A Simple Guide to Understanding Colognes

There’s something about male perfumes that sometimes drives women insane. A really good perfume will get you some recognition from anyone who is close enough to have their nose permeated by the diffused scent. A sexy dress or well-fitted suit turns heads but sweet smelling perfumes turn noses. Most men have a collection of colognes stashed somewhere in their palaces. For some, these items are given pride of place and can easily be identified because of their positioning in the room. They are always neatly arranged with the original boxes well preserved.

What exactly is a perfume? Is a perfume the same thing as a cologne? What is the meaning of the phrases: “Eau de Parfum”, “Eau de Toilette”, and “Eau de Cologne”? (They’re found on some bottles.)

A perfume is…

A perfume is a complex mixture of synthetic and natural fragrances, solvent and antioxidants  blended in lab. The fragrances are essential oils extracted from plants or animals. These oils are obtained from flowers, grasses, spices, fruit, wood, roots, resins, balsams, leaves and gums. Animal extracts come from secretions such as ambergris from the sperm whale, or may come from actual body parts such as musk obtained from male deer. In recent times, chemists have resorted to creating synthetic fragrances not found in nature. Plant and animal sources are not always available in abundance, all  year round. Therefore the synthetic skills of organic chemists come in quite handy.


The word  perfume comes from the Latin words “per” meaning “through” and “fumum” which means “smoke.” The  use of fragrances in religious ceremonies dates back to the biblical era. Jewish priests would  burn incense which was a mixture of herbs possessing volatile, sweet smelling fragrances. The aroma is released when the mixture is heated. The Egyptian nation is known for having used fragrances to embalm the bodies of their dead. People the world over, also know of the wise men from the East who visited the baby Jesus, offering frankincense and myrrh.

The use of perfumes spread from the near East to the monarchies of Europe. With the rapid advancement in the study of organic chemistry in the 1800’s, numerous fragrances were isolated and synthesized. This saw the use of perfumes extending to the local people. France was a major contributor to the development of the perfume industry. Today, the United States has the largest perfume market with annual sales going into billions of dollars.

Perfume also known as “parfum”(French for perfume) is the most concentrated of  all the categories. Parfum has the greatest amount or concentration of fragrance oils (15-40% with the rest being alcohol and a trace of water). Consequently, these are slightly more oily, much more expensive and need only be applied in small quantities. A single drop lasts for hours.

Eau de Parfum
These contain between 10 and 15% fragrance oils. They may be applied a little more liberally than perfumes but caution must still be taken as they have very strong scents. The prices are generally lower than that of Parfum.

Eau de Toilette
Eau de toilette contains anywhere from 5-15% fragrance oils. The low concentration of oils makes it less intense and therefore can be applied to the skin liberally. The high alcohol content however, makes it rather light, so it vaporizes quickly.

Eau de Cologne
Cologne is the shortened form of Eau de Cologne and is the name of a French city Cologne. They contain from 3-8% perfume extract (fragrance oils). These blends are very light, fresh and may contain the essential oils lemon, neroli and bergamot. Most male fragrances fall within this category

So Perfume and Cologne are NOT the same thing.

Perfume scents are mixtures and as such are described as notes (like musical notes.)

Top Note – this is recognized immediately due to its light nature and therefore acts as the selling point of the perfume. They typically are not long lasting fragrances.

Middle Notes – after a few minutes the top note will diffuse out and by then the middle notes become apparent. It is delayed due to the fact that they are less volatile. They can last up to an hour after application.

Base Notes – at the tail end of the middle notes comes the base notes. They offer depth and richness to the perfume. The ingredients used here are typically heavier compounds which take a longer time to evaporate. This results in a longer lasting fragrance.


Perfumes may serve different functions other than as a personal hygiene product. Scents are now being used as a major marketing tool for some companies. In the article Using Scent as a Marketing Tool – Stores Hope It–And Shoppers–Will Linger by Sarah Nassauer, it was highlighted that some shops are now adding odor in order to attract customers. It’s a scientific fact that men and women are drawn to different scents (pheromones). Chemists and marketing agencies are simply taking advantage of this. I hope this goes some way to explain why you are drawn to particular stores. Food and clothing shops do this all the time.

1. For sprays, squirt a mist a few inches from your torso and walk into it.
2. For Perfumes which are more oily, apply to points where you can feel a pulse (wrist, behind the ears or dab along the neckline.)
The warmth of the skin is sufficient to cause the fragrances to diffuse.


Le Male Jean Paul Gaultier for Men
Acqua Di Gio By Giorgio Armani For Men

HiM by Hanae Mori

 Batch No. 46 Cologne by Ambercrombie and Fitch 

Invictus by Paco Rabanne

These are readily available and inexpensive but high quality colognes. A fun activity is to visit a cologne store and try out new fragrances. See if you can identify the notes.

Bon Chance…

As always, do you and remember, “Style is personal.”

2 thoughts on “A Simple Guide to Understanding Colognes

  1. Wow! Interesting ' Fragrance Notes' taking notes for my selections. I must say those Marketing strategies really got me ….can't stay away from a certain store …pheromones u say? 🙂 there goes my excuse.


  2. Wow! Interesting ' Fragrance Notes' taking notes for my selections. I must say those Marketing strategies really got me ….can't stay away from a certain store …pheromones u say? 🙂 there goes my excuse.


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