Getting Started

The Fragrance Pyramid (Top, Middle and Base Notes)

Fragrance is enjoyed by your senses, just like music. And as music is made up of notes, so are fragrances.

Top Notes – When you first smell a fragrance, you get a big whiff of the top notes.  These are often lighter and might go away quickly- or stick around.  A lot of fragrances are designed with strong top notes to attract you with a great first impression.

Middle Notes – As the top notes start to fade, the middle (or heart notes) will start to appear.  This is the main portion of a fragrance’s span.

Base notes – These are the richer, heavier scents that appear further into the development of a fragrance (usually more than 30 minutes). The staying power of base notes can last many hours.

To further the musical analogy, the topnotes are like the prelude/overture, while the middle and base notes are the main piece of music.

Getting Started

Testing a Fragrance

Fragrances smell differently based on your natural body chemistry.  What may smell really great on your friend might go horribly wrong on you.  Before buying a new fragrance you should always test it on your skin.  Be wary of Sales Associates (SA), who hand you a card and then push you to buy it.  On the card, you will smell the top notes on a piece of paper or cardboard – it might smell quite differently on your skin.

If you are smelling a lot of fragrances at once, be sure to take breaks and sniff coffee beans to cleanse your palate.   This is similar to eating bread and water between tasting wines, or eating a small sorbet between courses of a fine dining meal.

After you’ve sniffed a lot of cards, you can move on to skin testing.   When testing, make sure you start with clean skin as any remnants of other fragrance may interfere with the new one.  Spray at least 4 inches from the skin so that the liquid disperses evenly, rather than puddles.   Do not rub the skin area as this doesn’t help to settle the scent, it simple introduces more of your body oil into it.   If you smell instantly, you might get a rush of the carrier liquid (alcohol) and not much of the actual fragrance.  Let it settle for a minute and then sniff.  Go about your business and check every 10-15 minutes to see how the scent develops.  Think about whether the scent is linear (stays the same) or how it progresses (top notes to middle notes to base notes).

You can also ask for a sample of the fragrance to take home with you and wear for a few days.  Note that dabbing from a vial will probably smell differently than a spray.

If there are fragrances you want to sample which are not available in your local area, you might consider contacting the perfume company for a sample, looking for samples on message boards,  or purchasing a small decant from a credible source (like the Perfumed Court).

Getting Started


The strength of a fragrances is often determined by the concentration of aromatic chemicals to the solvent/carrier liquid.  From weakest to strongest, here are the most commonly used terms.

Splash / Aftershave – Lowest concentration, often splashed on after shaving or bathing.

Eau de cologne (EdC) – Light fragrances, usually citrus-based that are often used to refresh during the summertime.  Concentration is usually about 5%, but can range from 3-8%.

Eau de Toilette (EdT) – Usually about 10% concentration (range from 5-15%) of aromatic chemicals.  Most fragrances marketed towards men are sold as EdT strength.

Eau de Parfum (EdP) – Usually about 15% concentration (range from 10-20%) of aromatic chemicals.  These are stronger versions of fragrance that should last all day.

Perfume Extrait / Extract  – The most concentrated version of a fragrance that is usually about 20% (range from 15-40%).

Attar – Pure perfume oil extracted from natural sources.  Often used by people who are not allowed to use products that contain alcohol.  One drop of an attar will warm up with body contact and last for a long time.
Things to note:

Concentration is not regulated, so one company might make an Eau de Parfum at 15% while another might make an Eau de Toilette at the same percentage.   An EdT of one fragrance might be stronger than an EdP of another fragrance.

Different concentrations of the same fragrance might smell differently.  The EdT might focus more on the top notes while the EdP will allow the full journey from the top to heart to base.