The Fragrance Accords: Top Notes, Heart Notes, and Base Notes Explained

Ever feel immediately turned off by a scent, only to find that you’ve actually warmed up to it a few hours later? It’s not as strange as you might think: Perfumes are, after all, glorious compositions made with notes of various tones and intensities which, over time, gradually unfold and blend into a complete accord.


Top Notes:

Upon first spray, we are greeted by top notes. Otherwise referred to as “opening notes,” these are the lightest and therefore the first to fade away. Nonetheless, they are a crucial part of the experience—and one that perfumers tend to carefully—as these first impressions greatly influence our first impression of a scent.

 Delicate top notes such as herbs (think clary sage), citruses (bergamot), and light fruits (peach) are perennial go-to’s for perfumers looking to create a pleasant first spritz.


Middle Notes:

As soon as the top notes begin to dissipate, the middle notes, or “heart,” unfolds. This layer is generally heavier and lasts longer than the top notes, and should be well-rounded, containing a medley of scents designed to create a full-bodied expression. The heart should be able to stand alone, but smooth enough to gracefully influence the base notes that come along soon after.

 A perfume’s heart palette is often comprised of a blend of floral or fruits alongside spices like cardamom, coriander, or nutmeg.


Base Notes:

 Once the top notes have completely evaporated, the “base” begins to appear. Though these initially comingle with the heart to create a full-bodied aroma, the base notes become most robust during the “dry-down” period—the time in which the rest of the notes fade—at which point they unfold into a long-lasting impression. These notes should linger for hours, depending on the concentration of the fragrance. 

 Base notes are often rich woods—like amber, sandalwood, cedarwood—or sultry musks.

—Helena Youhana