Top, Mid & Base: What Do Fragrance Notes Mean?

If you’ve been interested in fragrance for any length of time, you’ll have heard of top, middle & base notes. So what exactly are they? 

In short, it’s how you experience the fragrance — the way that the perfume smells over time, from the first spray to the remnants still detectable on your skin and clothing many hours later.

The long answer requires us to understand a little more about the chemistry behind perfume and the science of our sense of smell. 

Just like music, perfume is a composition of notes combined for artistic effect. In music, notes are arranged in a hierarchy by pitch. In perfume, notes are arranged in a hierarchy by warmth & evaporation rate.

Perfume notes are described in terms of a 3-level ‘olfactory pyramid’, with each level corresponding to the longevity of the ingredients — hence top, middle & base. This is because each type of note has a different molecular structure that causes them to evaporate at different rates. 

Therefore, to create complex, compelling fragrances, perfumers will combine a variety of notes from different levels of the pyramid, orchestrating not just how the different aromas play off each other when first combined, but also how they interact, fading in and out over the duration of wear.

Top Notes

Lasting for up to 15 minutes before dissipating, top notes, also known as ‘head notes’, are the first thing you smell when you open the bottle and apply your perfume. Herbal, fruit and citrus accords like orange, bergamot, lavender, berries & basil are common top notes for fragrance compositions.

Middle Notes

Lasting around two to four hours, middle notes are also known as ‘heart notes’, and create the necessary link between the lighter, fresh top notes and dark, warm base notes. Middle notes form the core scent of a perfume and are commonly floral, earthy or spicy in nature, such as rose, ylang-ylang, black pepper, cardamom & neroli. 

Base Notes

Lasting for four to six hours, base notes are also referred to as ‘dry-down’ notes — as the name suggests, these compounds ‘dry down’ on the skin and linger the longest, softening the sharper impression of the top notes and adding depth to the middle notes. 

Vanilla, musk, patchouli, tonka bean, and woody accords like sandalwood are frequently chosen as warm, soft base notes to round out the foundations of a fragrance.

In Practice

Now that we know more about the structure of a scent, let’s use this formula to break down a few of the niche European perfumes available through Lusso Collective. 

Some of the compositions are short and simple, while others are much more complex — but they are all expertly arranged by some of the top noses in the global industry.

Fico D’India, by Ortigia

Inspiration: wild ‘prickly pear’ cacti on the cliff tops of Sicily, summer sun, coastal gardens

TOP: Powdery Fig, Orange Blossom
MIDDLE: Cactus Juice
BASE: Cedar Oil

06 by Rhizome

Inspiration: warm sand on white beaches, summer sun, cloudless skies

TOP: Ambergris, Bergamot
MIDDLE: Tuscan Iris, Myrrh, Elemi
BASE: Musk, Amber

Improved Silence by Roads Fragrances

Inspiration: the continent of Asia, meditation, inner guidance

TOP: Bergamot, Orange, Lavender, Cardamom, Pink Pepper, Ozonic Accord
MIDDLE: Almond Milk, Immortelle, Violet, Rose, Geranium
BASE: Cedarwood, Amber, Musk, Tonka Bean, Vetiver, Sandalwood, Vanilla

These three artisan fragrances (and many more) are available to shop in our online boutique, with complimentary delivery on orders over $100. 

We hope you enjoyed this little lesson! Ensure you subscribe to our newsletter to stay informed with our monthly fragrance articles.


Lusso Collective



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