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The Basic Kinds of Scents and How to Tell Them Apart

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The Basic Kinds of Scents and How to Tell Them Apart
IMAGE Courtesy of Shaira Luna
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The four families of scent may not be as cutthroat as the Mafia, but it can get just as complex. Geek out on the basic categories and their myriad intersections below, where we break them down for you:


A favorite of classically feminine types, florals leave you smelling like a garden bouquet.

Floral: Fresh-cut flowers like tuberose, gardenia and jasmine.

Smells like: Just-picked blooms, still wet with dew.

Soft Floral: Combines classic floral notes like white flowers and rose with aldehydes (synthetic compounds with a champagne-like, "sparkly" smell à la Chanel No.5) and powdery notes like iris.

Smells like: Baby powder

Floral Oriental: Gardenia, vanilla, white pepper or tuberose warmed with sweet spices or orange blossoms.

Smells like: A warm summer day

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Earthy and exotic, often with a warm base of amber (honey-like) or musk (animalic) with intense, sensual spices.

Soft Oriental: Incense amber, musk, and other cloudy notes mixed with soft florals and spices.


Smells like: Seduction

Oriental: Strong amber or musk, oriental resins, wood, spices, and exotic florals.

Smells like: A spice market

Woody Oriental: Sandalwood or rosewood, rich patchouli, vetiver or cedar mixed with soft florals and spices

Smells like: Warm skin

Gourmand: Edible notes like honey, vanilla, chocolate, and cinnamon

Smells like: Dessert

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Clean and crisp, the category includes zesty, sparkling citruses and other juicy cocktail fruits, greens like grass and violet, and refreshing aquatic and oceanic blends.

Citrus: Tarty lemon, lime, grapefruit, orange, mandarin, yuzu, and bergamot with some wood, musk or floral notes.

Smells like: A mojito

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Water: Scents reminiscent of a cool sea breeze, ocean spray, and marine nuances with icy accords.

Smells like: Clean linen or mountain air

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Green: Galbanum, sporty green notes, leaves, green tea and herbs.

Smells like: Cut grass

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Fruity: Sweet, non-citrus and tropical fruits and berries, succulent apple, mango and peach, blended with florals.

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Smells like: Adolescence

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Nutty and sensual, woody scents usually have moss or bark, with components of sandalwood, cedar, vetiver and other balmy notes.

Woods: Aromatic woods like rosewood, vetiver, some patchouli or even tobacco.

Smells like: The Highlands

Mossy Woods: Oakmoss, earthy accords, and sandalwood for that wet, green, forest-like smell, with amber and some citrus; also known as chypres.

Smells like: The Wetlands

Dry Woods: Notes like dry woods, cedar, tobacco, incense, leather, pepper, occasionally with citrus.

Smells like: A gentleman's saloon

Aromatic Fougère ("fern"): Usually masculine with a spicy, grassy heart of moss, sage, and sandalwood, and with sharp lavender, citruses, geranium and amber.

Smells like: Athleticism

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*This article was originally published in Preview Magazine's February 2013 issue.

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