The Fragrance Wheel: A Guide to Choosing the Right Fragrance

Everyone struggles when it comes to choosing their next fragrance. You want something that embodies you in a scent, and where does anyone start when trying to figure that out? It’s difficult when you’re not familiar with the various fragrance notes. It might seem daunting to even begin trying to understand it all.

Whenever you’re beginning your journey of discovery of the endless options out there, you need the fragrance wheel to give you some guidance. This article will explain what the fragrance wheel is, how to use it to your advantage, and talk about the different scent families and combinations.

What Is the Fragrance Wheel?

The fragrance wheel is similar to the colour wheel. It shows off different scents, subfamilies, and how they are related. For example, there are four scent families, floral notes, oriental notes, woody notes, and fresh notes. These scents that exist in the four scent families are grouped together based on the similarities and differences they share.

Michael Edwards was the mastermind behind the fragrance wheel. He created the system to assist retailers who were making recommendations to consumers about what fragrance to purchase. Each scent family has a dominant scent, and the subfamilies are the blended versions of each fragrance.

What are the Scent Families?

There are four prominent scent families; floral, oriental, woody, and fresh notes. We will explore these different scent families and discuss the subfamilies attached to each.


When it comes to the floral scent family, it’s the most common scent family around. Of course, floral scents are more common in female fragrances, but they’ve been known to make a rare appearance in men’s fragrances. So what should you be expecting with floral fragrances? The scent is usually that of various freshly cut flowers, either a blend with a dominant floral scent or a distinct type of flower.

There are four subfamilies in the floral fragrance family; fruity, floral, soft floral, and floral oriental.


- Fruity fragrances are made with sweet, edible, tropical scents such as apples, pears, peaches, etc.

- Floral fragrances use that freshly-cut flower smell that floral is known for using scents like roses, lilies, etc.

- Soft Floral are softer, more powdery, and sweeter. They often feature a hint of creaminess to their flavour.

- Floral Oriental is an overlap of floral and oriental where it’s predominantly floral with hints of spice in the flavour notes.

Common Examples of Floral Notes

- Jasmine

- Rose

- Orange Blossom

- Lilies

- Lavender


The oriental fragrance family is all about rich and exotic scents. When you begin to consider what it means to be an oriental-based fragrance, you think of herbs and spices or powdery, dry, and resin notes. Sometimes these scents can be heady and opulent, so they’re mixed with sweet notes of amber to soften them slightly. It’s a scent family that often gets labelled as seductive and exotic.

There are three subfamilies in the oriental fragrance family; soft oriental, oriental, and woody oriental.


- Soft Oriental is a light crossover between oriental and floral. It’s incredibly subtle, but the fragrances are delicate with floral notes and some incense and warm spices.

- Oriental features are distinctly oriental, such as sweet and warm notes such as musk, vanilla, and cinnamon.

- Woody Oriental is a cross between oriental and woody fragrances with earth notes like sandalwood and patchouli but with those spicy and sweet notes that make it oriental.

Common Examples of Floral Notes

- Vanilla

- Anise

- Myrrh


A woody fragrance usually features a warm and opulent fragrance. It mixes incense-like fragrances like sandalwood with drier notes such as cedar. In order to tone down these warm notes, a woody fragrance will usually incorporate fresh notes found in floral or citrus scents. Sometimes, a woody fragrance is coniferous, woody, or bitter.

There are three subfamilies in the woody fragrance family; woods, mossy woods, and dry woods.


- Woods is a fragrance relying on the aromatic scents of the woods like cedar, sandalwood, or vetiver.

- Mossy Woods relies on the sweeter, smoother, earthy scents like amber and oakmoss.

- Dry Woods is a smouldering and smoky fragrance mixed with the aromas of leather.

Common Examples of Floral Notes

- Sandalwood

- Patchouli

- Vetiver


With fresh scents, we think bright and clean scents. The scents are usually of a herby, citrusy, or water-like substance. Unlike floral fragrances, fresh scents are usually used in men's fragrances. Sometimes fresh scents are paired with spicy notes to help create a more robust and sophisticated scent.

The fresh fragrance family has four subfamilies: aromatic, citrus, water, and green.


- Aromatic scents are clean with hints of fresh herbs mixed with woody scents or lavender.

- Citrus is your zesty notes that are found in fruits bergamot or mandarins.

- Water refers to the scents of sea spray, rain, or oceanic notes.

- Green might sound weird, considering it’s a colour, but what this means is the smell of a freshly mowed lawn or some crushed green leaves.

Common Examples of Floral Notes

- Sage

- Grapefruit

- Bergamot

How Do You Pair Fragrances?

Just because they’re on opposite sides of the fragrance wheel doesn’t mean they can’t work together to make an incredible fragrance. Pairing fragrances from different families is a common reality in the world of scent creation. More often than not, side by side subfamilies work together well to create alluring fragrances. Some subfamilies complement others that are far away from their position on the wheel. Think of your soft oriental and a citrus scent or oriental and water. These are complimentary of one another.

Why Does It Matter To Understand The Fragrance Wheel?

It’s a personal decision to understand the fragrance wheel. However, understanding the fragrance wheel and you, as a perfume wearer, means knowing what you want. This means going out into the vast ocean of scents. You know what works for you and what to avoid. This is especially helpful when making online purchases where you might not have the luxury of getting to smell the fragrance before purchasing it.

Popular Questions Asked

How does a fragrance wheel work?

Similar to the colour wheel, the fragrance wheel shows different scents, its subfamilies and how they are related. Separated into 4 different scents – floral, fresh, oriental and woody, these are then broken down, even further into subcategories. The scent that exist in the four scent families are all based on the similarities and differences they share.

Who invented the fragrance wheel?

Perfume expert Michael Edwards created the modern fragrance wheel in 1992. Other versions have been around since 1949, and of course, its evolved reflecting on modern fragrance.

What are the 5 categories of fragrance?

The 5 categories of fragrance are: Perfume or Parfum, Eau De Perfume or Eau de Parfum, Eau de Toilette, Eau de Cologne and lucky last, Eau Fraiche.

What are the 4 scents?

The four scents of the fragrance wheels are floral, fresh, oriental and woody.