Fragrancing Series Part 2: Layering and Fragrance Families

This post is part two of our fragrancing series, if you read through all of them you’ll have a good basic base to start making well thought out perfumes :). In part one, we covered some of the history in the perfume industry. If you haven’t read it and are interested in a mini history lesson, you can check that one out here. This post is all about layering in perfume and fragrance families, which is a key topic to learn about if you want to perfume. This post is a very basic review to get you started, enjoy!

Layering your perfume

When we make perfume, this is generally a good thing to think about to make a nice balanced blend with good depth and longevity. This is especially important when working with synthetics as they are a lot simpler by nature compared to essential oils, which are an accord in themselves, each made up of their own top, middle and often, base notes.

Accord: a blend of many constituents to make up a certain smell. For example, strawberry is a blend of synthetic constituents to give you a smell that persuades you to think of that berry (i.e. strawberry accord). Since essential oils are themselves made up of many constituents to give you their distinct smell, these can be thought of as an accord.

Below are some basics about each note in a perfume:

Top note: Initial impression (citrus, greens & fruity smells). These notes are from more volatile smaller constituents in a fragrance. For example, citruses, which are primarily made up of very small carbon chains (monoterpenes), and evaporate very quickly in contrast to the heavier middle and base note constituents.

Middle note: After you smell the top, as it dissipates (1-5 minutes), the heart emerges (Florals, herbs & spices). Middle notes help round out a perfume and are less volatile than the top notes.

Base note: Lingering trail of the fragrance, the scent that people remember (musk, wood, vanilla, patchouli & resins). Base notes help to ground the perfume due to the heavier, longer carbon chain constituents. In natural perfumery, I suggest always having a base note to enhance the longevity of your perfume throughout the day. Ever use a perfume that doesn't smell after an hour? This is a common issue with natural perfumes, especially when they’re made up of mostly the more volatile top and middle notes.

How much of each note should I add? Ultimately this is up to you. In natural perfumes, I personally like to do about 30:30:40 (base notes) because I find the longevity of the blend is better, but there are a lot of people who prefer more top or middle heavy perfumes.

Note, single note natural blends, for example, patchouli, are becoming quite popular, especially in niche perfumery.

With layering in mind, the families in fragrances are a good next thing to think about as they will all fall into the different notes, again depending on their volatility predominantly. In addition, ‘storytelling’ through fragrancing is often a key component of perfumery - for example capturing that feeling of your wedding night, of a driven entrepreneur, or of your grandma's baking. I’m oversimplifying here, but using the families below and some of their descriptive verbiages can be a good place to start when trying to capture a certain feeling or whatever else.

How we choose a fragrance: Familiarity breeds likability. For example, Play-Doh contains vanilla (meant to conjure happiness and comfort). As adults, we’re immediately drawn to fragrances with vanilla, and as a result, many fragrances today are made with vanilla. Perfumers start with inspirations, like a childhood memory, and build scents to capture it. This is the modern approach to perfumery, i.e. storytelling (emotional, timeless and easier to remember).

Below are the common fragrance families:

  • Citrus: historically renowned for ‘Eaux de Cologne’. Characterised by diffusive freshness and brightness, ideal for unisex fragrances (e.g. CK1). E.g. citrus essential oils. *Juicy, sparkling, zesty*
  • Aromatic: E.g. sage, rosemary, thyme, mint & lavender. Pillar of masculine perfumery, combines clean, tonic and energizing with aquatic, green, spicy and fruity elements. *Fresh, herbaceous, minty*
  • Floral: Pillar of feminine perfumery.  *Luminous, petally, powdery, delicate*
  • Fruity: Since fruit is so water-rich, these can’t be naturally extracted. All fruity smells are synthetic. *Exotic, joyful, mouthwatering*
  • Woody: Bring texture and character to a blend. E.g. cedarwood & sandalwood. *Earthy, mossy, smoky, warm*
  • Oriental: Blend of warmth and sensuality with floral, spicy, vanilla and woody aromas. *Rich, sensual, ambery*
  • Chypre: Sophisticated aroma. Bergamot, rose, patchouli & oak are the main building blocks. *Leathery, mossy, refined, timeless*
  • Aldehydic: Provide soapy-waxy-lemony-floral effect. Introduced in 1921 with Chanel No 5. Synthetic. *Metallic, soapy*
  • Green: Range from freshly-cut-grass to crunchy leaves. Spring-like and fresh. *crisp, crunchy, dewy, wet*
  • Watery: Evokes water fruits or invigorating air of seaside. Synthetic. *Aquatic, mineral, salty, transparent*
  • Musky: Originally from animals but now synthetically produced. Develop rounder smells. *Animalic, sexy, soft*
  • Spicy: “Hot” with intense burning character (cinnamon & nutmeg) or “cold” for a cooling sensation (pink pepper, ginger & cardamom). *Effervescent, elegant, intense, vibrant*
  • Gourmand: Increased in popularity through the 90s. E.g. caramel & vanilla. *Caramelized, creamy, edible, sweet*

Note, as you may have gathered from the above fragrance families, your palate and ultimately potential fragrance outcomes are very limited with natural aromas (essential oils, absolutes & CO2 extracts). There’s also A LOT more challenge with regards to keeping a consistent smell in natural perfumery. For example, essential oils smell different depending on the environmental stresses on the plants, including the season, the elevation, the time of day, and so on and so forth. Constituents in essential oils will change to help the plant thrive in its environment… these constituents are also responsible for the unique smell of the plant. In addition, how the plant is distilled or pressed will be a huge contributor to the constituents that are left in the final essential oil. For example, if it’s done at a higher temperature, more fragile constituents will likely not survive the process. Unless you're planning on getting the essential oil from the same producer and only from plants that were cultivated in a certain manner at a certain time of the year, the smells will vary from batch to batch. Note, even with these careful considerations, seasons will also vary each year… There’s a lot more consistency when it comes to using synthetics. While natural perfumery is a heck of a lot harder to make a nice end fragrance, that’s also one of the reasons I personally love it.

Below are some basic compatibilities with respect to aroma types. These can be a good guide but they are by no means definitive. There are lots of exceptions to these suggestions. In addition, some of the most sought-after perfumes today are being made by perfumers that are breaking the rules and creating truly unique blends.

  • Floral: floral, fruity, green, woody, earthy
  • Fruity: Floral, fruity, green, earthy
  • Green: suitable with all types in small amounts
  • Herbaceous: Green, herbaceous, camphorous, woody, earthy
  • Camphorous: green, herbaceous, camphorous, spicy, woody, earthy
  • Spicy: use small amounts with care
  • Woody: floral, green, herbaceous, camphorous, spicy, woody, earthy
  • Earthy: suitable in most blends up to about 10%


There’s so much more to dive into about layering and fragrance families but I think this blog post covered most of the key basics. If you’d like to learn more, come on out to one of our perfumery seminars :). In our next perfumery post, we’ll cover how to actually make a perfume. Stay tuned! Questions, queries, conundrums or concerns? Leave them on one of our social media pages or contact us at