Parfums, Colognes and Toilettes: Scent Concentration Explained

Scent Notes

While I am not one for new year’s resolutions, beginning in 2018 I will be launching a regular series of blog articles exploring fragrance and exposing the inner workings of Chatillon Lux in order to shine a light on the process and inspiration for the scents I make, as well as the stories that inspire me. Before getting too in-depth, however, I would like to start things off with a question that I receive quite often: what do different scent concentrations mean and what should someone expect when they wear them?


Unfortunately, there is no hard and fast set of rules. There are loose suggestions as to how they should be used, but there is always a good deal of gray area. For example, my eau de toilette fragrances could (and some say should) be classified as eau de parfum, as most are at or around 15%. I choose the eau de toilette classification because some eau de parfum can be perhaps close to double the concentration, as well as emphasize the wearability (more on that later).


Before we get too deep into that matter, a quick tangent on scent "strength." Strength is a misleading term, as there are different facets of strength: sillage and longevity. Sillage is a term used in the perfumery industry to indicate how much the scent projects. A fragrance that exhibits high sillage would be detectable from a further distance than a scent with a weaker sillage. On the other hand, sillage and longevity can occasionally be mutually exclusive, as a scent that is long-lasting does not necessarily project.


Why is that? It boils down to the volatility and the tenacity of the molecules of which a scent is composed.


The top notes of a fragrance are the ones that are immediately noticeable, which is because they are highly volatile. When a fragrance is sprayed onto the skin, the heat of the skin causes the fragrance molecules to react. The most volatile project enough to be noticed immediately, but they also naturally burn away the most quickly. The heart or middle notes then become more noticeable, as they are medium volatility, then finally the base notes – the foundation of the fragrance – are left. The longevity of these base notes are a result of less volatile molecules that linger: hence their longevity.


An example of a highly volatile molecule may be a citrus note, which by its very nature will have very little longevity. On the other hand, a scent like sandalwood or a musk may have great longevity, but it will not necessarily have great sillage.


So with this in mind, the concentration of a fragrance is not chosen by the scent’s composer simply for “strength,” but rather to suit the composition. A scent with highly volatile notes, like a light, crisp summer scent with citrus and bright florals, may be better suited to a less concentrated scent as the notes are fleeting but will burn brightly when they are applied. On the other hand, a fragrance like our upcoming Santal Auster Parfum Extrait uses a very high concentration as it does not feature any top notes, but rather has low sillage and high longevity, more of a skin scent that lingers for a long time than something that fills up a room.


When discussing the following concentrations, keep in mind that these are rough guidelines as to the actual percentages, as I am more interested in discussing why a perfumer would choose each classification, not the technical specifications themselves.


Extrait (aka Extrait de Parfum, Perfume Extract, Pure Perfume)

20 – 40% concentration


Also known as extrait de parfum, perfume extract, parfum and pure perfume, amongst others, this level of concentration is rare due to its high cost and narrow range of suitability. As we talked about earlier, it is really best suited to fragrance compositions with lower sillage and high longevity so that the most subtle of nuances can be truly experienced throughout the long, often complex evolution. This high concentration helps offset the lack of a grand fanfare on the opening, but it still wears closer to the skin and is more of an intimate fragrance.


Eau de Parfum

15-25% concentration


This concentration may have lost favor in the light, citrusy and fresh movement of the 90s, with scents that are better suited towards eau de toilette concentration (more on this later). With niche perfumery on the rise in more recent years, many are going back to this concentration as they make scents that veer from the easily wearable path and utilize base notes with stronger longevity and higher complexity. At 15% concentration, our eau de toilette strengths straddle the line in order to emphasize the complexity while remaining accessible for as many as possible.


Eau de Toilette

5-15% concentration


Today, eau de toilette is associated with gender more so than anything else, but as gender designations in fragrance marketing become less apparent, the word “perfume” has begun shedding its stigma as a purely women’s fragrance. So what is eau de toilette beyond just concentration? Look no further than its rise to prominence in the 90s, with bright, citrus-forward scents that feel fresh and light. With a lower concentration, scents with big, attention-grabbing top notes are well suited for this concentration. Additionally, these scents can be understood to be more easily wearable as they not only have a lower concentration, but also a shorter longevity.


Eau de Cologne

2% - 5%


The original Eau de Cologne, created by Johann Farina as an ode to the city of the same name, was a bright, citrusy affair. The scent, like many at the time, was used as a hygienicic product to freshen up periodically throughout the day. It was light, fleeting and personal. They are associated with summertime for many, not only because of their citrus and floral notes, but also because they wouldn't overwhelm the senses if the wearer's hot skin causes the scent to burn more intensely.


Why Are We Talking About This?


The choice of the moniker placed upon a fragrance goes beyond simply a number. Very often I am asked for clarification, because many people assume there are certain numbers where a scent moves up to the next class. The reason is that the nomenclature describes more than the concentration: an extrait is good for deep, base-note-heavy scents, like many found in the Middle East and India, while an eau de parfum is becoming more in vogue as it can help bring interest to a scent’s evolution. The eau de toilette can be enjoyed in a broader range of situations, whether it’s by scent composition or strength, and the eau de cologne is a fresh, bright companion.


The upcoming Santal Auster fragrance is in parfum extrait strength (30%) because it is rich, deep and very nuanced. It lasts all day, but it stays close to the skin. The rest of our current scents are eau de toilettes, but their scent strength (most are 15%) could also be considered eau de parfum. They are designed to be a hybrid in order to maximize the enjoyment of the scent’s evolution and wearability. In the future, however, expect to see both eau de cologne (Fourth & Pine) and eau de parfum (Lamplight Penance) releases.

With this in mind, in the future, we will be featuring two new lines: Chatillon Lux Provisions and Chatillon Lux Parfums. The Provisions line will feature our shaving items and fragrances in eau de toilette strength that are made to be easily wearable, often matching shaving products, and more affordable than a fragrance with a higher concentration and more expensive ingredients. Our Parfums line will be the arena for really exploring the reaches of our creativity with higher concentrations, daring compositions, less regard for budgetary restraints and improved packaging.

This year is going to be exciting and full of new experiences. We are excited to show you what we have in store. 

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