Fragrance Friday: Ten Common Perfume Notes and What They Smell Like

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Reading the back of any perfume box is enough to make me feel dim- I don't know about you but I rarely have a clue about what the all of the different notes and nuances are supposed to smell like. Perfumes are rather complex little concoctions, but in a bid to crack the code a bit I thought I'd do some research (if it makes me feel a bit less thick next time I'm buying a new scent that's always a bonus right?) Starting from the very beginning I've been looking into what some of the individual notes smell like- you know the funny sounding ingredients that make you scratch your head and wonder 'what the hell is that?' Of course we all know what vanilla, musk and common fruits smell like- but how about some of the less obvious? 

It smells: citrus, sweet, fruity, fresh
A bergamot is a small citrus fruit- something of a hybrid between an orange, lemon and a grapefruit. Judging from this you can probably get a good idea about what it smells like. While it sounds tasty enough it's not an edible fruit, in perfumery it's used for the essential oils which are extracted from the ripe peel. Popular perfumes that contain bergamot are Paco Rabanne's Lady Million and Chanel Coco Mademoiselle.

It smells: creamy/buttery, floral, earthy
Tuberose is no botanical relation to roses, in fact it's related to lillies and gets it's name from it's tuberous roots. Weirdly, ripe tuberose is said to smell like rotten/off meat- although when used in fragrances it smells creamy, floral and earthy. Popular perfumes containing tuberose include Dior J'adore and Gucci Flora.

It smells: musky, warm, animalistic, 
Brace yourselves for this one as it's pretty grim. Civet is actually a pungent byproduct from the anal glands of the exotic civet cat. Yep, you read that right. In it's raw form has a very fecal scent to it (obviously...yuck) but diluted and used in small amounts it apparently gives a warmth and radiance to floral notes. Thankfully the civet in most modern perfumes is now 'civetone', a synthetic replacement. Popular perfumes containing civet include Chanel No5 and Calvin Klein's Obsession.

It smells: sweet,  floral, aromatic, earthy
Patchouli is one perfume note that I did actually know before writing this, as it's something I really love in perfume. It's a warm, aromatic and slightly spicy scent, often used in mens fragrance but can be beautiful in womens perfume too. Popular perfumes containing Patchouli include Jimmy Choo EDP and Miss Dior Cherie.
Pink Pepper
It smells: rose, floral, fruity, spicy
Pink pepper is a pepper berry, which oddly smells like roses. Pink pepper is used in perfumes that want to add a rose scent without being powdery or old fashioned. Pink peppercorns come from a different plant than other varieties of pepper, and while they're slightly spicy they're less harsh and more fruity/floral. Popular perfumes containing pink pepper include Gucci's Guilty and Diesel Fuel for Life Femme.
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It smells: fresh, green, earthy, smokey
Vetiver is a type of grass related to lemongrass and citronella and so has a fresh grassy 'green' scent (think crushed leaves). In perfume it gives an earthy, woody depth to the scent, and blends well with citrus notes. Popular perfumes containing vetiver include Armani Diamonds and Chanel Chance.


It smells: sweet, vanilla, earthy, warm, woody
Amber is the fossilised resin from extinct coniferous trees. It's typically synthesised using a mixture of different balsams, one of which being vanilla (which explains it's vanilla-y sweetness). Amber is an oriental note, although it's use in perfume is widespread. Popular perfumes containing amber include Thierry Mugler's Alien and Juicy Couture Viva La Juicy.

It smells: floral, sweet, green/fresh
Jasmines are a group of shrubs which are grown for their fragrant flowers and essential oils. People describe jasmine as rich, exotic and sweet, and tends to be more fresh and green smelling when recreated in the lab. Popular perfumes containing Jasmine include Marc Jacobs Daisy and Viktor and Rolf Flowerbomb

It smells: leathery, musky, woody
Since researching this it makes sense that suede is a 'leather' kind of smell, but whenever I've seen suede as  note in perfume I've been like 'well what does that smell like?' Popular perfumes containing suede include Jo Malone's Peony and Blush Suede and Donna Karan by Donna Karan.

Tonka Bean
It smells: sweet, vanilla, aromatic
Tonka beans are funny looking wrinkly black seeds which come from the 'dipteryx odorata'- which to us common folk is a flowering tree in the pea family. The scent is something of a mix of vanilla, new mown hay and almond with the slight aromatic edge of cinnamon or cloves. In perfume tonka beans add a vanillic, powdery sweetness. Popular perfumes containing tonka bean include Marc Jacobs Oh Lola and Armani Code

Have you ever wondered what different notes in perfume smell like before? I hope this was helpful!


  1. Ahh this is such a helpful post, I never have a clue what different notes in perfumes are supposed to smell like! Thanks for sharing <3

    Jess xo

  2. Great informative post, it sounds like I would love jasmine and tonka bean as the perfumes that contain them are my favourites!

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  4. I can never imagine how the perfume smells like when I only can read what notes are in it.

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