Fragrance Families

Click on the coloured bars for more information

The perfume universe is divided into ‘families’.  In reality, very few of us have a jumbled wardrobe of scents from lots of different families:  often without even realising, we tend to fall for one family time and again. Instinctively, we prefer scents from some fragrance families and dislike others – although we may tend towards one particular family for colder weather, another for sunny times.

Technically, ‘fragrance families’ are a classification system the perfume industry has used for years, to place individual perfumes into olfactory ‘groups’, based on their dominant characteristics. It’s part of the language of scent.

But it can feel baffling and complicated. So through the use of the colours on our ‘Fragrance Fan’, we aim to help you identify more easily – at a glance – which family the fragrances you already like fall into.

A true family, of course, has lots of members – and so it is with fragrance. Most of the eight main fragrance families listed here have some variations on their theme, which we explain, too.  (These ‘near-relations’ within a favourite family are also worth exploring if you like that family.)

It can be helpful, when you’re fragrance-shopping, to know which family (or families) you’re drawn to.  If you’re speaking to an informed sales consultant, they’ll know which scents to steer you towards – and you’re more likely to find a new ‘perfume love’…

In reality, only experts with years of experience can tell at first sniff which family (or sub-family) a scent falls into:  this takes practice.  Subscribers to The Perfume Society can of course take advantage of our Perfume Discovery Boxes, with the family of every fragrance explained, and in-depth ‘smelling notes’ to deepen your appreciation and enjoyment of the samples. (Click here for more info.)

Because the absolute very best way to learn these fragrance families is quite simply to use your nose…

PS  Absolutely nobody in the perfume world agrees 100% about families and descriptions. It’s deeply frustrating.  So we’ve used common sense, and our years of knowledge, and tried to simplify things as much as possible.  Initially, if you want to learn more, try to become familiar with each of the main families.  Then as your nose develops, you can explore within those families and learn the nuances – just as you would if you were learning about wine:  first comes learning to tell a Chardonnay from a Sancerre.  Then over time, you can pick up the subtler differences within those types…