At niche perfume house ORTIR Apothecari we know that we are instinctively drawn to a delicious scent. More often than not we choose a perfume having been drawn to it as a certain type – by its fragrance family.
Fragrance families are the classification system used within the perfume industry to construct as well as to market scents.
It’s a complex business and a frustrating one - there is no universally accepted system and organisations as well as individuals all have their own method as well as corresponding subjective vocabulary. Nevertheless, organising them in this way provides the perfumer with information on how to construct a formula, pretty handy when they can be working from a palette of up to 2000 ingredients.
Put quite simply perfumes are classified into four parent olfactory families based on their characteristics and dominant notes: Fresh, Floral, Amber and Woody.
FRESH scents boast zesty, clean accords which lend themselves well to top notes in a perfume. This fragrance family is known for giving a fragrance its sparkle – hesperidic notes a nod to nymphs of Greek mythology. Often formulated using oils with a high level of volatility such as bergamot and citrus, these perfumes tend to be lighter and brighter but with less longevity.
Single note to multi-floral, the FLORAL scent family is one of the most popular. From fresh-cut bouquets to powdery soft blossoms they are reminiscent of the floral odours of living, fragrant flowers. Unashamedly feminine they are highly nature-oriented and perhaps this is why they are the most universally appealing of all the fragrance families.
AMBER fragrances conjure up a world of rich spices, herbaceous notes, exotic resins and balsams. Using ingredients used since the dawn of perfumery amber fragrances tend towards the heavy and diffusive. Base notes for this family tend to linger longer on the skin, adding to their reputation as sensuous.
From creamy sandalwoods to smoky cedars, the WOODY fragrance family includes accords that are warm and opulent. They take in leaves and roots too, respectively spicy patchouli and the dry earthy notes of my favourite, vetiver.
Of course, like all families there are offshoots and extensions – siblings and second cousins who share certain traits as well as nicknames.
Luckily, we can reference The Fragrance Wheel.
Invented by scent expert Michael Edwards, this spectrum of scent aids perfumers and fragrance lovers alike. He maps out and explains the shared characteristics and relationships for fourteen fragrance families. Subfamilies sitting side-by-side on the wheel denote similarities, whereas scent families located on the wheel further away from each other are less related. Think of it as the table seating plan for an extended family gathering.
But as you have learnt, fragrance is a subjective business. Fragrance families are an excellent place to start but fragrances can be thin, rich, delicate or coarse, powdery, pungent, sharp and all of this is subjective.
More complex, niche fragrances, just like those of ORTIR, can feature multiple families and facets in a single fragrance.
Like our own families. It’s complicated.