Top Fragrance Experts Explain What 21 Perfume Buzzwords Actually Mean

Scent is subjective, which means it’s a tricky thing to explain. Fragrances are often a complex blend of ingredients, or notes in fragrance lingo, and if you have a good nose, you can smell each one individually. These notes meld together to create another aroma entirely that morphs and evolves as it lives on the skin. This means the journey a scent takes on the skin is transient. On top of the evolving nature of wearing a perfume and the subjectivity of the ingredients, there is the fact that perfume smells different on different skin types.

“They’re abstract,” says Celine Roux, vice president of global fragrance development of Jo Malone London. “Brands want to take you into a universe or set a specific mood, so it becomes a little harder to express.”

I remember attending a dinner once with Procter & Gamble’s in-house perfume expert. He was saying that the fragrance industry desperately wants an easy-to-understand set of terms that consumers can relate to. A language that will help to unlock the often confusing world of aroma. This was about five years ago, and it hasn’t happened yet. So to help you understand what those descriptive words mean when you’re shopping for a new scent—we’re talking words like “animalic,” “fougere” and “accord”—we’ve called on two fragrance experts to offer up easy to understand definitions: Celine Roux and Lewis Peacock, fragrance expert on the Coty luxury fragrance design team.

The thing is, we’ll always smell fragrances differently—just the other day the Byrdie team spritzed Byredo’s new Rodeo, and two of us could detect a hint of parma violets while the other was adamant the sweet scent was not housed within the bottle. But at least if we’re all on the same page about how to describe perfumes, hopefully it will help to demystify the subjective world of scent.

Scroll down to see what these experts have to say about these commonly used, but often misunderstood, fragrance buzzwords.