Understanding the Fragrance Wheel

You might not be familiar with the fragrance wheel – yet it’s a device that’s been used for classifying perfumes for decades.

It’s also useful for helping you to decide which scent is right for you. Here’s more information.

A brief history of the fragrance wheel

Paul Jellinek, an Austrian perfume-maker, is widely credited with inventing the first fragrance wheel in 1949. His diagram, published in his book, The Practice of Modern Perfumery, detailed how various scents related to one another, in terms of their olfactory personality (that’s their smell, to you and me). This, in a historical context, was an important moment indeed.

Since then, other perfume experts have taken Jellinek’s concept and developed it. The fragrance circle was developed by U. Harder in 1979, and the fragrance wheel we use today was created by Michael Edwards.

What the heck is it?

Cast your mind back to art lessons at school. At some point, you probably learnt about the ‘colour wheel’ – that handy diagram that showed which colours complemented each other, and which clashed.

Understanding the Fragrance Wheel

A fragrance wheel basically works in exactly the same way. It places perfumes into categories (based on their ingredients and overall scent), then details which work well together, and which don’t. This is useful if you’re not sure which fragrances to choose.

The wheel is split into four sections. These are:

  • Floral
  • Oriental
  • Fresh
  • Woody

Then, there are the sub-sections, which are:

  • Aromatic. Lavender and other aromatic herbs
  • Citrus. Lime, lemon and bergamot
  • Fruity. This means non-citrus fruits and berries
  • Green. ‘Green’ notes like galbanum
  • Water. Aquatic and marine notes – reminiscent of the sea
  • Woods main. Aromatic woods and vetiver
  • Mossy woods – amber and oak moss
  • Dry woods. leather and dry woods
  • Floral. Freshly cut flowers
  • Soft floral. Powdery notes and aldehydes
  • Floral oriental. Sweeter spices and orange blossom
  • Soft oriental. Amber and incense
  • Oriental. Oriental resins
  • Woody oriental. Patchouli and sandalwood

Fragrance Wheel selection

Using the fragrance wheel

As you’re reading through the sub-categories, there are probably some descriptions you’re naturally drawn to. It could be that you’re a long-term fan of floral scents, and love the scent of dry wood and leather, for example. The opposite is also likely to be true – you might hate the idea of wearing a fruity, berry-dominant scent, for example!

A good way to discover what fragrance-wheel categories are best for you is to select some perfumes that you know you already love. Look at their main ingredients, then see if you can work out where they’d be on the wheel. Then, search for other perfumes that feature the same sort of notes.

Seeing the fragrance wheel in action

Let’s use a few of the nation’s best-loved fragrances as examples.

  1. Black Orchid. Our version of Black Orchid is one of our bestselling female perfumes. It’s sensual and sultry, making it ideal for an evening out. The initial notes are ylang ylang and jasmine, followed by heart notes of citrus. A perfume expert might classify this as a ‘floral oriental’, as it features sweet, spicy notes, with more than a hint of headiness and depth.

If you love Black Orchid, then you now know to seek out other scents that feature similar ingredients, as these are likely to fall into the same sub-category.

  1. Sauvage. Let’s take another popular example – our version of Sauvage. It features notes of Calabrian bergamot, with a hint of vanilla, plus a bite of pepper. The addition of lavender might mean you’d initially classify it as ‘aromatic’, but the dominance of bergamot makes it more an ‘aromatic citrus’. Again, if you’re a fan of this fragrance, seek out colognes that feature similar citrussy, aromatic ingredients.

Testing fragrances out

Of course, in order to find out what category a perfume might fall under, you’ll need to actually smell them first, not to mention see a list of their ingredients. This is sometimes easier said than done.

Department stores are generally happy to provide information about their perfumes and colognes. They’ll also give you a spray of their fragrances; usually on a piece of cardboard. However, this is problematic, as the scent has often shifted and changed by the time you get home.

Sample bottles are the ideal way to test out a perfume properly. They usually come with a few applications inside, so you’ve got the ability to spray them, have a good sniff, then work out which category they might fall into.

Copycat Fragrances have sample sized bottles of every scent on the site. This means you can order as many 5ml samples as you like, then put them all to the test, and discover what fragrance wheel categories you like the best.

Disclaimer: all products mentioned above, along with their labelling, are a guide and should not be confused with the actual fragrance brand. Any name trademarks and copyrights are the property of their respective designers or makers. Please note, these perfumes and candles are not to be confused with the originals, and we have no affiliation with any companies mentioned. Our interpretations of the fragrances and candles were created through chemical analysis and personal development, and their description is solely to give the customer an idea of the nature of the scent. It is not designed to mislead or confuse the customer in any way, and does not infringe on the manufacturer's or designer's name or trademark.

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