Perfume 101: Notes & Accords
The “notes” of a perfume don’t always directly translate to the ingredients used to make it. For instance, if you saw Stemone included in a list of fragrance notes, you’d probably be very confused. Stemone is a perfume ingredient used to recreate the smell of figs. Most people know what figs are.
Accords can also be notes, but they’re made out of more ingredients. Lily of the valley is a classic floral accord, which became popular in the early 20th century after the synthesis of Hydroxycitronellal. Despite its intense fragrance, lily of the valley, or muguet as the French call it, is what’s known as a “mute” flower. It’s not possible to extract essence from it. Its scent is actually made within its little bells by molecules combining within that little space.
Aroma-chemicals began being used in perfumery in the latter half of the 19th century and allowed for perfumers to wax lyrical when it came to notes. Modern perfumery as we know it today began with the scent of a “fern”, and ferns don’t even have a smell of their own!
“It was the chemistry of perfume that allowed the artisans of perfumery, towards the end of the nineteenth century, to become artists by freeing themselves from the constraints of nature.”Jean-Claude Ellena
Note pyramids are sort of like little maps designed to help guide you through the perfume you’re smelling. On Hoohaa, we’ve highlighted the key notes you’ll smell in each perfume in bold. Think of the rest as the supporting cast. You might not always notice them. Sometimes they just pop in for a quick cameo to highlight a particular trait of the stars of the show.
Perfumery borrows a lot of terminology from music - notes, accords, pitch, tone and harmony are all words used to describe smells. In fact, most language used to describe odours is borrowed from other sensory realms because we have such a limited amount of language specific to smells.
However the best way to experience a perfume is as a whole. The thing about fragrance is everyone is always curious about what they’re smelling. They want to know how it works and can take an overly analytical approach attempting to dissect the perfume as it develops.
When you see the colour purple, you don’t say, “what a lovely combination of red and blue.” You appreciate the purple. Approach appreciating perfume in exactly the same way.