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The Fragrance Wheel Explained – And How To Use It

The Fragrance Wheel Explained – And How To Use It
Writer and expert6 years ago
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The fragrance wheel is the basis of all scent - let us explain...

You may remember the colour wheel from art classes at school? Colours place according to their relationship to one another. One colour blends into the next. Opposite colours clash. The fragrance wheel works the same way and is a great tool to determine the kind of scents you're drawn to. And if you're making a 'blind buy', knowing where a scent is on the fragrance wheel can point you in the right direction.

Perfume expert Michael Edwards created the modern fragrance wheel in 1992. Other versions have been around since 1949, but this is the version we use today. Of course it's evolved, reflecting modern fragrance and the way we perceive smell. And besides creating the wheel, Edwards is also author of 'Fragrances of the World', making him the leading expert on fragrance classification.

I became intrigued by the problem people have in finding a fragrance that will suit them and the lack of advice. Fragrance advisors tend to push the fragrances they personally like. It's quite natural. Our sense of smell is emotional, not logical. We are confident about the fragrances we like. That's why we talk about them and tend to push them. Problem is, what I like will probably not be what you like. And so finding a new fragrance so often ended up being a frustrating experience. That was what prompted the idea of a fragrance guide." - Michael Edwards

The Fragrance Wheel - Families

The fragrance wheel has four main families: Floral, Ambery, Woody and Fresh. Under each are sub-groups; these groups describe the scent in closer detail eg 'Floral Ambery', 'Fresh Citrus'. Where they place on the wheel matters. A Floral scent, with the addition of certain notes, will become a Soft Floral etc. We usually prefer scents from only one or two families, though you may have an emotional connection to others.

The Fragrance Wheel - Sub Groups

Here are the sub-groups, together with their main notes - you'll probably be drawn to some instinctively, while others will make you wince! That's a good place to start if you're a fragrance novice:

  • Floral - Fresh-cut flowers
  • Soft Floral - Aldehydes and powdery notes
  • Floral Oriental - Orange blossom and sweet spices
  • Soft Ambery- Incense and amber
  • Ambery - Ambery resins
  • Woody Ambery - Sandalwood and patchouli
  • Woods Main - Aromatic woods and vetiver
  • Mossy Woods - Oakmoss and amber
  • Dry Woods - Dry woods and leather
  • Aromatic - Lavender and aromatic herbs
  • Citrus - Bergamot and other citrus oils
  • Water - Marine and aquatic notes
  • Green - Galbanum and green notes
  • Fruity - Berries and non-citrus fruits

Using The Fragrance Wheel

Claire Fragrance Wheel
We asked our Beauty Editor Claire, to talk about her favourite scents using the wheel.

Ok let's dive in - my favourite scents right now are:

Two scents are from the same family (Floral), but we have a Woody scent in there. Not surprising, since most of us like scents from two families. Now I know I also like Citrus scents on occasion, but I don't really like to wear them. They're more my choice for room fragrance or soaps. So could Floral and Woods be my families? Let's test it out!

Scents I love: Scents I don't like:
Ghost EDT Pour Femme (Floral Ambery)
La Vie Est Belle by Lancome (Floral Fruity)
Aquolina by Pink Sugar (Floral Fruity)
Youth Dew by Estee Lauder (Soft Ambery)
Shalimar by Guerlain (Ambery Spicy)
Obsession by Calvin Klein (Ambery)


Looks good! The individual notes are of course very important - a quick check of the individual notes should flag up anything I may not like. But on the whole, I know I'm looking at Floral Ambery/Floral Fruity/Dry Woods as my scent families. With the odd nod to Citrus if the mood inspires me.

Over to you now - take a look at the fragrance wheel and, if you don't already know, see which families are your favourites. And once you know where you are on the fragrance wheel, you can shop your new scent online at allbeauty!
Writer and expert
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