The Perfume Pyramid: Picking Your Perfect Scent

The Perfume Pyramid: Picking Your Perfect Scent


When it comes to beauty, there are few things worse than buying an expensive, designer perfume, taking it home and realizing it doesn’t smell the way you thought it would, or it doesn’t smell good on you. Picking out a perfume isn’t always the easiest task, especially with foreign perfume notes, French names and a plethora of options in every store. No worries, when it comes to picking out the right fragrance for your personality or body chemistry, we’ve got you covered!


It’s all about the Perfume Pyramid. No, not the scheme kind— the pyramid of notes! Just like the ingredients to your favorite song, note are the ingredients of a perfume. Perfume notes are applied in 3 layers, which is why you might like the way a perfume smells when you first spray it, but turn your noise up after a few seconds.


  • The Top Note AKA the Opening Act
    • The top or head note is the note that first hits you when you spray a perfume. It starts the show, grabs your attention, but doesn’t stick around past it’s set. The science behind the top note is the small molecules in the scents that cause the top note to evaporate quickly. The top note is your lightweight friend that has to go home early. She’s bold, but she’s a tease. Top notes are typically citrus like bergamot and lemon, light fruits like anise and grapefruit and herbs like basil and lavender.


  • The Middle Note AKA the Headliner
    • After the top note gets you all riled up, the middle or heart note sweeps in to take over. It’s the bridge between the top note and the base note. For some perfumes, the middle note comes in quickly after the top note and typically last for hours. For others, you’ve got plenty of time to grab a snack, stand on the bathroom line and peruse the gift shop before it hits. Either way, the middle note is the main event. She’s the life of the party, but never sloppy. Most middle notes are floral scents like geranium, rose, lemongrass, ylang ylang, lavender and jasmine.


  • The Base Note AKA the Venue
    • The base note is the deciding factor of a standout show. It’s the foundation of your fragrance. Base notes settle onto skin and linger for a while. The larger molecules in base notes mean it evaporates much slower than top notes, and can last more than six hours after the middle notes dissipate, in many cases. This is known as the “dry down” period. The base note sticks around until last call, and still has their shoes on when the lights come on. On their own, even the base notes of the most appealing perfumes might not smell as appealing as you’d think. Popular base notes include vanilla, amber, musk and patchouli. Perfume with musk or animalic notes are usually found in sexier scents, and often known to last longer.


Just like a well-constructed song, when all the notes of a perfume come together right, it makes a harmonious fragrance. When buying a new perfume, you’ll want to spray it on your wrist or tester strip, then give it some time to settle before coming back to it. You have to get through the opening act, or top note, before knowing if it’s a good show or not.


But it’s not just about the notes. Body chemistry plays a large role in whether or not you like the way a fragrance smells on you. If you spray a perfume on a test strip and aren’t sure if you like or not, try spraying it on your wrist and wearing it for a bit. 


Let’s break down some popular fragrances, Civilian!



1.Maison Francis Kurkdijan BACCARAT ROUGE 540 EXTRAIT DE PARFUM

  • Top notes: Saffron and Jasmine
  • Middle notes: Ambergris and Amberwood
  • Base notes: Fir Resin and Cedar

This is likely to start off spicy and sweet, then dry down into a spicy, woodsy fragrance.




  • Top note: Cardamom
  • Middle notes: Leather and Jasmine
  • Base notes: Amber, Moss and Patchouli.

This is a unisex fragrance, and the notes are fittingly more masculine. Spicy top notes settle into warm middle and base notes for a lasting scent.



3. Le Labo Santal 33 Eau de Parfum

  • Top notes: Violet Accord and Cardamom
  • Middle notes: Iris and Ambrox
  • Base notes: Cedarwood, Leather and Sandalwood

Santal 33 is said to smell like a “rugged cowboy” or open fire. It’s another unisex scent, with warm, smoky, rich and woodsy vibes.



My recommendation? If you’re not sure about a specific fragrance, get the rollerball or travel size spray bottle! Made perfect for traveling or throwing in your purse for re-application, rollerballs and travel size bottles are also a great way to take a fragrance for a test run. Rollerballs are typically less intense and contain fewer top notes, but both are affordable ways to try a scent before committing fully.


The next time you go shopping for a new fragrance, remember to consult the Perfume Pyramid, so you know who’s opening the show, who the main event is and where this show’s being held!



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