Character : Perfume Lexicon & Fragrance Language

Perfume is a blend of different materials that is more than just a sum of its parts; it is a composition with its own unique character. Character in a fragrance means the impression that a perfume creates: vibrant and uplifting like citrus colognes or opulent and seductive like oriental fragrances with rich notes of vanilla, musk and spices. Each perfume is like a person– the character it possesses is created by its specific traits, which in the case of a scented blend is determined by materials and their proportions. In the same vein, just like some people have stronger characters than others, fragrances differ in terms of their distinction and individuality.

In judging the uniqueness of a perfume, character tends to be the first parameter a professional evaluator considers. A strong character does not necessarily mean that a fragrance is rich and heavy. Compositions like ethereal Christian Dior Eau Sauvage and sumptuous Thierry Mugler Angel have equally strong characters–they are easy to remember and tell apart from other perfumes.

While a distinctive character is a necessary trait for a memorable perfume, it is not always a given that fragrance companies want to launch a product with a lot of character, or with a character that is unusual and surprising.  Presenting a fragrance that explores more familiar territory or is similar to a current best-seller is a safe short-term technique of generating sales. These tactics do not generate classics and are the reason consumers complain that all fragrances on the market smell the same–many new launches simply lack character.

From the perspective of a perfume wearer, understanding the concept of fragrance character helps when you want to find a distinctive blend. Do you remember a perfume after smelling it on a blotter or your skin? Does it evoke a particular image or an association in your mind? Does the perfume seem interesting for the first 15 to 30 minutes before becoming bland and nondescript? Also, in order to get an idea of perfumes with plenty of character, it is often useful to smell the celebrated classics. Time has a great capacity to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Photography by VeraKL



  • Ann C.: Thank you for this explanation, Victoria. The education you provide here helps me to understand critical reviews better, and I hope will help me spend my perfume dollars more carefully. That’s even more important to me now since I’m moving beyond the first stages of perfume mania, and now want to pare my collection and make more considered purchases in the future. At least that’s my goal. 🙂

    Happy Holidays! December 22, 2011 at 6:54am Reply

  • sweetlife: “Perfumes are like people”–oh I love this. And am now imagining the counters filled with a thousand forgettable sweet blonde things. December 22, 2011 at 9:40am Reply

  • Annemarie: Shalimar was the first fragrance that did not just smell okay or not okay but really evoked images, associations and memories in me. I read about it, tried it (know your classics) and did not expect to like it. But I was so surprised! I liked the smell (although not all parts of it) but I loved the way it made me feel and the memories it evoked. Since then I know there are fragrances that smell nice and there are fragrances that move me or really do something to me in a very personal way (and they don’t necessarily smell nice). December 22, 2011 at 10:23am Reply

  • Victoria: Ann, I am so happy to hear that this is helpful. One reads these terms often in fragrance descriptions and reviews, and I thought that it would be great to explain them.
    Your goal sounds great! Having a big collection can be like having an overstuffed closet–“but I have nothing to wear!” At least, I find this to be the case, if I do not organize my perfume collection in some way. Very frustrating. December 22, 2011 at 9:09am Reply

  • Victoria: Let’s hope for more renegades in 2012! 🙂 December 22, 2011 at 10:32am Reply

  • Victoria: Great story! I felt this way when I first smelled Guerlain Apres L’Ondee. Like you, I did not love all of its parts from the first inhale, but it really moved me. It was not just a nice smell, but a whole experience. I can only describe it as magical. December 22, 2011 at 10:33am Reply

  • Rose D: “consumers complain that all fragrances on the market smell the same”… Funny! I reminded me of my holiday perfume shoppoing last week. The sales lady showed me dozens of Moschinos, Versaces, and some others I have alreay forgotten about. Smelling the blotters, I could not even tell which one it was. The only one that stood out a bit more was Versace Vanitas. Maybe I will give it a try if I find a smaller, less expensive bottle. December 23, 2011 at 3:23pm Reply

  • silverdust: The first women’s fragrance to corner my personal market in terms of character had to be Rive Gauche. The first whiff was the olfactory equivalent of looking into a kaleidoscope. The original No. 19 was almost the same feeling. The men’s fragrance was the original Polo.

    The characters of these fragrances, for me at least, are the Rita Hayworths and Cary Grant in the perfume world. December 23, 2011 at 7:01pm Reply

  • Victoria: Sounds like my own recent experience! I forgot to mark the blotters and could distinguish them–as if I smelled the same perfume on all of them. December 23, 2011 at 4:59pm Reply

  • Victoria: I love this comparison! I completely agree, their characters are excellent–original, distinctive and memorable. December 26, 2011 at 1:06pm Reply

  • Hana: I love the image. It instantly reminded me of Terre d’Hermes Parfum. This image is the perfect visualisation of how it smells on me, something like its visual character. Beautiful. January 20, 2012 at 7:18am Reply

  • Victoria: Hana, I will let Vera know. She will be so pleased! January 20, 2012 at 9:32am Reply

  • Prema Ganesh: Thanks for this explanation of “Character in a Perfume”. It resonates with my thought process of how to evaluate a perfume or fragrance.

    A fragrance has to have a connect and an imagery associated with it whenever you smell it.

    Most times customers are happy having a “Me Too” product since it is a tried and tested one and they do not have the time and money to experiment in the market. February 1, 2018 at 11:46pm Reply

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