Men’s Fragrance 101: Understanding Notes and Families

difference between eau de cologne and eau de ToiletteFor most people, fragrance is a mysterious realm that operates on a nearly subconscious level. Even if you find a men’s fragrance you love, you probably have no idea what scents were combined to create the cologne or aftershave. So how exactly is a fragrance created?

Although some scents are incredibly complex, the core ingredients of fragrances are relatively easy to understand.

Fragrance Notes: how to smell men’s cologne properly

Musical terminologies are used to describe fragrances because the two are quite similar in many ways. A fragrance consists of three notes, which are combined to create a special scent accord. Each note becomes more apparent over time and they are carefully composed to harmonize during the perfume’s evaporation process.

  • Top Notes: This is what you will first smell when spraying the fragrance. Top notes evaporate quickly, but because they give the user their first impression of the cologne, it serves as a crucial selling point of the fragrance profile. Citrus and herbs like lemon, lavender and bergamot are often used as top notes.
  • Middle Notes: After the top notes dissipate, the middle notes become more apparent. These are known as “heart” notes and are the body and soul of the perfume. Heart notes may include components such as coriander, jasmine, nutmeg and rose.
  • Base Notes: Base notes reveal themselves as the middle notes gradually linger and then disappear. Base notes are what give your cologne depth. Scents in this category are rich and deep. They usually do not emerge until at least 30 minutes after the perfume has been applied. Some popular base notes in men’s cologne include sandalwood, vanilla, tobacco, amber, musk and patchouli.

7 Fragrance Families

Fragrances can be broken down into seven broad families, which include:

  • Chypre – These scents include notes of citrus fruits, mosses and musks.
  • Woods – May include patchouli, pine, cypress and sandalwood. Many men’s fragrances draw heavily upon these essences.
  • Oriental – A rich and exotic blend of notes that include citrus fruits, spices, musk, exotic flowers and woody scents.
  • Watery – Aquatic and marine notes.
  • Citrus – A blend that focuses primarily on citrus scents, such as lemon, orange, bergamot and grapefruit.
  • Floral – Floral fragrances are easily the most popular choice and may include scents from a mixture of flowers or one particular flower.
  • Aromatic – Aromatic scents are typically a blend of green notes, woody notes and fresh notes. They are typically used in men’s fragrances.

Fragrances are also divided into different classifications that determine just how concentrated the fragrance is.

  1. Parfum (or Extrait) is the most concentrated and the most expensive due to the fact that they can be composed of upwards of forty percent essence–apply a dab of this gel in the morning after shaving, and you will smell the scent the next morning as you lather up–seriously good stuff.
    • Men should note that the term parfum is a technical term that has to do with concentration rather than whether the fragrance is for one gender or another.
  2. Eau de Parfum is a weaker version of parfum, and hovers around 1/2 the concentration level of parfum.
  3. Most men purchase fragrances in the Eau de Cologne category. These are among the least concentrated scents and the most affordable. Eau de Cologne is practically synonymous with Eau de Toilette, which is only slightly more concentrated but still rather light due to its high alcohol content–the downside is that both Eau de Cologne and Eau de Toilette fade much faster than men’s scents the first two categories.  Again, the term ‘Cologne’ has nothing to do with whether it is for men or women–it merely refers to a fragrance with low essence-to-alcohol concentration.

If you liked this article, please share it with others on social media. We’ve written a piece on the fascinating history of men’s fragrances that you will probably enjoy as well.

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