Deciphering the exotic language of fragrance can feel somewhat daunting – especially as the world of perfumery is so mystical and secretive. You aren't alone – and we want to share some of the secrets behind this beautiful art form. That's why we created our glossary: see it as the place to come whenever you want answers to the questions you might feel shy to ask.
While it may at first seem intimidating, we find it's worth taking the time to explore the meanings behind fragrance terms. The art and science of the perfumer is a complex, special skill, so we feel their extraordinary work deserves to be fully appreciated, as do the producers who create the beautiful ingredients they work with. Having a better understanding of the creativity and craft behind perfume enriches your fragrance experience. This insight encourages you to really engage your senses, so you can relish the top, heart and base notes in all their splendour, and uncover other facets of fragrances you may not have otherwise been conscious of. It also helps unleash your imagination, so you’re ready to create more special associations with your favourite fragrance.
We hope our glossary will enhance your personal journey into fragrance – whether it helps you explore the nuance of your favourite scent, or acts as the compass to guide you towards a perfume that truly represents you.
Absolute: An absolute offers the perfumer one of the truest scents from the natural world. It's a highly concentrated, full-bodied fragrance material extracted from a natural product – often flowers or plants. Absolutes are similar to essential oils, except they are usually produced by more delicate processes of extraction, such as enfleurage, rather than steam distillation.
Accord: Similar to a musical chord created by playing several keys together, an accord combines several perfume notes or ingredients to produce a unique harmony of a fragrance. A classic accord in the chypre perfume category is bergamot, labdanum, and oakmoss.
Aldehyde: Like bubbles in champagne, aldehydes are the aromatic chemicals that add that 'whoosh' of effervescence to fragrance. They're organic molecules, and depending on their carbon compositions they may add fruity notes to a perfume.
Chypre: This is a family of fragrances inspired by the Greek island of Cyprus, and its local aromatic plants. A classic Chypre fragrance has a fresh, spicy top note, a floral heart, and an earthy base note – usually oakmoss, or patchouli. These sophisticated scents were first created in the early 20th century to bring a more daring, enigmatic aspect to the typically floral and delicate concept of feminine fragrance. Modern chypres sometimes add fruity and green notes for further contrast.
Concentration: When we talk about a fragrance's concentration, we refer to the ratio of pure perfume oils to alcohol and water in the formula. Usually, a higher concentration of perfume oils in a fragrance is desirable. The most familiar concentrations are Eau de Cologne, Eau de Toilette, Eau de Parfum, and extrait. All of La Perla Beauty's perfumes are of the higher Eau de Parfum concentration.
Concrete: The concrete is the concentrated oil of a flower or plant, and it's the closest we can get to duplicating the original scent. However, the concrete is solid and waxy, so it needs to be processed before it can be used in a fragrance. With a few rinses of alcohol, it transforms into a beautiful, naturally fragranced absolute, ready for the perfumer to add to their creations.
Diffusion: Think of diffusion as how your perfume radiates from your body – what others experience as the scent molecules are moving from your skin into the air. The more diffusive a fragrance is, the further it will travel and permeate. The perfumer will decide on the level of diffusion that is right for their creation – perhaps they will want a bold fragrance to be very diffusive, or a lower diffusion for a more personal, intimate scent, designed to be appreciated up-close.
Distillation: This is one of the oldest methods of separating oils from flowers and other natural materials, and it's still widely used today. The process involves applying heat to the flower, either directly or with steam. As the components vaporise, the condensation is collected as an oil-infused liquid. When the beautifully perfumed oil rises to the surface it is then separated, ready for the perfumer to add to their fragrance.
Dry Down / Base Note: These interchangeable terms refer to the underlying notes in a fragrance. Base notes have a heavier molecular structure to top notes and heart notes, so they are usually perceptible for longer – hence the 'dry down' expression. They also work as fixatives, helping to anchor the other notes, enhancing the scent profile and increasing longevity.
Eau de Cologne: These fragrances have the lowest concentration of perfume compounds relative to alcohol, with 2-5% fragrance oil. They make for very light fragrances that are popular in hot climates, as they make great after-shower splashes.
Eau de Parfum: One of the strongest and most desirable of the concentrations, Eau de Parfum is typically 15-20% perfume oil. You can usually expect these perfumes to last all day, and to sense the dry down still lingering on your skin as you undress at night. All of La Perla Beauty's fragrances are Eau de Parfum.
Eau de Toilette: These are usually a lighter expression of a fragrance than an Eau de Parfum – the difference is in the concentration, with between 5 and 20% perfume oil. Because they are typically less intense, they don't tend to last as long as Eau de Parfum, and require more frequent applications.
Enfleurage: The traditional process of extracting the absolute from flowers for perfume is enfleurage. It involves pressing petals between layers of cold, purified fat, which become permeated with their scent. The process is repeated with fresh petals until all of the oils are absorbed. These scented oils are recovered from the fat by washing with alcohol.
Essential Oil: These oils are highly concentrated compounds from natural raw materials, usually fruits and flowers. They are often extracted through steam distillation. It's 'essential' in the sense that it contains the essence of the plant. The first known uses of essential oils were in ancient India, Persia
, and Egypt.
Essence: The extract obtained from any natural raw material is described as the essence. It's a concentration of the material's characteristic properties, including the fragrance. An essence can be obtained from flowers, trees, fruits, and many more natural materials, as well as by various techniques, including distillation and expression.
Expression: This is an extraction method that is specific to citrus fruits. In Italy, the fruits are expressed using a variety of cold-compression techniques, such as Sfumatrice or Pelatrice, which extract a beautifully scented essence from the rind
, with all its lively character preserved.
Fixative: We use fixatives to keep a fragrance from evaporating. As well as enhancing a perfume's longevity, they also ensure its character doesn't change too dramatically while it's worn. Many natural fixatives, such as sandalwood and vetiver, are beautiful scents in their own right, so they are carefully blended to harmonise with the top, heart and base notes.
Heart Note: The perfume's heart and soul, this note sits in the middle of the top and base notes. It's also somewhere in-between when it comes to longevity, as it develops after the top notes. Florals such as jasmine and rose, and herbs such as lavender, are typical heart notes.
Maceration: A similar process to enfleurage, maceration involves heating the fat, as opposed to using it cold. Flowers are immersed in the hot fat, causing the scent molecules to burst and infuse it with fragrance. The process is repeated with fresh flowers until the fat is fully saturated.
Maceration can also refer to the ageing process of a mixed perfume, whereby the ingredients are left to meld together over a period of weeks, or even months, for a harmonious result.
Maturation: This is the practice of letting the fragrance materials age before adding them to the carrier alcohol. Despite being a time-consuming chemical process, with two to three weeks needed to allow the materials to blend harmoniously
it is a vital step in the production of a product of beautiful quality.
Orpur®: Derived from the French for 'pure origin', Orpur® refers to the exclusive collection of pure natural extracts created by our partner Givaudan. For us, these responsibly and sustainably sourced essential oils and absolutes are among the 'grand cru' of natural ingredients, and the finest materials with which our perfumers can work.
Pelatrice: This is a popular Italian extraction method that's specific to citrus fruits. The fruits are crushed and punctured to release the peel's essence, which is then washed away with water
, and separated.
Resinoid: These sticky materials are generally used as fixatives and base notes in perfumery. Found in nature, they are extracted from gums, balsams and resins. One of the most prized resins, Orris, comes from the root of the iris.
Sfumatrice: This is a typical Italian expression technique for citrus fruits. The Sfumatrice machine draws out the essential oil from the peel through a process of cold compression
, which preserves the fruit's integrity and zestiness.
Sillage: The French word for 'wake', sillage is the trail a fragrance leaves. Similar to
diffusion in how the scent molecules move from your skin to meet the air, sillage is what you leave behind when you leave a room: your beautiful fragrance
, and the memory of you.
Top Note: When you spray a fragrance onto your skin, the top note will be the first aroma you experience. It's important because it's the first impression. However, this note also dissipates the quickest – the sparkling, fresh effect it brings to a perfume also makes it more volatile by nature. Sometimes the top note may only be the opening movement to a fragrance's symphony, however, it can also be specifically chosen to reflect, or even emphasise, the character of the wider composition. Think of top notes as setting the stage for the fragrance rather than defining it.
Have any of these definitions helped you to see fragrance differently? Are there any other terms you'd like to understand? If so, let us know.
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