What is the Fragrance Pyramid and Perfume Notes?

One of the first things you see in any fragrance press release or magazine editorial, besides the ubiquitous advertising with a model in the throes of ecstasy, is a list of notes that the fragrance contains. Usually, they are arranged in pyramid form with top, middle and base notes carefully separated. It seems like this would provide a useful roadmap, a way to envision a fragrance as it would develop on the skin: first, you will smell citrus and fruity notes, then you will smell florals and then some time later, you will enter the world of solar musks and cashmere woods. The problem with this neat design is that it is a myth as it pertains to modern fragrances.

Most contemporary fragrances are not built in a fragrance pyramid style, so the fragrance will not develop according to the pyramid description. More importantly, the list of notes tells only a small part of the story and is heavily driven by marketing considerations. While the fragrance notes are definitely helpful in some ways, they should always be seen as a rough guide to unexplored terrain.

Pyramid: Only One of Many Perfume Styles

A perfume is a mixture of scented materials with its own distinctive character that is more than just a sum of its parts. Since fragrant materials differ in their volatility, the olfactory impression of the fragrance changes as it dries down on skin. The pyramid is only one of the fragrance structures found today, and it mostly applies to perfumes created between the 1930s and 1970s. The study of different materials and their classification in terms of their volatility was perfected by the perfumer Jean Carles (1892-1966,) whose own work on such great classics as Miss Dior (1947), Dana Tabu (1932), Carven Ma Griffe (1946) and Schiaparelli Shocking (1937) exemplifies the classical pyramid structure. These fragrances are built with a very interesting three-dimensional quality, with the characters of the top, middle and the base being very distinctive. They are like three different subplots, weaving a memorable story with an unpredictable end. Earlier fragrances, including most Guerlain fragrances like Shalimar and L’Heure Bleue, are not built as a classical pyramid. Their original structures were much closer to the fragrances of the 19th century, which are based on the use of natural essences (large amount of bergamot and lemon in case of Shalimar) fixed in place by oriental and animalic materials, including the newly discovered synthetics like vanillin and coumarin.

Fragrances made today no longer adhere to the three-tiered structure. Over the past 30 years, there has been a marked shift away from the fragrance pyramid and into new structures that give different impressions. Consider modern classics like Christian Dior Dune, Chopard Casmir or Yves Saint Laurent Paris. Instead of being built like delicate tapestries in tiny strokes, many modern compositions are instead like cubist collages. In Dune, for instance, the warm oriental base of amber, musk and sandalwood is obvious from the first inhale. Of course, the light and effervescent bergamot, mandarin and marine notes set the tone, but the essential character is there from the start. To use a musical metaphor, the leitmotif is there from the first movement, and even if you hear a violin at one point, or a flute, the character remains unchanged throughout.  Some fragrances might even miss a top note in the classical pyramid sense altogether, with the initial impression being set by a small amount of extremely strong materials, like Casmir, where most of the character comes from the accord of musks, vanillin, hedione (jasmine reminiscent aroma material with remarkable radiance,) and cedarwood notes. A strong fruity note runs through the entire structure, giving a lift to the heavy oriental accord. Perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena, whose fragrances for Hermès are like watercolor etudes, builds his fragrances in a different structure, but with a similar panoramic effect.

I also have a new video based on this oft-requested topic. What is an olfactive pyramid and how much can it be trusted?

Modern Fragrance Creation: New Goals, New Methods

In general, fragrance composition is now done very differently from what it was like in the past. Some new parameters have become more important, from the aesthetics of color to the process of manufacturing the fragrance. Water-like juices or blends that can be colored light pink or light blue are among the most preferred choices, which limits the palette of available materials to those that are colorless or those that will not discolor during maceration. As fragrance companies shift more to mechanical fragrance compounding, it affects what goes into the fragrance and also how many individual materials a fragrance will contain (shorter formulas are quicker to compound, hence they cost less to produce in human labor.) Above all, the number of new fragrance launches means that consumers make decisions based on their first impression. Therefore, modern fragrances do not bury their lede, and by and large they are open stories, with little vignettes to provide interest to the narrative. This does not mean, of course, that the fragrances are boring—most niche favorites like Serge Lutens, Hermessence, L’Artisan Parfumeur, and Annick Goutal fall into this category as well. Modern fragrance structures may not necessarily be simple either, as the creative layering of accords can result in fragrances of remarkable complexity like Thierry Mugler Angel or Cartier Déclaration. After all, it is not about how the story is narrated, but what it actually says.

So if the fragrance pyramid is an outdated construct, why this discussion? First of all, despite the fact that the pyramid does not well represent contemporary fragrance structures, it is with us to stay for a long while. Second, I find that understanding the fragrance style helps to know what I am smelling. A modern fragrance like the latest from Guerlain, Tonka Impériale, is a good example of a modern, panoramic fragrance. It is essentially a classical Guerlain accord of tonka bean, vanilla, woods and coumarin (sweet almond-hay note) with a hint of spice to give it interest. Its sweet, opulent character is obvious from the start, and its dark and luscious story will be with me until I wash it off. By contrast, Grès Cabochard would require much more patience from me before I see its seductive leathery drydown under the bright citrusy top and the green iris heart. Some days, one feels like reading War and Peace, and other days a short story by Jhumpa Lahiri will be delightful.

Fragrance pyramid

Perfume Notes: A Blend of Creative Writing and Science

The pyramid should also be taken with a grain of salt because the list of notes is often just a marketing concept. Some brands are averse to the idea of listing musk as a note in their fragrance (even though their perfumes contain it.) Others want to emphasize notes that they feel are more suited to their concepts. If the fragrance is launched as the new fruity floral to fill a gap in the brand’s portfolio, its fruity notes will be highlighted in the description, even if they play a relatively minor role in the fragrance composition. The fantasy “iced rose petals” and “luminous jasmines” are probably not that different from the plain rose and jasmine in the descriptions. Moreover, jasmine may not even mean anything that smells like a jasmine flower—it may be a luminous hedione note (that is actually closer to lily of the valley in character) or a raw material representing just one facet of the flower. Finally, those cashmere woods lurking on the bottom of the fragrance pyramid are likely to be Cashmeran, a woody-musky note that actually has a stronger presence in the top. In other words, the list of notes should be read with some skepticism and it should not influence the purchase; the final decision, as always, should be made by smelling the fragrance on skin.

Fragrance pyramid from womensartsociety. Top image, Unsplash, some rights reserved.



  • Persolaise: Thanks VERY MUCH for this post. I’ll definitely link to it when I finally get around to tying up the loose ends of this particular topic on my own blog. January 21, 2011 at 1:45am Reply

  • Ann C: Thank you for this intriguing article. I worry that the modern trend to emphasize opening notes will lead to fragrances that become less interesting the longer you wear them, and I love nothing better than a fragrance that morphs from one beautiful accord to another over the course of the day. The dry down is often my favorite part. Still, you give me hope–I love Jhumpa Lahiri’s stories. January 21, 2011 at 8:21am Reply

  • Ines: Thank you for putting into words something that I’ve been wondering about for some time now. I keep being surprised by smelling some notes instantly when they are supposed to be in the drydown. 🙂 January 21, 2011 at 4:27am Reply

  • Janet: I want to try answering it too, because I love War and Peace: Robert Piguet Fracas, Balmain Jolie Madame, Nina by Nina Ricci (the old one,) Lancome Magie Noire, CHanel Coco. From the newer perfumes, Frederic Malle Musc Ravageur and Serge Lutens Muscs Koublai Khan. January 21, 2011 at 9:29am Reply

  • Mark C: How about Amouage Gold? Also, Dior Farenheit and Creed Green Irish Tweed. January 21, 2011 at 9:47am Reply

  • linda: Thank you Victoria for your articulate and informative writing this AM. I love reading your posts. You are a poet! Today I think I will go with
    Jhumpa Lahiri. January 21, 2011 at 11:05am Reply

  • Rowanhill: Could a perfume be described as a bar chart of time continuum, each main element having their own time and bars where it pops up. Obviously this may differ from person to person but it would be far more informative. Question is would the perfume houses like to be that informative. January 21, 2011 at 11:26am Reply

  • Isa: Great article, Victoria! Thank you very much. It’s very interesting.
    It’s something I have noticed since I started my perfume-hobby. I always wondered where the top notes were because I couldn’t smell them, or they disappeared in few seconds.
    Sometimes I can’t distinguish any notes, when perfumes are a complete mess, or I can get only one or two clear notes. The pyramid structure seems to be completely useless in these cases. January 21, 2011 at 11:40am Reply

  • gautami: Thank you for a very thoughtful post, Victoria. You have managed to articulate not just why the pyramid is not applicable to all perfumes, but all the other structures that perfumes can be constructed upon, which I found to be quite informative. January 21, 2011 at 12:03pm Reply

  • Marina: “After all, it is not about how the story is narrated, but what it actually says.” So well said! And about War & Peace too. Now, what would you say is the most war & peace-ish perfume of all? January 21, 2011 at 8:16am Reply

  • Victoria: I am glad that you’ve enjoyed it, there is definitely something useful about this marketing tool. But there is a big dose of fiction about it. January 21, 2011 at 8:43am Reply

  • Victoria: It would be better if the marketing departments simply listed accords in the fragrance (the way Hermessence marketing and by Kilian has started to do.) I feel that this way is more logical. Which tops will come up on top depends on how the fragrance constructed. The whole pyramid may be upside down. 🙂 January 21, 2011 at 8:46am Reply

  • Victoria: Oh, great question! The War and Peace of perfume
    For me, it would be Nina Ricci L’Air du Temps, which starts with the spring-like breeze suggesting the youth and innocence (Natasha’s first ball,) ylang and rose dominated floral heart of more maturity and depth and that dark woody-musky base conveying wisdom and some melancholy. At least, to me.
    Others are Diorama (another modern, non-pyramidal form, but still very complex and intricate in its character), Caron Nuit de Noel, Miss Dior, Vent Vert (definitely at the top of my list for a War and Peace contender,) Ma Griffe, Femme, Opium (the original)…

    I could go on. 🙂
    Anyone else? Any ideas? January 21, 2011 at 8:52am Reply

  • Victoria: Ann, I feel the same way as you. It is especially true in the mainstream lines, which is why the fragrances have most of their impact in the top notes and then they just wilt to pale woody-musky bases. It does not help that with IFRA regulations, many of the traditional base notes cannot be used.

    However, in the niche, it is slightly different. The structures are modern, but there is more surprises to be found. 🙂 Not to say that I love everything niche (there is plenty of overpriced and uninteresting stuff in it too,) but the chances of finding something unusual are higher when one moves away from the big commercial launches. January 21, 2011 at 8:56am Reply

  • MaryAnn Hardy, Vancouver Island: Dear Victoria,
    I discovered your blog when I went looking on-line for Miss Dior to replace my decades-old bottle which had finally come to an end. I couldn’t find it in any retail store, and was told that it was “discontinued.” I couldn’t believe it! Other fragrances that I loved, Eau de Rochas, Lauren, Perry Ellis, Maja, were simply…gone. Though strong scents in my garden and essential oils don’t cause any problem for me, it seems that most modern fragrances give me asthma. So I was really tied to these old favorites. When I tried to replace one via eBay, what arrived was completely different from my original. I felt betrayed.

    But your blog has cleared up my confusions, answered so many questions, and provided enormous knowledge about scent. I LOVE scents and have always kept a fragrant flower and herb garden, wherever I have lived. And my most beautifully powerful memories relate to scent: the smell of a brand new canvas bush tent smells as beautiful as fresh cut hay from my childhood farm. Driving through the farms in summer smells of wet grasses, water in ditches, cows, horses. Even at night you can identify if the fields are dry or being irrigated, and what would be grazing out there. And the night smell of the western deserts, when the wind comes up: juniper and sagebrush and sand. Magnificent!

    This is just to thank you! And to ask, how you have come to have such knowledge? January 21, 2011 at 1:57pm Reply

  • Susan Webster Adams: I loved this post! Thanks so much. Very informative. I completely agree that some days it’s nice to have a fragrance that takes time to evolve and other days you want something more simplistic. I can definitely relate to that! January 21, 2011 at 9:00am Reply

  • MaryAnn Hardy, Vancouver Island: By the way, a parfumerie “experience” in France never causes asthma either! I wonder why….?? January 21, 2011 at 2:01pm Reply

  • Victoria: You are right, sometimes the simplest things can make you happy. This morning I put on Demeter Gin and Tonic–not a perfume art, but so refreshing and bright. Not anything super complex or memorable, but it is such an uplifting, bright fragrance, it makes me smile. January 21, 2011 at 9:11am Reply

  • Vintage Lady: Many many times I feel that some heart notes come again with the base notes, then the first notes arrive a bit later again like a magical olfactory game. January 21, 2011 at 9:18am Reply

  • Christopher Taylor: Thank you for this great article. Very informative. January 21, 2011 at 9:29am Reply

  • Ina: I really enjoyed reading this, V.! Please keep sharing the trade secrets with us. 😉 January 21, 2011 at 9:34am Reply

  • Victoria: So true, it is a bit like a game, in which different characters appear and disappear, sometimes randomly, sometimes according to a set design. January 21, 2011 at 9:37am Reply

  • Victoria: You are welcome! January 21, 2011 at 9:37am Reply

  • Victoria: LOL! Hardly a trade secret, but just something that is more like a well-entrenched myth of marginal utility. What Hermes and some other brands (mostly in the niche) do with listing of accords instead of trying to arrange them artificially in the pyramid form is more helpful. January 21, 2011 at 9:41am Reply

  • Style Spy: Terrific article, V, that was really interesting. I’m dismayed to read about the desire for a specific color affecting the ingredients – that’s so bass-ackward I can’t get over it. January 21, 2011 at 9:46am Reply

  • ScentScelf: Very interesting read…and personally, comes as a bit of a relief, as I’ve spent a fair amount of time trying to wrap my head around just what it means to “behave” in the pyramid paradigm…and just what I am smelling/”hearing”/”seeing” when a fragrance seems NOT to play according to those rules.

    Many equivalences have come to my mind…different poetic structures…sketches vs full renderings…color vs black and white…various music structures…I will keep playing with those, trying to wrap my awkwardly reaching “fan” brain around them as best I can. Meanwhile, it is quite nice to hear from somebody who actually works in the medium, for the concrete perspective…especially when that person thinks outside of the medium, for the metaphorical one. January 21, 2011 at 9:53am Reply

  • Victoria: Eh, leave it up to the marketing that discovered that women like pink and men like blue. 🙂 I am being facetious, but yes, the most popular choices are water white or light pastel. Which is why I love Serge Lutens making his Sarrasins and coloring it that evil inky-purple shade! Of course, the niche brands can get away with much more. January 21, 2011 at 9:55am Reply

  • Victoria: Yes, it is not that helpful to try to follow the pyramid scheme. For instance, the top of the pyramid favorite–cardamom. The oil has a really bright peppery-lemony top note, but it also has a really soft, blond wood drydown. In a light fragrance like Jean Claude Ellena’s Un Jardin après la Mousson, you will smell it throughout.

    I remember how a friend described experiencing Annick Goutal fragrances as a string of pearls being broken and pearls scattering in all directions, which is another great analogy. January 21, 2011 at 10:00am Reply

  • minette: fun to know… and glad to report that knowing more doesn’t kill the magic of perfume. there is still a sleight of hand that goes on behind the curtain, no matter how many molecules or molecular arrangements i become aware of… and i like it this way. with a really great perfume i can suspend my disbelief and enter another world and time.

    nice article! January 21, 2011 at 3:01pm Reply

  • Victoria: Oh, definitely Gold! How could I forget it. January 21, 2011 at 10:01am Reply

  • Elisa: My understanding of the pyramid structure was always that “basenotes” are the ones that stick around the longest, because they are larger, more persistent molecules — to me this doesn’t suggest that you won’t be able to smell them until the drydown, merely that they’ll be much more dominant in the drydown, after the more volatile molecules have mostly evaporated. Though many contemporary fragrances are pretty linear, I still perceive the presence of top notes and basenotes. With a lot of patchouli-based perfumes, for example, you smell it the whole time, but it’s not until 8-12 hours later that patch is almost ALL you smell. Conversely a lot of perfumes contain a bergamot top note, but they don’t all smell the same (i.e., like straight bergamot). This is all to say that I still think the pyramid concept is useful in terms of the nature of the molecules/materials in use, though it may not really tell us how the thing is going to smell.

    Thanks for all the fabulous blogging that you do! January 21, 2011 at 10:20am Reply

  • Victoria: You are exactly right, this is not to say that there is no top or bottom, but that in modern fragrances you can smell the bottom notes right away (sometimes even before the traditional “top notes”). Some modern musks you smell even more on the top than on the bottom. Actually, most musk accords include musks that can be smelled throughout the development of the fragrance (and also because many of us have anosmia to one type of musk or another, so a cocktail of musks will ensure that the consumer can still smell musk in his/her perfume.)
    It is just that most of the pyramids as they are presented do not describe the way the fragrance actually develops. That to me is not very helpful. January 21, 2011 at 10:29am Reply

  • ScentScelf: Oh! I love that description of Goutal. Beautiful…and yes, quite apt.

    How very funny you should mention her; I have on Eau de Camille right now, a happenstance spritz because I came across my “out of season” basket. (A rather delightful portrait of spring in this weather, as it turns out.) I find that many times with her fragrances, I spray and wince in embarassment a bit, thinking, oh, no, this will be pretty but not me…and I keep coming back to sniff and think how lovely it is, even if it isn’t me…and a few hours down the line, I am realizing how much I have enjoyed the whole trip. Perhaps I was chasing pearls across the floor the whole time, enjoying how they looked all the while…even if I wouldn’t have chosen to put a string of pearls around my neck.

    Interesting about cardamom. Now I will be thinking about THAT next time I crush some. 🙂 January 21, 2011 at 11:20am Reply

  • Elisa: We should move away from the pyramid and start using flowcharts! Then we could even show how the development changes depending on whether you spray on paper or fabric vs. skin, and the season. Could get very complex! 🙂 In all seriousness it would be very cool to see a 3-D modeling of how a fragrance develops. January 21, 2011 at 12:06pm Reply

  • Victoria: Cardamom behaves the same way in food, which is why it is such a popular spice in blends for both sweet and savory dishes. If you put it in lamb curry, the lemony-peppery note will give the brightness, while the warm woody note will provide a great counterpoint to the gaminess of the meat. In desserts, it serves to cut down the cloying sweetness… I really adore this spice, and I will do a cardamom series one of these days.

    Funny, how both of us felt the same thing: I put on Petite Cherie last night and although I have some sentimental attachment to it, I thought, no, not quite right, too pretty-girly for my current mood. 🙂 January 21, 2011 at 12:19pm Reply

  • Victoria: It is not that difficult to do, as I think about it. There are so many tools these days to study evaporation. I would imagine that the R&D departments already do something like that when developing and testing fragrance molecules. January 21, 2011 at 12:21pm Reply

  • Victoria: What a kind thing to say! Thank you. 🙂
    Today I am going with Jhumpa Lahiri too (Gin and Tonic by Demeter). Will probably switch to War and Peace later (Chanel Bois des Iles.) January 21, 2011 at 12:24pm Reply

  • Victoria: Sounds like a neat idea! There are many different ways to describe the way perfume develops, and since evaporation of raw materials is a fairly objective parameter, one can devise plenty of new ways besides the outdated pyramid.

    The problem is not that the houses do not want to be informative, but that they are quite separated from the consumer. The way perfume is sold by retail stores has hardly changed in 50 years, so I doubt that this part of the industry will press for the new kind of information anytime soon. Any change requires some investments of time, efforts and money, and there is always a status quo built into any system. January 21, 2011 at 12:33pm Reply

  • Elisa: Yes, I bet they do. January 21, 2011 at 12:46pm Reply

  • Victoria: I am so glad that it was helpful! This is a topic on which one can say a lot.
    I usually just ignore the pyramid arrangement, unless I am smelling an old classic, especially one of Jean Carles’ fragrances. Those have such distinctive pyramidal structures that they should be smelled for that reason alone. Of course, that is a tough goal these days, because none of them smell like the originals. In the reformulations, like in any processes of rebuilding, it is very difficult to preserve the old structures exactly as they were. January 21, 2011 at 12:47pm Reply

  • Victoria: Gautami, I am very happy to hear that you liked it! The fragrances can be constructed in many different ways, and I personally find this variety very exciting. January 21, 2011 at 12:50pm Reply

  • Olfactoria: My comment from this morning seems to have vanished. I just wanted to say thank you for that interesting and informative article, I will certainly refer to it many times in the future. 🙂 January 21, 2011 at 2:53pm Reply

  • Kathryn: This is the most enlightening and helpful article I’ve read about understanding perfume in a long, long time. Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and understanding with us! January 21, 2011 at 8:18pm Reply

  • Victoria: MaryAnn, thank you for your nice words, I am very glad that I could help you with your Miss Dior quest. I also am dismayed to see many fragrances disappearing from the counters. They are not usually discontinued, but their distribution becomes limited. So, I feel at times like a detective character in the Agatha Christie novel trying to search where the missing ones go. 🙂
    I wish I could have a fragrant garden! So far, I have a small one on the patio, but maybe some day I will have a real one. Your scent memories are amazing, those are such wonderful aromas: juniper, sagebrush… January 21, 2011 at 4:29pm Reply

  • Victoria: I am not sure why that would be the case. Perhaps, the spaces where you got an attack were not well ventilated? January 21, 2011 at 4:30pm Reply

  • Victoria: B, thank you, I am glad that you liked it!
    Sorry about the comment, I am not sure what happened. Maybe, Typepad ate it for breakfast. 🙂 January 21, 2011 at 4:31pm Reply

  • Victoria: That is a common response, when I am trying to push for more information to be shared–that too much information will kill the magic for consumer. Like you, I do not believe it either. I think that the more one knows about the subject, the easier one is able to choose the right perfume and the more one enjoys it. January 21, 2011 at 4:34pm Reply

  • CM_Fragrance: Awesome post. More needs to be said about the pyramids that, on top of everything else, continue to confuse counter advisors. The idea of a cheatsheet is a nice concept, especially with the volume of launches, but we can definitely do better than the dated pyramid. It also opens the doors for a much larger discussion on what fragrance is allowed to unfold and the larger etiquette-related question of where is appropriate. January 21, 2011 at 5:36pm Reply

  • Victoria: Thank you! I am glad that you mentioned the counter advisors. I feel that the pyramid does the greatest disservice to them, because it provides them with misinformation and does nothing to make their work simpler.
    We definitely can do much better than the pyramid, and I am sure that the alternative would not be too costly or difficult to implement: to start, listing fragrance accords to reflect the actual fragrance structure would be better.

    I do not remember which brand did it, but they listed their pyramid this way–top notes: rose; middle notes: rose, [other notes, I do not remember what else was in it].; base notes: dark rose, woods, musk, amber. Basically, I read it and think, ok, this is a rose fragrance, and I will smell rose through all of the phases of its development. January 21, 2011 at 7:52pm Reply

  • k-amber: Victoria,
    I can’t find the right words to express my feeling. You are GREAT and indispensable 🙂

    Kaori January 21, 2011 at 8:32pm Reply

  • dee: I love how spritzing a Demeter is an instant blast of happy! I use Gingerale over all sorts of things, because it adds a few minutes of fizzy-bliss. 🙂 On the other hand, I love a perfume with a long dry-down that lingers forever (like Black Oud on my bomber jacket–it’s been months!). January 21, 2011 at 10:12pm Reply

  • dee: V., when I got the press release for the Bond no. 9 Oud and saw that it included a MS Word document of a giant pyramid, I laughed out loud. It seemed like such a silly thing to do—but then I felt like a doofus for laughing about it. What do I know?

    Well, after reading this informative article, by someone in the know, I feel less like a doofus, and totally justified. 🙂

    BTW, my beautiful package arrived today—thank you so much! I can’t wait to review all my new treasures… January 21, 2011 at 10:17pm Reply

  • Anya: Dear V

    I have been trying to get my podcast on top/middle/base notes together for a few months now, and as I intellectualize and research there is so much more I want to add that I fear it will be a half hour in length. True, the evaporative rates expressed by Piesse and taken up by others, including Carles, are a foundation for “modern” perfumery. The experimental “panoramic” approach which you describe so well is a modern construct, helped by synthetics.

    And I am thoroughly trashing the revered percentages of t/m/b as taught by Carles and others, myself included for the basic level students. Yes, they need to learn that, and then learn real world manipulation of intensity, volume, body, etc.

    Then the concept of notes: not just in name, but volatility, is how I approach them. (Natural perfumers are mostly exempt from delving into the fantasy world of accord name silliness – no cashmere wood for us).

    On notes in the t/m/b constricts: there are some citruses that are true top notes, others top/middle. To me, tuberose is a “sustained” note, perceptible often from the beginning to the drydown, breaking through all the temporal barriers we have constructed. More to muse about as I get ready to sleep – when often the breakthroughs in conceptual realms come just as falling off, and then, waking up. January 21, 2011 at 11:29pm Reply

  • Andrea Marques: Victoria!
    That is so true. Most times I find the pyramid diagrams very misleading nowadays, since you can smell the different notes at different times or stages in the scent’s lifetime. Sometimes it’s like a spiral, sometimes it’s a cacophony of notes all over the place. and so on. Well, for me it’s like different geometric figures depending on the fragrance, and different tints and shades for the notes!
    Thank you for the post and have a brill weekend,
    a. January 22, 2011 at 7:13am Reply

  • Warum: among contemporary ones, how about Tolu by Ormonde Jayne? I tried it from two decants and thought it was very linear, but from the bottle it has the pyramid structure — fresh morning in the gadren changes into a walk in the orchid orchard and then the holiday dinner in late afternoon (and from my decants I was only familiar with that holiday dinner base). January 22, 2011 at 1:27pm Reply

  • Jay: V, so Chanel No 5 is not a pyramid, since it was created before 1930s? January 22, 2011 at 2:18pm Reply

  • Victoria: Kathryn, I am very happy that this post helps to clarify things a bit. I also feel so confused by the information that comes with the new launches, which half of the time does not even make sense. January 22, 2011 at 9:20am Reply

  • Victoria: Gosh, Kaori, thank you for your kind words. You are making me blush like a beet. 🙂 January 22, 2011 at 9:23am Reply

  • Victoria: D, you are definitely right, it is a useless piece of information. Yet, everyone is so wedded to this pyramid idea… As Elisa commented above, the evaporation of materials does follow certain rules (citrus is very volatile, musk is the least,) but the way you experience the notes and accords in the fragrance depends entirely on how it is constructed.

    I am glad that the package arrived! Enjoy! January 22, 2011 at 9:27am Reply

  • Victoria: Anya, I would love to hear your podcast, even if it is going to be long! As you see, it is a topic that very much interests me.
    Oh, citrus is a great example, and I am glad that you brought it up. Some citrus notes are definitely top notes (lemon comes to mind,) while others have a longer lasting drydown note (mandarin and some citrus synthetics.) So, I agree with you that even lumping all citruses at the top portion of the pyramid is not quite correct. January 22, 2011 at 9:29am Reply

  • Victoria: “it’s like different geometric figures depending on the fragrance, and different tints and shades for the notes.” I love this way of thinking about different perfumes, and I can relate to it. This is what makes more sense to me.
    Have a great weekend, Andrea! January 22, 2011 at 9:30am Reply

  • Jay: V, thanks so much for your detailed and thoughtful answer. Such an interesting topic this one.
    My vintage Tabu is my prized possession, but I wonder, am I the only person left on this planet who still wears Tabu? January 22, 2011 at 3:03pm Reply

    • Annie: My vintage Tabu is also one of my most cherished fragrances. May 18, 2021 at 10:49pm Reply

  • Victoria: I know, it is an instant boost for me too. Annick Goutal Neroli is another fragrance of this type for me–one spritz is enough to make me smile. January 22, 2011 at 2:01pm Reply

  • Victoria: I have not smelled Tolu in ages, I do not remember off the top of my head, but as I recall, other OJs are built in a very modern way. January 22, 2011 at 2:17pm Reply

  • Victoria: Its structure is not designed like a classical pyramid, from what I can gather studying No 5, but of course, it has a very distinctive progression of accords. Ernest Beaux also was known to study the volatilities of the raw materials and pay a great deal of attention to how accords interacted. Many of his fragrances have a very beautiful evaporation curve.

    In general, pyramid is only one of many styles of fragrance construction, that is all. To see what it is like in its classical form look at Tabu, L’Air du Temps, Ma Griffe, Canoe. This is not to say that fragrances until Jean Carles devised his method had no pyramidal structures. Not at all, but the principles behind fragrance construction were very different until he developed his new perfumery style on the basis of very careful research of fragrance volatilities. His empirical work still forms the basis of the curricula in pretty much all of the perfumery schools.

    By same token, the fragrances created now are built differently too. This is not to say that all of the modern fragrances are linear. Far from it, but their forms may just not fit the classical pyramid.

    The point of my post was not so much to put labels on this or that. For me, to tell you the truth, the structure of the fragrance is rather irrelevant, the most important thing is its message, what it conveys. Rather, I just wanted to highlight the fact that the use of the pyramid to describe ALL fragrances is not that helpful. January 22, 2011 at 2:29pm Reply

  • Victoria: Jay, you are welcome, I am glad if I could clarify my point a bit more!
    I can assure you that you are not the only person wearing Tabu! It is a legendary fragrance, and the vintage one is worth cherishing. There are few fragrances with the same bold, daring and sensual aura. January 22, 2011 at 4:53pm Reply

  • Victoria: Oh, I love these War and Peace contenders! January 22, 2011 at 5:03pm Reply

  • suzy: Victoria: over the years, I have been told many times by Sales Associates that if I touch my wrists together after applying perfume, I will “crush the notes”. I’ve always thought this sounded absurd. However, a perfume SA whom I respect recently gave me the same warning –she said that I would crush the top notes. It still sounds ridiculous to me, and completely un-scientific. Is there any truth in it? I can think of no one better to ask than you.

    Thank you,

    Suzy August 6, 2013 at 12:08pm Reply

    • Victoria: Suzy, you’re right, you can’t crush the top notes even if you wanted too. Maybe, and that’s a stretch, if you were to rub your wrist super vigorously, then you would speed up the perfume drying down (top notes are the most volatile ones as a rule). But you won’t change or ruin perfume if you touch your wrists together.

      I have no idea where the SAs learn this stuff! 🙂 August 6, 2013 at 12:18pm Reply

  • suzy: Thank you so much for confirming this!

    I wonder what advantage there could be in perpetuating such a myth. Perhaps it’s to get people to spritz more liberally so that they’ll need to repurchase sooner.

    Again, thank you. August 7, 2013 at 10:39am Reply

  • S Pasha: Thank you for such an in depth article – I have been curious about the note structure of perfumes and colognes for a while now. Over the last year, I have come up with a way to extend fragrances, although many might find this to be quite “ghetto” 😀

    I have come to drop a certain amount of “monolaurin” caps into my colognes. For whatever reason (I’m not into science), this seems to be an ideal way to enhance the length of time a fragrance will last. I suspect it is due to the antibacterial properties. However, what it seems to do is act as an additional fixative, alongside the DPG in most commercial products.

    I think this could be a great way to stop the top/middle/high notes from changing so much throughout its wear. May 8, 2014 at 10:28am Reply

  • Derrick: Greetings all,

    First of all I just wanted to say that this article is very informative and really shed some light on my – otherwise dark – path along my journey into perfumery. I first came across this article and the whole site back in 2011.

    After spending a couple of years practicing constructing my own fragrances – I have a fragrance line launching soon, by the way – in addition to smelling many different commercial fragrances, I have to agree that the fragrance pyramid – while helpful – causes widespread misinterpretation and it’s mainly because of lack of understanding on the consumer’s part.

    One main thing that people don’t realize is that when they smell a fragrance, the whole thing is smelled in unison. It may morph slightly throughout it’s duration but the whole smell is evident from the start. When people see a fragrance pyramid they automatically think they will smell the top, middle, and base accords in seperate layers at seperate times, but the truth is that all the notes interact with each other.

    Another thing that people don’t take into consideration is that while each note has it’s own aroma strength and volality, the concentration in which the notes are added will dictate it’s duration and strength. For instance, if I build a fragrance comprised of Lemon (top), Lavender (heart), and Chamomile (base), and I have Lemon concentrated lighter, of course it’s going to be more volatile. If I were to take the Lemon note and amp it up, it may still be lighter but it’s presence may last throughout the duration of the fragrance.

    Lets flip this scenario around. Lets say I were to reverse the pyramid and have Lemon as the base note. Though it’s not a traditional base note because of it’s high volality, if I make the concentration strong enough in relation to the other notes, it’s going to last longer because it’s aroma strength has been increased.

    Moving on specifically to the subject of aroma balance, let’s take an example involving a mix of Lavender and Chamomile. An unskilled perfumer may – for example – take 40 parts Lavender and 40 parts Chamomile and call it an equal blend, but this is not the case. Chamomile naturally has a stronger aroma strength than Lavender, so therefore more of the Lavender note has to be added in order to truly form a balanced accord between the two.

    All in all, the point I’m trying to get across is that the way a fragrance will smell is not dictated on the traditional pyramid, but on how it’s constructed. Aroma strength and balance is key. September 9, 2014 at 6:41pm Reply

  • Natalia: Hi! Id love to know if theres a way of knowing which fragrances take animal musk, so that i can avoid it. Can you help? Is it very common? Is synthethic musk more widely used or less?
    Thank you very much! September 21, 2014 at 8:13pm Reply

    • Victoria: Natural musk is no longer used in perfumes. It has been banned for decades. September 22, 2014 at 3:31am Reply

  • Merissa: Thanks for a fascinating read! I’ve rejected a few perfumes I’ve read about unsniffed because I can’t tolerate violet, and now I have to rethink that decision. December 16, 2014 at 5:12pm Reply

  • Phyllis Iervello: Vicoria, What a writer you are! Thank you for this most informative article. I have been collecting perfume for more decades than I wish to count, but I always learn something new from your posts. February 8, 2016 at 10:26am Reply

    • Victoria: You’re very kind, Phyllis! Glad that you liked it. February 8, 2016 at 12:45pm Reply

  • ClareObscure: What a fantastic article. Thanks Victoria. This information is so helpful. January 28, 2017 at 9:56pm Reply

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