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French Language


The majority of the most well-known “maîtres parfumeurs,” or scent artists, in the world are French. We’ve wanted to honor the heritage of French perfume for a while now and impart to our pupils the unique terminology that goes along with le scent. We are thrilled to introduce our special perfume workshop for this reason. This October, the flagship Diptyque shop at the Grove in Los Angeles will teach you all there is to know about the mysteries of French scent.

In order to accommodate readers who are unable to attend, we have put together an essay including essential details on perfume artistry. You will be able to smell—or taste—what makes iconic and contemporary French fragrances, such as Guerlain’s Shalimar, Chanel N°5, or Diptyque, so irresistible. (Observe what we just did.)


A significant turning point in the history of French perfume was the Renaissance, which saw the introduction of scents like vanilla, jasmine, and amber. Grasse earned the moniker “Perfume Capital of France” during this time, as Provence rose to prominence for its fragrances. Another significant turning point in the history of scent occurred in the 19th century with the development of new extraction and production methods. Fragrances spread, with individuals starting to fragrance their laundry and stock their wardrobes with scented sachets.

The most well-known scents originated in the 20th century. In 1921, Chanel designed the renowned Chanel N°5. Pierre-François-Pascal Guerlain initially debuted his fragrances on the Rue de Rivoli in 1828. Shortly after, in 1925, Guerlain created Shalimar.

  • Practice your French by watching a short France24 video called “Grasse, la ville aux mille parfums” or by reading Le Parisien article “Histoire du parfum.” 
  • Watch French perfume commercials: Try Chanel N°5 (with Marion Cotillard), Guerlain’s over-the-top “La Légende de Shalimar” or Miss Dior (with Natalie Portman). 
  • A few easy-to-remember vocabulary words: l’ambre (amber), le jasmin (jasmine), la vanille (vanilla), le musc (musk). 


Although there are many different categories for perfumes, the main distinction between them is typically their level of concentration. Based on “perfume essence,” which is the proportion of perfume to alcohol and water in the mixture, the concentration is determined. The major categories are as follows:

  • Eau Fraiche: Due to high alcohol content, the scent is very subtle and generally lasts for less than an hour.
  • Eau de Cologne: Worn mostly by men, cologne is a light splash of fragrance and usually lasts for about two hours.
  • Eau de Toilette: One of the most popular fragrance types, eau de toilette is considered a “daytime” fragrance and usually lasts for 3 to 4 hours. 
  • Eau de Parfum: Derived from pure perfume, this more concentrated spray lasts for 4 to 5 hours.
  • Parfum: This is not to be confused with eau de parfum! A single application of perfume can last up to 24 hours because it’s so concentrated. 


Almost all French people, including men and women, wear perfume on important occasions, and over 50% of them wear it every day. Although everyone wears perfume differently, the majority of perfume consumers adhere to the following fundamental guidelines:

  • Rule No. 1: Stick to one scent. The French are very faithful to a single perfume, unlike many Americans who often change fragrances. 
  • Rule No. 2: However, don’t be afraid to change your scent if you find something more fitting! Many Americans wear perfumes that are a bit too strong when they’re young. Ask someone you trust to tell you honestly how heavy they find your perfume and adjust accordingly. 
  • Rule No. 3: Stay subtle. If your perfume seems too heavy, the problem might not be the fragrance itself, but your application of it. Spray a little on your wrists and neck–don’t go overboard by covering your body and clothes!  
  • Rule No. 4: Don’t wear multiple perfumes at once or combine bottles of perfume you like (unless you’re a perfume maker)! Be careful, too, that the combined scents of your shampoo/conditioner and perfume don’t become overwhelming.


First and foremost, we want to make sure you can say “parfum” correctly because Americans can have trouble pronouncing French nasal vowels correctly! Contrary to popular belief, the last “um” sound of this word does not sound like the “ume” in the word “perfume.” The French words “faim” (hunger) and “fin” (the end) are pronounced exactly like the “fum” in “Parfum.” The last “m” sound is absent from it. You may click play on any of the audio recordings in the pronunciation section below to hear individuals from various parts of France pronounce the word. If you’re unsure about what to say, we suggest using “Wiktionnaire” for this!

Here are some other helpful French perfume-related words to know: 

  • Un accord: Pronounced “ah-cor” (the D is silent). An accord is made up of several perfume “notes,” or ingredients, that blend together to form a distinct fragrance. 
  • Un flacon de parfum: A bottle of perfume. Note that the letter C makes a hard sound in this word. Listen to its pronunciation here. 
  • Un nez: Pronounced “nay.” Literally “a nose.” This term refers to people who have a special talent for smelling and creating fragrances. There’s even a school to become “un nez”! 
  • Un parfumeur/une parfumeuse: Perfume maker. We recommend reading Patrick Suskind’s acclaimed novel about a French perfume maker! 
  • Le sillage: Pronounced “see-yazh.” The term comes from the French word for “wake,” the trail left behind a boat in the water. Le sillage refers to the scent left behind by a fragrance wearer. 

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