Wednesday, June 8, 2011

How to Find Your Signature Scent Part 2: All About Fragrance Families

A fragrance counter can be tricky to navigate if you don't know what kind of scents you like.  Perfumes usually fall into one of four major families: floral, woody, oriental, and fresh.  Many fragrances overlap categories, too.  Here's what it all means:

floral scents
Floral scents are pretty self-explanatory.  These are the most traditionally feminine fragrances, and popular notes include rose, lily pf the valley, peony, orchid, and tuberose.  Other variants are white florals, which typically have notes of jasmine, gardenia, or freesia to create a grand statement; and soft florals, which include elements of iris, vanilla, or citrus to create a fresh or powdery floral fragrance.  Some great floral scents to start testing are Viktor and Rolf Flowerbomb, Yves Saint Laurent Parisienne, Michael Kors Very Hollywood, Robert Piquet Fracas, Prada Infusion d'Iris, and anything from Marc Jacobs.

woody scents
Woody scents have strong, intense fragrance elements like amber, sandalwood, cedarwood, or patchouli.  These scents tend to be bold and spicy.  Dry wood fragrances include tobacco, leather, and a little citrus to keep it fresh and from being too overpowering.  Mossy woods typically evoke forests and include green or citrus notes as well as oak and other wood scents.  Oriental woods tend to be the most sexy, with notes of amber and sandalwood.  If you want to test a woody scent, spray Narciso Rodriguez For Her, Gucci Rush, Donna Karan Cashmere Mist, the original Lolita Lempicka, or Prada Amber to start.
oriental scents
Oriental fragrances tend to be exotic and sexy.  The very first oriental scent was Guerlain's Shalimar, which was developed in the 1920s and is still available today.  Fragrance elements mix spices like cloves, cinnamon, and vanilla with heady florals like rose and orchid.  Other elements include sugars, nutmeg, cardamom, and sweet spices.  There's a lot of variation among the scents in this category; "gourmand" is the term given to scents that contain foody elements like sugar and spice (and everything nice!) .  Some great oriental or gourmand fragrances to start testing are Aquolina Pink Sugar, Vera Wang Princess, Gucci Guilty, Burberry Brit, Georgio Armani Code, and Tocca Brigitte.

fresh scents
Finally, fresh scents are clean and energizing.  Common notes are lime, lemon, grapefruit, and mandarin.  Fresh green fragrances will have notes of leaves, herbs, or green tea, while fresh water fragrances will incorporate elements of ocean breezes or fresh dew.  Some will have an added element of amber to give the scent a little sexiness.  Some fresh fragrances you can try out include the DKNY Be Delicious fragrance line, Dolce and Gabbana Light Blue, Issey Miyake Eau d'Issey, and any scent from the aptly named brand Fresh.

These are meant to be general, overall guidelines.  Not every fragrance fits into one distinct category.  Most will have elements from two or even three fragrance families.  One of my favorite perfumes, L by Gwen Stefani (which is also one of the only celebrity fragrances I really like), has elements of both floral and fresh notes.  To see how fragrances blend and fit together, consult the Fragrance Wheel!  It's perfume's answer to the color wheel and was developed in 1983 by Michael Edwards.  It's extremely helpful to have a visual representation of how this all fits together.

Try a few scents from each category to learn what fragrances most appeal to you.  Once you discover a preference for oriental florals or dry woods, selecting a perfume becomes that much easier. 

Part 3 of selecting a fragrance is all about how to find the most unique scents, coming soon!  You don't want to miss it!


  1. This is a really interesting & helpful post! Thanks for sharing :)

  2. What an awesome post lady! I adore floral fragrances. They are definitely my favorite. Have you smelled Calvin Klein's Beauty? I have a bottle and adore it


  3. Thank you! It was fun to write. I love florals too, but I haven't smelled Beauty! I'll have to check it out. I have more of a fragrance library, I'm still searching for my signature scent!

  4. So I was wondering what oriental scents were.
    Thanks! I love the floral & fruit/clean scents.