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A Guide To The Perfume Pyramid From The House of Creed

9.23.23
a bottle of erolfa fragrance laying on top of a selection of ingredients

Envisage the architecture of your signature scent: perhaps the fruity opening notes of lemon and apricot give way to a heart of fresh jasmine – or perhaps warm vanilla dries down to an enchanting base of musk. In luxury perfume composition, each scent is intricately layered above another to create an exquisite chorus.

These layers are called notes, and fall into one of three categories: top, heart and base notes. Each of the three signature categories form what is referred to as the perfume pyramid. 

Take a deep dive into luxury perfume composition and the fragrance pyramid with The House of Creed’s master perfumers to help you understand how your fragrance is constructed and the intricate detail of why your fragrance smells different at first sniff versus several hours later.

What is a perfume pyramid?

A perfume pyramid is an olfactory concept to visualise the composition of a fragrance. It has three layers: we find top notes at the tip of the pyramid, heart notes a layer down, and base notes underneath.

The pyramid’s shape represents the way we experience perfume as it develops over the course of the day. First, we encounter light and refreshing top notes – fresh basil, perhaps, or zesty mandarin. Next, we experience a layer of heart notes, like florals. Over time, this layer then dries down to a heavier base – imagine woody or spicy scents. This is the perfume pyramid: its shape is a way to visualise the order in which we typically encounter a scent.

The pyramid is one illustration of a perfume’s architecture and evolution – though not all fragrances develop in this way. Many notes in the pyramid harmonise together: you may detect heart notes at the same time as the top notes – fresh florals like rose, for instance, may appear alongside the lighter profile of lavender. Equally, rich base notes – such as leathery oud or sandalwood – may also be present on opening, deepening as the scent dries down.

What are perfume notes?

Perfume notes are descriptors of scents, separated into three categories: top, heart and base notes. These three notes work together to create intricate layers that form a perfume’s unique character.

All luxury fragrances are composed of different perfume notes – from the sweet symphonies of violet and iris to the sultry amber accents of musk and ambergris. Given the way these notes interact with one another to create a unique scent profile, it is perhaps unsurprising that perfumery is often described in musical terms: notice the way the scent’s notes harmonise, deepen and evolve on the skin.

These three perfume notes are structured in the fragrance pyramid according to their qualities, such as their evaporation time and the order in which we typically encounter them.

Top Notes

Sitting at the tip of the pyramid, we find the top notes. These are the first scents you can identify when you apply the perfume. Typically, the top notes tend to be lighter and fresher than other ingredients – think zesty citrus notes like bergamot and lime or aromatic herbs, like basil and peppermint. Although these notes are the first to unfold, they evaporate quickly and have the shortest lifespan of around five to fifteen minutes - this is why it is always best to allow the scent to settle for around an hour before making a decision on whether you like or dislike a fragrance. The top notes then transition smoothly into the heart of the fragrance.

Heart Notes

When the scent begins to mature, we encounter the heart notes. Found in the middle layer of the pyramid, these notes are aptly named – they form the heart of the fragrance and compose the majority of its scent profile. Typically, heart notes are home to an array of aromatic florals – such as jasmine, rose or lavender – as well as richer fruits and spices, like blackcurrant or cinnamon. Compared to the pyramid’s lighter layer above, heart notes linger on the skin for a little longer, usually lasting between twenty minutes and one hour.

Base Notes

At the base of the fragrance pyramid: the sensual dry down. Once the top and heart notes evaporate, we experience the intense profile of the base notes. These notes are often heavy and rich – think woody, musky and amber scents – and evaporate slowly. Base notes are used as a fixative in perfumery to allow the fragrance to linger on the skin throughout the day.

What are popular perfume ingredients? 

From revitalising citrus to alluring spice, take a tour through a sample of some of The House of Creed’s most signature perfume ingredients and where they sit in the fragrance pyramid.

Top Note Perfume Ingredients

Top note ingredients are typically light and fresh – home to citrus scents and aromatic herbs. Bold and vibrant, these ingredients provide the all-important first impression.

Bergamot

Bergamot is best known for its characteristic citrus-floral scent, both bittersweet and rich. Inspired by the Italian coast, discover top notes of bergamot alongside a blend of tangerine and sweet neroli in Jardin D’Amalfi from The House of Creed. Discover more about how The House of Creed sources its bergamot here.

Italian Orange

Reminiscent of a fresh summer breeze, orange strikes a refreshing note – both slightly sweet and sharp. You’ll find a revitalising blend of orange zest, apple and apricot top notes in Love in White.

Basil

Crisp and aromatic, basil offers an enticingly green scent. Discover the herbal freshness of Erolfa with its signature opening notes of basil, mandarin, lemon and lime.

Heart Note Perfume Ingredients

Heart note ingredients are usually home to floral, fruity or spicy scents. These ingredients are full-bodied and aromatic, giving the fragrance its distinctive character.

Iris

Also often known as Orris, iris blends sweet buttery accents with a soft powdery undertone and often forms the heart of floral fragrances. One of the most expensive ingredients in perfumery, you’ll find Iris peppered into a variety of The House of Creed fragrances. In Love in White For Summer, Florentine iris is layered with rice and Virginian cedarwood for a powdery, woody eau de parfum, whilst in Millésime Impérial, you’ll find Orris complemented by a salty marine note and a warm base of cedarwood and musk.

Jasmine

Jasmine is known for its sweet, delicate profile. Explore an opulent olfactive experience of jasmine, rose, iris and orris butter, dancing around a rich vanilla and oud base with Royal Princess Oud - a fragrance for her, inspired by The House of Creed’s rich couture heritage. Discover more about the characteristics of floral fragrances here.

Rose

Known for its romantic synergies, Rose is one of the most iconic ingredients found in perfumery, cherished for its versatility and ability to take on the other notes surrounding it - be it powdery, fresh, woody or musky. You will find Bulgarian rose nestled into both male and female fragrances, including Aventus For Her and Viking.

Vétiver

Vétiver is often likened to the scent of fresh and dry grass - green notes, complemented by a warm, earthy and almost woody undertone. Vétiver provides the perfect transition into the richer base ingredients whilst harmonising with refreshing top notes. Conjure up the lingering sunshine in a late summer with Original Vétiver from The House of Creed. An earthy and leathery composition with grassy notes, ginger, coriander and white musk that dance around a unique vetiver offering. 

Base Note Perfume Ingredients

Base note ingredients are typically woody, spicy and rich. These ingredients give the perfume its depth and work to fix the heart and top notes in place.

Musk

Musk is known for its effortless allure. Often described as earthy, woody and animalic, musk is one of the most popular base notes in luxury perfumery and cherished by The House of Creed perfumers. The subtle maple sweetness of tonka bean combines with sensual musk in Sublime Vanille whilst a sensual and woody blend of birch, cedarwood, oakmoss and ambergris blend with musk in the iconic men’s fragrance, Aventus.

Oud

One of the most opulent ingredients in perfumery, oud is known for its characteristic intensity – and its rich, leathery spiciness. In Royal Oud, notes of angelica seed, cardamon and clove dry down to an intoxicating base of oud, musk, ambergris and smoky frankincense. Peruse our guide to oud in perfumery and how it is extracted here.

Sandalwood

Sandalwood is a warm, sultry scent – evoking ochre sunsets and golden afternoons. Discover opulent layers of ginger, cinnamon and vanilla coupled with spicy sandalwood in The House of Creed’s Original Santal or an aromatic and refreshing blend of peppermint, geranium, oakmoss and sandalwood in the classic fougère, Green Irish Tweed

All luxury fragrances are home to an array of exquisite layers, delicately crafted by artisan perfumers. These layers – top, heart and base notes – form the perfume pyramid, a way to visualise the progression of a perfume as it dries down. From the refreshing opening notes of peppermint to the vibrant heart of ylang-ylang, the perfume pyramid represents the way we encounter our signature scents.