When you first start road-testing perfumes, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Having to stare down an ice-queen sales associate just to try something new, or not being able to pronounce one of the labels can ruin the fun of finding a new scent. Or even by trying to familiarize yourself with the basic perfume vocabulary if you’re new to the scene.
Do you REALLY have to know what a fougere and a chypre fragrance are, and why they’re different? (FUN FACT: Fougere is French for fern, and it’s a style of traditionally mens’ cologne with lavender and a hay-like note called coumarin included. Chypre is French for Cypress, and it’s fancy talk for a perfume with a fruity or floral start and a mossy feel at the bottom, usually from oakmoss or patchouli.)
And of course, then there are the endless fragrance families: Fresh, Woody, Floral, Spicy, Fruity, Oriental, Green, just to name a quick few. And within each of these are the scents that combine features of two or more styles: Woody Orientals, Fruity Florals, and so on.
Still here? It’s enough to send anyone even slightly curious running back to the first bottle that they got A Nice Compliment From Wearing That One Time.
But there’s hope. A British man named Michael Edwards, who many consider to be the finest “nose” in the world, created a scented color wheel of sorts back in 1983, that helps to classify the many different types of perfume available and how they’re related.
And just like knowing which hue and tones are complementary when designing a home or an outfit, it’s helpful to know which styles of scent are similar or different. Once you know your way around the Fragrance Wheel, you can start exploring different perfumes to find ones you love most, and give up the guilt from adding another sad bottle to the costly “one-and-dones” on your dresser.
The Fragrance Wheel breaks perfumes down into several main categories, and then similar subcategories within each: Floral, Soft Floral, Oriental, Woody Oriental, Floral Oriental, etc. It can help you sort out scent “neighborhoods” a lot quicker than just blindly sampling at a department store until your nose gives out.
For example, let’s take a classic scent: Chanel No. 5. This is the Floral scent that created the entire perfume industry nearly overnight. It’s sparkling, citrusy, and powdery with a sweet vanilla-like drydown.
It’s also a perfume from the high classic style of 100 years ago, and while it may seem like your grandmother’s perfume now, at the turn of the century it was as shocking as wearing a Lady Gaga meat suit.
The Fragrance Wheel puts Chanel no. 5 in its Soft Floral category, mainly due to the powdery texture and the aldehydes it has in the top notes. (FUN FACT AGAIN: Aldehydes are carbon compounds that, depending on which link in the carbon chain you use in a perfume, can smell like champagne, butter, cheese or even strawberries.)
For something similar but modern, Scentbird suggests Baiser Vole from Cartier, or Dia Woman from Amouage. Both are highly floral, sparkling and powdery scents that gracefully refer back to the classic days of French perfumery.
Now say that maybe Floral scents aren’t your thing at all – what about colognes for men?
Most men start wearing bright, zesty Sport scents when they get into perfume, and many of today’s offerings would fall under the Fresh Citrus category on the Wheel. But perhaps one day you want to try something similar, but with more spice?
To the left of the Fresh Citrus on the Wheel is a wide category called Aromatic Fougeres – this is where you’ll find perfumes with a little hit of citrus at the top, but which also feature other herbal and spicy notes to deepen the impact. Hermes – Terre D’Hermes is a fantastic example.
As you follow your nose around the Wheel, you begin to understand where the boundaries in scent are, which makes gambling on a new fragrance a lot safer.
If you like bright citrus notes it might be enjoyable to try something across from these on the Fragrance Wheel. Floral Orientals, with their dusky orange blossom notes and opulent spices, can be a sensual way to carry citrusy tones in an intriguing new direction.
Or if that’s too much of a stretch, you might try similar styles under the same category: if Fresh scents are your jam, then why not try the coastal vibe of a Watery aquatic scent like Bvlgari Aqua?
Michael Edward’s Fragrance Wheel is a fun, educational way to train your palate and assist you to safely venture out of your comfort zone. In no time, your taste will widen quite a bit as your nose begins to pick up on the individual notes and accords that make each fragrance family distinct.
And instead of having a dresser or bathroom shelf filled with dust-covered also-ran perfumes, you can proudly show off the buried treasure you’ve unearthed on your scent journey. And maybe even share it with others who are new to the game now, too.
To learn more about the Fragrance Wheel, visit fragrancesoftheworld.com, where you can download the actual Wheel and read up on iconic perfumes that represent each fragrance family on their website.
And, as always, share with us what you learn! E-mail us here at Scentbird and tell us your own story of venturing out into the frontiers of the Scented World.