Perfumer John Stephen gives advice on how to choose a perfume.

There is a bewildering range of fragrances today, and finding one you like can be long process. There are however some very good tips on how to narrow down the choice.

First of all, let me ask you a question - How do you choose music? Do you go into a shop and ask for recommendations? Probably not, because the chances are that you have already narrowed down the range in your head before you even walk in the door. That is because you have a framework with which to understand music - you know already know the difference between Pop, Classical, Jazz etc.

Classifications also exist in Perfumery. The problem is that we are not taught these at school, and not shown them at most perfume counters. For those who work in Perfumery, it is essential to understand the classifications, and I always cover this on my courses - along with the correct use of vocabulary - but for users of perfume it is also extremely helpful because it provides the initial narrowing down of choice.

Many people have attempted to classify perfumes into groups, to create Genealogies or family trees - of perfumes. Some have been more successful than others, but in my opinion, the best is by Michael Edwards which you can Google if you are interested, but below I will give you the bare minimum with which to understand the groups. This knowledge is the first step to understanding fragrance types.

harmonization chart

Good Match

good match

Bad Match

bad match


Green Notes

Green is a colour but you have to imagine it is also a smell. There simply aren't enough words in the English vocabulary to describe odours and we often have to pinch them from other senses. Cucumber is a typical green smell. So is new mown grass. They tend to be quite clean, modern, fresh smelling fragrances. If you are keen on natural fragrances, it's worth remembering that there are very few natural green notes. It doesn't mean they are "bad" or "harmful" in any way - just not natural - if that's important to you.

We don't do a green fragrance but commercial fragrances include Givenchy III, Vent Vert etc.


Fairly self explanatory. Some depict particular flowers like Jasmin or Rose. Others are combinations of many floral notes which are called fantasy notes. Our fragrances in this group are English Rose, Ruby, Muguet and Pallas. We also have three single floral fragrances designed to be used simply as fresheners. These are Lavandula, Neroli and Rosa.

Commercial fragrances include Diorissimo (Lily of the Valley), Joy (Jasmin/Rose complex) and Anais Anais (generally floral).


Aldehydes are a group of chemicals that were developed around about the turn of the last century. They have a very powerful, bitter, fatty, somewhat waxy type odour. In fact they are not particularly pleasant on their own, but when blended with other ingredients they produce a very unusual twist - the addition of less than 1% will have a considerable effect on a perfume giving it a distinctive "metallic" note. They were first used by a Russian called Ernest Beaux who made a perfume called Chanel No.5. Apparently it was quite successful!

One piece of advice however if you like these fragrances, Aldehydes are inherently unstable and will oxidise to their respective acids if exposed to the air. The less liquid left in the bottle, the more air there is and this will change the fragrance dramatically. So if you like these fragrances, buy them from a shop with a big turnover to ensure they are fresh, choose small quantities, use them up quickly and store them in a cool dark place - ideally in the fridge!

Our fragrance in this group is Viva. Commercial brands include Arpege, Je Reviens and Mme Rochas.


Chypre is the French for Cyprus and comes from when the Crusader's invaded in the 13th century and brought back a material called labdanum from the sticky buds of the Cistus bush. It has a heavy, sweet, balsamic type of odour but when blended with other base notes like sandalwood, patchouli and oakmoss, made a very popular base. You need to allow at least 10-15 minutes after application to appreciate the similarity between perfumes in this group, since "Chypre" describes the "main-theme" or "base" of the perfume which you will not appreciate until the solvent and top notes have had time to evaporate.

Chypre perfumes tend to be fairly heavy fragrances and therefore last a reasonable time on the skin. Sometimes described as evening type perfumes, or "sophisticated". Our fragrances in this group are Cymbelline and Amber. Commercial brands include Ma Griffe, Miss Dior and Cabochard.


These are the heaviest and longest lasting fragrances of all. They contain very heavy ingredients like tree exudations. Frankincense and Myrrh are two well known examples. They are thick sticky liquids which evaporate very slowly and as you can imagine, they have the same effect on a perfume making it very long lasting, if a little 'heady'.

But perfumery, like anything else, is a compromise - you can't have fragrances that are light and delicate on the one hand and last for ever on the other. So if you prefer lighter fragrances you simply have to put up with the fact that you are going to have to apply them more frequently.


One of the most popular group for men's fragrances, fougère is another French word which means 'fern'. Confusingly they don't contain fern and they don't smell like fern! The term was coined by Paul Parquet - the chief perfumer for Houbigant in 1882. He blended together oakmoss and lavender because he thought they blended well (which they do) and he called it fern.

Our fragrance in this group is Oberon.