Breaking Down the Different Fragrance Families

Fragrance FamiliesWhen it comes to slapping on that little dash of liquid style, more than we know, we tend to reach for the cologne or perfume that best brings out our identity. Perhaps we prefer a specific brand, one that echoes our personality. A woman of sophistication might favor Chanel No. 5 for example or the guy who likes to stand out and be the life of the party may favor GOLD Jay Z for its obvious connotations. There is something else though, far more powerful than just branding and that is the fragrance itself. It’s a completely subjective thing and we often select a fragrance based on the memories it calls to the surface through our olfactory sense. We’ve all experienced that moment when we catch a whiff of a scent that reminds us of a place, event or person from our past. It is that connection that often, without our knowing it, chooses our favored scent for us. Lavender might remind you of your grandmother’s bedroom or a fruity, heady scent might elicit memories of your childhood. And of course, with each scent and memory there is the mood that follows which is equally important.


Believe it or not there is a fragrance family and with that, a fragrance circle from which all perfumes and colognes derive their individual mix. Each of these families uses certain accords or raw scent materials from three categories or types of scent which are referred to as “notes.” These three notes are:

  • Base Note: This is the collection of aromas that lingers on your skin the longest and pleasantly underscores the fading scents. This note category consists of heavy scents like leather, tobacco and oakmoss.
  • Heart Note/Bouquet: This gives the fragrance its character and is accentuated by the other two notes. Orange blossom, rose and lavender are just three of the many scents in this note.
  • Top Note: The top note is intended to arouse curiosity and tends to fade quickly. The scents used in this note are more of the fresh green, citrus types like orange, lemon and grass, the combination of which can often elicit the scent-memory of freshly mown grass.

Each collection of notes is placed into a specific family of which there are five main groups. A relatively new arrival to the family groupings is Marine which is also included in the list.


The main families are:

  • Chypre (pronounced sheep-r)
  • Citrus
  • Floral
  • Fougère (pronounced foo-jer)
  • Marine
  • Oriental


Chypre which is named after a fragrance created by Coty in 1917 called ‘Chypre’ is the French name for Cyprus. Coincidentally, Cyprus is also the location where many of the notes that make up this family originate from. This family, like its name, contains a group of classic, sophisticated notes based on a woody, citrus, floral combination that makes for a slightly dry fragrance, lacking the sweetness of the other families. Chypre fragrances often contain the sultry scent of sandalwood, the earthiness of patchouli and the dry scent of oakmoss.

Masculine Brands with Chypre: Aramis, Fendi Uomo, Givenchy Gentleman

Feminine Brands with Chypre: Chypre de Coty, Mitsouko by Guerlain, Cuir de Russe by Chanel


Fresh, crisp and invigorating, many of the earliest colognes aimed to utilize the lively character of citrus notes like orange, petitgrain and mandarin. This fragrance is still very popular with both men and women today and often combined with floral or fruity scents. The one downside to citrus notes is that due to their volatile nature, they evaporate more quickly than other notes.

Masculine Brands with Citrus: Happy by Clinique, Eau Sauvage by Dior, D&G Masculine by Dolce and Gabbana, 1881 by Cerruti

Feminine Brands with Citrus: Green Tea by Elizabeth Arden, Cristalle by Chanel, Diorella by Christian Dior


Floral fragrances tend to be aimed at women nowadays; however, there was a time when floral scents were actually considered to be more masculine. Floral combinations are the most popular in today’s market and account for over half the perfumes sold today. With rich scents like gardenia, rose and tuberose among many, floral combinations can consist of a ‘single floral’ in which the scent of one flower is complemented by up to 200 others or ‘floral bouquet’ which true to its name, is comprised of many different flower scents.

Masculine Brands with Floral: Play Intense by Givenchy, Agua Lavanda by Puig

Feminine Brands with Floral: Charlie by Revlon, Anaïs Anaïs by Cacharel, Chanel No 19, L’Air du Temps by Nina Ricci.


Sometimes referred to as ‘Aromatic Fougère,’ this particular family of notes is dominated by masculine scents like the woody oakmoss, sage and rosemary. First pioneered by Houbigant, ‘Fougère’ actually means ‘fern’ although this term has nothing to do with scent. The very first Fougère fragrance was named Fougère Royale which means ‘royal fern.’

Masculine Brands with FougèreGuy Laroche Drakkar Noir, Boss Selection By Hugo Boss, Armani Emporio Remix, Azzaro Pour Homme


As its name suggests, this relatively new family of notes evokes the fresh, breezy scent of sea air. This sensual, salty scent utilizes a synthetic ingredient called ‘calone’ in order to achieve the outdoorsy sea-air fragrance and is often combined with other similar fresh notes. This note newcomer only emerged in 1991 with the release of Christian Dior’s ‘Dune’ and is sometimes referred to as ‘ozonic.’

Masculine Brands with Marine: L’eau D’issey by Issey Miyake, Kenzo Pour Homme, Acqua Di Gio by Giorgio Armani, Bvlgari Aqva

Feminine Brands with Marine: Inis by Fragrances of Ireland, Aquawoman by Rochas, Escape by Calvin Klein.


Thought to be the oldest of the families, perfumes and colognes containing these notes are daring and bold and not to everyone’s taste. Drawing on the rich and ancient cultures of Egypt, India, Persia and Arabia for its inspiration, this family tends towards the aromatic, spicy, sexy and sensual tones of Sandalwood, Vanilla, Tonka Bean, incense, musk and ambergris. There is also a lighter, more floral category called ‘Soft Oriental’ which is lighter and contains less of the heavier notes like musk.

Masculine Brands with Oriental: Obsession for Men by Calvin Klein, Jean Paul Gaultier Le Male, Joop Pour Homme

Feminine Brands with Oriental: Opium by Yves Saint Laurent, Jean Paul Gaultier “Classique”, Ange ou Demon by Givenchy

Keep in mind that the fragrance families intermingle with one another into different olfactory groups. You can have Oriental Florals and Oriental Fougeres, not to mention the different accords within each group. You can check out Michael Edwards fragrance wheel for more information on this.

You may notice that you love the smell of certain fragrances and the majority are all contained within a specific fragrance family. If you’re looking to find a new scent it may be a good idea to explore a different fragrance family.

So, what fragrance family do you find to be your favorite?

One Response

  1. Aaron July 14, 2014

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