Cologne Notes for Men Explained

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Have you ever entered a perfumery without knowing how to put your own cologne preferences into words? This is a common situation and it caused by not knowing what scents you like.

Before entering a perfumery and starting your hunt for the perfect cologne, you should understand what fragrances you are attracted to. And how can you do that? By understanding scent families and cologne notes.

Knowing the main cologne families and subfamilies will help you realize which combinations go well together and which ones to avoid.

Scents will fall into 4 main categories: Floral, Fresh, Oriental and Woody. All of them can subsequently be divided in subfamilies. Based on the key family scent you like the most or most attracted to, you should explore its subfamilies to find your cologne.

Floral family

Mostly limited to women fragrances, it has been used as heart notes in men colognes in the last few years.  It could refer to a single predominant flower or a bouquet of flowers, which add a romantic touch to the composition.


  • Fruity: Sweet, edible and tropical fruits and berries, like peach, pear and apple.
  • Floral: Smells like fresh-cut flowers — imagine rose and lily.
  • Soft floral: Soft and powdery notes with a hint of creamy.
  • Floral oriental: Sweet spices such as Orange Blossom.


Oriental family

It expresses exotic and sensual scents such as herbs, spices and resin notes to create warm aromas. These scents are associated with colder months.


  • Soft oriental: Soft, floral notes mixed with incense and warm spices.
  • Oriental: Sweet, warm notes like cinnamon, vanilla, resins and musk.
  • Woody oriental: Earthy notes like patchouli and sandalwood mixed with spicy and sweet notes.


Woody family

It follows warm and opulent scents, usually mixed with floral to add some fresh notes. It gives a mysterious touch.


  • Woods: Aromatic woody scents like cedarwood, sandalwood and vetiver.
  • Mossy woods: Sweet and earthy scents like oakmoss and amber.
  • Dry woods: Smoky notes mixed with leather aromas.


Fresh family

Mostly used in men’s fragrances, paired with spicy to create a masculine scent.


  • Aromatic: Clean and fresh herbs mixed with lavender or aromatic scents. Some examples are thyme, mint, sage, basil, and rosemary.
  • Citrus: Zesty or tangy notes like mandarins, grapefruit or bergamot.
  • Water: Aquatic scents that smell of sea spray or rain mixed with or oceanic notes.
  • Green: Smells of freshly mowed lawns and crushed green leaves.


What are cologne notes and how do they define the cologne?

Cologne notes are the ingredient that create the fragrance once combined. According to their scent subfamily, they are categorized in top, heart and base notes. Therefore, cologne makers select tones that blend well together and create a pleasing experience.

  • Top notes are the scents that you notice immediately after spraying the cologne. They do not last very long (up to 15 minutes) but they have a key role in setting first impressions. Generally, top notes include Citrus, Aromatics and Floral fragrances, such as lemon, bergamot, orange, rose and lavender.
  • Heart notes, also known as middle notes, have the role to switch from top notes to base notes. They introduce new scents such as Green, Fruity, Oriental and Spices, making about 70% of the total fragrance. The most common scents used as heart notes are pepper, cinnamon, geranium, cardamom and jasmine. They last up to 60 minutes.
  • Base notes form the structure of the cologne together with middle notes. They generally add depth and long-lasting scents, sinking in your skin for even more than 6 hours. Woody, Balsamic and Leather are the most common scents, especially in men fragrances.

Based on the key cologne families that you like the most, you should now be capable of walking into a perfumery knowing which scents you’d like to try. Always remember that a cologne is highly personal and it is a way of expressing yourself. Finding a fragrance you feel comfortable with might need some time. However, once you know what scents are appealing to you, it’ll be easier to find your signature cologne.

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