#11

Super Moderator
San Diego, Cal., USA
Another interesting read, John.
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#12

Super Moderator
San Diego, Cal., USA
I have to add, John, that these terms are ones I have certainly heard and think I have a vague knowledge of their meanings.  These posts are great for broadening what I have heard and help me appreciate my EdTs and colognes that much more so thanks again for doing this.
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#13

Vintage Shaver
Seattle, WA
(04-14-2016, 04:39 PM)Freddy Wrote: I have to add, John, that these terms are ones I have certainly heard and think I have a vague knowledge of their meanings.  These posts are great for broadening what I have heard and help me appreciate my EdTs and colognes that much more so thanks again for doing this.

You're welcome, Freddy. I have always enjoyed doing research, for some reason, so it's fun for me to do this. And I too have had just vague concepts about some of the terms, and clarifying those is adding to my overall shaving experience.
John
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#14

Vintage Shaver
Seattle, WA
"Notes" and the Pyramid Scheme

Often seen in a description of a fragrance is a list of "notes" that it contains, frequently arranged in pyramid form with top, middle, and base notes separated into groups. Sometimes a note refers to an actual discrete ingredient such as rose or orange blossom, but other times it is more loosely used to represent an interaction of two or more factors, and “accord” would be more accurate. This pyramid description provides a useful way to envision a fragrance as it would develop after application. Since fragrant materials differ in their volatility, the olfactory impression of the fragrance changes as it dries down on the skin. So theoretically, first one would smell the most volatile notes, such as citrus and fruit; then the florals would be smelled; and finally one would detect the least volatile musks and woods. However, the fragrance pyramid mostly applies to perfumes created between the 1930s and 1970s. The study of different fragrance materials and their classification in terms of volatility was perfected early in that era by the perfumer Jean Carles (1892-1966,) whose own work on some great classics exemplified the classical pyramid structure. These fragrance mexes were built with a very clear three-dimensional quality, with the characters of the top, middle, and base being very distinct. Earlier 20th century fragrances, prior to the 1930s, were not formulated as a classical pyramid, but were much closer in character to the fragrance blends of the 19th century, based on the use of natural essences fixed in place by oriental components (balsamic, exotic aromas) and animalic materials (such as civet, ambergris, and castoreum, unpleasant in large amounts but providing depth and sensuality in lower concentrations).

A perfume is a unique mixture of scented materials with its own distinctive character that is more than just a sum of its parts, and the list of notes tells only a part of the story. In addition, fragrances made today no longer adhere strictly to the three-tiered structure. Over the past 40 years, there has been a marked shift away from the fragrance pyramid concept and into new structures that give much different impressions. To use a musical metaphor, the theme is there in many modern fragrances from the first movement, and even if you hear a violin at one point and a flute later, the character remains unchanged throughout. Some fragrances might even lack altogether a top note in the classical pyramid sense, with the initial impression being set by a small amount of extremely strong materials that would more typically be considered as middle or base notes. In contrast to more subtle classical mixtures, modern fragrances do not hide or bury their themes, and they frequently represent open character declarations, with side scent notes providing harmonious texture details to the overall "melody." Modern fragrance structures are not necessarily simple, as the creative layering of accords can result in fragrances of remarkable complexity.

Finally, the sheer number of new fragrance launches means that consumers, face with numerous choices, often make decisions based on their first impressions. Fragrance compositions, as well as their descriptions, often are driven by sales considerations, and the pyramid list of notes is sometimes just a marketing concept, crafted for different emphases. For example, some brands might try to avoid listing a perceived heavier component such as musk in their fragrance notes even though their products contain it. Other brands, on the other hand, may want to emphasize and promote notes that they feel are most suited to their concepts: if a fragrance is launched as the new floral to fill a gap in the brand’s product portfolio, its floral notes will be highlighted in the description, even if they play a relatively minor role in the total fragrance composition. Moreover, a descriptor may be inaccurate. A term such as jasmine may not even mean anything that smells truly like a jasmine flower — it may be a luminous hedione note (an ester resembling natural jasmine but actually closer to lily of the valley in character) or a raw material representing just one facet of the flower. And those "woods" anchoring the bottom of a fragrance pyramid scheme are likely to be Cashmeran, a synthesized chemical with a complex woody-musky note.

While the fragrance notes are helpful, they should be seen only as a rough guide. However, since they provide an easily shared and communicated structure, they are commonly used and can be a basis for comparison.

In the pyramid scheme, the olfactory impression of a fragrance is described in a musical metaphor as having three sets of notes, which together constitute the harmonious overall scent accord. Notes are descriptors of individual scents or scent interactions that can be perceived upon the application of a perfume. They are separated into three classes: top/head notes, middle/heart notes, and base/back notes, which denote scents grouped with respect to their varying times for being perceived after application of the fragrance on the skin. Generally, then, this is a volatility grouping, based on a scheme using their respective evaporation coefficients from 1 to 100:

Top Notes: 1 to 14 (most volatile)
Middle Notes: 15 to 60
Base Notes: 61 to 100 (least volatile)

Top or head notes are perceived immediately upon application of a perfume. The compounds that contribute to top notes are strong in scent, are very volatile, and evaporate quickly. They form a person's initial impression of a fragrance and thus are very important in the selling of the product. The scents of this note class are often described with terms such as "fresh," "assertive" or "sharp." Citrus scents and ginger are common top notes.

Heart or middle notes are the second, middle phase of a perfume's fragrance evaporation, occuring after the top note fades away. The heart stage is mainly produced by floral, spicy or woody components, and as its name indicates, it usually represents the heart or dominant tone of the perfume and enables its classification into a fragrance family. Common heart notes are jasmine, rose, lavender, and various herbs. These notes appear anywhere from 2 minutes to an hour after fragrance application, but most commonly require around 10 to 20 minutes to develop fully on the skin. The scent of middle note compounds is usually perceived as mellow and "rounded." These notes often mask initially the unpleasant impression of the later base notes, which become more pleasant over time.

The back or base notes (or fond, meaning "bottom" in French) are the third and last phase of a perfume's life on the skin, the underlying tones that bring solidity and depth. This phase contains the lasting ingredients, such as woods, resins, and animal and crystalline substances. These are the heaviest ingredients, molecularly, in a perfume formula. In heavy fragrances (chypre and Oriental types, for instance), the back note group is so strongly accented that it is even discernible as a first impression along with the top or head notes. Base notes sometimes impart their own scent; they help to fix other notes in the perfume formula (i.e. make them last longer); and they enhance or boost other, lighter ingredients. Base notes generally appear most prominently close to the departure of the middle notes, and the base and middle notes together frequently define the main theme of a perfume and its lasting impression on the person smelling it. Consisting of large, heavy molecules that evaporate slowly, compounds of this class of scents are typically rich and "deep" and are usually not perceived until at least 30 minutes after the application of the perfume or during the period of perfume dry-down.

As noted in terms of the effect of base notes, it should be kept in mind that the presence of one note may alter the perception of another - for instance, the presence of certain base or heart notes will alter the scent perceived when the top notes are strongest, and likewise the detected scent of base notes in the dry-down will often be altered depending on the fragrance materials and lingering smells of the heart notes.
John
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#15

Vintage Shaver
Seattle, WA
Dryness

Dry is the term for an odor effect that is the opposite of "sweet" or "warm." It is accomplished through the use of ingredients such as woods, mosses (oakmoss, treemoss), herbs, some grasses (such as vetiver), rhizome (orris/iris), and phenols (tar-like essences such as birch tar, guiacwood, and leathery compounds). Like the trunks and barks of trees, the woody scents (such as cedar, sandalwood, oak, rosewood, and birch) have a solid "presentation" to the nose. The factors that contribute to a dry tone can come from any family, but generally dry fragrances don't have dewy, watery, or acqueous elements that recall crisp vegetation. They can be mineral-like and are purported to keep the skin dry also. Dry notes are used mainly in masculine scents and are particularly useful as fresh, daytime fragrances.

The term "dry" in perfumery is said to have come from early 20th century couturier Jean Patou. He created a cocktail bar in his Paris salon where men could drink and talk while their women shopped for dresses. In 1930, Patou decided that the cocktail bar should be converted into a perfume bar, and his perfumer Henri Alméas was instructed to create "cocktail" fragrances, using the same terms as were used to described the major property of an alcoholic beverage (the relative presence or absence of a sweet taste). The results were the original Jean Patou Cocktail, Cocktail Dry, Cocktail Sweet, and Cocktail Bitter Sweet, some of which are still available from retailers.
John
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#16

Vintage Shaver
Seattle, WA
Balsamic

Balsamic is a fragrance description referring to a heavy, soft, sweet, warm scent, usually from the use of plant balsams or aromatic resin. The raw materials falling under the umbrella of resins and balsams have been used for many centuries in perfumes.

Balsamic ingredients characterize Oriental style perfumes in particular. These fragrances, compositions that rely on rich, opulent notes of vanilla, musk, and ambers, were inspired by the traditional elements of Middle Eastern and Indian perfumes. As the fascination with everything Eastern and exotic grew at the end of the 19th and early 20th century, these “odalisques and harems” fantasies found their way into the world of scents. The balsamic materials also lend their depth to other families, such as the Chypres, and more lightly to florals, fougères, and hesperidics.

In perfumery, there are several classes of balsamic notes, but balsams like tolu balsam, peru balsam, benzoin, and styrax are distinctive because they have a strong vanilla/cinnamic note, and they are often used to give a rich and pleasantly spicy quality to accords. Balsamic notes support a fragrance from within, offering additional richness. Base notes are sometimes composed of several balsamic materials. In excess, their rich, heavy fragrance can suppress the overall composition, with other notes hiding under the dense balsamic richness.

Resinous & Balsamic Fragrances

Resinous materials come in the form of solidified, gum-like "tears" seeping from the fluid that circulates into the bark of big trees. Balsams, on the other hand, usually are thinner liquids, coming frequently from flower pods or bushy twigs. There are exceptions to this rule, however. The real basis for differentiation is how the materials actually smell and how they're different or common in scent combinations, rather than their origin. For purposes of perfume discussion, resinous & balsamic materials are classified into three distinct profiles:

1. Soft balsamic-smelling ingredients, including:
•vanilla (from the pod of the vanilla orchid)
•benzoin gum (from Styrax Tonkiniensis, with a sweetish, caramel and vanillic tone, used frequently to complement citrus, woods, or florals)
•Peru balsam (from Myroxylon - "fragrant wood" in Greek - or Quina/Balsamo)
•Tolu balsam (close to Peru balsam, but a little sweeter and fresher)
•cistus labdanum (leathery, ambery, and deep, from the rockrose bush and traditionally harvested from the hairs of goats that grazed on the rockrose)

These materials have a gentle tone but have a pronounced character. They fix flowers into lasting longer and are used to produce the semi-Orientals or the florientals (in combination with floral essences).

2. Resinous balsamic smelling ingredients, including:
•opoponax/opopanax (also inaccurately called "sweet myrrh," scented between lavender & amber)
•frankincense/olibanum (the smoky-smelling exudate of the Boswellia carteri tree)
•myrrh gum (a waxy oleoresin with a bitter profile)
•birch tar (from "cooked" birch wood, pungent, dark, tar-smelling), often used in Cuir de Russie type perfumes
•elemi (a peppery, lemony, pine-like yellow oil coming from the resin of the Canarium Lizonicum), used in masculine blends
•styrax (resin from the Liquidambar Orientalis tree, with a leathery scent reminiscent of glue and cinnamon), providing a supporting note in Cuir de Russie compositions

Resins are among the materials used since ancient times in incense and perfumery. Traditionally used to make incense, in the Middle East and the Mediterranean basin frankincense and myrrh "tears" have still been highly regarded in modern times. These materials are deep, with a lingering trail which adds projection to a composition. They pair especially well with woody scents.

3. A sub-set of powdery balsamic-smelling ingredients which do not strictly come in resin or balsam form but share some of the common olfactory characteristics. This includes: orris root (the Iris Pallida rhizome and also the synthetic irones-rich reproductions), several musks of synthetic origin, and carrot seed oil. Amber mixes can also be powdery balsamic-smelling, due to the addition of benzoin (which gives a sweetish, baby powder talc note) and vanilla to the mix of ingredients. It is important to distinguish between a balsamic/ambery powdery ambience (which is typically sweeter) and one which is powdery/dry, completely different.
John
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#17

Member
Ferndale, MI
(This post was last modified: 05-04-2016, 09:13 PM by wyze0ne.)
Another awesome entry John. Thanks for doing all this research for us! I especially enjoyed all of the scent descriptions of the various resins/balsams. I've always seen ingredients of scent compositions such as styrax and opoponax and wondered what the heck is that and what is it supposed to smell like?
- Jeff
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#18
Always enjoy these posts! These are very well written and reflect the most up to date knowledge in the fragrance community.
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#19

Super Moderator
San Diego, Cal., USA
John, I have to agree with wyze0ne and NeoXerxes; not only are your posts interesting and informative but you are doing the members of DFS a real service.  Thank you.
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#20

Vintage Shaver
Seattle, WA
Thank you, guys, it's fun for me to do this. And all I'm really doing is pulling together bits and pieces of what's out on the web.
John
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