Words: Charlie Leeves
Everyone has a favourite smell, whether it’s the smell of rain after a storm has passed or freshly cut grass in the warm summer months. Smells make up so much of our everyday life - they enchant us, pulling us closer on nervous first dates or allow us to make lasting statements at important events. But how exactly do we smell? The process of how we smell is known as olfaction and understanding this is incredibly important to both perfume makers and perfume wearers.
What is olfaction?
It’s time to put on our white lab coats and pretend that we are scientists. Olfaction, from the Latin olfactus, is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as “the sense of smell” or “the act or process of smelling”. At the front of our brains we have something known as the Olfactory bulb and this is where the body receives and filters any scents that have entered the nasal canal. In the nasal canal there are sensory cells called olfactory epithelium, these cells help the body detect smells by trapping molecules and transmitting the information to the olfactory bulb. Don’t worry the science part is over, you can take off that lab coat now!
Understanding olfaction, or how we smell, is important when trying to understand Olfactory groups. In the fragrance world certain scents are grouped together by the dominant, underlying scent - these groups are known as “Olfactory Groups”. There are several main olfactory groups that you should know about, these are Aromatic, Chypre, Citrus, Floral, Leather, Oriental and Woody and all fragrances fit into these families.
When Simon and Garfunkel sung about “parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme” they might’ve just been reading the back of an aromatic perfume bottle. With aromatics, think plants with intense floral yet spicy scents such as lavender and rosemary. Typically, aromatic scents are used in perfumes for men. Here at The Perfume Shop we love the aromatic fragrance Sauvage by Dior, the lavender in the heart note fills this fragrance with intense warmth, perfect for any occasion.
Pronounced “Sheep-rah”, Chypre is the hidden wonder of the perfume world. Despite being widely unknown it is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful olfactory groups, quite fitting for an olfactory group named after the birthplace of Aphrodite. Chypre fragrances are characterised with sophistication – think dry, mossy scents built around notes such as full-bodied labdanum or warm bergamot. We just can’t get enough of the chypre scent Mitsouko by Guerlain where the top note of warm bergamot plays beautifully with dry and impactful oakmoss.
Sharp, zesty and always fresh smelling – citrus scents add excitement to the life of any wearer. Typically, citrus is a lighter scent that will add welcome tartness to the overt sweetness of modern life. You will often find lemon, bergamot and orange in the top and middle notes of citrus perfumes. Although citrus perfumes are synonymous with summer, don’t be afraid to try an aromatic citrus scent during the winter months to bring back pleasant memories of summer holidays. For this we would recommend the bold CK One by Calvin Klein or the citrusy-sharp Citrus Fresco by The Perfume Shop.
The largest of all the olfactory groups, floral perfumes are a favourite of perfume lovers around the world. Floral fragrances are popular for a reason, just the thought of a floral scent conjures up memories of picnics in the park and floral bouquets at a summer wedding. Florals embody raw femininity – we love the soft Orange Flower in Insolence by Guerlain and the delicate rose notes of La Vie Est Belle en Rose by Lancôme. There’s never an occasion where you can’t wear a floral fragrance, so why not try one for yourself today?
Where floral fragrances are typically female perfumes, leather notes are often found in fragrances for men. They are full of raw, earthy notes that play off each other - picture in your mind bold smokey notes mixed with dry silver birch or juniper. Leather is the epitome of a masculine scent, it’s primitive yet sensual and most of all it is intoxicating. Bold undertones of tobacco are often found in the base notes. Eight and Bob Original is an everyday fragrance that we love, we just can’t get enough of its intoxicating patchouli base notes making it perfect for everyday wear around the office or for a special date night.
Intoxicatingly spicy, musky and sensual – rich oriental perfumes linger seductively on the skin teasing those around you. At the same time oriental fragrances embody spice injecting excitement into the everyday mundane. This olfactory group is defined by notes such as pink pepper and incense. Typically, an oriental perfume is worn at night – so if you’re heading out on the town, we would recommend wearing Black Opium by Yves Saint Laurent or Angel by Mugler to leave the lasting impression that you desire. Oriental fragrances allow you to be bold and exciting with just a couple of sprays.
A real masculine fragrance group, in fact it is the most popular fragrance group for men, Woody scents are typically warm and full-bodied. Here you will find notes such as bold sandalwood and the dark, rich scent of vetiver. Look for EDPs such as Invictus by Paco Rabanne or Polo Red by Ralph Lauren to make the statement you’ve always wanted to make. The intense nature of a woody fragrance means that it should be applied sparingly, you don’t want to overpower any room that you are in – unless you do then go ahead, we can’t stop you.
Now you know how you smell, its time for you to smell great!
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