“Just like men, perfume is never perfect right away; you have to let it seduce you,” - Jean Patou
Did you know there is a relationship between perfume and music?
Just as a musician has scales, a perfumer has fragrance notes and classifies them similarly: top notes, heart notes (or middle notes), and base notes.
It is a blend of these fragrance notes, just like a combination of musical notes, that creates something richer and more sophisticated.
So how do you define these notes? Let's look at each of them.
A top note is flirty and airy. A range of good top notes helps give a perfume a good first impression, but don’t judge too quickly. As the molecules of the top notes are lighter than the heart and base notes they are more volatile, and the first to dissipate.
Many people will argue that when you first smell a perfume, you are only smelling the top notes, followed by the heart and then base notes.
This is not true.
To understand better what really happens, take the world of cinema as an example. The first impression of a perfume is like watching a movie trailer. You immediately know the genre, the style, and who has the starring roles. You get the gist of what the film is about in a matter of seconds, and you also know whether or not you want to watch the entire movie.
Taking the analogy further, when you smell a fragrance, you are getting hit with all the notes at once — just like a movie trailer. But let the real film start rolling and the lighter notes gradually dissipate, letting the heavier ones come to the surface to tell the story. Whether the ending is satisfying or not depends upon the base notes, which can last for up to 24 hours or more.
Just because the trailer doesn't interest us, we need to listen to or watch the whole thing for us to really understand it before passing judgement.
I prefer to call the middle notes ‘heart’ notes, as they are the real character of a perfume. They are the scent that you notice once the top notes evaporate. Since they are made up of heavier molecules they last longer, and play a vital supporting role to the base notes as they develop. Middle notes bridge the gap between the top and base notes, and can even serve as modifiers, giving your fragrance an interesting twist and helping to make your scent special.
However, as they are sandwiched between the other notes, heart notes can be difficult to detect on their own. Even familiar scents such as lavender can take on an entirely different accord when used as a middle note and be tricky to distinguish. Why? Because they bounce off the top and base notes, which prevents them from having their own separate character. They become team players, rather than individual athletes.
Base notes are what you are left with once the lighter molecules have evaporated. They are heavier molecules with real staying power such as vanilla, sandalwood and patchouli. In any blend, these are the scents that linger the longest.
Be aware that if you only have one base note when creating a fragrance, you will only be left with that one lonely note long after the top and heart notes have dispersed. This is why it is crucial to have a sophisticated blend of base notes in your fragrance if you want your fragrance to remain fabulous and intriguing.
Test the theory
With a fragrance we are smelling a combination of notes, so as time goes on and the perfume develops on the skin, we perceive the scent differently. At first, we remark on the top notes, but after only a few minutes, that same perfume will have a different character and the overall aroma will have deepened.
We've all been there. Spraying a perfume on our wrists and exclaiming our immediate love for it, only for it to become nauseating later. Or maybe you have smelt a new perfume and had no interest in it, yet hours later it has seduced you.
Get out your favorite perfume, set a timer, and see for yourself. Spray some perfume on a scent strip and write down your first impressions. Smell the same strip after five minutes, then again after twenty minutes and finally after one hour. Does your impression change as the top and heart notes begin to fade and you experience the 'dry-down'?
This is an excellent reason to not buy a scent on impulse. Take a look at our scent buying guide on how to buy a new perfume for more top tips to choosing a new fragrance.
How much of each note should you use in your scent blend?
Jean Carles, a world-class inspirational perfumer and educator, created a revolutionary method in which he determined the following proportions in a composition: 25% top notes, 25% heart notes, 50% base notes
However, other perfumers state that your scent should consist of 30-40% top notes, 20-50% heart notes, 10-30% base notes.
It’s time to start experimenting to see which proportions work best for you. It all depends on the type of perfume that you want to produce and your personal style.
Use this simple tip for perfume making at home:
If you want a heavier scent then concentrate more on oils that have heavier molecules, so floral absolutes from the heart note range and more base notes.
If you want a lighter scent then concentrate on adding more top notes and lighter heart notes such as floral essential oils and isolates.
Read more about absolutes and essential oils on our blog here.
Understand more about scent intensities on our blog post here.
ENROL ONTO THE FRAGRANCE 101 MASTERCLASS TO LEARN MORE!