom and green tea... flourishing like a garden at its height, luring us in to explore its depths.
The heart forms the main melody of a fragrance, composed to blend harmoniously with top and base notes - ideally with a surprise or two along the way - and normally lasting a few hours on the skin.
Heart notes might include woods, florals and spice. For STORIES N⁰.01, I chose heliotrope, jasmine and fig to build on the citrus opening with their suggestive, sweet scent. Jasmine adds sensuality while fig brings complexity with its mossy yet sweet odour, alongside heliotrope's delicate florals. This effervescent blend communicates the deep joy underpinning the heart of STORIES N⁰.01.
In contrast, tonka bean, patchouli and cedarwood form the heart of STORIES N⁰.02, with a spiced, oriental edge tethering it seductively to a rich history of scent.
Think of base notes as the grand finale - or the one worth waiting for - often appearing up to six hours after initial application. A soft kiss whose presence lingers on your neck, cleavage and wrists for hours to come.
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.
One of the most important back notes in perfumery is musk*. It is what remains after the more lively, floral or spiced upper notes have evaporated. It also brings balance to the more dynamic tones and adds its own unique warmth to the fragrance.
STORIES N⁰.02 has a sensual blend of base notes underpinning its composition. Amber, musk*, sandalwood and vanilla work together as I wanted to ensure that the wearer will not easily forget this alluring fragrance.
Why every story is unique
This complexity of a fragrance's composition is the reason I encourage trying scent on your skin and allowing it to settle, so that you experience its full performance throughout the day.
You may have noticed that a certain scent might not work for you, but smells wonderful on another. While some components will be replicated, every perfume tells a different story on each person's skin, because just like a fingerprint, our individual chemistry and sense of smell is completely unique. What story will your fragrance tell?
*All ingredients used in the STORIES Parfums collection are cruelty-free