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Jo's Guide to Fragrance Families

Each scent conforms more or less to a ‘fragrance family’ and we tend instinctively to choose our family and stick to it throughout our lives without being aware of what we are doing. To help you understand, and even break out and try something new, here is Jo Fairley’s guide to these delicious clusters of perfume and what defines them.

Chypre (say it ‘sheep-r’)  The first ever ‘chypre’ was a fragrance of the same name, unveiled by Coty in 1917.  (‘Chypre’ is actually French for cypress.)  It pioneered an entire category of classic, timeless fragrances:  rich, often complicated, including fresh citrus notes and warm, woody-oakmoss elements;  patchouli’s a particularly widely-use ingredient in this family.  Chypres you can enjoy today include Guerlain’s Mitsouko, Clinique’ Aromatics Elixir and the debut Agent Provocateur fragrance.

Citrus Most eau de Colognes fall into this fresh category, with their zesty, energetic notes of lemons, bergamot, oranges, grapefruit and mandarin.  (These are also known as ‘hesperidic’ notes.)  But by adding spices, woods and floral notes, these light, uplifting scents take citrus to the next level, becoming more sophisticated and long-lasting on the skin.  Some examples?  Clarins Eau Dynamisante, Acqua di Parma Colonia, or Annick Goutal’s Eau d’Hadrien.

Floral Florals are mostly created with women in mind, garlanded with notes like jasmine, peony, lily, gardenia, tuberose, rose.  This is the largest category of fragrances, spanning everything from Estée Lauder Beautiful to Vera Wang’s debut signature fragrance.  There are a couple of sub-categories for florals…  Single florals are dominated by a fragrance from a particular flower – rose, bluebell, lily, etc.  (Think:  Perfumer’s Workshop Tea Rose or Penhaligon’s Lily of the Valley.)  In reality, though, like most fragrances these so-called ‘single notes’ are generally actually made up of up to 200 ingredients, with that one floral ‘star’ note allowed to shine more intensely than the others.  Floral bouquets are just as they sound, composed of a carefully-chosen selection of floral notes with no one note allowed to dominate, such as Houbigant’s Quelques Fleurs, or Vera Wang for Women.

Fougère (also sometimes known as Aromatic Fougère;  say it ‘foo-shair’)  This category of fragrances was pioneered by Houbigant’s Fougère Royale: herbaceous and woodsy, often featuring notes like lavender, sage, rosemary, oakmoss, coumarin.  Fougère fragrances are mostly men’s scents – from Davidoff Cool Water to Lauder for Men – and a few are unisex (Guerlain’s legendary Jicky is worn more by women than men, today).

Leather The leather industry gave rise to the tradition of modern perfumery, with fragrance ingredients being used to mask the scent of leather and tanning.  (Many glove-makers branched out into perfumery.)  Leather fragrances can be soft and velvety, with floral notes, or smoky and tangy – but always, with a leathery undertone. There’s just a handful of women’s leather scents, some created to be worn by men and women – but the category, generally, is dominated by men-only fragrances.  Cuir de Russie from Chanel and Caron Tabac Blond are fabulous creations that embody ‘leather’.

Marine A relatively new fragrance family – it only emerged in 1991 with the launch of Christian Dior’s Dune – this describes scents that evoke a sense of the sea air.  (The synthetic ingredient which enables perfumers to capture this outdoorsy beach-side breeziness is called calone, not to be confused with cologne.)  Escape by Calvin Klein and Rochas’s Aquawoman are feminine examples of marine (also sometimes known as ‘ozonic’) fragrances.

Oriental Rich, exotic and generally not for the faint-hearted, key ingredients include vanilla, woody notes, musk, incense, exotic florals and elements like ambergris, labdanum, tonka bean.  Guerlain’s Shalimar, Chanel Coco and Calvin Klein Obsession are classic orientals.  They’re sensual and warm, and sometimes referred to as ‘amber’ fragrances because that so-distinctive ingredient features so often.  Orientals have been given a more contemporary spin in a new category called Soft Oriental:  these have lighter concentrations of amber, musk, spices, fused with subtle flowers for a powdery, airy sweetness.  Serge Lutens’s Ambre Sultan and L’Eau Diptyque (the first-ever Diptyque creation, launched 1968) fall into this category.  Floral/oriental fragrances are lighter than a true oriental, but more exotic and sensual than most floral, with a soft femininity.  Examples of floral/orientals include Chanel Allure for Women, Jean Paul Gaultier Classique for Women and Burberry London for Women.