Fragrance families: 101 guide to identifying fragrances

February 12, 2021

When put in front of the masses of fragrances out there, it’s easy to get lost in the different varieties of scents. So when choosing a fragrance that suits you, the first step is to get familiar with and to understand the different »fragrance families«.

Fragrance families allow you to categorize different perfumes. Fine fragrances can be categorized into different groups, based on their olfactory characteristics. In other words, in fragrance families, the perfumes are divided into groups based on the build-up of ingredients or by specific ingredients.

Michael Edwards’ Fragrance Wheel has earned its place as the gold standard for fine fragrance mapping and classification. This wheel is the basis for Edwards’ Fragrances of the World, a comprehensive database and annual guide that allows users to search according to a fragrance of interest and immediately identify others that have much in common from a smell perspective. Within them, it is also possible to search olfactory categories for commercially available fragrances.

The four standard families consist of Floral, Oriental, Woody, and Fresh families, with each of the families then divided into three sub-groups and arranged around a wheel:

Michael Edwards’ Fragrance Wheel (Photo: Fragrancex)

  1. Floral: Floral, Soft Floral, Floral Oriental

Floral- Roses (Photo: Unsplash)

“Florals have a soft and romantic note.”

The largest family of them all, the Floral family is filled with classic scents. Nature has kindly provided the perfume industry with a blooming number of floral fragrances, thanks to all of the different flowers in the world. Due to their soft and romantic tone, Floral family fragrances have almost exclusively been reserved for women. Floral scents can be either soliflores (single flower notes) or bouquets (blended floral notes). Common flowers being used in this fragrance family are rose, jasmine, orange blossom, peony, and gardenia.

2. Oriental: Soft Oriental, Oriental, Woody Oriental

Oriental- Vanilla (Photo: Unsplash)

“Orientals are the most sensual, romantic and seductive.”

The base note of the Oriental family is sweet, powdery, dark and warm. It is the most sensual note of them all, so we often connect the scent with romance and seductiveness. They linger sensually on the skin and due to their heavier base notes, they tend to last for a longer period of time. With a heavily eastern influence, it’s composition hasn’t shifted much since the days of its first creation. The base’s main ingredients are heliotrope, sandalwood, coumarin, orris, vanilla, and gum resins.

3. Woody: Wood, Mossy Woods, Dry Woods

Woody- Pine (Photo: Unsplash)

“Woody scents are calming, captivating and mysterious.”

With woody scents, you can calm yourself and get back in touch with nature. Woody base notes usually consist of pine, vetiver, patchouli, and sandalwood and they can often create a distinctive musky and smoky scent, a great choice for wearing in the evening. With their mysterious and captivating scent, they are often favored amongst men aftershaves.

4. Fresh: Citrus, Green, Water

Citrus- Lemon (Photo: Unsplash)

“Fresh scents are most vibrant, energising and light.”

Fresh fragrances usually consist of citrus, water, and green notes. This means they have refreshing, zesty, and vibrant smells. Citrus-based fragrances are usually created with lemon, mandarin, grapefruit, and bergamot, while water fragrances are made with aquatic notes like sea spray, so they are probably more suited for warmer months.