Notes on Fragrance; What are top, heart and base notes?

Welcome to the world of fragrance reading! Decoding scents is a passionate pass-time of ours here at NŌLA and we wanted to share our cliff-notes with you; our top, heart and base notes, and how we use them to craft deep, unique sensory experiences through our products; candles, reed diffusers and room sprays. 


The art of combining scents from different fragrance ‘families’, ie. floral or woody scent collections, and through different ‘notes’ is grounded in the age-old science of perfumery. NŌLA uses this same method to craft thoughtful, layered scents. This comes from drawing on multiple levels in the scent, what we call ‘notes’. There are three distinct classes of scent notes; the top or head note, the middle or heart note, and finally the base note. These classifications typically refer to the amount of time it takes for a scent to be ‘sensed’ or released.  Individual scents can smell very differently depending on their concoction and how they are mixed. We layer our scents to alter the perception of notes and create deeper, more unique combinations of scents. 


For example, in our coastal collection, we have a citrus top note of lemon and lime that is immediately noticeable. What would be a sharp note on its own, is mellowed out by the woody base notes of amber and sandalwood that adds a deeper sweetness. Like sugar in a lemon cake. These notes act as the stage for the middle notes of lavender and wild freesia, the body of the scent, adding freshness and complexity to create the rounded signatory scent of the collection


Top Notes: Setting the Stage

Your first impression of a fragrance is largely shaped by the top notes. This is what you smell when you remove the lid and try the scent in the store. These notes tend to evaporate faster due to their smaller molecules. Thus, lighter, herbal and citrus scents are often used for top notes and are meant to attract and intrigue, then transition smoothly into the headier middle notes.

Examples of our top notes: Lemon, lime, Mandarino, Japanese plum, blackberry. 

Sweet orange and violet are the top notes in our patchouli orange collection. A sweetened, bright citrus introduction paired with soft, powdery and romantic violets as our first experience toward the woody middle notes of cedarwood and oakmoss, to finally the earthy base notes of a musky patchouli. 


Middle Notes: The Foundation

Also often called ‘heart’ notes, middle notes form the ‘body’ of the fragrance. These scents are revealed once the top notes recede and often make up between 40-80% of the entire aroma. More complex than top notes, these scents are meant to hold your attention and also act as a buffer for more robust base notes. Thus, they can often hold more personality and more numerous combinations. They are typically floral, spicy, or fruity.

Examples of our heart notes: florals such as tiare, wild freesia, lavender, osmanthus and white rose, or earthy notes such as oakmoss.


Base Notes; A Lingering Impression

Base notes are typically the calming, lingering layer of the scent and ground the overall impression. These fragrances are made up of larger, heavy molecules that provide complexity, depth and a lasting impression as they are slower to evaporate. They are often sweet or musky.

Examples of our base notes: Vanilla, sandalwood, cedar 

Our bouquet candle, spray and diffuser is a good example of a scent with powerful base notes. The top notes of lemon peel (the classic citrus topper) and bergamot hit the nose first, then we get a warming heart of white rose and lily, which is finally rounded off with a earthy base made up of cedar and musk. 


Reading through a fragrance like this and ‘decoding’ the various scent notes is a great way to anticipate how the product will smell and whether it will work for you. Perhaps you are not typically a fan of citrus notes? Depending on whether the citrus note is a top or a base note, or what the scent is paired with (say, patchouli), the scent will hit differently and evolve over time. It can even be the case that a candle you dislike in the shop (tested unlit and only in time for the top notes) could become your favourite! If you’re not sure which candles to pick, need some assistance ‘reading’ our fragrances, please send an email- we’re happy to help!