by Lisa Abdul-Quddus
Perfumes are composed of top (head), middle (heart) and bottom (base) notes. By definition in perfumery head notes are the opening scent. The less tenacious of the three, head notes can last anywhere from 10-30 minutes leading you into the heart of the perfume. Heart notes are the body of a composition or the theme that identifies the perfume. Base notes being the most tenacious are the foundation of the perfume and the longest lasting. Although separated into three categories you will find, however, that some essences can cross over into another area or even last throughout the life of the perfume. Head notes can be smelled in the heart or a hint of one in the base. Base notes can come forward early on blending with head and/or heart notes. Heart notes can go in either direction; giving a lift to head notes or adding to the body of base notes.
You will find citruses fall into this category. I have had the experience of evaluating a perfume that gave an initial burst of citrus before quickly fading, only to have that note return in the heart of the composition. There are several choices when it comes to citrus essential oils like orange (bitter, sweet, wild, blood), grapefruit (white, pink, red), mandarin (yellow, green, red), lemon, lime, tangerine and yuzu. Herbs also fall into this category. Common are basil, bay, cardamom, coriander, mints and sage (to name a few).
For all the floral lovers this is where jasmines, roses, geraniums, etc., shine. There are herbs, spices and some woods that are heart notes. Examples are (spices) clove & cinnamon, (herbs) chamomile & melissa, (woods) ho wood and katrafay.
Base notes are the heavier and most tenacious group of essences. Most woods and absolutes fall under this heading. Cedar and Sandalwoods for example are included, as well as, 'stinkier' (highly fragrant) leaves and roots like patchouly and vetyver.
As you're building your palette you'll want to select essences from each group. Adding 2-3 of each head, heart and base notes over time will give a very good beginner's collection.
*Lisa is a graduate of NNAPA Natural Botanical Perfumers Antiquarian Perfumery Course, and writes the blogs 'Blossoming Tree' and 'Scent, You Say?', and is owner of Blossoming Tree Bodycare at Etsy.