What is a Fragrance Pyramid?

Creating Perfume is a complex art that requires a deep understanding of the structure of a fragrance. A fragrance is not just a blend of different raw materials but a carefully orchestrated harmony of notes that work together to create a memorable scent. To achieve this harmony, perfumers use the concept of the Fragrance Pyramid or Olfactive Triangle.

A perfume formula typically consists of 30-150 raw materials, including both natural and synthetic ingredients. Natural ingredients bring complexity to a fragrance, while synthetics add unique effects that may not exist in nature. The balance between natural and synthetic materials in the finished formula is crucial.

The perfume pyramid is based on the rate of evaporation of the different components of a perfume, resulting in top, heart, and base notes:

  • Top notes are the first impression of a composition, created by volatile materials such as citrus.
  • Heart notes consist of those fragrance oils with medium-volatility, including flowers, spices, and fruit, and these linger longer than the top notes.
  • Finally, the base notes are responsible for the perfume’s signature and longevity, with materials such as woods, musks, and gourmand notes.

Each fragrance has its own unique shape or construction, built around one or two main accords, a combination of several raw materials that determine the fragrance family. The most famous accords in perfumery borrow from the various olfactive families, such as Cologne, Fougère, Amber, and Chypre. Perfumers constantly invent new accords and embellish existing ones to create novel olfactory impressions.

In conclusion, the fragrance pyramid is a fundamental concept in perfumery that helps perfumers create harmonious and beautiful fragrance compositions or notes.

Regardless of how a fragrance is structured, it must abide by one essential criterion: every element of its development has to smell wonderful.

Perfume Notes: What are Top, Heart & Base Notes?

Now that we have an understanding of a what a Fragrance Pyramid or Olfactory Triangle is, let’s have a closer look at perfumes notes: top, heart and base notes.

Top Notes

The ‘top or head notes’ are the first impression of a composition.

Generally, the top notes consist of the most volatile fragrance materials and here a few example

  • ‍Citrus: Lemon, Orange, Grapefuit, Bergamot, Pomelo, Tangerine
  • Herbal/Aromatic: Lavender, Mint, Rosemary
  • Watery: Aquatic notes

The role of these ingredients is to create a bright, fresh and vivid first impression to dazzle and stimulate our senses delicately.

Top notes are like the gateway into the heart of the fragrance and they usually last between 10 minutes to an hour depending on the rawmaterials used.

Heart Note

The heart notes are the part of the perfume that unfolds next when smelling a perfume. Sometime they are also called the called the middle or body notes.

As the name states, they are the ‘heart’ of the fragrance and the element of the accord around which the fragrance has been created.

The heart lasts much longer than the top note and uses fragrance oils with a medium volatility. Here are some examples of ingredients used in the heart:

  • ‍Floral: Rose, Jasmin, Orange Blossom, Geranium, Tuberose, Lily of the Valley
  • Spices: Clove, Cinnamon, Black Pepper
  • Fruity: Blackcurrant, Peach, Raspberry, Fig

These heart notes last up to 2-3 hours. However, it is important to keep in mind that fragrance materials interact with each other which directly affects their longevity. The longevity also depends on the quality of the individual fragrance oils that were used.

Theses middle notes can either follow the theme of the top notes or conceal certain aspects of the base notes that require more time to develop and blend with the overall impression of the fragrance. The extended longevity of the middle notes provide our perfumer with the opportunity to create intricate and complex accords.

Base Note

The base or bottom note is the grand finale or signature of a fragrance.

The base notes of a perfume include ingredients such as woods, musks, oriental and gourmand notes, giving it a deep, warm, or sensual character.

Beyond this, the base notes are crucial for ensuring the longevity of the fragrance. Even after the top and middle notes have faded away, the base notes can last up to 8-10 hours, providing the final element of harmony to the perfume’s overall composition and continuing to convey its story.

Here are examples of base notes used by our Perfumer:

  • ‍Woody: Cedarwood, Sandalwood, Patchouli, Vetiver
  • Oriental: Amber, Oud, Incense
  • Chypre: Oakmoss
  • Animal: Musk,
  • Gourmand: Vanilla, Tonka

How to use a Fragrance Pyramid?

The next time you are trialling a new perfume, keep the concept of the fragrance pyramid in mind. Can you sense the perfume notes? What is the first notes that introduce the fragrance to you? How does the fragrance develop over time (after 1, 3 or several hours and even next day) on the smelling strip and/or on your skin? Which ingredients are you discovering later on? These latter ones would be part of the heart and base note.

You can even ask the staff to explain the perfume pyramid of the note you are evaluating. You may be surprised how well trained the staff are on the ingredients within the perfume and how these unfold and reveal themselves over time.

You may find the experience of smelling a new perfume becomes much richer when you have the concept of the Fragrance Triangle in mind.

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