The 5-Step Method to Decode a Perfume

I’m often asked for guidance to identify notes in specific perfumes. This question touches upon the larger topic of learning about fragrance–how is it made, what do various terms mean, how to parse out mixtures and so on. I’m asked about books or online materials that a non-professional can use to make sense of the intriguing and complex world of scents. Often, I direct my readers to the books by Philip Kraft and Harold McGee, but the truth is that there is no one definitive book that covers this topic. You would have to read widely and pick and choose your materials to tailor them to your interests.

What’s more, there is not one professionally recognized textbook on perfumery that all perfume students need to read. The text that comes close is Method of Creation and Perfumery by Jean Carles, originally published in 1961. I will leave a link at the end of the article, in case you want to read it. While it still remains a seminal text, much has changes in perfumery in the past decades, to the point that creation is conceptualized differently. With this in mind, where does this leave a perfume lover? What should you do in order to learn identifying perfume notes and to understanding fragrances better?

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