Understanding Perfume Notes

by Shreya

In this pandemic controlled world, it is safe to say that our beauty regimens have certainly changed. One of the forgotten aspects of everyone’s beauty routines has certainly been perfume. Since most of us are spending our days on Zoom from the comfort of our houses, it seems like perfume has simply lost its purpose, right? Surely not! Perfume is the invisible superpower that can elevate any look by making you feel more confident, beautiful, and bold. Whether you only get ready from the waist up or maybe have abandoned makeup and “going out clothes” altogether, I encourage you to spritz some of your favorite fragrance and see how your days improve. But Shreya, what if I do not have any perfume? Fear not, even though perfume shopping online is widely considered quite risky, learning about perfume jargon and scent classification can help you to purchase a fragrance you will love from the comfort and safety of your home.

 The main key to understanding how a perfume will smell is understanding notes. Notes are all the scents that a perfume is composed of, and these are further classified into three levels: top/head notes, middle/heart notes, and base notes. The three levels indicate the amount of time before a scent presents itself after applying the perfume. Top/head notes will be what one smells immediately after spritzing a perfume, but they evaporate quickly. Typical scents used for a top/head note include citrus and ginger which are often described as “fresh” or “sharp”. The top/head notes will not make up most of the perfume’s smell and mainly serve as a little “hello” for the wearer. The base and the middle/heart notes make up the main body of the perfume as their scents are present longest. Middle/heart notes will make their presence known as the top/head notes are starting to evaporate. Popular scents for a middle/heart note are rose or lavender, and they serve to be more mellow or sweet-smelling and are used to mask the aroma of the base notes. As following the pattern, the base notes appear last, when a perfume has mostly dried onto someone, to bring depth. These would usually be the musk-like scents. 

But while talking about the notes is all very fun and fancy, the real practical usage beyond impressing someone in small-talk is that they will help you figure out what perfume will smell like when shopping online. It is easy to be distracted by the top/head notes, frequently labeled “the opening,” but since those scents will not last long, you should make sure that the middle and the base notes sound pleasing to you. For example, here is R.E.M by Ariana Grande on Ulta. It is easy to be distracted by the promises of “intergalactic…femininity and power” but below is the list of all the fragrance notes, organized. Sadly, if your goal is to smell like a marshmallow for a day, this is not the perfume for you. However, there are some appealing notes of pear and sandalwood that will keep you smelling sweet and feminine. To help you further witness the beauty of note-analysis, here are two celebrity-released perfumes and their respective analyses:

  1. Hue by Hayley Kiyoko
CREDIT: Trevor Flores, Atlantic Images

Former Disney star turned singer, and now novice perfumer! Hayley Kiyoko is expanding her brand with her first fragrance, Hue, a gender-neutral scent, available for pre-ordering starting Friday, 2/12/21. Retailing at $65.00 this scent is housed in an opaque red, soft-edged round packaging, with gold details for the label, certainly making it one to stand out on your vanity. While the language on Hue’s website is more cryptically organized, than the one we looked at above, it is still relatively easy to find the note classification for this scent. The scent is classified as part of the floral, fruity family with top notes of watermelon, blood orange, and freesia. This will certainly give an initial burst of fruit once sprayed. Secondly, the middle/heart notes are peony, lychee, rose, and pink magnolia, which will add more of a classic-feminine aura. And finally, the base notes come out as creamy cacao and skin musk. Overall, this perfume is very textbook in terms of the note classification but it certainly stands out in its meaning. In an interview with Allure,  Hayley revealed she intended to make a gender-inclusive scent and the significance behind the name: “We all bring color to this world. I’m hoping that this perfume boosts people’s confidence and helps them feel like they belong.” Hue will likely cater to fans of the singer-actress who grew up watching her in numerous early 2000s Disney shows and movies, like Wizards of Waverly Place and Lemonade Mouth, probably making the ideal demographic in the 19-26 age range. While this is a new fragrance and will likely sell out before the mass of customer reviews are in, the deep meaning put into this perfume is enough to certainly make one curious enough to experiment and order.

Order Hue here.

2.  KKW Fragrance: Diamond Collection

CREDIT: KKW Fragrances

Love them or hate them, you cannot deny that the Kardashian sisters are icons of the beauty industry, with their ever-growing and trail-blazing brands. Last holiday season Kim dropped the latest addition to her brand – KKW Fragrance – with three perfumes to add to her previous diamond collection honoring her sisters, Khloe, Kourtney, and herself. The perfumes have been praised as a perfect holiday gift for the family as it is affordable, elegant and certainly possesses the signature Kardashian flair. First in the collection is the “Ruby Diamond,” corresponding to Kourtney Kardashian. It has opening notes of red ginger, peppercorns, and ruby orchid making it sure to make a spicy statement at first spritz. The heart notes introduce rose, poppy, and pimento, which adds to the alluring spicy opening. Finally, it has a more traditional base of sandalwood, vanilla, and jasmine. On paper, this certainly looks like a statement. Some may even say overwhelming but don’t be afraid to break out a bold scent to give ordinary days an extra pick-me-up. It has a rating of 4 stars and is the least purchased of the collection, probably due to its “night-out” nature and therefore not the best investment for these quarantine days.

Second, in the collection is the “Emerald Diamond,” representing Miss Kim K herself. It has an eye-catching opening, made up of evergreen, orchid, and mandarin. The heart follows as passionflower, pear blossom, and violet. And finally, the base is composed of orange blossom, hinoki wood, and benzoin – an essential oil that is used to heal small wounds. When I saw the composition, needless to say, I was quite surprised. I expected Kim to make a fragrance that was the boldest of the bold, something so ostensibly unique that it would sell out on the merits of her iconic name and the controversy it brought. I am pleased to say that the Emerald Diamond seems to be neither. While certainly unique, it aims to express a rarer side to the controversy embroiled, media queen: maturity and elegance. However, it is the least well-reviewed in the collection, with a rating of ~3.5 stars. Most of the negative reviews say that it is not a very long-lasting scent, which is likely due to the more floral base. 

The last in the collection is named the “Sapphire Diamond,” designed for Khloe Kardashian. The perfume has a fresh opening of sea breeze, mandarin, and blueberries. The middle is made up of wisteria, rose, and panettone which brings out some sweetness. And the base is made up of sandalwood, vanilla, and tonka bean. The “Sapphire Diamond” has been the most well-received of the three with a rating of ~4.4 stars. This is probably due to the sweetness that is present in all three of the note families, which carries consistency and therefore would ‘last-longer.’ If one were interested in purchasing one of the KKW Diamonds, my pick would also be for the Sapphire Diamond as it seems to be the one most suitable for a fun, daily, pick-me-up. 

View the Diamond Collection here.

Now that we’ve explored perfumes and how their notes function, I’d say you are well equipped for some quarantine fragrance shopping.

Wishing you luck in all your shopping endeavors,



Nesvig, Kara. “Hayley Kiyoko Shared How Fragrance and Identity Are Linked.” Teen Vogue, Teen Vogue, 8 Feb. 2021, http://www.teenvogue.com/story/hayley-kiyoko-fragrance-identity.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: