Single Note Perfumes

Simple is rarely a compliment when applied to perfumes. Fragrances compared to symphonies or classic multi-volume novels are thought to be superior. Yet, as any perfumer knows, creating a simple composition is complicated. When the palette is reduced to a few key elements, the selection of each material becomes critical. It is even more difficult to create a fragrance that evokes a single impression, that of a flower, a root, or a leaf.

Composing a perfume that smells realistically of a flower, say, a rose, is part of the challenge, but it’s not the biggest one. The more elusive goal is how to suggest a story and give it character. The purpose of a perfume is not to replicate nature, but to weave a fantasy. All of us have our own idea about how a rose smells, and a successful rose perfume will not try to compete with a summer garden. Instead, it will evoke its own universe.

In my new FT How to Spend It article, Standout scents based around a single note, I write about fragrances that smell complex, even though they are based around a single note.

In Chanel’s Sycomore the standout note is vetiver, the essence distilled from the fragrant roots of an Indian grass. So complex is its aroma that it can be made easily into a perfume; it suffices to highlight the grapefruit bitterness in the top notes and prolong the musky warmth of the drydown. To continue reading, please click here.

I’ve selected my favorite examples, but I would love to hear which solinote perfumes you like.

Photography by Bois de Jasmin



  • Debi Sen Gupta: I love the way you describe perfumes. Its almost poetry December 20, 2019 at 10:17am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much! 🙂 December 21, 2019 at 8:34pm Reply

  • Mai: I tend to gravitate towards complex, multi-faceted scents that highlight many notes, but there’s also beauty in a well-composed “simple” solinote. In that style, I like Aerin Lilac Path, Guerlain Aqua Allegoria Herba Fresca, and Hermes Eau de Rhubarb Ecarlate… as well as Gucci Bloom. Jo Malone has an interesting take on a full- bloom bouquet in their Red Roses cologne, but I find it a tad too strong.

    The “almost solinote” Prada Infusion line is also very nice! December 20, 2019 at 4:31pm Reply

    • rickyrebarco: I, too, enjoy the more soliflore Pradas. I like Infusion de Iris best and also Infusion de Mimosa. I also like lilac centered fragrances like Malle’s En Passant and Puredistance Opardu. December 20, 2019 at 5:09pm Reply

      • Victoria: En Passant is one of my favorites. December 21, 2019 at 8:37pm Reply

    • Victoria: I agree about the Infusion line. They’re usually focused on single notes, and they’re really well-done. December 21, 2019 at 8:34pm Reply

  • Klaas: I love solinote fragrances. Elena excells at them, like you mentioned in your article. Rose Ikebana is a great example, but there are many more great ones he created for Hermes.

    Lavender is a favorite note of mine (A Taste of Heaven – By Kilian), but so is vetiver (Sycomore, indeed!), neroli (Hermes Eau de Neroli Doré or De Nicolai Cap Neroli) or even jasmine (Grandiflore Madagascar Jasmine). I prefer to wear those ‘uncomplicated’ fragrences than rhapsodic chypres or orientals. Though there always is a time for everything……especialy with perfume 😉 December 20, 2019 at 6:19pm Reply

    • Victoria: And perfume takes its own time, without you having to do much, other than follow its story! December 21, 2019 at 8:35pm Reply

  • Aurora: I agree completely that a soliflore should offer a beyond flower effect. For mimosa like in the photo I really enjoy l’Occitane Fleur d’Or & acacia, for rose there are several Les Parfums de Rosine I really like but my favorite is Majalis a sultry rose which offers more than rose, my favorite jasmine is Donna Karan Essence jasmine, poised between fresh jasmine and indolic jasmine. December 20, 2019 at 6:40pm Reply

    • Victoria: Donna Karan Essences were lovely, weren’t they. December 21, 2019 at 8:36pm Reply

  • OnWingsofSaffron: Ah, mimosas! I’m just back from the flower shop where I bought deep red amaryllis and fir branches for Christmas. Yet, they’re already selling bunches of mimosa now. For me they’re post-Christmas, more into Easter—but oh my, that mesmerizing scent!! December 21, 2019 at 6:14am Reply

    • Victoria: It’s one of my favorite flowers. That’s the only thing I miss right now, being in Asia. December 21, 2019 at 8:36pm Reply

  • Nancy Chan: I second Aurora’s choice for mimosa. Unfortunately, L’Occitane has discontinued Fleur d’Or & Acacia. I also like L’ Artisan Perfumeur Mimosa Pour Moi. December 21, 2019 at 11:10am Reply

    • Victoria: I like Mimosa Pour Moi too. A bit too fleeting, but so good! December 21, 2019 at 8:37pm Reply

    • Aurora: Nancy: so glad you like Fd’O&A too, l’Occitane discontinue so quickly some of their scents even the most wonderful ones, I have my mostly full bottle now but one day it will be empty 🙁 December 22, 2019 at 2:42am Reply

      • Nancy Chan: That is what I find so annoying, discontinued lines. L’Occitane had a wonderful Grasse range a few years ago. The soaps are absolutely fantastic, moisturising and so strongly scented.

        L’Occitane recently reissued their perfume classics, Ambre and a few others for only a short time. Now it seems they have sold out. I suppose L’Occitane is always introducing new lines to keep things interesting. December 22, 2019 at 10:36am Reply

  • Mai: Infusion d’Iris is my favourite in the line, too! Mimosa is also very pretty. December 21, 2019 at 3:21pm Reply

    • Victoria: And quite versatile too. December 21, 2019 at 8:37pm Reply

  • Aurora: Oh you like the essences too, the quality was exceptional too soon gone, really. I also have Wenge which is supposed to be like the drydown of Black Cashmere, it reminds me a little bit of Parfum Sacre too. December 22, 2019 at 2:46am Reply

  • Silvermoon: I enjoy both single note and more complex compositions, depending on my mood. In the case of single notes, I certainly prefer florals to any other category (e.g. woods). A soliflor makes me focus on the smell of the natural flower in my mind and then juxtapose this on how the perfume creator tells his/her story of that flower. Somehow this “exercise” is both intellectually and emotionally satisfying. December 22, 2019 at 5:38am Reply

  • Tami: Given my allergies and tendency toward migraines, I am generally drawn towards “simple” or single-note perfumes. They’re less overwhelming to me—which means I can *enjoy* wearing them (i.e. not get a migraine or stuffy head) for longer periods of time.

    Not to say I don’t love some sophisticated perfumes that really knock you over the head! But I can’t wear them too frequently. December 24, 2019 at 11:45pm Reply

    • Ema: I feel the same towards certain scents. They can be very overwhelming. Have you ever tried Allure -Eau de Toilette ? (not the eau de parfum, they are so different in my opinion). Ilove it because to me it feels sophisticated but still fresh and not overwhelming… December 27, 2019 at 3:19pm Reply

      • Tami: Hi, Ema! I have, but it’s been a very long time. Thanks for the recommendation; I’ll seek it out next time I’m at a perfume counter! December 27, 2019 at 11:24pm Reply

  • Ema: I used to love Alien by Thierry Mugler. I wore it on my wedding day. I also love and use Chanel Allure Eau de Toilette since almost 10 years. Any suggestions on fragrances similar to these two please? December 27, 2019 at 3:12pm Reply

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