Fragrance families are groupings or classifications used in perfumery to denote and define fragrances according to the characteristics they possess. A wide variety of factors come into play when any given fragrance is determined to be of a particular family. These include factors relating to the types of compounds used in the composition, to the intended theme the perfumers behind the fragrance wish to covey. The prevalence of the use of fragrance family labels is owed to the fact that it makes it easier for the producers to denote the intentions of the fragrance by categorizing it. It also, at the same time, allows consumers to easily decipher which fragrance may best suit their needs, by looking to the fragrance family the scent in question belongs to as a reference guide.
A traditional classification system arose in the early part of the 20th Century, with a universally agreed upon system of categorization emerging across all of perfumery; for convenience as well as practicality. This early incarnation of the fragrance family system included traditional favorites like fougère, chypre, floral, soliflore, amber, woody, and leather. This base of families soon developed into a larger family system as a reaction to the evolving nature of the perfume industry. The modern day fragrance family list includes all of the traditional families, as well as a few new entries, which include: bright floral, oceanic, citrus, green, and gourmand. These new families make up the bulk of the fragrance families known as modern in perfumery.
More recently, a new classification system has emerged which sought to radically simplify the classifications of fragrances, taking many of the foundational ideas of the traditional-modern fragrance family system in the process. This new system is known as the fragrance wheel. The fragrance wheel features four standard families which consist of floral, oriental, woody, and fresh. Various sub-families are formed out of a combination between families, for example floriental, soft floral etc. The wheel or circle represents the continuum effect seen from family to family, with those situated next to each other on the wheel having more in common with one another than they do with other families. These subclasses are then further broken up into even smaller classes, like fresh, rich, and crisp, that seek to target the seemingly infinite intricacies of fragrances. The use of fragrance families in the fragrance wheel sense, is to satisfy consumer demand for easily understandable classifications of fragrances over often times complicated, technical jargon.
This trend of simplifying the nature of fragrance classification has also been undertaken in another fairly recent phenomenon known as genealogy. This system centers around the study of the origins of scents, and their connections to other scents and fragrances through lines of descent. Genealogy employs the use of 12 fragrance families, each catering to a unique set of comparably similar and group defining characteristics.