The Little Dictionary of Perfume Terms: An A-Z Guide on Scent Vocab

Updated 05/30/19

Byrdie

Perfume is one of those things that everyone can appreciate, but a very select few truly understand. If you’ve ever nodded along in blind agreement as someone praised the strong, woody oud of a particular fragrance or the faint trace of ambergris in another, it’s time to school yourself on scent vocab.
From absolute to vetiver, keep scrolling for the perfume terms every fragrance aficionado should know!

Balenciaga Rosabotanica
Balenciaga

Absolutes are similar to essential oils and also known as essences—they’re highly concentrated and the strongest material that can be extracted from a plant or flower.

Pictured: Balenciaga Rosabotanica (Discontinued)

Escada Joyful
Escada

A blend of two or more fragrances to create a new, completely different smell.

Pictured: Escada Joyful ($89)

Chanel No. 5
Chanel 

Organic compounds present in many natural materials, that can also be synthesized artificially.

Pictured: Chanel No. 5 ($80)

Bobbi Brown Beach
Bobbi Brown

We talked about ambergris in our strange perfume facts story, but in case you need a refresher, here it is: Ambergris is one of the most valuable raw materials in perfumery, with a smell that’s described as “ocean-y and sweet.” The interesting part is how it’s produced—it’s basically sperm whale excrement that floats in the water, gets oxidized by the sun, and turns into a substance that’s washed ashore.

Pictured: Bobbi Brown Beach ($72)

Guerlain Shalimar
Guerlain

A base note is what it sounds like—the heaviest ingredients (on the molecular level) that people tend to notice well after smelling the top and heart notes.

Pictured: Guerlain Shalimar ($100)

Diptyque Volutes
Diptyque

Balsamic


Rich, sweet, resinous and warm notes produced by using plant balsams and resins. The Oriental fragrance category is characterized by these ingredients.

Pictured: Diptyque Volutes ($175)

Comme Des Garcons Hinoki
Comme Des Garcons

Camphor

The fresh, clean, cooling character displayed by eucalyptus but also descriptive of rosemary and other herbal notes.

Pictured: Comme Des Garcons Hinoki ($120)

Cartier Eau De Cartier Zeste De Soleil
Cartier

This is the French word for the island of Cyprus and is pronounced “sheepra.” It refers to earthy, woodsy, and mossy base notes with top notes of citrus.

Acqua Di Parma Profumo
Acqua Di Parma 

An Eau de Cologne has the least concentrated perfume-oil-to-alcohol ratio, with around two to five percent perfume oil in the formula.

Pictured: Acqua Di Parma Profumo (Discontinued)

Donna Karan Cashmere Mist
Donna Karan 

The heaviest of the Eaus, an Eau de Parfum is made up of about 10 to 15 percent perfume oil.

Note: There are also extraits (also called extracts), which have around 20 to 4 percent concentration perfume oil.

Pictured: Donna Karan Cashmere Mist ($85)

Narciso Rodriguez For Her
Narciso Rodriguez

Eau de Toilette

Slightly heavier than an Eau de Cologne, an Eau de Toilette has anywhere from a three to 15 percent perfume compound.

Pictured: Narcisco Rodriguez For Her ($78)

Tom Ford Violet Blonde
Tom Ford 

Another French word, this one means “fern.” It features oakmoss, coumarin, and lavender notes, and is based on an herbaceous accord.

Pictured: Tom Ford Violet Blonde (Discontinued)

Memo Irish Leather
Memo

The general term for the odors of grass, leaves, and stems.

Pictured: Memo Irish Leather ($300)

Hermès Eau de Merveilles
Hermès

If you like smelling like your favorite dessert, a gourmand fragrance is for you. Edible notes like honey, chocolate, vanilla, or various candies make up these sweet-smelling scents and are often blended with base notes such as patchouli and musk.

Pictured: Hermès Eau de Merveilles ($140)

 

Maison Martin Margiela Replica Jazz Club
Maison Martin Margiela

A strong, smoky scent that stems from ingredients used to tan leathers—it’s usually used in fragrance with the help of synthetic chemicals.

Elizabeth and James Nirvana White
Elizabeth and James 

This note makes up the body of the fragrance blend—it might take 10 to 30 minutes to develop on your skin. These notes are usually used to classify which fragrance family a certain scent falls in. Also called heart notes.

Agonist Solaris
Agonist

Aroma chemicals that are meant to mimic the smell of fresh air after a thunderstorm.

Pictured: Agonist Solaris ($195)

Bvlgari Omnia Indian Garnet
Bvlgari

This is a major category of perfume and features sweet notes, like vanilla and amber, but also pungent notes like balsamic and benzoin. These scents are often linked to the Middle East because of notes of frankincense and incense.

Examples of Oriental fragrances: Gucci Guilty ($77), Bvlgari Omnia Indian Garnet ($65)

Pictured: Bvlgari Omnia Indian Garnet ($82)

Lancome L'Autre Oud
Lancome

Also called Agarwood, oud is made with the resin of the Aquilaria tree and has a woody, earthy, shadowy quality. Usually, scents that feature oud use a synthetic version—real oud is expensive and difficult to harvest.

Pictured: Lancôme L’Autre Ôud ($180)

Desigual Fun
Desigual 

The trail of scent left behind by a perfume—perfumes with little sillage are said to “stay close to the skin.”

Pictured: Desigual Fun (Discontinued)

Christian Dior Diorissimo
Dior

A soliflore is a scent that focuses on a single flower, a lily or rose. 

Examples of soliflores: Le Labo Iris 39 ($160), Christian Dior Diorissimo ($90), Frédéric Malle Une Rose ($230)

Pictured: Christian Dior Diorissimo ($90)

D. S. & Durga Rose Atlantic
D.S. & Durga

Usually, the first thing you smell when you spritz a perfume. It’s the most volatile of perfume layers and evaporates first.

Pictured: DS & Durga Rose Atlantic ($175)

Viktor & Rolf Spicebomb
Viktor & Rolf

Vetiver is an essential oil that is steam-distilled from the roots of a tall Indian grass. It produces lemony, pepper scents.

Pictured: Viktor & Rolf Spicebomb ($90)

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