How to Smell & Describe Fragrances
You may be tempted to sniff fragrances straight out of the bottle. This however, is a great way to blast your nose into the zone of scent overwhelm.
Perfumes have a top, middle & base note which evaporate at different rates, so you will need time to appreciate the layers.
Also, when you smell straight from the bottle your nose gets bombarded with alcohol and doesn't stand a chance to pick out these nuanced scent notes, nor does it give you an idea of how they will develop.
Start your evaluation on a scent strip. Scent strips are made from a specific type of paper that hold scent molecules. They are manufactured specifically for the purpose of evaluating fragrance, so don’t try to use regular paper cut into strips.
Spritz or dip your fragrance, give a quick wave to diffuse the alcohol then give it a quick sniff.
If you’re evaluating between a few different fragrances, use a different strip for each one then fan the scent strips out in one hand. This allows you to easily smell how each strip is compared to the next.
Next, Experiment On The Skin
Perfume will develop differently on the each persons skin. This is because of individual skin acidity which can slightly alter the PH of a formula.
The best way to test fragrance is on the top of your forearm and you can also go up along the top of your bicep. Don’t rub a scent into the skin as this can break down the delicate top notes.
What Am I Smelling?
Describing what you are smelling is where your vocabulary + your nose work together. It’s a bit of a mental workout!
Below is list is of Fragrance Families. Think of them as genres of music or film but for the perfumes! These fragrance families can help pinpoint your scent preferences giving you an idea of what ‘genera’ of perfume you’re into :)
Amber/Oriental - vanilla, amber, resins, spices, sandalwood, patchouli, powdery florals, musk.
Aqueous - light synthetic ozonic molecules, aquatic, sea, rain notes.
Aromatic - herbaceous, plant notes, rosemary, thyme, lavender, mint, verbena, often mixed with citrus & spice notes.
Chypre - citrus + earthy (bergamot, oakmoss, labdanum, patchouli), mossy fall season vibes.
Citrus - zesty, juicy, citrus blossoms, citrus notes such as bergamot, peach, apple, orange, usually combined with light florals.
Floral - most perfumes have a floral note - either a solifore (one floral) or bouquet (multiple floral notes). Jasmine, tuberose, rose, gardenia, ylang ylang, lily of the valley and orange flower notes are often used.
Fougere - herbaceous, aromatic, often blending lavender, tonka bean + woody notes, fresh, originally thought to be like a ‘barbershop scent’
Fruity - sparkly, fresh, fruity notes such as fig, plum, mango, raspberry, blackcurrant
Gourmand - edible food like scents, warm, creamy, sweet, chocolate, caramel, vanilla, coffee
Green - fresh cut grass, leaves, moss, crisp, vegetal notes, tea leaves, marine notes, like chypre but lighter.
Leather - smokey, tobacco, leather, vetiver, honey, burnt wood, sensual, animistic.
Woody - sandalwood, patchouli, vetiver, agarwood/oud, cedarwood.
Next time you are smelling a perfume, test your mind & nose and see if you can figure out which of the Fragrance Family your scent would fit under.
We’ll explore further fragrant descriptors in another article.