Top, middle and base notes
Most fragrances today are made up of many types of scents, and should have a top note, a middle note, and a base note.
The top notes are what we first encounter when applying a fragrance. They are typically very light and last only a few minutes. The middle notes become apparent 15 minutes after application and can last up to an hour or more. Finally, the bottom or base notes are made up of the heavier ingredients. They last for many hours, typically, for a full day.
As an illustration, many of the scents used today have a floral top note, followed by a spicy middle note, and then finish with an earthy or woody base note (or notes, as there may be more than one). An appropriate discussion and selection of a fragrance should encompass all three notes, not just the first one experienced.
Types of Scents – The Caswell-Massey Fragrance Palette
Since the beginning of modern fragrance creation in the 1600’s, there have been myriad ways to group, name, and categorize scents. There are almost as many categorizations as there have been fragrance houses and fragrance experts. The complexity is driven both by the sheer number of ingredients and by the fact that most fragrances today contain elements from various categories throughout their top, middle and base notes. Additionally, historical developments and trends have led to certain categories becoming dominant over time or during certain periods of time.
Caswell-Massey’s Fragrance Palette pays tribute to the fact that images, colors and scents all go hand-in-hand as part of an overall sensory experience. Our Fragrance Palette is also designed on the belief that less is more, and so it offers a simple classification into six colors of scent.
Single scented or based on a bouquet of flowers. Most prominently used are rose, jasmine, tuberose, lily of the valley, lilac, gardenia, violet and ylang.
Citrus & Fruity
Light, fresh, and juicy. Includes notes of orange, lemon, bergamot, petitgrain and mandarin, as well as strawberry, raspberry, pear, avocado and pomegranate.
Aromatic & Herbal
Full, sensual, earthy and tangy. Common scents range from thyme, sage, mint, rosemary, anis and clove, to cinnamon, ginger and cardamom.
Green & Fresh
Uplifting and natural in character. Reminiscent of the smell of dewy grass in the early morning, or a fresh ocean breeze.
Complex. Generally associated with “mossy,” these fragrances are characterized by a bergamot-oakmoss-amber accord, combined with a floral ensemble.
Oriental & Spice
Sophisticated, warm, and exotic. Notes of musk, civet, and precious woods, including amber, patchouli, and vetiver.
Difference Between High and Low Quality Fragrances
The difference between high and low quality fragrances starts with the number of ingredients and their composition or source.
As mentioned in the introduction to this section, any discussion of fragrance quality should cover three notes, which span the minutes and hours after the fragrance is applied. Lower quality fragrances will tend to focus on, or only deliver, a top note – the equivalent of a clash of cymbals – while the rest of the orchestra goes missing.
Similarly, the quality and source of the ingredients contribute to the olfactory experience. For example, a lavender fragrance can use a synthetic note derived from lavender, or the real, unadulterated lavender oil. Lavender is naturally comprised of 180 ingredients, and thus using only a few derived notes misses the full complexity of the real fragrance. Additionally, like a fine wine, country of origin affects the quality of the final product. For example, it is known that English lavender, due to the unique climate and soil in which it is grown, boasts a fuller, rounder scent than fragrances derived from plants grown elsewhere.
Finally, the combination of scents is the pinnacle of the perfumer’s art. It is not sufficient to use the finest ingredients; if the right combinations are not selected or they are mixed in the wrong quantities, then the result can be distasteful indeed.
Personal Preferences and Occasions
Selection of a fragrance boils down to a very personal choice, and people’s tastes vary greatly. Further complicating matters, fragrances interact with individual body chemistry, so a perfume that confers upon one person the power to enchant, for example, may not work any magic for another.
Some rules of thumb for how to select a fragrance to call your own:
• Let it linger. Because a scent’s full character is not known until many hours after it is applied, leave it on for at least 12 hours in order to get a complete sense.
• Try a variety. Sample one or two of each of the main categories, and find what is generally more appealing.
• Narrow it down. After an initial sampling across the main categories, narrow the search and focus within the ones that seem to work better.
Caswell-Massey offers its Scent Finder, which can help you narrow down your fragrance choices through a series of simple questions.
One consideration for selecting a fragrance is the occasion for its use. Factors include, for example, the timing and duration of the event, the type of event, and the time of year.
Because the various notes in a fragrance emerge at different points in time, when you expect to interact with people and what effect you would like to have on them are important considerations. To illustrate, guests at a cocktail party will mostly be exposed to the middle note (assuming the fragrance is applied relatively shortly before arrival). And during the work day, your colleagues will mostly experience the base note of your fragrance.
Different occasions or seasons may also call for different types of scents. For example, one might choose a different fragrance for a summer luncheon at the country club than for a fall evening at the opera.