The Language Of Cologne – Understanding Fragrance Terminology

Mont Blanc perfume

When I first started learning about fragrance, the hardest part for me was simply understanding the language.

Like any specialized field – the perfume industry has a vocabulary that gives the men and women who discuss it a common language to build their discussions from.

Very useful when describing a products whose characteristics cannot be seen.

From the outside however – this specialized language can make the conversation appear elitist and it is a barrier to the regular guy who just wants to learn what fragrance is best for his needs.


In this video we cover:

Fragrance Terminology

Perfume – Historically genderless, used to describe both men’s and women’s fragrances traditionally.  The best term – unless in North America talking to regular guys as we are just too hard headed to think that a perfume can be worn by anyone but a woman.

Fragrance – unisex term for perfume.  A generic catch-all term.

Cologne – Oldest term for perfume, used in North America for masculine scents.

Notes - Similar to music, use to describe individual building blocks of scent.

Chords – combinations of notes used to create holistic effects.

Perfume Life Cycle – perfumes have three timed sections – a life cycle of points – think of an evaporating pyramid.

Top Notes – first 15 minutes, the first part we smell when applied.

Middle Notes – core character of the fragrance, what people often remember.

Base Notes – recognized after 30 minutes, the foundation of the fragrance.


A Great Comparison of Fragrance to Cinema

Bottle = Movie Billboard

Brand = Film Producer

Perfumette = Movie Director

Perfume = The Film Itself

Composition – Movie Script

Notes = Movie Cast

Designer Fragrances = Hollywood, mass appeal, big business

Niche Fragrances = Independent Films

FiFi Awards = Oscar Awards


Cologne Options?

Perfume appeal has widened.

Internet has opened up the world – if you know what you want you can find it.

Looking for a variety of men’s scents to small good? Click here to purchase men’s cologne

  • studentandteacher

    The difference between cologne and perfume is simply the concentration.  Cologne has a lower concentration of the fragrance and is diluted in alcohol and water.  Perfume has a much higher concentration of the fragrance, which is why it is more expensive.  It just so happens to be culturally that the word cologne is associate with men and perfume is associated with women.  That and, womens’ fragrances are more highly concentrated than mens, overall.
    As for the top/mid/basenotes, you described them accurately.  Top notes are what the authors of the perfume put in it to make it sell.  Basically, most people buy a cologne based on their first impression of what it smells like the first minute.  When in reality, most fragrances are a bit different a couple hours later.  So if you want to test a fragrance before you buy it, try it on your skin first.  Because your skin projects a scent MUCH different than a test card, because we all have different skin chemistry.  
    Usually, citrus/fruit/aquatic notes are top notes (because those notes often don’t last a long time.  Then those notes take a back seat, for the mid-notes which are often floral notes like rose, violet, spices, etc.  The basenotes are often woodsy notes, because they often last the longest.
    More terms to keep in mind:Projection – how far away other people can smell it.  most scents have a “scent cloud” of 1-2 hours and then they stay closer to the skin.
    Longevity – how long it lasts on your skin.
    Olfactory Fatigue / anosmia – when your nose has adapted to your fragrance, you cannot smell it, but it is still there.
    Also, as for niche vs. designer, which the author of this blog metaphorically described, here are the big differences:
    – Designer companies are clothing companies that sell fragrances on the side.  (Like YSL or Hugo Boss)
    – Niche companies exist only (or at least mainly) by selling fragrances.  (Like Creed or Byredo)
    – Designer is made to appeal to as many people as possible; they make scents that get compliments.
    – Niche is made to appeal to a small amount of people who want something unique and exclusive
    – Designers make their money by selling a lot of bottles of cologne for a lower price, which often use synthetic ingredients.
    – Niche makes their money by selling a small amount of bottles for a higher price, which reflects the use of higher quality ingredients.

  • rmrstyle

     @studentandteacher Comments like yours are why I write this!  GREAT information, thank you sir!