Cosmetic History Ingredients

Genealogy of Perfumes


I’ve had this Genealogy of Perfumes in my papers since I picked it up in the eighties.  It was produced by a big fragrance house called Haarman and Reimer. It has always been something I have found interesting.  I have had it stuck on the wall of labs I’ve worked in at times.

It basically gives a quick guide to how perfumers see and classify perfumes, and then lists the ancestry of the major perfumes in history up until that time.  It is a bit of a period piece really because you wouldn’t be able to keep it up to date with the huge numbers of fragrances that have come out since it was printed.  It also pre-dates the trend for celebrity fragrances, which have added more noise to the fine fragrance sector. (If you want to know who started that trend, it was none other than Elizabeth Taylor in 1986.  She took a few tries to come up with White Diamonds, the first celebrity fragrance that made serious money if you are thinking that date sounds too early.)

The scheme behind the genealogy is the twelve fragrance families:



floral dry/herb


aldehydic floral

aldehydic floral woody powdery

fresh aldehydic mossy

aldehydic mossy animalic

mossy fruity


tobacco leather

fougère = fresh aromatic spicy mossy

Most of those names are self explanatory.  Aldehydic refers to a partitcularly strong smelling class of organic chemicals called aldehydes.  If you are familiar with the UK sweets called pear drops you’ll know exactly what an aldehyde smells like.  You get the same note quite often in very ripe fruit.  The last one on the list makes sense if you know that fougère is the french for fern.

The idea is that all fragrances can be fitted into one of the twelve categories, or that they are a blend of more than one category.  It enables perfumers to talk and write about fragrances and fit them into a scheme.  If you read reviews of perfumes the same nomenclature sometimes gets dropped into the description of the actual smell, though often modified to make it more understandable to non-specialists.

It also makes it possible to fit any marketed fragrance onto a spectrum.   If you then add the launch date you can create a geneaology of perfumes and draw links between different creations.  It is a lot of fun.

I’d love to share the whole thing on here, and I hope I can.  But although it is a very old document it is still technically in copyright.  I am trying to get permission from Haarman and Reimer to do exactly that.  You can find a more up to date one here.

Even this one only takes it up to 2001, but does have some names that are a bit more recognisable.  But it doesn’t have all the explanatory notes that my paper version has.  It also misses out the links which show where one perfume was based on an earlier one.  There are only two celebrities on this one: Elizabeth Taylor and Naomi Campbell.  I think that is probably enough.

[hana-code-insert name=’General Interest’ /]


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