The olfactory families and the classification of perfumes

I Am Sicily

All perfumes evoke memories and sensations, arousing different emotions. To prepare a perfume, you need to keep this process in mind, and just like an artist does in the act of creating a work, let yourself be inspired by your own flair. However, the creation of a perfume, like that of a painting or a symphony, requires the necessary technical knowledge to achieve compositional harmony. We have partly touched on the subject talking about the olfactory pyramids (Read the article here).

Now, however, we will present another very important classification of perfumes, relating to the olfactory families.

What are the olfactory families?

The olfactory families are classification categories that group perfumes based on easily recognizable common elements and characteristics. This is not a mere taxonomy of essences and olfactory notes, but rather a scheme that responds to the necessary logics of compositional balance. Knowing the ingredients that make up a perfume does not completely exhaust the understanding of its true essence. In fact, each perfume has a dominant character that identifies belonging to a specific olfactory family, but even in the complexity of the fragrances there are subtle nuances that, by intersecting the olfactory families, define their originality. This is how, for example, the perfume I am Sicily Orange Blossoms manages to be characterized by an aromatic facet that embellishes the citrus notes that determine the main olfactory family.


The first classification of perfumes that groups them into olfactory families dates back to 1984. The institution is due to the Societé Française des Parfumeurs which identified 7 fundamental families that could already intersect with each other, giving rise to other olfactory subfamilies. Over the years, new categories will also be created, although not recognized by the French body.
Here are the seven canonical olfactory families:

Citrus or citrus family

This category is characterized by fresh, light and lively top notes. The name derives from the Hesperides that classical mythology considered guardians of the golden apples, more prosaically the oranges. In fact, the citrus family includes all those fragrances derived from citrus fruits (bitter orange, bergamot, mandarin, lemon, cedar, neroli, grapefruit). The progenitor perfume of the citrus olfactory family is the “Acqua Mirabilis” by Giovanni Paolo Feminis from which the colognes and the orange blossoms are derived. These are typically summer fragrances, recently also frequently used for the creation of men’s perfumes.

Famiglia olfattiva fougère

The term fougère, although in French it means fern, is used in an evocative way, taking up Houbigant’s historic “Fougère Royale” fragrance. The olfactory notes included within this definition vary considerably, from the fresh floral ones of lavender and geranium to the sought-after aromas of vetiver, oak moss and tonka bean. In any case, these are fragrances that convey a sense of security, elegance and refinement, so much so that over time they have settled within the sphere of men’s perfumes.

Boisè or woody family

The scents belonging to the woody family are characterized by warm, deep and seductive notes, which transmit safety, warmth and balance. These fragrances have a complex, very evocative scent, which recalls the smells of wood, bark and undergrowth. Wood essences, to which sandalwood, rosewood, patchouli, vetiver and oak belong, almost always act as base notes, characterized by a strong persistence on the skin and clothes. Woody perfumes are generally of the masculine type, but there is certainly no lack of woody references even in the circle of feminine fragrances.

Floral or flowery family

As the name reveals, the floral olfactory family contains all those essences obtained from flowers, and as it is easy to imagine it represents the largest category in the sector. The fragrances include heart notes drawn from single flowers or flowery bouquets. The most classic are the notes of jasmine, rose, lily of the valley, tuberose, geranium, narcissus and orange blossom. The perfumes belonging to this family are characterized by a sensual and intoxicating sweetness that connects them to the sphere of feminine and romantic perfumes. The floral family traditionally crosses with the oriental-spicy and woody families.

Mossy leather family

These are very alternative compositions, particularly in vogue between the 1920s and 1960s. The first olfactory notes were obtained from the leather scraps recovered from the processing of accessories supplied to the Red Army. In fact, traditionally these are men’s fragrances, which in recent years have also been extended to women’s perfumes. The scents of leather are often accompanied by notes of oak moss, tobacco, burnt wood and birch. The floral and citrus leather subfamilies are much appreciated, announced by top and heart notes that further soften the noble base of the worked leather.

Famiglia chypre o cipriati

Again, the name risks being misleading. The term is not in fact connected to the talc and powdery notes, but to the island of Cyprus as understood by François Coty, creator of the fragrance “Chypre”. This olfactory family in fact includes woody, musky and floral notes that evoke the Mediterranean and exotic atmosphere of the island: rose, bergamot, jasmine, oak moss, patchouli and labdanum. Very refined, silky and enveloping olfactory compositions that have found enormous success in the field of feminine perfumes.

Oriental or amber family

Characterized by amber, sweet and powdery notes, sometimes floral and spicy, in any case rich and opulent, of great sensuality and warmth. The oriental olfactory family includes the base and heart notes of patchouli, vanilla, ambergris, civet and musks. These are fragrances that, by crossing with other olfactory families, are suitable for both female and male perfumes. For the charge of sensuality and seduction they represent the most suitable compositions for elegant evenings.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *