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An Introduction to the Fragrance Fandom

Last fall we had announced that we would be opening up the Fandomentals to more, well, fandoms beyond only media consumption. These days, you can pretty much toss a dart at any topic and find out “there’s a fandom for that!”, and we wanted to start indulging in these fandoms (because we know you have them too) on the site. While I’d originally planned this for March, COVID-19 had a few other ideas so we’re starting in April instead. For anyone who actually knows me, they’ll know I have three big passions in life. Fitness (primarily weight lifting), watches, and fragrances. And unfortunately for Dan and Seher specifically, now that we’re in lockdown I’ve pretty much firehosed them by talking about all three nonstop.

So to give my dear friends a break and to kick off this new series, I’m going to lay out some terms that those who are interested in fragrances but new to the hobby aren’t completely familiar with. As we continue, I’ll be reviewing a fragrance every other week. They’ll range from super affordable, to designer, to niche fragrances. But for now, let’s look at the fandomentals. Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

Fragrance 101

Audience

Women’s – This is all about the marketing machine. Traditionally, floral or gourmand fragrances have been marketed more towards women than men. This does not mean that women cannot wear more “masculine” scents, or that men cannot wear “feminine” scents.

Men’s – Again, marketing. Stronger scents with more aquatic, woodsy, spicy, etc. Again, this doesn’t mean you have to wear this, I’ve seen quite a few men absolutely rock Chanel No. 5.

Unisex – These fragrances are typically a “middle of the road” scent and are marketed to everyone.

Fragrance Alchemy

All fragrances are made up of Notes, or the building blocks of any scent. These are several different types of base scents blended together in a formula:

Top Notes – These are the first scents, or notes, that you’ll smell immediately after applying your fragrance. They tend to contain lighter molecules, so these will also disappear first as the dry down starts. You’ll tend to see many citrus scents used as top notes, such as bergamot, grapefruit, or even pineapple.

Middle or Heart Notes – Heart notes are the primary are the notes that will largely define your scent. After the top notes have started to evaporate, your heart notes will start to assert themselves (generally anywhere from 10-25 minutes after you apply). For most people, the heart notes are going to be what you really associate with that fragrance. Generally, you’ll find spices and heavier florals as heart notes, such as orange blossom, lavender, almond, and Morrocan Rose.

Base Notes – Base notes are what you have left after dry down. These are going to be the heaviest and longest-lasting scents in your fragrance. While you can smell the base notes after the top notes have faded and the heart notes have come to the fore, you’ll generally find that these scents gradually change as the heart notes evaporate. Here is where you’ll find your woodsy, musky, oud scents.

Dry down – As you can start to put together, a fragrance has life cycles that begin the moment you spray it onto a surface. This whole process is called dry down, and unleashes the various notes in a fragrance as the scent evaporates down throughout your day.

Concentrations

Ever wonder what the heck the differences are between all those fancy french terms on the bottles? Or why the prices differ so wildly? It’s because each term is a different level of fragrance concentration.

Eau de Cologne (EDC) – This is, by far, the least concentrated version of a fragrance and has a high alcohol to perfume oil ratio (just 2-5%).  Those giant honking bottles you see that are cheaper than the other fancy names of the same fragrance? That’s probably an EDC, and it’s meant for you to reapply several times throughout the day.

Eau de Parfum (EDP) – This is a concentration of about 10-15% perfume oil to alcohol.

Eau de Toilette (EDT) – The middle of the road option, this sits between an EDC and EDP, with around a 5-10% perfume oil to alcohol.

Extrait or Extract – This is a concentration of 20% or more of perfume oil to alcohol. As you can probably guess, you’ll usually see the higher concentrations priced higher than lower concentrations.

Perfume Oil – This is just straight up fragrance. It’s going to come in the smallest packaging, will tend to cost more, and will last FOREVER. Seriously. Don’t get this on your clothes.

Fragrance Categories

I’ll sometimes discuss a fragrance by the category it falls into. There’s a bit of a sliding scale, but I’ll be sticking to the following seven:

Woody – This is a favorite in fragrances favored by masculine leaning persons, helped out tremendously by marketing. You’ll definitely notice sandalwood, patchouli, vetiver, cedar, and oakmoss as common components to a woody fragrance, and you can also find some spicier elements worked in as well, like tobacco. This can also tend to skew to sultry or mysterious, but generally has a more “outdoorsy” bent. This fragrance can also contain musks.

Floral – You guessed, this is a flowery fragrance. This is by far one of the most popular perfumes marketed to women and you’ll find notes of rose, lavender, violet, iris, jasmine, and more in these scents. The intensity can range from light and sweet to full-on “did I just come out of the world’s largest floral shop?” There are men’s scents in floral as well, but you’ll tend to find they include some “heavier” notes like orange blossom, marjoram, or sandalwood.

Citrus/Fresh – This leans to smelling very crisp, and playful. You’ll find, as the name suggests, sharper citrus scents in this fragrance, especially bergamot (a favorite of the fragrance world), lemon, orange, and grapefruit. These are complimented by more herbal notes like basil. This is a fun, refreshing spring and summer scent and is very unisex leaning.

Spicy (Oriental) – For reasons you can probably see (because wow problematic, Batman!), I’ll be referring to “oriental” fragrances as spicy. These are, as you can guess, fragrances that have predominantly spicier notes. You’ll pick up on pepper, cardamom, incense, cloves, cinnamon, tobacco, musk, and amber notes and these scents are best described as warm, even sultry. Especially for feminine presenting persons, if you’re trying to give off a slight air of mystery, this is going to be your jam.

Gourmand – These are going to be your sweet fragrances. A lot of women’s marketed scents are going to fall in this category, and you’ll generally associate gourmand with predominately with burnt sugar, chocolate, vanilla, and caramel notes. If you like walking around smelling like a candy shop, this is the name to tell the perfume person you talk to when you go to a fragrance shop/kiosk.

Aquatic – Ultra fresh. You’re going to get Mediterranean/ocean and sometimes even mountain vibes with this fragrance. Expect notes like algae, seaweed, sea salt, cypress, and fig leaves. These can be very complex and also borrow elements of citrus and woodsy scents.

Fruity – Not as crisp as the citrus/fresh scents, you’ll find this fragrance on the sweeter scale, focusing more on pear, currant, cherry, peach, or apple notes.

Performance

There are a few terms used to describe how well a fragrance holds up on application.

Longevity – Pretty straight forward, this is how long your fragrance lasts after you apply it. An EDC will have a lower longevity and an oil. Or some fragrance types have short longevity than others. Other factors in play can be the quality of materials used in the fragrances.

Projection – How much of a presence your fragrance has in the room. Can your co-worker 20 feet away smell you? Your fragrance has a very strong projection.

Sillage – Similar to projection, this is more focused on how long your scent lingers in the air after you’ve left the room.

Miscellaneous

Natural – Organic or “natural” materials used to make fragrance notes. Myrrh, sandalwood, etc.

Synthetic – These are “man-made” or lab-created materials. Usually done for cost reasons, or because some notes are naturally rare or hard to obtain. For example, Ambroxan (ambroxide) is a synthetic component used to make ambergris notes.

Nose – This the person behind the fragrance, its creator.

Designer – This is a company that has other components to its business, not just fragrance. For instance, Chanel, while certainly known for fragrance, also has beauty and accessories. Dior, in addition to fragrance, also makes shoes, handbags, etc.

Niche – This is a company that solely focuses on fragrance. They can run more expensive than a designer fragrance (but not always), and are not as well known to the global audience (but are very popular/respected in parts of the fragrance community). For example, many people will recognize the name or smell of Giorgio Armani’s Acqua di Gio, but will have never heard of or smelled Abraxis from Boadicea the Victorious.

Photo by Alex Rosario on Unsplash
Kori
Written By

Kori is an entertainment writer and Managing Editor at the Fandomentals. In her spare time, she is a Buckaroo Banzai enthusiast, lover of Eurovision, and Yanni devotee.

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