What do Warm Fragrances Actually Smell Like?

What is a warm fragrance?


“Thomas, AKA The Candy Perfume Boy, is explaining everything you need to know about fragrance families. From chypre to fougere, after reading this blog series you’ll be an expert in the different types of olfactive groups.”

So, you may be thinking, what is a warm fragrance? After all, this may be an olfactory family that you’ve not heard of before. You might even be down with your chypres and your fougères but utterly miffed by the word “warm”. Don’t worry; we’re here to demystify the world of perfume as always!

Warm is a word that we are using in replacement of the industry term “oriental”. Why the change? Firstly, several people find the word uncomfortable due to its racial connotations and its foundation as an olfactory impression of a westerner’s fantasy of the far east. If you think about it, Asia is such a huge part of the world, with so many different cultures and people, it cannot be adequately represented under one term. In truth, that is a dramatic oversimplification of a very complex issue that I, as a white man, am not qualified to speak on. However, it is true that more and more, the word we currently use for this category seems out of place and comfort with many people.

The second reason is a practical one and lies in a simple fact: it doesn’t tell you anything about the category’s fragrances. The genre has moved on from this fantasy of far-off, exotic places imagined by perfumers in the early 1900s. The word we’re using doesn’t provide any useful, tangible description for the fragrances we want to buy, smell and wear. It is not something people can relate to and it capture’s nothing of a perfume’s odour profile. We are now in a place to think about what the “o” word actually means in the context of perfume and whether it is fit for purpose when describing an olfactory impression. In short, it isn’t.


So, what is a warm fragrance?

That’s an even harder question to answer in 2021 because the genre is just so far-reaching. Look at modern gourmands such as YSL’s Black Opium, which exist in the same space as the classic amber of Guerlain’s Shalimar, neither of which share a familial resemblance with the other (as you would expect from fragrances created almost a century apart). We want to use something that is more accessible – something that really gives you a feel for the fragrance it describes, and that’s why we at Escentual are looking at the genre in a new way – the way of warm.

You see, warm tells you a lot. Warm informs you that a scent is cosy, or maybe fiery. It says “I’m soft, but also maybe a little bit fearsome too”. Warm is hot, languid flowers, but also intense spice bombs, and rich ambers that feel like comfort blankets for the skin. It’s tooth achingly sweet gourmands and fizzy fruit-chouli that feel vibrant and fun. Warm is many things, and when you hear “warm” you know precisely what fragrance you may be about to encounter. In this edit, we are just scratching the surface, with five warm aromas that show you just how diverse and wonderful this genre is.


1. Warm Amber

Warm Fragrances: Guerlain Shalimar

Let’s start with a classic, and when we’re talking classics in the warm category, it is frankly rude to begin with anything other than Shalimar. Seriously, I think it’s illegal in several countries (especially France, because Guerlain) to mention any different warm fragrance in front of Queen Shalimar. Shalimar is seen as the defining scent in this genre, and it’s not hard to see why. With beautiful dazzling bergamot up top and creamy sweet vanilla swathes, Shalimar presents amber (a gauzy, cosy accord of sweet vanilla, resinous benzoin and rich labdanum) wrapped in luxurious velvet. Shalimar is smoky and leathery, with oodles of iris powder. It’s all about warm, enveloping amber and a sparkling shimmer in the top notes, and like a lady dressed in furs doing an eye-catching dance, Shalimar is unforgettable. In keeping with the warm category itself, Shalimar is many things (she is definitely complex). Nearly 100 years after she was born, she still reigns supreme, in all of her glorious complexity.

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2. Warm Fruit-chouli

Warm fragrances: Calvin Klein Euphoria Eau de Parfum

There was a time when Euphoria could be smelled everywhere, and you couldn’t go very far on the street without bumping into its distinct, yet addictive trail. Euphoria showcases fruit mixed with patchouli (of as we like to call it ‘fruit-chouli’), which is a big staple of the warm family. These fragrances pair fruits and spices with patchouli to create a stark contrast between the juicy and sweet, and the dark and earthy. As seen in Euphoria, the result is fizzy pomegranates, apples and berries exploding with pepper and patchouli. It smells vivid and neon-like, more than living up to its hedonistic name. Euphoria shows us that warm can be fun too!

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3. Warm Gourmand

Warm Fragrances; YSL Black Opium

Way back in 1992, Thierry Mugler launched Angel, the first gourmand fragrance, a new subsect of the warm category. Angel was the first perfume to feature foody, edible notes as a critical theme, and it birthed a tsunami of sugar that changed the industry, nay, the world, forever. Flash forward to this decade, and the gourmand has moved on from the candy floss of Angel to its new icon, YSL’s Black Opium. In Black Opium the warm, roasted coffee quality is dusted onto a trio of white flowers (orange blossom, tuberose and jasmine), which are then folded into musk and vanilla. It feels grown-up and brassy as if it has a killer attitude and heels to match. Don’t mess with Black Opium, she may appear warm, but she’s fierce when she wants to be.

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4. Warm Floral

Warm fragrances; Guerlain L'Instant De Guerlain

And now for something softer. Put your slippers on and the heating too, because we’re venturing into the cosy world of the warm floral, as expertly demonstrated by the Guerlain moment, L’Instant de Guerlain. Focusing on the warm, golden tones of flowers, L’Instant de Guerlain showcases magnolia blooms, jasmine and ylang-ylang, all of which are wonderfully sunny and tropical in their nature, dripping in sparkling honey and drying down to super supple swathes of vanilla and amber. This is sunlight radiating from white flowers made from the plushest of velvets, and it feels like sinking into the comfort of your sofa after a long day. There are so many warm florals out there. Many of them even warmer and more floral than this; but L’Instant de Guerlain is the most warming of them all.

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5. Warm Resinous

Warm Fragrances; Goutal Amber Fetiche Eau de Parfum

Goutal’s iconic amber serves up amber (as one would expect from the name) but with a bit of a twist. Where many ambers are soft, plush and cashmere-like, Ambre Fétiche has a much more dry, resinous feel. The addition of frankincense brings additional glowing radiance to the amber accord, but also a much more balsamic, smoky feel too. Where so many ambers are decadent, enveloping essays in vanilla and benzoin, Ambre Fétiche is less gourmand, evoking the image of the hot sun beating down on the terracotta sands of the desert.

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