Like all the arts, perfumery has its own language. Faced with a wide range of ingredients, natural or synthetic raw materials, accords and notes, perfumers have developed an olfactory classification. These groups, with their sometimes-shifting borders, make it easier to classify fragrances. There are thus 7 major olfactory families that allow us to “put in order” fragrances according to their main characteristics, whether they are feminine, masculine or mixed. Let us introduce them to you to
see smell more clearly…
The origins of this classification
The appearance of olfactory families
Perfumery has existed for thousands of years and has evolved over the centuries. But it was truly in the 19th century that modern perfumery was born, thanks in particular to synthetic chemistry. At that time, the range of fragrances on offer was already diversified and the choice of scents was increasingly wide. Creators were innovating, and noses used twice as much imagination and creativity to elaborate hitherto unpublished compositions. Faced with this multitude of materials and fragrances, perfumers decided as early as the 1900s to develop a kind of classification of scents. The olfactory families were thus born, with more or less fixed contours, and already comprising several fragrant sub-divisions.
It’s hard to create such precise categories when new discoveries challenge established codes. In fact, since the early 1900s, fragrances have never stopped evolving. The perfumer’s palette is therefore considerably enriched every year, thanks to the appearance of new synthetic molecules or modern raw material extraction techniques. Since 1945, the classification of olfactory families has evolved to include new categories such as chypre and ferns. However, the categorization as we know it today dates more exactly from 1984, reviewed by the French Society of Perfumers. More precise and closer to reality, this revised classification is still used today to give you a quick overview of the olfactory universe of the composition.
The 7 olfactory families
Freshness, acidity and sunny notes are the common denominators of this olfactory family full of pep! Hesperides are essential oils obtained thanks to the expression of the zest of fruits such as lemon, bergamot, orange, grapefruit, etc. It is in this olfactory family that we find the first eaux de Cologne used by men and women, as early as the 16th century.
This family is one of the largest and oldest in the history of perfumery. It gathers perfumes whose main theme is a flower: rose, jasmine, violet, lilac, lily of the valley, narcissus, tuberose, etc. They form a real floral bouquet that is very much appreciated, especially in women’s perfumery, but not only! So-called men’s fragrances also feature beautiful floral compositions alongside spicier or more aromatic ingredients. Click here to find out about all the facets of the olfactory family of floral fragrances.
This denomination is pure fantasy! Indeed, the fern accords are not close to the smell of ferns. The name comes from an emblematic perfume, Fougère royale, which caused a small revolution in the world of perfumery in 1882. The ferns are a group of fragrances based on an accord generally made around a lavender and aromatic top note with thyme and rosemary, a floral heart with geranium, and a more woody and vanilla base note with oakmoss and coumarin. However, these accords have evolved considerably and are now fresher and lighter. Fragrances from this family are often composed of virile and masculine notes.
This olfactory family has recently emerged, yet today it occupies a prominent place in the world of perfumery. The name of this family comes from the perfume that François Coty has created in 1917. The success of this Chypre was such that it became the leader of this large family, which includes fragrances based mainly on oakmoss, ciste-labdanum and bergamot accords. Like the other families, these accords have evolved and modernized with new ingredients such as patchouli. Describing the scent of a chypre perfume is quite difficult because it is so complex. It can give off a sensation of damp undergrowth, and hints at autumnal scents. Among the fragrances in our Collection, the eau de parfum ïōdé is a chypre scent, but also a floral one.
This olfactory family is composed of fragrances with warm, resinous, smoky or even humid notes. The olfactory family of woody fragrances features odoriferous woods such as sandalwood and cedar, but also leaves and roots as with patchouli and vetiver. Woody notes are present in the vast majority of fragrances. For a long time, these compositions were considered rather masculine, but for several years now, woody notes have also been seducing more feminine noses by blending in with floral or fruity facets. That’s how our emblematic perfume ippi patchouli was created with its earthy and resinous heart.
The orientals or amber
Known and used since the dawn of time, oriental fragrances or amber perfumes have conquered the noses of the whole world. Today they represent a very important part of the olfactory compositions offered on the market. This olfactory family gathers fragrances whose base was built exclusively on ingredients of animal origin more than a century ago: ambergris, which we talk about in detail here. Today, synthesis allows us to faithfully recreate these notes, and oriental fragrances are enriched with ingredients with sweet, powdery and spicy notes such as ciste-labdanum, cinnamon, or fragrant and precious woods like oud. You can find oriental accords in our fragrances, like kilim, where patchouli is warm and spicy, but also SO, our sensual amber, or 555 whose pepper and cinnamon notes combine with the sensuality of amber.
Somewhat apart in perfumery, this family is home to fragrances with dry and smoky notes. These atypical fragrances attempt to reproduce the characteristic smell of leather, whose facets are tarred, burnt, with shades of tobacco. Leathery fragrances evoke burnt wood and have a raw aspect. Made popular thanks to the perfume Cuir de Russie, these notes still have plenty of room for improvement in tomorrow’s compositions.
The olfactory facets
Each perfume is a clever mix of several dozen (even hundreds) of raw materials. It is important to note that these 7 olfactory families can be divided into sub-families called olfactory facets. Therefore, a fragrance can belong to the woody family, but have fruity or spicy facets. There are thus a multitude of divisions and sub-divisions to best qualify a fragrance. It is almost impossible to create an exhaustive list of all the existing facets, as trends and evolutions go so fast! Nevertheless, we can mention the aldehydic facet, famous and recognizable thanks to its metallic and orange notes. The marine facet is also very present in perfumery, just like the gourmand one or the powdery facet… In short, a fragrance can be revealed in a thousand ways!
Now, will you be able to find out to which olfactory families your favorite fragrances belong?
Discover the fragrances mentioned in the article