A Perfumer’s Simplified Guide To The Fragrance Pyramid

The Fragrance Pyramid, aka the Fragrance Triangle, represents the quintessence of any and all scent formulations. Here is a simplified perfumers’ guide to understanding and using it when creating fragrance compositions.

All perfumes weave a unique olfactory tale; a fragrant narrative with its own blend of intrigue, appeal and character. Fragrance is a unique poetry, evoking our deepest feelings and emotions.

The story is always open to personal interpretation because the true power of fragrance lies in its ability to connect with forgotten memories from times past, which will always vary from person to person.

Despite its romantic promise, every fragrance is born from a perfumer’s technical knowledge and mastery, as illustrated by the superior scents we develop everyday.

A perfumer is like the navigator of a majestic galleon that journeys to vast unimagined realms, steered by inspiration, imagination and solid expertise.

The Fragrance or Olfactory Pyramid aka the Fragrance Triangle, represents the quintessence of any and all scent formulations.

Fragrance Pyramid Guide

Like that old geometric theorem, it is the whole that is equal to sum of all its parts, so to speak. This includes all elements of composition; namely, head, heart and dry down notes that seamlessly fold into each other and delineate mood, character and tone.

It was famous French perfumer, Jean Carles (1892-1966), who gave a name to the olfactory structure that would come to be known as the fragrance pyramid. He expanded this concept to include the classification of the various notes as well. He ranked their volatility  and evaporation levels ranging from the lightest to the most persistent. 

Carles believed that the true classification of perfume was like the separation  of colors found on an artists palette; individual, magical and imaginative with a dash of chemistry and mystery.

In his own words: “Perfumery is an art, not a science, as many seem to believe. A scientific background is not necessary for the perfumer; scientific knowledge may even sometimes prove an obstacle to the freedom required in perfume creation.” 

How Does The Fragrance Pyramid Work?

Carles’s unique process entails the visualization of both singular aromas and full accords.

His olfactory pyramid established an almost universal model for the formulation of any perfume based on the diversity of 3 separate layers of diverse notes that are always the same, regardless of how or where the fragrance was manufactured.

Each note in a composition echoes the scent’s character and/or how rapidly it evaporates. Specifically, head or top notes are the quickest to dissipate, while base or dry down notes are more likely to linger much longer.

The Top, Base And Middle Notes Of Marketable Fragrances

This aromatic architecture injects both structure and balance to any given fragrance. It automatically stabilizes the composition so that it evolves with the passage of time.

The fragrance becomes almost a living thing designed and manipulated by master perfumes.

The stream of fragrance is continual and gradual, like the flow of a wispy cloud across a soundless, blue sky.

The fragrance lingers and quietly unfolds its true nature and depth via the varied facets that blend and seamlessly intertwine over the course of time.

Understanding The Different Notes Of Fragrance

What Are Top Notes In Perfumes?

These are the lightest and most unstable aspects of any given fragrance, and they are, in their own fleeting way, the most important because they lure our noses into a scent’s first impression.

Often derived from citrus facets such as: spicy, complex bergamot, light bitter neroli, sharp, clean lemon and lime, luscious orange and uplifting grapefruit, it can be said that a fragrance takes flight with their release into the air.

They remain for a few significant moments before drifting flawlessly into the other notes of the formulation.

What Are Middle or Heart Notes in Perfumes?

These notes are considered the most complex of the fragrance pyramid. They are usually powdery, green, fruity or floral in nature.

They deftly take hold, folding into the formulation and suffusing it with diverse elements that replace the top facets. Persistent and enduring, these notes define the true essence of the fragrance, empowering its force and integrity.

Heart notes remain on the skin for the full life of the fragrance.

They include: robust, highly aromatic floral oils such as: haunting, intense jasmine; rosy, herbal and tea-like geranium; light, bitter neroli; rich, sugary and narcotic ylang ylang.

Spicy aspects are also used such as: warm, inviting cinnamon; piquant pepper and sweet, resinous cardamon.

What Are Base Notes Dry Down in Perfumes?

Known to linger for hours and sometimes even days on clothing, these notes are often lavish, clinging and enchanting.

They establish the depth of a fragrance. Our perfumers often rely on woody, leathery or ambery facets for use at this final level of the pyramid. 

Major elements include:woody or minty balms; aromatic woods; green, moist moss; dark, warm and honeyed amber or lush, noble vanilla. These aspects are said to truly determine a user’s loyalty to a particular perfume.

Methodology Beyond The Notes of The Fragrance Pyramid

There is more to the fragrance pyramid than that which meets the eye.

The simple construction belies a complicated process that entails the measurement of evaporation levels that are found in each group of notes, which range from the most ephemeral to the most tenacious.

There is a wide variation here because the raw materials used in perfume do not all react the same way over the passage of time and they do not evaporate at the same rate.

For example, citrus facets, such as: succulent orange; invigorating grapefruit and clean, sharp lemon and lime, are intense but their release is transitory, lingering barely a few minutes.

Grapefruit Fragrance

Heart note compounds will emit intensive aromas that infuse and define the true character of the fragrance.

Facets for dry downs are chosen for their ability as fixatives that will increase the lasting hold of the scent.

What Are The Five Stages of Fragrance?

Natural ingredients are known to both evolve and evaporate rapidly. Synthetic materials bring a balance and tenacity to a composition.

Every perfume has a specific concentration of fragrance, and this amount determines the intensity of both the oils and alcohol present in the formulation. 

Identifying the strength of a perfume is achieved via the fragrance pyramid’s delineation of the five stages of any fragrance, which are listed below.

1. Parfum

Usually the most expensive category of fragrance, it is also known as Pure Perfume or Extrait de Parfum.

It boasts the highest fragrance concentration of fragrance oil, with numbers ranging from 20 to 30%.

Alcohol content is also very low when compared to other types. As such, perfume lasts longer than other classifications, releasing a steady stream of notes slowly for at least as long as 10 hours. 

2. Eau de Parfum

Perfumers consider this type as a universal, every day perfume. It is less expensive than Parfum, containing a 15 to 20% concentration of oils.

The focus on these compositions lies in the heart notes, which define the strength and nature of the fragrance, which is known to last for up to 8 hours. 

3. Eau de Toilette

One of the most popular types of perfume with a concentration level of 5 to 15% of essential oils, these fragrances are lighter, simpler and less costly that Eau de Parfum. 

The name derives from the French, faire sa toilette, which translates into preparing for the day. Usually worn in the warmer months of the year, top notes are refreshing and a scent can last from 4 to 6 hours.

4. Eau de Cologne

Colognes are cheaper and more noticeable than other perfumes if for no other reason than the fact that they are packaged in bigger bottles.

This is because it requires more spray to achieve a desired effect. Colognes have only a 2 to 5% concentration of perfume oils, which renders their durability at a maximum of 2 hours.

An excellent option for summer weather, it can be reapplied frequently. It should be noted, however, that its high alcohol content makes it a poor choice for those with sensitive skin. 

5. Eau Fraiche

This category is the cheapest and weakest of all fragrance types. It lacks strong notes and alcohol and is formulated with just water and fragrance. The composition of perfume oils lies between 1 and 3%.

What Is Eau de Toilette

Alpha Aromatics And The Fragrance Pyramid

We area family-run, five-star perfume design and fragrance manufacturing company whose roots stretch back to the 1940s.

Our fragrance formulations accommodate the diverse ambient branding demands of modern industry, which include but are not limited to: candles, diffusers, odor neutralizers for the home, industrial air fresheners, label brands, household cleaning products and fine, customized perfumes.

The fragrance pyramid serves as a cornerstone when developing new fragrances, and we rely on this brilliant structure to determine where notes will find their place within a specific composition.

If you’re interested in starting a perfume line or represent a business seeking an increase in traffic and brand loyalty, contact our teams today; we’re always here to help.

Photo Credits: Pixabay

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