Fragrance notes explained

Fragrance is an integral part of our lives, that quintessential scent can evoke emotions, create mystery, and bring back a flood of memories with a single inhalation. Fragrances are like symphonies or stories; you need the perfect blend of notes or words to create harmony and balance. They can be dramatic or understated, bold or subtle but it’s that perfect combination that brings the fragrance to life.

Fragrance notes are characterised into three main categories, namely, top notes, heart notes, and base notes. These notes are blended to form the fragrance’s unique character, with each note being layered to compensate for the volatility of the other notes. Top notes have a higher volatility, in other words, they evaporate faster, whilst heart and base notes are longer lasting.
Top notes are the first step in shaping the fragrance story. According to David Frossard, creative director of Frapin and co-founder of Les Liquides Imaginaires, “They are like something that you can’t really see. But they are there, and they are what makes the perfume alive.”

They create the first impression; they set the stage and entice and intrigue us. Top notes give off the initial scent, and as they evaporate, they allow the heart notes to come through. These notes are the lightest and most volatile of all the fragrance notes and tend to evaporate between five and thirty minutes after being applied.

The most common top notes are citrus – like lemon, orange, and bergamot; light fruits – think, grapefruit and berries; and herbs, like sage and lavender.

The heart notes form the foundation of the fragrance and can contribute anywhere between 40% and 80% of the total fragrance. Heart notes retain some of the top notes’ fragrances whilst introducing new scents and they also act as a buffer for the base notes.

The heart notes start to appear as the top notes fade which can take anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes. They are the most dominant, captivating, and complex of all the notes. Their job is to captivate and seduce us, they are the notes that evoke emotion and mystery and intertwine our memory with scent.

Heart notes are the heart and soul of the fragrance and are usually aromatic, floral, and full-bodied. Popular floral notes include lemongrass, neroli, jasmine, rose, ylang-ylang, and geranium. When it comes to aromatic notes, these include spices like cinnamon, pepper, cardamom, coriander, and nutmeg.

As the heart notes fade, the base notes appear and the two work together, intertwining to create the full body of the fragrance. It is often the scent you remember the most as these luxurious notes linger on our skin for hours, creating that lasting impression.
The base notes are usually rich and smooth and are the longest-lasting of the three notes. Although they only comprise between 10% and 25% of the total fragrance, they deepen the scent and typically come to the fore around 30 minutes after application. There will initially only be hints, as the base notes only peak after the dry-down period which is when both the top and heart notes have disappeared.

Popular base notes include vanilla, amber, patchouli, oakmoss, musk and woody notes like sandalwood and cedarwood.
Next time when you spray your favourite fragrance, notice the subtleties and how the scent shifts over time.
View our collection of Acqua di Parma fragrance collection here.