Perfume is a mixture of fragrant essential oils or aroma compounds, fixatives and solvents, usually in liquid form, used to give the human body, animals, food, objects and living-spaces an agreeable scent. It is also a name for the art of creating such fragrances, or to be more precise the science and craft of perfumery.
The primary ingredients of a perfume are called the “notes”. Each note has a different characteristic and is designed to work harmoniously with the others to create an overall impression of a perfume. The notes are arranged into three sets, based on their evaporation rates and intensity: the top note, the volatile odour that is perceived first; the middle note, which provides depth and character; and the base note, the odour that remains on the skin after the perfume has evaporated.
A perfume’s odour can be classified according to its family: floral, oriental, woody or chypre. Traditionally, a perfume can also be described as being feminine or masculine, although these distinctions have become less significant nowadays. Despite these divisions, each of the traditional families contains a wide variety of perfume styles, and it is impossible to classify a perfume as completely ‘female’ or’male’.
Fragrance makers use a number of natural substances to produce their aromatics, but many use synthetic chemicals for the scents that are not readily available or affordable in nature. For example, calone is a synthetic odorant that imitates the smell of fresh ocean air and is used to add a marine feeling to a perfume.
An important characteristic of a perfume is its strength, which relates to the amount of perfume oil and the concentration of other ingredients. Strong perfumes are more tenacious, lasting longer on the skin and clothing. A perfume that is too weak may not be detected or be overwhelmed by other odours.
Another aspect of a perfume’s character is its personality, which depends on the way in which it is created. A good perfume will be able to capture and reflect the wearer’s mood and individuality.
The best perfumes have a subtle and unique odour that blends harmoniously with the wearer, and reflects and enhances their personal style. For this reason, the creation of a new perfume is a highly creative process, and the perfumer often uses a variety of methods to inspire the imaginations of their customers and then translate this into a unique signature. This process of blending and combining multiple ingredients is known as ‘choreography’ and it can take several years to refine and perfect a new perfume. Perfumes are tested extensively in laboratories and a good perfume can have hundreds of ingredients in it. Usually, a perfume is first roughed out to get an initial idea of its concept and then refined after it has been well received.