Just like music is grouped into classical, rock, country and so on, fragrances can be grouped into ‘genres’ – also known as types, or fragrance families.
Understanding their qualities, and knowing which ones most appeal to you, can make it easier to shop for something that will both please your nose and linger on your skin.
Many (or most) professional perfumers follow the classification into 7 fragrance families as used by the Societe Francaise des Parfumeurs: citrus, floral, fougere, chypre, woody, amber and leather.
Of course, like any classification, many people can never quite agree on how many family members there should be and so new versions appear all the time!
That said, one of the most widespread, and probably most accessible fragrance classifications comes from Michael Edwards (Fragrances of the World), who uses a ‘wheel’ of 4 categories: fresh, floral, oriental and woody.
Fresh Fragrance Family
These feature citrusy, aquatic, and lighter fruity or herbal notes, and are popular for summer or hot climates, where headier scents can overwhelm.
While refreshing for the senses, they tend to be fleeting in nature rather than long-lasting, unless they have more substantial base notes underneath.
Floral Fragrance Family
Not surprisingly, this is by far the most popular and prolific fragrance family on the market. Rose, violet, jasmine, lily, magnolia, and many others fall into this type, either as the main attraction or in bouquets.
Though it’s a huge category, and different flowers can have vastly different qualities, most florals tend to last a few hours on the skin.
Oriental Fragrance Family
Warm, sensual, and long-lasting, these fragrances can feature sweet and exotic elements like vanilla, cinnamon, warm amber, clove, and musk.
The richness and tenacity of orientals is often used in combination with other ingredients, resulting in crossovers like ‘florientals’ and ‘woody orientals’.
Woody Fragrance Family
The dry, earthy aromas of this category are often identified with a more masculine, sophisticated character, and can include ingredients like cedar, sandalwood, patchouli, oakmoss, and vetiver.
Most pack a powerful punch in terms of longevity on the skin, and make for strong base notes. To know more about ‘notes’ in fragrances, read this post on perfume notes.