Perfume & Fragrance: Reference Page

Personal fragrance is a tricky thing to write about and review. I wanted to create a page that might help with understanding how I approach reviewing fragrance, as it is quite different than how I approach home fragrance. I also wanted to provide some background information for those dipping their toes into the broad sea of perfumery. The information here is presented as a vague guide. All opinions are my own and nothing here is The Gospel. Feel free to join the conversation in the comments!

Review Process of Perfumes vs Home Fragrance:

More often than not I truly enjoy most personal fragrances. With home fragrance I will often either recommend or not recommend a product based on how it smells, how it well throws and the general quality. With perfumes I do not operate in that manner. Fragrance is such a subjective little minx, changing and morphing depending on the skin, climate and one's own scent perceptions; therefore, I could not possibly tell you whether or not I could recommend it for you. I can only describe my own experience with the scent and let you go from there.

Masculine vs Feminine:

In general I do not categorize fragrance as feminine, masculine or unisex. I personally believe anyone can wear anything. Anything. It is all a matter of preference to notes. I regularly wear scents that most would pigeonhole as masculine: Hermes Terre d'Hermes, Tauer Lonestar Memories, Dior Homme. And I know of many men on the forums, groups and blogs who love rose scents and gourmands. I am sorry if you find it helpful but there are other forums and sites that do that for you quite well if that is what you are looking for. Luckyscent has a great masculine to feminine gauge for their fragrances.


Fragrances are defined by their concentration level and sometimes their note composition. Generally speaking, mainstream fragrance users define perfume as for women and cologne for men. However, perfume and cologne indicate the fragrance's concentration level and not gender. Fragrance concentration is based on the percent of perfume oil by volume in a scent. Here is a quick run down on concentrations, be aware these are only a general guide:

* Perfume extract/Extrait/Parfum/Perfume oils = 15-50% oil
* Eau de parfum/Parfum de toilette = 8-20% oil
*Eau de toilette = 4-10% oil
* Eau de cologne = 2-5% oil
* Eau fraiche = 3% or less oil

These concentrations overlap and vary widely as you can see. Typically, greater oil concentrations contribute to longevity, while needing only smaller amounts.


Fragrances are traditionally composed of several various notes that harmonize to create a perfume. Often the notes can be broken down into top notes, heart or middle notes and bottom or base notes. 
Top notes are the very first ones you encounter when spraying your fragrance onto your skin. They tend to be bright, sparkling ephemeral little beings. Comprised of such things as citrus, aldehydes, herbs or fruits, they introduce the scent.
Heart notes flesh out the scent after the airy top notes start to dissipate. Middle notes have better longevity on the skin than top notes and incline towards florals, spices and deeper fruits. 
Base notes linger the longest and are sometimes referred to as the dry-down. Base notes provide an anchor for the top and heart notes and are often what is detected the longest on the skin long after the top notes are just a memory. Frequently used base notes include: patchouli, amber accords, vanilla, sandalwood, oakmoss and other woods and resins. 

In perfume oils, compositions are talked about a little differently. Perfume oils are more likely broken down into "out of the bottle" notes, "wet on the skin" notes and "dry" notes. Perfume oils can morph like alcohol or water based scents but do so a little differently.

Perfumes can be linear, where the evolution of the scent is not in stages but the notes combined smell the same throughout the wear time, never truly going through the top, heart and base note stages.

Soliflores are fragrances based strongly around one flower scent, such as gardenia or rose, but soliflores still contain many different florals and notes. The overall effect is one where you feel like you are smelling just that one flower. 

Perfume notes can be synthetic or natural or a combination of both within one fragrance. Natural notes are obtained through use of essential oils, absolutes, natural isolates or compounded natural isolates. Some notes are not actual things that exist in nature as a scent, such as amber. Amber is comprised of many various perfume ingredients that make up an accord. 

Mainstream, Niche, Artisan:

The majority of people, myself included at one time, only get exposed to mainstream scents. Those perfumes that grace the counters of Walgreens, Macy's, Sephora, or if we are lucky, Nordstrom and Bloomingdale's. These fragrances tend to be easy to find and tend to be mass produced. There certainly can be many beautiful gems within the mainstream genre. Some of my favorite mainstream, or designer, houses include: Dior, Chanel, Lolita Lempicka, Acqua di Parma.

Niche perfume houses often are more obscure or harder to encounter on the day to day basis. These you may bump into in more metropolis areas or higher end stores or local boutiques. Houses that may be considered niche, or at least were at one time, encompass: Serge Lutens, L'Artisan, Etat Libre d'Orange, Atelier, Diptyque and more. I just happened to list some of my favorites. 

Artisan perfumers tend to create their works of art by hand, in small batches and in-house from start to finish. A few of my preferred artisan perfume houses involve: Sonoma Scent Studio, Tauer, Tauerville, Solstice Scents, Aftelier and a few others.

Here is a link to a short blog post from Andy to give some insight into day to day operations and how artisan fragrances can be different than mainstream. I love reading Andy's blog to get a feel for a perfumer's journey.

As a personal side note, I would like to mention that the larger houses tend to use different ingredients than smaller houses. It may not make much sense on the top but smaller perfume operations are able to source more rare and precious ingredients to use in their creations due to scarcity and ability to create smaller batch products. Often I have encountered people who cannot tolerate many traditional or mainstream scents (headaches, allergic reactions, or purely negative reactions) who have learned they do much better with artisan fragrances. Sonoma Scent Studio, Aftelier, Providence Perfume Company and quite a few others craft all natural scents too, which may help with some of these issues (not to mention they smell amazing).

Laurie Erickson has a nice short blog article on Niche, Indie and Artisan definitions here. Laurie also has a very helpful blog that lays out an artisan's fragrant adventures.

Practical Tips:

- Don't rub the wrists or fragrance into skin after application. It alters the molecules and can create a negative change in the scent.

- For a lighter sillage (see-ah-zh), or scent projection, spray in a cloud and walk through.

- For greater longevity apply after a bath or shower, apply to lower portion of the body, apply after moisturizing, or apply to clothing.

- Perfume oils (and solids could too) should be applied to the trunk of the body so warmth can create blooming, rather than the extremities.

- Store fragrances in cool, dark places.

- Check shelf life as scents can go off, usually the top notes are the first to alter, though if stored properly, many scents can be enjoyed for generations to come.

-Sample, sample, sample! Try to not blind buy full bottles unless you are pretty certain you will love it. Sample scents out of your wheelhouse, sample scents from various perfumers, sample scents from different eras. You never know what you might end up adoring.

-Try your scents in various weather conditions. Sometimes the hot and balmy summers open white florals and cool, dry winters keep too sweet or too loud scents from being overwhelming. 

-Experiment with scent layering by combining various fragrances or perfume oils and alcohol based scents on the skin.

-Let perfume oils settle after purchasing before sampling and determining if you enjoy them or not. Also, perfume oils tend to get better with age, sort of like a fine wine.

Perfume Reviews:

What does it smell like? Well, that depends. What I smell will be different than what you smell. We all experience fragrance differently. Our noses and brains interpret notes differently, and sometimes not at all! People can be asnomic, or not able to smell, certain notes. Sort of like colorblindness. To compound the interpretation hurdle, each scent will vary based on the person's skin chemistry (which is affected by age, stress, hormones and a plethora of factors). Just one example: When I wear Vanilla Hanoki, the bergamot and citrus cling to me and I smell like a gourmand Dreamsicle. When my friend was searching for new scents, I gifted her the rest of my sample and it emerged as a deep vanilla woods on her skin. What I write may not be your exact experience.

So why review? I have found many fragrant favorites from reading perfume reviews, scents I may have otherwise not even glanced twice at in the store or online. My end goal is to better give you an idea of how a scent may play out and what its structure may hold for you. I want to best describe my scent experience so that you may have an inkling if it may be something you want to sample yourself or avoid altogether. Plus, really, it is a creative exercise that helps me to stretch my nose and writing and I quite enjoy doing so.

Where to Purchase:
The following lists are by no means comprehensive, these are just houses and creators I have personal experience trying and buying from so I can fully recommend them. I will add to these as I continue my fragrant journey. All shops have a link embedded for ease of navigation.

 Most artisan perfume houses offer samples for purchase. The following are vendors who decant samples from full bottles for purchase or are indie fragrance boutiques or sample programs.

Indie/Artisan Perfume Oil Houses:

Natural Artisan Perfume Houses:

DSH Perfumes- offers both natural and mixed media

Sonoma Scent Studio- offers both natural and mixed media

Artisan Perfume Houses:

Bruno Fazzolari

CB I Hate Perfume

Dame Perfumery

Imaginary Authors

Solstice Scents

Sonoma Scent Studio



I decided against adding a niche category, as these are extensive and generally can be sought out much easier on one's own. But if you want any recommendations feel free to ask or check out some of the perfumes I have reviewed in the past.

Fragrant Reading:

Fragrant: The Secret Life of Scent by Mandy Aftel

Essence and Alchemy by Mandy Aftel

The Perfume Lover by Denyse Beaulieu

The Book of Lost Fragrances by M. J. Rose

I have read all of these except Essence and Alchemy which is on my wish list. There are many, many more fragrance based books that I will be exploring and adding to this list in the future. 

I hope you enjoyed chatting fragrance with me. If you would like to see anything expanded or conversed about, do please let me know. 


  1. This is a great post I am looking to get the book Perfumes The guide from A-Z, its out of print but might be worth tracking down Thanks for all of your hard work, Ellisa

    1. Thank you! I hope it is helpful for anyone looking to explore. Is that the guide Luca Turin wrote?? I always wanted to read that.

  2. This is awesome!! I love reading your fragrance reviews because we mostly have the same preferences :) Have you tried Cocoa Pink perfumes? I used to order from her a long time ago. Great staying power although not as complex as some of the more niche vendors.

    1. I have not! I will check them out though! I have heard great things!!! I think I did get gifted a small sample of something but I really need to try them. Any scent recs?

    2. I haven't ordered there in a very long time. Back when I was heavily involved in makeupalley I bought from CP every month but as I shifted over to Facebook groups, my love for wax pushed my perfume habit to the back of the closet. My faves from her are Heavenly Vanilla, all of her Black blends, Midnight Hag and Blush. She mixes two of my absolute favorite fragrances (Spiriteuese double Vanille and Tihota) and the result is magical.

  3. Hi Julie. What was the post with the perfumes in the book and you were over.the.moon. I can't find it anywhere! Thanks!!!

    1. Perfumes in a book? Let me go search... all I can remember off hand was Histories de Parfumes which was a sampler in a book, Alamo Candelaria (now Bohemienne Life) has perfumes in a book. Let me search my perfume posts.

    2. It was it the perfumes I took photos of on my bookshelf? The Arcanas? I did The Kracken, Sand in Your Tail and Estella? Looking back at posts and trying to help you! <3