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Overview of Fragrance Families in Perfumery

Posted on June 20 2024

Overview of Fragrance Families in Perfumery | Wit & West Perfumes Field Notes Blog


Photo Credit: Jared Subia, Unsplash


Overview of Fragrance Families in Perfumery


In perfumery, categorization of fragrances is based on certain characteristics of the fragrance such as shared notes, accords, or style of the fragrance. A note in perfumery can be thought of in a comparable way to a note in a music composition; an individual element or ingredient such as orange, clove, jasmine, rose, cedarwood or sandalwood. Borrowing terms used in music, a perfume is composed of different notes or aromatic materials that are arranged into accords (another musical term, i.e., “chords”) which are then further combined to create a final perfume. To make it easier for the consumer to shop for fragrances, the fragrance industry came up with a system for categorizing fragrances into what is known as fragrance families.

What are Fragrance Families?

The categorization or classification system for fragrances based on the style or type of fragrance is known in the fragrance industry as fragrance or olfactive families. These fragrance families are determined by the shared olfactory characteristics of a fragrance such as floral, amber, fresh, fougère, chypre, woody and gourmand.

The Fragrance Wheel in Perfumery

The traditional idea of fragrance families emerged in the 1900s and since then categorization of perfumes has evolved with new families being added as well as new ways of visualizing and describing the categories, accords or notes. Most notably is the idea of the Fragrance Wheel, with the first example proposed in 1951 by perfumer, Paul Jellinek, called the Odor Effects Diagram (originally published in German, and later modified by Paul Jellinek’s son, Joseph Stephan in the book, The Psychological Basis of Perfumery, 4th ed. JS Jellinek, ed, Chapman & Hall, London, 1997). In its original depiction, the Odor Effects Diagram was a circular diagram that showed the similar and dissimilar olfactory relationships between different odorous groups with the purpose of instructing perfumers in the choice of perfume materials and combinations to achieve or modify specific psychological impacts of a scent. The four key effects of the diagram were narcotic, stimulating, erogenous and anti-erogenous. He also presented combinations of these effects such as; narcotic plus anti-erogenous is calming; anti-erogenous plus stimulating is fresh; stimulating plus erogenous is exalting; erogenous plus narcotic is sultry. Paul’s son, Joseph, later modified the descriptions in 1994 with erogenous being replaced by the word “rich”; “anti-erogenous” was replaced by the word “fresh”; “narcotic” was replaced by “gentle”; “stimulating” was replaced by the word “active”. The full diagram included the following categories as presented by Joseph Jellinek; Citrus, Herbaceous, Woody, Musk, Vanilla, Fruity and Floral, with further classification below these categories. (Calkin & Jellinek, 1994). In addition to the revision of The Odor Effects Diagram by Joseph Jellinek, other classification variations have emerged over the years with the introduction of The Fragrant Circle, which was developed by U. Harder at Haarman and Reimer (now part of the flavor and fragrance company, Symrise), as well as The Wine Aroma Wheel, the first aroma wheel for wine that organized wine descriptors was created in 1984 by Ann Noble, PhD, an enology professor at University of California, Davis. The most notable and widely used tool today is one that was originally created by Michael Edwards, the British fragrance taxonomist, historian, and founding editor of Fragrances of the World, the largest guide to perfume classification in the world. Michael launched Fragrances of the World in 1984 and then created the first version of his Fragrance Wheel in 1992 (Edwards, M., n.d.). The current version of Edwards’ Fragrance Wheel was revised in 2010, and this version includes the standard fragrance families (on the outer edge of the circle) and then sub-categories that cross over into their neighboring fragrance families; floral (sub-categories including green, fruity, floral, soft floral, floral amber), amber (sub-categories including floral amber, soft amber, amber, woody amber), fresh (sub-categories including aromatic, citrus, water, green and fruity) and woody (sub-categories including woods, mossy woods, dry woods, aromatic). See below for an example of the fragrance wheel based on the following olfactive categories; floral, ambery, woody and fresh.


Example of the Fragrance Wheel, by Wit & West Perfumes

Why Do Fragrance Families Matter?

Whether you are new to perfume or not, fragrance families can be a useful tool to leverage. Here’s a few benefits of fragrance families and why you might want to consider learning more about them:

  1. Learn what you like and do not like. By understanding fragrance families and what perfumes fall into those categories you can better understand what you like and do not like about a particular fragrance which means you will be more equipped to find a fragrance you love.
  2. Narrow down your potential options. Whether you are trying fragrances in-person or looking to purchase online, it is helpful to have an idea of what you might like ahead of time. While fragrance families are not fail-proof they can serve as a starting point and a way to help you narrow down your options.
  3. Expand your knowledge of perfumery. If you are a collector, enthusiast or future perfumer, learning fragrance families is important as it allows you to differentiate between different perfume styles as well as understand perfume compositions and why certain materials or accords are used.


The Fragrance Families

Floral Fragrance Family

The floral family is perhaps the most well-known and widely used in perfumery. It features the scents of various flowers, either as soliflores (single note fragrance based on a particular flower) or bouquets (combinations of multiple flowers) (Perfume Society, n.d.).

Floral Fragrance Family Sub-Categories:

  • Soliflore: Soliflores focus on a singular floral note, ensuring that a particular flower shines in the perfume. Popular fragrances that are considered soliflores include Diorissimo by Christian Dior.
  • Floral Amber: Combines floral notes with spicy and warm notes, creating a rich and opulent scent.
  • Floral Bouquet: A combination of multiple flowers in one perfume such as rose, jasmine and peony.
  • Floral Fresh: Floral fresh fragrances leverage citrus notes to create a fresh floral composition. Popular floral fresh fragrances include Neroli Portofino by Tom Ford.
  • Floral Fruity. A newer style of floral fragrance with a focus on fruits such as stone fruits (peach, apricot, pear), or the juicier berry-like fruits (raspberry, strawberry, blueberry). An example of a popular fruity floral perfume is Nina by Nina Ricci, with a focus on apple.
  • Floral Green: “Green” in perfumery refers to an impression of the leaves of a plant or freshly cut grass or mossy elements like oakmoss or cedar moss. Floral green fragrances can be fresh, dewy and cool.
  • Floral Aldehydic: Aldehydes are naturally occurring molecules that are present in citrus fruits, spices and some herbs. The effect that aldehydes give to a perfume are sparkling and fizzy. The classic example of a floral aldehyde perfume is Chanel No. 5.

Floral Perfumes by Wit & West:

  • Jasmine Bae Saranae Eau de Parfum – a fresh and citrusy floral fragrance with mint, bergamot, mandarin, jasmine, orange blossom, neroli, tonka bean and sandalwood.
  • Honeysuckle Halcyon Eau de Parfum – a vintage yellow floral perfume with peach, mimosa, jasmine sambac, honeysuckle, patchouli and vetiver.
  • La Valse Eau de Parfum – a soliflore focused rose perfume, La Valse almost leans gourmand with its strong focus on vanilla from the artisan in-house Tahitian vanilla tincture created by perfumer, Wit. Includes black pepper, rose bourbon, damask rose, patchouli, sandalwood and our in-house Tahitian vanilla tincture.
  • Miki Mochi Eau de Parfum – Miki Mochi is a floral green perfume that’s fresh, floral, and also a bit fruity. Includes bergamot, elemi resin, mimosa, violet leaf, osmanthus (a beautiful fruity and tea-like flowering shrub that’s in the lilac family though it smells more of peach, apricot and tea than lilac), sandalwood, amyris and orris butter.
  • Rosé L.A. Eau de Parfum - Rosé L.A. is a citrusy floral that leans a bit fruity with an effervescent effect that comes from pink grapefruit and rhododendron, a beautifully bright and sparkling floral. Notes also include mandarin, rose otto, ambriene, sandalwood, and fir balsam absolute.

    Amber Fragrance Family

    Previously called “oriental”, but thankfully, the fragrance industry has started to shift away from this term and the term “amber” has taken its place. The amber fragrance family is one of the oldest, with the first perfumes being comprised of resin balsams and spices that were infused into oil. They were used for religious ceremonies of ancient cultures such as Egypt, India, and Persia (Moriel, 2014). Amber fragrances are rich, warm and sensual and feature notes such as vanilla, amber (also an accord that can be constructed using ingredients such as vanilla, benzoin and labdanum), spices, and resins (Fragrances of the World, n.d.).

    Amber Fragrance Family Sub-Categories:

    • Amber: Combines a balance of fresh citrus notes with vanilla and amber notes (vanilla, resins) and often includes a floral heart. Amber perfumes are often soft and powdery with a bit of warmth that alludes to sensuality.
    • Woody Amber: Amber notes combined with woody notes like sandalwood and patchouli (though technically patchouli is in the mint family and is not actually wood, it does give a somewhat earthy and woody impression and blends beautifully with other woody noes).
    • Spicy Amber: Spicy amber fragrances include a focus on ambery notes such as vanilla as well as spices such as clove, nutmeg, cinnamon and cardamom. Spicy amber fragrances also include a floral heart with a focus on elements such as white florals like ylang ylang and jasmine.

      Amber Perfumes by Wit & West:

      • Jasmine Pet Noi Eau de Parfum – a spicy amber floral fragrance with bergamot, bitter orange, pink peppercorn, jasmine sambac, orange blossom, patchouli, labdanum and palo santo.
      • Habari Eau de Parfum – a spicy, smoky and woody amber fragrance with black pepper, cardamom, clove, tuberose, jasmine, fossilized amber and agarwood (oud).

        Woody Fragrance Family

        Woody fragrances are characterized by woody notes such as cedarwood, sandalwood, agarwood (also known as oud), and vetiver (vetiver isn’t a wood as it comes from the roots of the vetiver plant. Like the other non-wood patchouli, vetiver provides a bit of earthiness as well as depth to woody notes). (Fragrances of the World, n.d.). Woody notes are often combined with spices, florals and aromatic notes.

        Woody Fragrance Family Sub-Categories:

        • Woody Floral: Wood notes are balanced by floral notes, creating a lighter, less masculine effect.
        • Mossy Woods: Combines woody notes with mossy, earthy notes like oakmoss.
        • Woody Fresh: Citrusy notes like bergamot, mandarin and lemon create a fresher and lighter opening for woody fresh fragrances.
        • Woody Spicy: Spices such as nutmeg, clove, cardamom and cinnamon create a warm, slightly sweet and somewhat dry character in woody spicy fragrances.
        • Woody Aromatic: Woody aromatic fragrances lean a bit more masculine as they focus on herbaceous elements such as lavender, basil, sage, rosemary and geranium.
        • Woody Fruity: Woody fruity fragrances often incorporate both citrusy and rich fruity elements such as peach, apricot and nectarine.

        Woody Perfumes by Wit & West:

        • Summit Rose Eau de Parfum – a coniferous rose-centric floral woody fragrance with rosewood leaf, fir needle, marjoram, rose otto, frankincense and fir balsam absolute.

        Fresh Fragrance Family

        The fresh fragrance family includes most Eau de Colognes (learn more about Eau de Colognes in the Wit & West blog Cologne vs. Perfume: What is the Difference?) and are fresh, invigorating and clean, often incorporating citrus, green, and aquatic notes (Perfume Society, n.d.).

        Fresh Fragrance Family Sub-Categories:

        • Fresh Citrus: Bright, refreshing and citrusy with notes such as lemon, bergamot, mandarin and grapefruit.
        • Fresh Green: Fresh green fragrances often include elements such as green tea, cucumber, melon herbs, fresh-cut grass and green leaves.
        • Fresh Aquatic: Sometimes called “marine” or “ozonic”, these scents are crisp and reminiscent of the sea breeze.
        • Fresh Aromatic: Like the woody aromatic fragrance family, the fresh aromatic family leans a bit more masculine and often features herbal notes like lavender, rosemary, and thyme, combined with a fresh, clean scent.
        • Fresh Fruity: The fresh fruity fragrance family incorporates the standard elements of the fresh category – citrus, green, aquatic – with lush fruits such as peach, apricot, mango, and melon.

        Fresh Fragrances by Wit & West:

        • Yuzu Pop Eau de Cologne – a genderless cologne that is bright, citrusy and refreshing with Japanese and Korean yuzu citrus, jasmine sambac, orange blossom, sandalwood and frankincense.
        • Fleur du Riad Eau de Cologne – a take on the classic eau de cologne, Fleur du Riad includes green mandarin, neroli, orange blossom, oakmoss and vetiver.
        • Streetcar Magnolia Eau de Cologne – an herbaceous citrusy floral with holy basil, yuzu citrus, magnolia, jasmine, frankincense, patchouli, soft musk (natural ambrettolide extracted from ambrette seed) and sandalwood.

          Chypre Fragrance Family

          Pronounced like “sheep-ra”, the word chypre is French for the island of Cyprus. The chypre fragrance family is another one of the oldest of the families and the original was named Chypre and created in 1917 by François Coty. Other classics in this category include Femme by Rochas and Mitsouko by Guerlain. The history of chypre fragrances dates to Roman times and the island of Cyprus where remnants of an ancient perfume factory were found and local plants used in chypre fragrances including cistus or labdanum (both oils come from the rock rose or cistus ladaniferus), anise, bergamot, pine, sage and coriander. The classic chypre accord requires the following elements or notes; bergamot, labdanum, patchouli and oakmoss (Moriel, 2014). An interesting fact about chypre fragrances is that originally, they were considered to be more masculine and today they are considered to be more feminine (though we will note that gender in fragrance is becoming less and less of a focus which is a good thing!).

          Chypre Fragrance Family Sub-Categories:

          • Floral Chypre: The floral chypre blends the classic accord with floral notes such as jasmine or rose. A modern example of a floral chypre is Miss Dior by Christian Dior.
          • Woody Chypre: Notes of sandalwood, cedarwood and the non-woods - patchouli and vetiver – create a dry, woody and more masculine chypre fragrance.
          • Fresh Chypre: A fresher and lighter approach to the standard chypre with citrusy elements being more prominent. Diorella by Christian Dior is an example of a floral fresh chypre.
          • Green Chypre: One of Wit & West perfumer Wit’s favorite fragrance styles (and we hope to add one to the collection at some point!), the green chypre fragrance family focuses on herbal and green notes such as galbanum, sage, basil as well as leafy and grassy elements. One of the classic examples of a green chypre is No. 19 by Chanel, as well as Private Collection by Estee Lauder.
          • Fruity Chypre: Chypre notes blended with fruity notes such as apricot, peach and plum. One of the classic examples of a fruity chypre is Mitsouko by Guerlain.
          • Chypre Leather: Chypre leather fragrances focus on elements that blend well with leather such as tobacco, hay, birch tar and other smoky elements, as well as animalic notes such as civet and ambergris. This style of chypre fragrance is often darker and leans a bit more masculine.

            Fougère Fragrance Family

            Pronounced “foo-shair”, fougère is French for “fern”, and like the chypre fragrance family, the fougère is a significant family in perfumery. It combines fresh, floral, and woody notes to create a balanced and versatile scent, often featuring lavender, oakmoss, and coumarin (Fragrances of the World, n.d.). The original fougère and the namesake for this fragrance family was called Fougère Royale, which launched in 1882 by Houbigant (Moriel, 2014). The fougère accord requires the following elements or notes; linalool (a naturally occurring constituent in many plants with a high concentration of linalool being found in coriander, rosewood, lavender, basil, etc.), geranium, lavender, oakmoss and tonka bean.

            Fougère Fragrance Family Sub-Categories:

            • Fresh Fougère: The fougère fresh fragrance family focuses on the freshness from the lavender which is more dominant in fresh fougère than other fougères.
            • Woody Fougère: Woody notes such as sandalwood and other non-woods like vetiver are combined with the fougère accord to bring a dryer effect to the fragrance.
            • Amber Fougère: Ambery notes such as vanilla, benzoin and other resins are blended with the fougère accord to create a richer, deeper and sensual fragrance.
            • Floral Fougère: Floral fougères can be interesting with the addition of brighter and more floral notes such as rose, neroli or lily of the valley.
            • Aquatic or Marine Fougère: The marine fougère gives a refreshing spin to the traditional fougère, with a focus on synthetic aquatic ingredients such as calone – an ingredient that gives the impression of fresh water or a sea breeze. An example of an aquatic fougère is Cool Water by Davidoff.

            Fougère Fragrances by Wit & West:

            • Brumaire Woods Eau de Parfum – a fresh fougère fragrance, Brumaire Woods focuses on the traditional fougère accord with lavender, geranium, oakmoss and tobacco (which replaces the tonka bean), along with fresh elements of mint absolute, and neroli, as well as herbaceous elements of basil and thyme.
            • The Violetear Eau de Parfum – The Violetear, an eau de parfum in the Wit & West Reserve Collection that is the first in the series centered around the art of enfleurage in perfumery. Named after the Mexican hummingbird, 'violetear' (for its violet coloring on its ears), The Violetear is a fresh and sparkling floral fougére fragrance that features 100% all-natural ingredients including our in-house artisanal iris enfleurage extrait handcrafted from bearded irises (iris germanica) in the Wit & West garden as well as bergamot, lavender, geranium, mimosa flower, rose absolute (rosa centifolia and rosa damascena), frankincense, tonka bean and oakmoss. In 2023, The Violetear was named a Top 10 Perfume 2X by ÇaFleureBon.

              Gourmand Fragrance Family

              The newest fragrance family, “gourmand” fragrances give an edible impression with sweet notes such as caramel, candy, vanilla, chocolate, coffee and almonds (Perfume Society, n.d.). One of the most notable fragrances in the gourmand fragrance family is Angle, by Thierry Mugler, which was created in 1992. A heavy-hitting perfume with tremendous sillage and longevity, Angel featured notes of cotton candy, blackberry, plum, apricot, peach, jasmine, patchouli, chocolate, caramel, vanilla, tonka bean, amber and musk. Over the last 5-10 years, this category has been all the rage, with trending notes being things like pistachio and examples of fragrances like Pistachio by DS&Durga and Yum Pistachio by Kayali.

              Gourmand Fragrances by Wit & West:

              • Gardenia ‘Ono Eau de Parfum – a soliflore gourmand perfume, Gardenia ‘Ono is a limited-edition perfume in the Wit & West Reserve Collection that features key lime, a very rare extraction of gardenia absolute oil (gardenia grandiflora), champaca absolute, tonka bean, vanilla and sandalwood.


              Understanding fragrance families is an integral part of exploring the vast world of perfumery. Each fragrance family offers a unique sensorial journey, steeped in history and cultural significance. Whether you're captivated by the romantic allure of florals, the exotic warmth of amber fragrances, the deep, grounded nature of woody scents, or the refreshing zest of citrus and green notes, there's bound to be a fragrance family that will resonate with your personal taste and style. In addition to understanding the fragrance families, Michael Edwards’ Fragrance Wheel is also a great tool to guide you on your olfactory journey. The Fragrance Wheel enables both fragrance newcomers and seasoned enthusiasts to better understand and appreciate the connections between different fragrance families, notes and accords.

              At Wit & West Perfumes, both myself (Wit) and my husband (West) take pride in handcrafting 100% all-natural perfumes and colognes that highlight the beauty and history behind each fragrance family. Jasmine Bae Saranae Eau de Parfum is a perfect example of the floral fragrance family's fresh and citrusy side, while Jasmine Pet Noi Eau de Parfum which shares some of the same notes as Jasmine Bae Saranae, goes a different direction focused on spicy and ambery notes. Summit Rose Eau de Parfum showcases the complexity and depth of rose through the lens of the woody fragrance family, and Yuzu Pop Eau de Cologne brings the vibrant freshness of yuzu citrus to life while being carefree and great for everyday wear.

              If you’re interested in sampling some of our 100% all-natural perfumes and colognes check out individual samples as well as our sample sets on our website by visiting the Wit & West Samples page. If you're new to natural perfume, we also have a sample set that's perfect for anyone who isn't familiar with the genre of natural perfume. The sample set includes five (5) of our most popular perfumes and colognes curated by Wit & West perfumer, Wit: New to Natural Perfume Sample Set.


              Calkin, R. R., & Jellinek, J. S. (1994). Perfumery: Practice and Principles. Toronto: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

              Moriel, A. (2014). Foundations of Natural Perfumery. 3rd Edition. Ayala Moriel.

              Edwards, M. (n.d.). Michael Edwards fragrances of the world. Retrieved from

              Perfume Society. (n.d.). Fragrance families. Retrieved from

              Fragrances of the World. (n.d.). Fragrance notes and families. Retrieved from

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