What’s a Perfume Pyramid and Why It Can Be Ignored

I have a new video based on this oft-requested topic. What is a perfume pyramid and how much can it be trusted? I wont bury the lead and tell you that any perfume pyramid or a perfume marketing description needs to be taken with a grain of salt. A perfume is a blend of volatile fragrant components that is more than the sum of its parts. Moreover, there is a bit of confusion surrounded the concept of a perfume pyramid, because it conflates a listing of notes with a specific style of fragrance composition that became popular in the 1950s.

In my video, I also give examples of fragrances composed in both the pyramid and linear style. Needless to say, linear fragrances can be just as intricate and complex as perfumes created in the pyramid style.

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17 Comments

  • Tourmaline: Dear Victoria,

    Thank you for another fascinating and informative video and post. Would I be right in suggesting that linear fragrances might have an advantage at the perfume counter? As you get the “message” or heart of the fragrance more quickly from such a fragrance, it might be more likely to captivate someone who is sampling it alongside more pyramid-style scents, even if that person knows that they should wait for those fragrances to develop before making assessments of them. In a time when there are so many hundreds of new fragrances being developed each year, it doesn’t surprise me that they would be made in the linear fashion.

    I think it must take a lot of skill to be able to measure out sufficient quantities of different notes for them to bond tightly and exude their fragrances together in a scent.

    With kind regards,
    Tourmaline August 3, 2020 at 7:53am Reply

    • Victoria: You’re right. Linear fragrances don’t keep you guessing (too much), so when you smell them, you get the whole story. The classical pyramid-structured perfumes require much longer time to understand. That’s what makes them both beautiful and challenging. The way people shop for perfume right now is better suited to the linear-style perfumes. August 3, 2020 at 8:30am Reply

      • Elemi: Dear Victoria, thank you for this video.

        From my experience the complex but linear perfumes sometimes tend to oscillate. The story will stay the same over time, but at least my brain is not capable to process all information at once and the focus of perception changes while enjoying the composition.

        It is sometimes similar to listening to a repetitive minimalist orchestra piece, were many musical themes are woven together, played by different instrument groups. The themes seam to reconfigure themselves over time due to slightly different time signatures. Attention is shifting between instrument groups. August 4, 2020 at 8:11am Reply

  • Michele Davis: Another educational video with just the right amount of time for me to stop, listen, and reflect on how I might consider fragrances differently. Thank you for August 3, 2020 at 10:14am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much. I’m so glad that you liked it. August 3, 2020 at 12:32pm Reply

  • Diana: This is so interesting. Victoria, can you provide a few more examples of currently available perfumes that might fit into that “pyramid structured” category? I am curious to explore these distinctions. Thank you! August 3, 2020 at 10:28am Reply

    • Victoria: Classics mostly like Carven Ma Griffe, Schiaparelli Shocking, etc, but Amouage Gold is also designed like a pyramid, since it aims to replicate that style. August 3, 2020 at 12:37pm Reply

  • Peter: Mahalo nui loa for shedding some light on the complexities of perfume notes and the pyramid. I thought Tourmaline made a good point about linear fragrances being easier to sample at a Department Store. I’m going to have to test Shalimar again. I’m usually overwhelmed by the bergamot in the beginning and I wait for the vanilla to emerge. But what you’re saying is that I should get a hint of the vanilla at the start.

    Neiman Marcus recently reopened and I made a pilgrimage today. I saw an Annick Goutal Eau d’Hadrien bottle in the display case, but there was no tester. I had just watched this video and I remembered your praise for the brand. I did a blind-buy and I’m very happy, I now have a wonderful, cool, lemon citrus fragrance. August 4, 2020 at 8:25am Reply

  • Deanna: Hello Victoria,
    Thank you so much for another illuminating video.
    I just wonder how much the quality of the perfume influences our Olifactory experience.
    With any Frederick Malle perfume I think you are guaranteed an exciting journey through the various stages of the development of the perfume, even into the next day, and in the case of En Passant, it’s lingering a couple of days later! But so many perfumes are too fleeting to really experience anything. I could name a couple of Tom Ford perfumes, obviously they are not cheap either.
    So are the ingredients cheaper, or is it the design of the perfume that creates this disparity? August 5, 2020 at 2:45am Reply

  • John Luna: Thanks for this informative and engaging video… I delighted in all of the specific examples you provided. For instance, my wife wore Trésor for years in the 90’s and your description of Grojsman’s translucent, inverted pyramid really made sense (I am intimately acquainted with Trésor especially because I once broke a bottle all over myself in the sink.)

    It also led me to consider how present the pyramid structure is in some of my favourite fragrances. I love Guerlain’s Habit Rouge, and recently gifted my daughter a bottle of the lovely but curiously named Shalimar Cologne Eau de Toilette… Both feel like they go through some conspicuous evolution (especially HR), but both also feel kind of ‘translucent’, revealing hints of things to come right from the start, often with great artistry in the blending. I recognize now that I vastly prefer fragrances that noticeably evolve though the phenomenon itself surprised me when I first started wearing fragrance (Eau Sauvage’s descent into delicious dirtiness being a good example.)

    One thought I’ve had concerns the narratives implied by dramatic transitions. I have a weakness for old masculines often associated with shaving & grooming rituals, notable Caron Pour un Homme and Paco Rabanne Pour Homme… I have been wondering the the cognitive dissonance in the way these fragrances open (in both cases a bright, hygienic blast of lavender is involved) versus the way they settle into the skin (the sensual vanilla musk blend in PUH, the almost Kouros-like honeyed musks of PRPH). Do you suppose the roughness of starkness of these transitions is meant in itself to communicate some notion of masculinity? I notice too that the heart-base transitions of both of these fragrances feel fairly roughly textured, mostly owing to what seem to me like functional herbal/woody accords (rosemary/cedar in the Caron and rosemary/bay/rosewood in Paco Rabanne.) Anyway, thanks for giving me a way to think about old favourites. August 5, 2020 at 12:05pm Reply

    • Carla: I love how you describe these masculines – this is so true of Pour un Homme August 5, 2020 at 4:58pm Reply

      • John Luna: Thank you! Caron Pour un Homme has become the closest thing I have to a signature over many years…I still wear it at least four or five times a week, so I do find myself noticing a lot of little things about its evolution. It doesn’t hurt that so many great reviews (such as Victoria’s) have been written that help to reveal the richness behind its apparent simplicity. August 5, 2020 at 7:37pm Reply

    • Deanna: Hi Peter,
      You wrote previously about gifting your daughter the Shalimar Eau de toilette/ cologne. I investigated this and bought some from a discount shop, I was glad I did! It is a really lovely exuberant rendition of Shalimar, perhaps has more Bergamot giving the cologne aspect? August 6, 2020 at 3:45am Reply

      • John Luna: Well it’s funny… I actually meant to get her a sample of the original eau de cologne and ended up with this relatively new creation instead. Though I have sometimes been a bit suspicious of Wasser’s many flankers, this is very well done. As you note, a lovely bouquet of citrus opens things up (thankfully grapefruit is very restrained here) and there is a nice freesia note sweetening up the heart, but thank goodness the base is still that old Shalimar vanilla cover tolu balsam mix — it sticks to everything! We are both very happy with it. Now that the gates are opened I hope to get her to try the edp in the fall… August 6, 2020 at 4:27pm Reply

        • Deanna: Yes I agree, some of Wassers other flankers are dreary efforts, I can’t understand the appeal.
          I think Victoria said that Shalimar is best experienced in the parfum extract.
          So might have to be a 21st then! (Assuming your daughter is younger than that) August 7, 2020 at 3:46am Reply

  • Joyce: Thank you, Victoria, for this myth buster video! Reflecting on your video and people’s discussions, I think there is merit in both. For example, I love violets and rose, so a single note rose or violet perfume oil from Klein’s Perfumery (a Melbourne based store) are just heavenly. Especially for days when I want something straightforward and direct. Other days when I have time to note the nuance, L’Heure Bleue or Serge Lutens Cedre does the trick.

    Would love to hear your thoughts one day in rose and the variations, including the current trend such as rose+oud or rose+leather. August 6, 2020 at 5:14am Reply

  • Klaas: Hello Victoria, thank you for this interesting video! I do use the pyramide to form a bit of an idea about the scent involved (do the notes peak my interest?), but you are so right in saying that the only way to find out if you like something or not is to smell the fragrance. The other day a sales assistant convinced me to smell a mimosa fragrance. In general, I’m not such a fan of mimosa perfumes (I prefer to smell the real thing in spring, preferably in the Provence!), bit this one really spoke to me! So there you have it 😉

    Best regards from Amsterdam! August 6, 2020 at 5:40am Reply

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