How To Speak Perfume

how to speak perfume
how to speak perfume

How do you describe a product that is essentially invisible to the human eye? That is the challenge perfumers and fragrance experts have grappled with for centuries. Talking about perfume is the art of painting a picture in your mind’s eye using descriptive words.

The Cambridge English Dictionary defines the word “perfume” as a fragrant liquid typically made from essential oils extracted from flowers and spices, used to impart a pleasant smell to one’s body or clothes. Used as verb, the word means to impart a pleasant smell to.

We’ve compiled some industry terms and scent-friendly adjectives to help you build your perfume vocabulary.


An absolute is a highly-concentrated fragrant oil similar to an essential oil, but produced via low-temperature solvent extraction or enfleurage and therefore generally even more concentrated (and expensive). Fragile blooms like jasmine and tuberose can’t hold up to steam distillation so this alternative method using fats and chemical solvents is the only way to capture the natural fragrance.


An accord is a number of different perfume notes or ingredients that are combined to create a distinct fragrance. For example, the classic accord in the chypre perfume classification is bergamot, labdanum and oakmoss. Perfumers find that a specific combination of ingredients will create something very special and unique – they blend and merge into something new.


Aldehydes are aromatic chemicals that provide sparkle and lift to fragrances. Aldehydes C-12 and lower (the C stands for carbon) provide sparkle; Aldehydes C-14 and higher add a fruit note.

Eau de Parfum (EDP)

The most common concentration of fragrance on the market today, eau de parfum is a fragrance with approximately 15% concentration of perfume oil to alcohol. A spritz of EDP will last about an hour longer than one of eau de toilette.

Eau de Toilette (EDT)

A light concentration of fragrance most commonly used during the summer months. An EDT contains about 8 % concentration of perfume oil to alcohol.

Essential Oil

A concentrated distillation of a fragrant bloom or plant material that is extracted via steam distillation.


Approximately 45 minutes after spritzing a fragrance, the base notes appear and you smell the vanilla, woods, amber, musk, vetiver and benzoin ingredients. This occurs once the top fruit and floral heart notes have disappeared. It’s the last phase in a fragrance’s lifecycle.

Headspace Technology

This is a method of capturing scent molecules and reconstructing their aroma for perfumes. Perfumers place a glass bell-jar like apparatus over the scented object and the molecules are extracted and saved. Once they are analyzed, a synthetic version is created. This technology, perfected in the 1970s, allows scientists to capture a scent at a particular point in time – say the scent of morning dew on a rose at the first light of day.

Oriental perfume

This major category of fragrance has nothing to do with the geographical meaning of the name. In fact, an orient scent is one distinguished with warm, ambery, sweet notes like vanilla, tonka bean, benzoin and amber – along with spices such as cinnamon, clove and ginger. Many of these ingredients are associated with the Middle East like incense.


A ‘nose’ is another name for perfumer, the individual responsible for creating the formula of a fragrance. This is a very skilled trade that involves knowledge of advanced chemistry and flowers/plants.


This French term describes the trail of scent that is left behind a wearer.

89 words to describe fragrance

If you struggle to find the right words to describe the perfumes you love, Scent Lodge has compiled a list of adjectives to help you. Here are 89 to help you with your fragrance vocabulary.

Refined, daring, distinguished, luxurious, subtle, romantic, comfortable, provocative, trendy, glamorous, sensual, mischievous, fanciful, irresistible, voluptuous, energizing, sparkling, dynamic, natural, harmonious, cocooning, carefree, cheerful, fresh, uplifting, classical, sexy, alluring, chic, soothing, generous, intimate, clean, bright, refreshing, revitalizing, relaxing, reassuring, charismatic, hypnotic, laid-back, discreet, elegant, hypnotizing, euphoric, expressive, magical, obsessive, poetic, powerful, pure, rich, beaming, serene, spontaneous, sporty, surprising, feminine, stoic, artistic, dizzying, airy, attractive, brilliant, colourful, discreet, sunny, bursting, flamboyant, harmonious, transparent, melodious, vibrant, heady, creamy, exotic, fruity, sweet, grassy, peppered, sugary, warm, delicate, soft, metallic, dazzling, dry, tender, velvety

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    March 21, 2021 at 1:59 pm

    What a great article! It will be wonderful to say something more than “I like how it smells on me.” @cindy-sacks

  • Angela Citrigno
    March 16, 2021 at 4:20 pm

    Thank you Scentlodge for creating such a wonderful newsletter. This is exactly what we needed. We all love our fragrances, but I personally knew very little about the perfume world. Notes, extractions, perfume terminology, the science behind a scent and the stories alone always stand out. My favourite word is “Sillage” too. Thank you for explaining the differences between eau de toilette and parfum. I also understand why some fragrances are so very expensive. I can only imagine the frustration of creating a new different fragrance that appeals to everyone or a particular audience. What an excite career. P.S. I think there should be a fragrance emoji @959angela

  • LInda L
    March 16, 2021 at 3:53 pm

    So happy to expand my perfume vocabulary and speak perfume!!

  • Marla Veis
    March 15, 2021 at 2:30 pm

    Evert month l look forward to my Scentlodge newsletter. It is a wealth of knowledge. Even though l have worked in the industry for many years l always learn something new and l like to share my knowledge . I loved the Love Story about the Prince and snd the woman he loved but was forbidden to marry. It was so beautiful .

  • September Dee
    March 15, 2021 at 9:20 am

    I love this!!! Thanks for all the information. My favourite word is “sillage”. It is not surprising the french language would have a simple word for something so elegant and dreamy.