A guide to fragrance families


Every perfume and fragrance is different. However, many of them share common traits. Each fragrance can be put into a fragrance family, grouping it with many other similar fragrances.

If a fragrance has mainly a scent of fresh notes, plus weaker scents of woody and citrus notes, we could say that this fragrance is Fresh, but with citrus and woody undertones. The dominant part is normally the heart of the fragrance.

Male fragrances can be divided into several different families. The amount of different families there are, depends on what you read. Commonly there are Four main groups (Citrus, Fougere, Oriental and Chypre), which are then divided into sub groups.

Feminine fragrances have extra floral categories, and do not feature so many of the Fougere style fragrances, so popular in men's perfumery.

When a new fragrance is launched, the marketing department will often claim that the new fragrance is so unique that is doesn't fit into the normal family grouping and will state that the fragrance has formed a new family subdivision, such as Sunny-woody-futuristic-water or something. Although most of the time it will just be a plain old fougere.

The common fragrance family groups are listed below:


(pronounced 'foo-jer')

Fougere fragrances are one of the most popular men's families. These will often contain Lavender and Oakmoss.

The term 'Fougere' is French for 'fern' but fern's don't actually smell like this. The name derives from a now discontinued fragrance by Houbigant called Fougere Royale (Royal Fern) which was the first fougere fragrance.
Examples include:

Masculine: Polo Sport by Ralph Lauren, Platinum Egoiste by Chanel, Cool Water by Davidoff, Jazz by YSL, Paco Rabanne pour homme.


The majority of feminine fragrances are floral. Some are a bouquet of different flowers, with each individual flower complementing the others; some use one main flower and complement it with other notes and accords; others are very simple and can just be the scent of a flower alone. (This are called single-note scents)

While in the past, floral scent has been considered as very masculine. Nowadays, especially in the west, these are slightly less popular as a men's category.

Examples include:

Masculine: Agua Lavanda by Puig, Insensé by Givenchy

Feminine: Chanel No 19, Anaïs Anaïs by Cacharel, L'Air du Temps by Nina Ricci, Charlie by Revlon


Oriental fragrances are common in both male and female fragrances. They are often warm, spicy and sweet and contain ingredients such as Vanilla and Tonka bean. Sandalwood is also very common in these fragrances

Examples include:

Masculine: Obsession for Men by Calvin Klein, Joop! Homme by Joop!, Le Male by Jean Paul Gaultier, Equipage by Hermes, Egoiste by Chanel

Feminine: Jean Paul Gaultier "Classique", Angel, Opium by Yves Saint Laurent


(pronounced 'sheep-r')

A Chypre fragrance contains woody, mossy and floral notes. Often will contain Oakmoss, Sandalwood, Patchouli Bergamot and Vetiver. This was named after a feminine fragrance by Coty called 'Chypre' in 1917. The name 'Chypre' is French for Cyprus, which is where many of the notes that make up this fragrance could be found.

Examples include:

Masculine: Givenchy Gentleman, Fendi Uomo, Vetiver by Guerlain, Aramis, Van Cleef and Arpels, Quorum by Puig, Antaeus by Chanel, 212 Men by Carolina Herrera.

Feminine: Cuir de Russe by Chanel, Mitsouko by Guerlain, Chypre de Coty.


The Marine fragrance family is relatively new and is used to describe scents that evoke a feeling of the sea air. An ingredient called calone is used to give the marine scent.

Examples include:

Masculine: Kenzo Pour Homme, L'Eau D'Issey pour Homme by Issey Miyake, New West for Him by Aramis

Feminine: Escape by Calvin Klein, Inis by Fragrances of Ireland, Aquawoman by Rochas.


The earliest colognes were in the citrus family and citrus fragrances are still popular today. Fresh and invigorating!

Examples include:

Masculine: Eau Sauvage by Dior, 1881 by Cerruti, D&G Masculine by Dolce & Gabbana, Happy by Clinique.

Feminine: Cristalle by Chanel, Green Tea by Elizabeth Arden, Diorella by Christian Dior.


Why doesn't Basenotes list fragrances with family information?​

Firstly, because fragrance families are quite subjective. Some people may say a fragrance is a chypre, another person may say a fragrance is fougere. We think this is too confusing!

Secondly, this site is run by volunteers and we now list over 6000 fragrances, past and present. There is no way we can possibly sniff every new fragrance release, let alone the many fragrances already on the market.

We recommend that if you are interested in fragrance families, to buy a copy of Michael Edwards' Fragrances of the World or track down a copy version of Haarmann & Reimer's Fragrance Genealogy charts.

Michael Edwards: The Fragrance Advisor​

In the eighties, a European named Michael Edwards invented a completely new way of describing fragrances. Drawing on his experience as Halston's international fragrance director, he published a guide that took the hassle out of selecting a new fragrance. What started as a simple yet innovative reference for staff in perfumeries and department stores has evolved into the world's most comprehensive fragrance manual. Fragrances of the World 2001 classifies more than 2,600 female and male fragrances.

Michael Edwards divides the fragrances up into 11 parts of a circle, with a final category (fougère) in the centre of the circle. These are placed in the centre as they have a universal appeal.

The families around the wheel are: Floral, Soft Floral, Floral Oriental, Oriental, Soft Oriental, Woody Oriental, Mossy Woods, Dry Woods, Citrus, Green and Water, with Fougere in the centre. Although male fragrances feature in all of the categories, they mainly appear in Fougere, Woody Oriental, Mossy Woods, Dry Woods and Citrus sections.

Each of Michael Edwards' families are then divided into four sections, ranging from Fresh to Rich, depending on how light or deep the fragrance is.

You can spend hours looking at all the fragrances in these books and I advise anyone interested in fragrances in the slightest to go and buy a copy.

The Fragrance Wheel is copyright 1992-2006 Michael Edwards. Reproduced with kind permission

About the author
Grant is the founder and owner of Basenotes and lives by the sea.

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