What Is Sillage? And 7 Other Fascinating Perfume Terms

Like wine, perfume can be really confusing. Between the lofty descriptions you see on bottles (“with an oud base that grounds the heady top notes”) and the many categories of fragrance that exist (can something be both woody and spicy?), it’s enough to give you a headache. So we took the liberty of breaking down some of those froufrou terms you might come across when shopping for a scent.

Pronounced “see-yazh,” this refers to the trail of scent left behind from a perfume. You know when someone steps off an elevator and you catch a whiff of their Chloé? Hello, sillage.

Simply put, a note is like an ingredient. Notes are divided into three categories or levels: top, middle and base. Together they make up the entire fragrance. The top note is usually the first thing you smell when you pick up a perfume bottle. As that evaporates, you get a whiff of the middle (also referred to as the “heart”) and finally, the base note (which is what lingers on your skin).

In re, that whole note-evaporation thing: That final stage of wear (when the top and middle notes give way to the base note) is the drydown. The amount of time it takes to reach the drydown—and how the drydown will smell—is unique to every individual (which is why the same perfume might smell different on you than it does on your bestie).

It’s not just a compact car. In perfumes, an accord is when two or more notes are blended together to create an entirely new scent. 

This is a popular category of fragrance that smells sweet and could be found in a kitchen—or baking in an oven. Think: honey, vanilla, chocolate or various fruits like raspberry. Examples of gourmand perfumes include Thierry Mugler Angel and Prada Candy.

In a nutshell, aldehydes are aromatic compounds present in many natural materials (like roses). But synthetic versions can also be produced in a lab. When added to a fragrance, they give it a certain zest or sparkle. The most popular example of a perfume with aldehydes is Chanel No. 5.

Fragrances are available in four major strength concentrations: parfum, eau de parfum, eau de toilette and eau de cologne (in descending order of strength). The concentration refers to the perfume-oil-to-alcohol ratio in each bottle. The higher the concentration, the longer it will last on your skin.

Also referred to as amber fragrances, this popular category of scents is characterized by rich, warm notes (like frankincense and—you guessed it—amber). Oriental perfumes are usually more intense and longer lasting than others. Some examples include Yves Saint Laurent Opium and Tom Ford Velvet Orchid.

What Kind of Perfume You Should Wear, Based on Your Zodiac Sign

Jenny Jin Headshot Vertical 2023

Beauty Director

Jenny Jin is PureWow’s Beauty Director and is currently based in Los Angeles. Since beginning her journalism career at Real Simple magazine, she has become a human encyclopedia of...