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The olfactory pyramid

When we come into contact with a perfume, the senses are activated through a natural gesture, the breath. Each of us has a different way of perceiving fragrances with our breath, but thanks to their composition we are able to know and feel them objectively. This is because each fragrance is made up of an olfactory pyramid. But what is it? And why is it so important?


The olfactory pyramid is the classification of the olfactory notes that make up a perfume. This term was used for the first time by Aimé Guerlain, who in 1889 used a pyramid to describe one of his creations, Jicky.

The concept of the olfactory pyramid can be compared to that of the musical scale. Each fragrance is classified according to the degree of volatility and persistence of the notes that compose it.

The scented notes, based on how they are mixed together, make up the perfume, which is perceived differently based on the moment of application on the skin.


The olfactory pyramid can be read from top to bottom and indicates the multiple facets of the same fragrance. As a perfume evaporates it reveals new nuances, it accompanies us with a new trail thanks to the olfactory classification of each single note.

Each fragrance is composed of top notes, at the top of the pyramid, heart notes, in the middle, and base notes , the most persistent.

The olfactory notes, when mixed to create the perfume, are transformed into chords. Each of them communicates a different nuance of the same fragrance and with this awareness it is easier to choose or wear a perfume according to the occasion.

The top notes

The top notes are the ones we feel right away, the exact moment the drops of perfume touch our skin. They are the ones we perceive from the beginning and for this reason they are the most immediate.

The top notes make up the most volatile part of the perfume, because they fade away a few minutes after wearing it. The most common olfactory families present at the top of the pyramid are citrus and marine ones.

The heart notes

The heart notes are those that begin to be perceptible after a few minutes, and that we perceive immediately after the head notes. It is the warmest part of the olfactory composition of a fragrance, the one that often distinguishes the soul of the fragrance we wear.

The heart notes are perceptible up to four, six or eight hours after the first nebulization. And most of the time they are composed of floral or fruity olfactory accords.

The background notes

At the base of all niche perfumes are the base notes, the most long-lasting and persistent. The base notes can be felt on the skin after eight hours, but also the day after wearing the perfume (if the skin’s pH allows it).

The deepest ones, placed at the base of the olfactory pyramid, are the spicy, woody, oriental, gourmand or leathery ones. Fragrances with a lighter consistency, on the other hand, have vanilla, powdery or musky accords among the final notes.


Knowing the olfactory pyramid of a fragrance, the volatility of the top, heart and base notes, teaches us a fundamental thing: never judge an essence on first impression.

Given that each accord can be influenced by the pH of our skin, it is important to say that you cannot stop at the top notes to understand a perfume. It would be like drinking a glass of excellent red wine, perhaps a vintage one, without decanting it first.

Never be in a hurry when evaluating a niche perfume. As with good music, it often takes a second and even a third listening to understand that we like what we are hearing.

The scent changes over time, as it opens. And that’s why you should always make more than one attempt before choosing a fragrance. Without judging it fleetingly, but giving it all the time necessary to allow it to express itself in its entirety.


We have explained how the belonging of an olfactory note to the “role” of head, heart or base depends on its volatility point in contact with the air.

This explains very well the reason why fragrances that have a dominant citrus character will hardly have the same persistence as a fragrance with a woody or gourmand character.

An orange blossom essential oil can never be forced to evaporate more slowly, or to act as a base note. Precisely because it is nature that dictates the laws and not the perfumers.

And this is precisely one of the greatest challenges of those who create perfume. For example, that of creating harmonies based on top notes, accompanied by heart and base notes, without the latter becoming dominant.

Anyone preparing to choose a perfume must accept the fact that each creation expresses itself according to its own characteristics. And enjoy it, if you like, for its natural predisposition, and not for what we would like it to be.


Despite the classification of olfactory stages, when we wear a perfume we do not perceive its evolution clearly. The perfumed notes in fact chase each other to give a natural olfactory harmony to the fragrance.

A delicate balance, created thanks to the right dose of each event. A game of roles based on the balance of natural elements that flow into an unprecedented olfactory facet. And this is precisely the beauty of artistic perfumery. Being able to count on always new creations and interpretations, to be tried and tried again.

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