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Understanding the Fragrance Wheel

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.

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.

The Most Popular Scents on the Fragrance Wheel? 

Every scent family has its unique features, and people typically choose one based on what appeals to them most. Often, the perfume you will pick will not fall on just one fragrance family. Some fragrance families blend well together, especially those located side-by-side on the fragrance wheel.  However, two families, in particular, stand out as the commonest and appear in a lot of perfumes: Floral and Fresh family.


The floral family is probably the most noticeable in the bunch because it smells familiar and natural. Many of the ingredients are from flowers and are easily identifiable because they are present in our everyday lives. You'll find this fragrance on almost any brand of popular perfume you get your hands on, especially in female brands. You can also find this perfume family occasionally in some male perfumes, but it is far more often used in female fragrances. 

They smell like fresh-cut flowers and have a powdery note to their scent. At the heart of their fragrance combination, you'll find at least one (soliflore) or several flowers (called a bouquet) as the key ingredients. Usually, the result is a strong flowery smell as the signature scent, or sometimes, it is the flowery smell that brings balance to the fragrance. Common flowers used are jasmine, rose, peony, gardenia, and orange blossom.  

Subfamilies of the floral scent are

Fruity: This gives off the scent of something edible and sweet. Kind of like the tropical smell of pears, apples, and peaches. 

Floral: Smell like freshly cut flowers. Think of lily and rose. 

Soft floral: Sweet, soft, and powdery and also a hint of creamy in there

Floral oriental: The flowery feel with subtle spice notes. 


The fresh family,  as the name suggests, is typically composed of clean and bright scents. You'll find it a lot more often in male fragrances than in female fragrances. Fresh notes are often combined with spicy notes for a more sophisticated fragrance. A combination of the tart, aromatic scents with the fruity, zesty scents is also fairly common with this family type. Some common notes in the fresh family are bergamot, sage, and grapefruit.

Subfamilies of the fresh scent are

Aromatic: This smells like a mix of lavender or woody scents and clean, fresh herbs. It's especially popular among younger adults. 

Citrus: You get this from tangy notes such as bergamots and mandarins. 

Water: Smells like the ocean and a mix of rain or the seas. 

Green: Gives a feel of nature, crushed green leaves, and freshly mowed lawns.

    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 aftershaves. 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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