Top Tips On How To Understand The Fragrance Wheel
If you’re hoping to choose a new fragrance but aren’t sure where to start, the fragrance wheel can help.
The fragrance wheel is a useful tool that helps us to understand how different scents belong to certain families and how these scents can work together to complement each other. But how does the fragrance wheel work?
At Beauty Base, we want you to have confidence when investing in your new scent. In this guide, we’ll talk you through everything you need to know about how to use the fragrance wheel, understand the scent families that complete it, and combine scents to find your perfect fragrance.
Table of contents:
What is the fragrance wheel?
The fragrance wheel was developed by Michael Edwards, an expert perfumier and taxonomist, to help other perfumiers recommend the best possible perfumes for their customers.
Although other variations of the wheel did exist, Edwards’ expertise as a global leader in fragrance classification saw his version stick. First released in 1992, the fragrance wheel represents conventional and dynamic fragrances and how humans perceive them.
Michael Edwards’ fragrance wheel is a circular diagram that depicts every scent family and subfamily within each scent. It helps to demystify the strategy of scent placement and indicates which scents you can expect to blend well and those which will clash.
What are scent families?
A scent family is a group of scents placed together because of their similarities and complementary differences. Scent groups that are closest together share characteristics in their fragrances, while scent groups further apart on the wheel are less closely related in terms of fragrance.
There are four key scent families featuring one prominent scent, and then within these families, a range of scent families blend that prominent scent with other fragrances.
The four main scent groups are floral notes, oriental notes (sometimes referred to as amber), woody notes and fresh notes. Typically, you’ll be attracted to one scent family more than the others, meaning you should explore the subfamilies of the main scent family to find your perfect fragrance.
When shopping for perfume, you’ll notice that fragrances aren’t always grouped by their fragrance family. That’s why it’s important to understand which notes appear in your favourite scent’s family to determine whether you’ll favour the notes in the perfume you’re considering.
Floral fragrance family
One of the most popular scent families, the floral fragrance family, is often found in women’s fragrances, including some of the most famous perfumes in the world! While floral scents are most popular in women’s fragrances, that’s not to say they aren’t found in men’s. The overall impression of the fragrance is like fresh-cut flowers, but fruits and spices come into play in the subfamilies.
Floral fragrance subfamilies
There are four subfamilies within the floral fragrance family; fruity, floral, soft floral and floral oriental. Each has distinct notes, which you can identify from the characteristics:
These mouthwatering notes often have sweet or tropical fruit scents such as peaches, apples and pears for that juicy, fruity fragrance.
Common note: Peach
Doubling down on the core scent, these notes will smell like popular bouquet flowers such as roses or lilies, resembling the fragrance of walking past a florist.
Common note: Rose
A lighter touch than core floral, soft floral notes will have a powdery or creamy scent, which can give you a nostalgic musk fragrance.
Common note: Jasmine
These notes will blend floral notes with a subtle hint of spice, leaving you with a smooth but stylish fragrance reminiscent of incense.
Common note: Orange Blossom
Popular floral fragrances
Oriental fragrance family
You’ll recognise a scent from the oriental fragrance family from its rich smell. Oriental fragrances are full, heady scents created with spices, resins and herbs for an opulent appeal. Even if you don’t recognise the notes, oriental fragrances are often described as seductive and exotic, so keep an eye out for the description!
Oriental fragrance subfamilies
There are three subfamilies within the oriental fragrance family, soft oriental, oriental and woody oriental. Each brings slightly different notes but has that rich, heady scent at its core:
Soft oriental brings in floral notes to blend with the warm spices for a fragrance similar to incense to soften the rich scent of the oriental fragrance.
Common note: Anise
Building on the core oriental fragrance, this note introduces warm scents such as vanilla and cinnamon to create a more musk-like effect.
Common note: Vanilla
By blending the spicy and sweet notes of the core oriental fragrance with notes like patchouli and sandalwood, the woody oriental fragrance creates an appealing earthy scent.
Common note: Myrrh
Popular oriental fragrances
Woody fragrance family
Woody fragrances can be identified by their warmth. To stop the fragrances from being too bitter, they’re often combined with fresh notes such as floral or citrus to give the woody warmth an appealing scent. Woody fragrances tend to be opulent and incense-like but differ from oriental fragrances as they rely on fresh notes rather than spices.
Woody fragrance subfamilies
There are three key subfamilies within the woody fragrance; woods, mossy woods and dry woods, each of which sits on a spectrum of sweet to bitter:
The smoothest of the woody fragrances, mossy wood notes combine earthy scents such as oakmoss and oriental with a sweetness that makes for a lighter woody fragrance.
Common note: Vetiver
The core scent of the woody fragrance family, wood notes are based on scents such as cedarwood and sandalwood but combine to create an aromatic scent.
Common note: Patchouli
Mixing smoky notes with the scent of leather, dry wood notes make for a smouldering fragrance.
Common note: Sandalwood
Popular woody fragrances
Fresh fragrance family
Found more often in men’s fragrances than women’s, fresh fragrances offer a clean and bright scent that brings in notes of herb, citrus and the ocean paired with spices for a stronger overall fragrance.
Fresh fragrance subfamilies
There are four different subfamilies within the fresh fragrance family; aromatic, citrus, water and green. Fresh fragrances cover a broad spectrum and can be combined with a range of notes, giving them a larger scope for fragrance subfamilies, in the same way as the floral fragrance family.
Fresh scents are often combined with aromatic notes to create a fresh aromatic fragrance; common combinations mix the bright scent of fresh herbs with floral or woody tones such as lavender.
Common note: Sage
Citrus fruits have an extremely fresh and bright scent that works well as a fragrance; anything with a zesty scent or a tangy kick, such as mandarin, can invigorate the senses.
Common note: Grapefruit
Water fresh notes are all about recreating the scent of fresh sea spray or the air shortly after a thunderstorm, blended to create an aquatic, oceanic fragrance.
Common note: Water
While we’re back to nature with green fresh, this fragrance subfamily differs from floral or woody fragrances by taking notes from the scent of a freshly mowed lawn or crushed green leaves for a distinctly fresh and uplifting fragrance.
Common note: Grass
How to choose a fragrance with the fragrance wheel
The fragrance wheel is much like the colour wheel in that certain fragrance families pair well together while you should avoid others! The fragrance wheel is a useful tool that can help us understand which fragrance families pair well together and remind us which subfamilies sit within each fragrance family.
There are three ways to use the fragrance wheel to pair scents:
The neighbour fragrance technique
The first technique we recommend for pairing fragrance families is choosing your favourite fragrance subfamily and looking at the scents on either side of it on the wheel. Side-by-side fragrance subfamilies nearly always complement each other well.
The opposite fragrance technique
The second technique we recommend is choosing your favourite fragrance subfamily and then looking at which subfamily appears directly across from it on the fragrance wheel. For example, soft oriental and citrus would pair perfectly together. The result is usually pleasant, surprising and delightful.
The triangle fragrance technique
The final technique we recommend is choosing three fragrance subfamilies that form a triangle on the wheel. As these will each complement the other, for example, if floral oriental was your favourite fragrance subfamily, you could find a fragrance that also contains water notes and woody notes.
Understanding fragrance notes
Now that you know a little more about scent families, it’s important to understand how these work in a perfume to identify if a scent is right for you.
Typically, perfumes are made up of scents or notes, usually consisting of top notes, middle notes and bottom notes, and there’s a distinctive difference between the three:
These are the head or opening notes; they are the first thing you smell when spraying perfume. It’s important to remember that these notes usually evaporate quickly as the smell develops and changes, and the middle notes come through, but these notes are what give you your first impression of a scent.
Middle notes, or the perfume’s heart, appear when the top notes start to fade. These notes are the fragrance’s main body and last longer than the top notes, developing into a well-rounded scent.
The base notes are left at the end of the perfume and are the smell you remember the most. Base notes are the long-lasting part of the scent, and they infuse with the middle notes to give a fragrance its full body.
Once you’ve identified a fragrance combination that you think you’ll love, all you need to do is begin researching a perfume that includes those combinations of notes. It’s wise to remember that fragrances can change when they react with your skin, so always try to test a sample out on your skin before you purchase!
Use the fragrance wheel to shop fragrances at Beauty Base
Now you know how to pair notes using the fragrance wheel, why not shop for a new scent at Beauty Base? We offer a wide selection of men’s and women’s fragrances, including classic scents and all the best designer perfumes featuring the likes of Chloé, Caroline Herrera and Calvin Klein. Explore the full collection today to find your new favourite. With notes included in the product descriptions, you’re sure to find a new scent to fall in love with.