While giving everything a label in 2021 feels somewhat limiting and trite, the fragrance industry is one glowing exception: While they migrate away from gender-specific scents, there is still comfort in categorizing scents into fragrance ‘families’. These families help convey to consumers what each scent will evoke. If you want to give the impression of mystery on date night, then look for these specific notes. But if you’re looking for an office-appropriate scent that wears well year-round, consider instead these other kinds of notes. And so forth.
There’s such a thing called the Fragrance Wheel, developed by Australian Michael Edwards in the 1980s, and it sorts all scents into mood-specific families. From woody to spicy to aromatic, this wheel plays to the multitudes contained in each of us, which underscores why we should each have more than one fragrance at the ready. (One that warms in winter or casts a spell on date night, one that feels as crisp and refreshing as a summer day...and so forth.)
And speaking of those summer notes: It’s easy to chop the wheel in half and pull focus on the families that wear best in warm weather. These families evoke everything from a day at sea to a field of lavender, or a forest bath. Have a wander through the six most common summer scent families before, and let them point you in the direction of a new favorite fragrance.
Aquatic: Aquatic notes take your senses sailing. They bottle that salty, fresh “marine essence”, and cast an optimistic, infinity-embracing radius. (Just imagine how limitless everything feels when you look out over a sprawling body of water, and how refreshing it is to catch some of the sea spray on your face.) Aquatic fragrances might have fruity, fresh, citrus, or even woody notes, but always as supporting cast. These peripheral notes can take from a country stream to a day at the docks, or bundled up on your beach rental while listening to the rain.
Aromatic: Like an aquatic fragrance, aromatic ones are all about essence: Think of the freshest, most invigorating gulp of air you can have, perhaps just before a big rainfall. In perfumery, these ozonic notes are typically punctuated with uplifting herbs—sage, rosemary, lavender, thyme—and might have a dash of citrus, green, floral, powder, or musk to give it dimension. While aromatic scents may not be as obvious for those languid summer afternoons, they perfectly encapsulate the endless sunsets, the quiet sunrise, and the Indian summers. You’ll often hear them referred to as ‘fresh’ notes, too.
Citrus: If you aren’t familiar with bergamot already, then the citrus fragrance family will change that. It’s one of the core notes in this collection, alongside other main squeezes like lemon, mandarin, citron, grapefruit, and more. From bitter to sweet to zesty to crisp, citrus fragrances transport you to the Meditteranean coast (no, really, most of them aim to do exactly that, especially when bergamot is in play). One thing they are not is sour since citrus notes always boost the mood and feel as refreshing as those lingering particles from a fresh-squeezed lemon. You’ll find citrus notes at the top/entrance of many fragrances (even those that wear best in winter), but the citrus-centric ones maintain their lightness all day long.
Green: Green scents toe the line between woody and aromatic. To best understand them, imagine yourself walking through a mossy, damp forest, or freshly mown grass. These fragrances play more to the green parts of the environment, like the leaves, the pine needles, the grass—though vetiver grass, a common ingredient, is more woody than green in essence. Green scents have lots of gray areas, since mossy notes qualify for what’s called a “chypre” categorization, while fern-like notes fit the “Fougere” bill, but in the big picture, there’s plenty of room under the big green umbrella. They might feel more spring-like in nature, as opposed to a purely summer-slanted scent, but greens are also one of the best families for perennial wear, given the large, evergreen net they cast.
Floral: Take a wild guess at the bouquet of notes you’ll find in this family. While most fragrances utilize some floral component for their top or middle notes—to provide some sort of refreshing, heart-warming balance—the floral-forward scents provide an all-day bloom. And they’re much more unisex than they get credit for; it’s a matter of the other notes in play. But by and large, notes of lily, jasmine, rose, and ylang-ylang makes for masterful centerpieces, even for the tough guy who wants to match his fragrance to summer’s simmer.
Fruity: You know the sweetness of fresh pineapple or peach, or that first bite into an apple, plum, or fig. These are at the core of fruity fragrances, which specifically do not include citrus fruits (they’re in a family of their own, outlined above). Of the pack here, fruity scents are probably the most locked into summer, while others play better in multiple seasons, if not year-round. But fruity scents also give the wearer a sweetness of their own, which might be appreciated at the height of winter, too, when the grocery store is starved for anything ripe and fresh.