Top, Middle and Base Notes, What Does That Mean?

What are Perfume Notes?

Also often presented as a triangle or pyramid, with the notes displayed by “order of appearance”, the language of “top- mid- base notes” offers a tangible, organized and descriptive illustration of the invisible architecture of a perfume. It is a bit misleading in the sense that notes don’t come and go: they are all present together when you spray the fragrance, and they all evaporate at their own pace, according to what is scientifically defined as their specific vapor pressure. It means that each molecule has its own evaporation curve, and while some will last only a few minutes, some will remain for weeks, be it on a paper blotter or a fur coat.

How do you distinguish between top-middle-base notes?

One of the challenge of the perfumer is to make sure the blend is harmonious from the first second, until all notes faint and finally vanish. It is like writing a long symphony, with all the instruments playing since the beginning, each slowly fading and eventually going away from the stage, one by one…

  • The top notes represent the lighter and most fleeting treble notes, often associated with freshness.
  • The mid notes are a bit like the heart of the fragrance, making a liaison between the top and base notes.
  • The base notes are like the low frequencies in music, they vibrate very deep, slow and for a long time.

They provide the fundamental structure. All this is a bit arbitrary and simplified because perfume is also like architecture, where every element is important and plays a role in the balance of the final piece. What remains true is that most of the character comes from the mid and base notes, while the top notes are important mainly as the first impression.

The importance of give yourself enough time to discover before buying

On that topic, it is critical to stress that mass consumption has changed the way perfume is bought: very often, consumers make immediate choices, rushed in stores where they are pressed to buy, with no time for a complete discovery. This has incentivized perfumers to design products with a lot of pleasant and gratifying top notes while sometimes overlooking the true and long lasting character of mid and base notes. It is also indirectly one of the factors in their most repeated complaint: “my perfume does not last”…

Smell a fragrance like a pro

Now if you really want to get in the notes and understand the different phases, you would need to smell one fragrance at a time and follow it closely during the whole evaporation journey. Start by smelling it a few seconds after the initial spray ( let the alcohol flash off) in order to enjoy the top notes. They are often loaded with citrus and sometimes green notes, or maybe even slightly fruity. Come back to the fragrance maybe 15 minutes later, the most volatile top notes should be gone and you should see the very beginning of the heart ( or mid notes) and feel more body, more flesh, more volume.

Continue by smelling maybe every 30 minutes or so , for a few hours. You will slowly but surely observe more and more depth, darker notes, and get into what is the main chord of the whole piece. Then as time continues its course, you will see more and more of the back notes, but as they too fade one by one, at the very end you might be left with just a few very long-lasting notes like musk, vanilla, some woods, to name a few. It takes patience to decode each of the notes, and perfumers are typically trained for years in order to be able to do so.

The good news is you don’t need to get the notes to get the pleasure, and maybe the biggest advice of all is that you should just enjoy your fragrance and let it empower and transform you into the best version of yourself !

Learn more about The Society of Scent Fragrances

While the craft of combining top, middle and base notes is often associated with perfume, at The Society of Scent, we use it to thoughtfully inform every product we make.

Learn more about The Society of Scent brands & collections