Breaking News: Pyramids are not just a thing of the past! Ok, bad joke, but when talking about perfume the idea of the “olfactory pyramid” is very important! No, this is not a physical pyramid that you can climb and take selfies on top of, it is a scientific idea that represents the chemical structure of a perfume.
You may recognize the terms top notes, heart notes or base notes. These words will be plastered all over fragrance marketing materials at your favourite perfume shop or on any fragrance website. Despite how often this idea is talked about, most consumers don’t actually know what it means. As your trusted perfume guide, let me educate and inspire. The three sections of the olfactory pyramid (top notes, heart notes, and base notes) are a way to organize and classify the ingredients of a perfume by their volatility. Woah, science. This simply refers to how fast the molecules evaporate based on their size. Remember in our last blog post we talked about fragrance actually being molecules? If not, refer here. Basically, the smaller the molecule, the faster it evaporates which also means the faster you smell it. Therefore, we can deduce that the olfactory pyramid indicates the order of which we will smell things in a perfume. Let’s take a closer look at each of the sections of the pyramid.
The opening notes of a perfume, ingredients that create the first initial impact for your nose. Think of these as notes that smell light and fresh, like citrus notes, fresh spices, some herbaceous notes and green leafy notes. These ingredients have a short lifespan of about 5-20 minutes, so they are the attention grabbing and dynamic introduction to your perfume's story. These molecules are the smallest, meaning they evaporate fastest, which is why you smell them first!
The heart notes are ones that usually define the main character of your perfume. Florals, fruits (in some occasions), aquatic notes, and some lighter woods and deeper spices make up this family. They add richness and intrigue to your fragrance and will last on your skin for around to 2-3 hours.
The grounding foundation of your fragrance which we like to call the "sweater smells". Have you ever picked up your sweater the day after wearing perfume and you can still smell it? These are the base notes! They are made up of ingredients that smell warm, deep and cozy. These include your woody notes, ambers, gourmand ingredients like vanilla and sugar, leathery notes and musks. These notes can linger for up to 48 hours or more. These molecules are the largest and evaporate the slowest, which is why their true impact doesn’t come until you’ve been wearing the perfume for for a while!
We like to think of perfume as a story. Every good story has an opening that captures your attention (top notes), a body that develops our main characters and is interesting enough for us to keep reading (heart notes), and an ending that leaves us satisfied and wraps everything up with a nice little bow (base notes). The more you think about perfume as a story with a beginning and an end, the more you can enjoy and understand the purposeful evolution of the perfume which its perfumer has thoughtfully crafted.
You're one step closer to becoming a perfume expert, so impress your friends with this tidbit of knowledge and think about this idea as you shop for your next fragrance! It may help guide your choices and open your mind to new ideas.