By Courtney Dunlop

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Perfume can be confusing. With the abundance of new fragrances introduced to the market every year, it is easy to get lost. But most people should figure out what types of scents they are naturally drawn to and then it is easier to weed through the fragrance propaganda and find something that suits them best. There are three main categories in women’s fragrance: Floral, Oriental, and Chypre. Here is the basic outline of women’s fragrances.

The Florals
Floral is the biggest category in women’s perfumery. Floral fragrances can be built around one dominant single note, such as the prominent lily of the valley in the classic Dior fragrance Diorissimo (1956) or be a whole bouquet of floral effects such as Estee Lauder’s wildly popular Pleasures (1995). Florals are considered a “safe” category; meaning florals are almost universally well-received. Women will always love the femininity and innocence associated with florals. Because of the vast array of florals notes, this large category has a few sub-categories.

Green Floral
This is the least explored area of the floral category. Green notes are sharp and distinctive such as scents like grass, banana, lemon, lime, and sour apples. Green florals are difficult to make well. However, when done correctly, the result can be peaceful and calming. One of the first green fragrances was Vent Vert by Balmain, introduced in 1947. A contemporary favorite is Beautiful by Estee Lauder (1986).

Fruity Floral
This is a young, vibrant category. The 1990’s saw a boom in the fruity florals (many of the fragrances are now gone, due to market saturation). Fruit odors like raspberry, peach, strawberry, and melon lend a carefree air to a floral scent. “Fresh” and “clean” are words often used to describe fragrances in this category. The best example of a standout fruity floral is Calyx by Prescriptives (1987). During the 90’s boom, Tommy Girl by Tommy Hilfiger (1996) was a huge success (every teenage girl across America spritzed it religiously), as was Acqua Di Gio by Armani (1995)and Clinique Happy (1997).

Aldehydic Floral
In 1921, a groundbreaking fragrance was introduced. It used a new raw material called aldehyde to give the fragrance “lift” and “sparkle.” That fragrance was Chanel No. 5. Since then, aldehydes have been used to create elegant, feminine fragrances such as White Linen by Estee Lauder (1978) and Aire by Loewe (1985).

Floral Florals
These are, obviously, straight-up florals. These fragrances are usually narcotic, almost syrupy scents. They incorporate notes such as jasmine, tuberose, peony, and rose and are strongly feminine. One of the first classic florals is Quelque Fleurs by the House of Houbigant, created in 1912. As the market began to stray away from the fruity notes of the 1990s, companies grew up a little and started creating beautifully done floral florals again. Two standout hits are Marc Jacobs Perfume (2000) and Michael by Michael Kors (2000).

The Orientals
This category exists because of Shalimar by Guerlain. This revolutionary fragrance was introduced in 1925 and incorporated notes generally associated with the Far East; notes such as spices, exotic blossoms, and resins (sweet smelling plant excretions).

Oriental fragrances are warm, sensual, intoxicating, and sophisticated. Perfumers use sweet notes like vanilla and amber, animalic notes like musk, wood notes such as sandalwood and cedarwood, and spicy notes such as cinnamon and cloves to create these intense, sometimes erotic, scents.

Oriental fragrances are the most notorious fragrances.They have a reputation for being racy and powerful. In the 1980s, women were so in love with their heavy Orientals, some buildings banned the wearing of perfume. One of these “power perfumes” was Obsession by Calvin Klein (1985).

Orientals go in and out of style; but most women who wear Orientals are very loyal and rarely wear anything else. Because of this, not as many Orientals are introduced into the market, but the ones that are tend to gather a cult following. Some examples are the extremely sweet Angel by Thierry Mugler (1992), the spicy Coco by Chanel (1984), and the woody Feminite Du Bois by Shiseido (1992).

The Chypres
Chypre (pronounced sheep-ruh) is the smallest and most unique category in women’s fragrance. This is the category for the risk takers because women who love Chypres really love them, but women who hate Chypres really, really hate them.

Chypres are based on the ingredient of oak moss, which gives the fragrance a very distinct, earthy smell. Perfumers can incorporate fruity, floral, or green notes within the compound to create very unusual scents, but most Chypres tend to be woody. Notes like evergreen, patchouli, and sandalwood are commonly used.

A classic Chypre is Clinique’s Aromatic Elixir (1972) and the most recent Chypre success is Gucci Rush (1999). If perfumers continue to take risks, and consumers continue to grow bored with the usual florals, Chypres might very well turn out to be the next trend in women’s fragrance.

We hope this insight is helpful for the next time you’re seeking s special scent. Happy fragrance hunting!

Originally published February 2004



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