What is the Perfume Project?

This blog is a constantly evolving forum for thoughts on perfume, perfume-making, plants (especially orchids and flora of the Pacific Northwest) and life in general. It started out chronicling the adventures of Olympic Orchids Perfumes, established in July 2010, and has expanded in other directions. A big part of the blog is thinking about the ongoing process of learning and experimentation that leads to new perfumes, the exploration of perfumery materials, the theory and practice of perfume making, and the challenges of marketing perfumes and other fragrance products. To counter my inherent grumpy tendencies, I try to write about something I appreciate at least once a week. Once in a while I get up on my soapbox and write about things that aren't at all related to perfumery. I am grateful to all of you, the readers, who contribute to the blog by commenting and making this a truly interactive perfume project.

Friday, June 24, 2016


July brings the sixth anniversary of Olympic Orchids Perfumes. It seems like only yesterday that we started out as a business, but as new artisan, indie and niche brands, along with mass-market “luxury” niche wannabe spinoffs, sprout up like mushrooms after a rain, it is starting to feel like we are suddenly one of the old, established owner-perfumer brands (I guess that’s analogous to singer-songwriter).

The year since our last anniversary has been quite eventful, with the launch of a popular new orchid fragrance, White Cattleya, a branching out to create a fragrance for another brand, resulting in my second Institute for Art and Olfaction Award for Zoologist Perfumes Bat, and a steady growth of our Olympic Orchids Perfumes business. We even have a new Instagram account, Olympic_Orchids_Perfume! I’m posting some sort of photo every day, trying to avoid being too “commercial” by mixing in interesting random photos like the baby seagulls that I showed yesterday, so check it out.

Because I’m planning all sorts of fun things to celebrate 6 years of perfume-making, I want to start early with a summer sale and a contest. The sale will be announced in the newsletter, on our Facebook page, Twitter, and wherever else seems appropriate. It will start with a 20% discount that starts now and runs until July 6 (code = SIXYEARS1), 15% until July 16 (SIXYEARS2), and 10% until the end of July (SIXYEARS3). This means that those who see the announcements early will get the best discounts, but even those who are as out of touch as I usually am will still get a break on prices. The codes are the same on the Flagship Store and the Original Boutique. I used this method on my orchid nursery website (10 years in June!) and it seems to have worked well.

The other thing I want to do is sponsor two different  photo contests. The first one will be a “product glamour shot” contest. For this contest, anyone who owns any size Olympic Orchids fragrance is invited to take a photo of it in some sort of interesting and appropriate setting. Photos can be submitted via e-mail attachment (olympicorchids at gmail dot com) or Facebook message upload.  Full instructions will be forthcoming this weekend, so start thinking about what kind of visual setting you might use for your Olympic Orchids fragrances, or just go ahead, take some photos, and submit now! Winners will receive a voucher for their choice of a full bottle or discovery set of their choice. Photos will be displayed on the website home page, with your photo credit.

I have relatively few commitments during the month of July, so I’m looking forward to having a lot of time to work and play in the perfume studio!

[Cake photo greatly modified from Wikimedia; shop display photo straight from Wikimedia, baby seagulls photo is mine; Woodcut bottle by Antonia Kohl] 

Wednesday, June 22, 2016


Last week’s materials post was on vetiver, so this week’s will continue with three related grasses that are used in perfumery and other aromatic applications, Cymbopogon citratus (lemongrass) Cymbopogon nardus (citronella) and Cymbopogon martini (palmarosa). Like vetiver, these are all in the grass family, growing as big clumps, but for the Cymbopogons, the essential oil is derived from the tops of the plants, not the roots. All of these species were probably originally native to India and/or Southeast Asia, but have become widespread throughout warm parts of the world due to culinary and agricultural uses.

Lemongrass is most commonly thought of as a food flavoring due to its extensive use in Asian cuisine. Lemongrass oil is obtained by distillation of the green parts of the plant, with most of the aroma contained in the base rather than the outer parts of the leaves. I think of lemongrass imparting a delicate flavor to Vietnamese cuisine, and working well with coconut-based curries. The essential oil contains citral, limonene, citronellol, geraniol, and many other molecules that have insecticidal properties and mosquito-repellant properties, as well as medicinal properties, especially anti-inflammatory and anti-fungal activity.

Lemongrass essential oil has a characteristic, unmistakable top to mid-range scent that can be quite heavy, strong, and overpowering if used in perfumery, so needs dosing with a light hand and with the proper accompaniments. Given that most of the lemongrass constituents, and all of the main ones, are available as pure aromachemicals (that’s for another post!) the perfumer has the option of creating a unique “lemongrass” accord to use, or choose which aspect of it to emphasize in a blend.  I used lemongrass essential oil in Kyphi, but I think if I used it in another blend I might opt for a lighter reconstruction that’s more like the flavor one gets in delicate lemongrass-flavored cuisine.

Citronella, the evil cousin of lemongrass, contains large quantities of citronellal, citronellol, geranial, limonene and other “lemony” molecules. It is an important source of these and other isolated aroma chemical molecules. Like others of its genus, it looks like a small clump of pampas grass, not a very attractive sight. Perhaps the best known use of citronella is as an insect repellant, with citronella candles traditionally burned to keep mosquitoes away from outdoor gatherings and to scent insecticidal sprays. Because of this association, in my opinion, citronella does not work well in perfumery. Who wants a perfume that smells like bug spray? Having said that, the aroma molecules obtained from citronella have a multitude of uses in perfumery, and are probably present to some degree in the majority of perfumes.

Palmarosa is yet another one of those plants that looks like pampas grass. The green part of the plant is distilled once it has flowered,, but plants can live for many years, regrowing the parts cut for distillation. The essential oil contains mostly geraniol and geranyl acetate, along with linalool, myrcene, farnesine, and ocimene. As in the case of other essential oils, the reported percent of constituents, and the constituent profile itself varies depending on whose publication you read. Apparently the composition differs depending on which part of the plant is used, and I’m sure it also varies by season, harvesting techniques, and distillation techniques. 

Palmarosa essential oil smells sort of like a mixture of rose geranium and lemongrass, not too surprising given that it’s a Cymbopogon. It seems a little sharp and raw by itself, and I have not used it in a perfume. I can see how it could work as an excellent substitute for rose geranium. However, I can’t see how it would work as a substitute for rose, although it seems that it has commonly been used to adulterate rose oil or absolute. It is reported to have antiseptic properties and to be very good for the skin, with “anti-aging” properties. I’ll have to try it in my formula.

[All plant photos are from Wikimedia; product photos are from retailers' websites. I see one of them used the Wikimedia palmarosa image in their advertising.]

Monday, June 20, 2016


I had this Mass-Market Monday post ready to go last week, but somehow didn’t feel like posting anything after the tragic events in Orlando. I wrote a very long and depressing rant that people probably wouldn’t want to read in its entirety, but I may rework portions of it to post from time to time as I'm inspired to do so. Anyway, here’s last week’s MMM, back to as normal as it gets.

Davidoff Cool Water Woman
(1996, Pierre Bourdon)
I had braced all my senses for a horrible aquatic bomb when I tried this, but it was nowhere near as bad as I had feared. In fact, it was better than any of the floral-aquatics and manly colognes that have the prominent spoiled citrus-chlorox note that I hate. In this one, the aquatic notes are obviously there and a focus, but they’re not the especially obnoxious ones. They’re tastefully done and mixed with benign spices, florals, and fruit. It ends up being a light, conventional, innocuous scent that says “aquatic/ozonic” without screaming it to the heavens.  Once it settles in, it stays fairly linear, with moderate sillage, gradually adding some musk. This type of fragrance doesn’t particularly appeal to me, but I could wear it and not feel annoyed by anything except the fact that it’s taking up skin space that could accommodate something I like better. 

Montale Red Aoud
(2008, Pierre Montale)
This smells nothing like real oud, but that’s what I expect from Montale, so I try to sniff for traces of synthetic “aoud” and don’t find them. The red color suggests roiboos tea, and I can construct that scent out of the mix even though it’s not listed in the notes. The tea is flavored with a lot of citrus and a garnish of saffron. Nowhere do I smell pepper, which is supposed to be there. After 20 minutes it starts to become a little powdery with some vanilla – another note that’s not listed on Fragrantica. Come to think of it, the lists of notes are different on each site. Luckyscent says cumin. I don’t think so. It seems that one can’t go by what is published, so I stick with roiboos tea, citrus, saffron, and vanilla. Not that I would believe the notes anyway, even if they agreed. It’s more gourmand than oud-y or Arabian in feel. Having said all that, it’s a really nice fragrance. Sillage is on the high side of moderate. After the first 2 hours, it’s a sweetish powdery scent with less character. It lasts 6-8 hours. Pleasant and wearable.

Serge Lutens Cedre
(2005, Christopher Sheldrake)
It doesn't smell like my idea of cedar, but maybe there’s a little cedar somewhere in the mix. It starts out sweetly fruity-floral, woody and spicy, with the specific notes hard to pin down. As it develops, it becomes extremely perfumey-floral, with sweet candied notes, gradually blooming into a full-on, old-fashioned, powerhouse tuberose scent. Sillage is considerable at this point and remains so for several hours. The old-school perfumey tuberose stays until the end, some 8 or more hours after application. It’s wearable and good for what it is, but the dosage needs to be carefully controlled given the fact that when put on skin it swells up like one of those dried tea-flowers that expands to several times its original size when put in water.

This week’s surprise giveaway is a 15 ml bottle of a perfume by a small, new artisan company that shall remain nameless. I have only removed one small spray for testing and a 1 ml sample for my reference library. It looks like there may be another giveaway added to the jackpot. Just leave a comment on whether you like Davidoff, Montale or Serge Lutens, and if so, your favorite(s) from these brands.

[Bottle images are all from Fragrantica] 

Friday, June 17, 2016


The winner of the Incense Flash drawing is:


To claim your prize, please e-mail olympicorchids at gmail dot com or leave a message on the Olympic Orchids Facebook page.

[Flash image from Wikimedia]

Thursday, June 9, 2016


The winner of the Vanilla Fields and cumulative jackpot drawing is


To claim your prize, please send an e-mail with your shipping address to olympicorchids at gmail dot com, or PM me on Facebook within a week. Otherwise your items will go back into the jackpot.

[Vanilla flower photo from Wikimedia]

Wednesday, June 8, 2016


The weather here has been warm and sunny for the past week or so. Whenever I go outside I smell flowers, especially jasmine, which is all over campus,  and roses, which are right down the street in abundance. The grass is starting to dry out and turn brown, but due to the long break from writing this spring I haven’t finished with the “green” perfume materials for my Wednesday posts. In keeping with the theme of grass and green, I’ll push on with the ever-popular grassy material, vetiver.

Chrysopogon (formerly called Vetiveria) zizanioides is a large, clumping grass native to India, where it is known as khus. If you ever see “khus” listed as a perfume ingredient or note, it’s just vetiver. Because of its extensive, deep-reaching root system it is used in some places for erosion control. I have read that it can also be used for pest control when planted around other crops because it attracts a stem borer that lays eggs on the vetiver plant, but when the larvae hatch they are so impeded by the hairs on the vetiver leaves that they cannot move and feed, so they die. This is yet another example of how amazing plants’ defense mechanisms are.

Vetiver is one of the most renewable of the natural base perfumery materials. Like any grass, it grows quickly, spreads, and is propagated via offshoots. The roots are distilled for oil that is used in food flavorings and perfumery, but the green tops can be used as feed for livestock, so the entire plant is useful. Vetiver is also used for water purification, especially for removal of industrial chemicals and heavy metals. The leaves can be used to weave mats and other textile products.

DNA tests have shown that almost all of the vetiver grown throughout the world is from the same source in India, but growing and distilling conditions result in a variety of different nuances. Indonesian vetiver has a smoky note, but Hatian vetiver has a cleaner, purer scent, as does the Indian ruh khus. Most vetiver oil is fairly viscous and light golden to amber or brown in color, but vetiver from India is typically green, supposedly because it is distilled in copper, but I wonder if artificial color is sometimes added, especially to the low-end versions. Although attars are traditionally distilled into a base of sandalwood, some distillers have started to use vetiver oil as a base. It seems to work quite well, and is a better choice than the phthalates that are often used to make cheap attars.

Vetiver essential oil is one of those materials that improves with age, so I like to buy in bulk well in advance and keep the oil for some time before using it. Vetiver oil has an earthy, greenish, slightly sweet, rooty scent that makes an excellent base ingredient for any green and/or earthy fragrance. It fits well in a variety of blends – in fact, it can blend pleasantly with just about anything, which is probably one of the reasons why it makes a good base for modern natural attars. Compared to some of its relatives, it is fairly subtle, so won’t hijack a blend, but rather acts as a fixative and provides an earth-toned background. I’ve used it in quite a few of my perfumes.

Vetiveryl acetate is a derivative of vetiver, with a softer, crisper, drier, and purer scent than the complete oil. It is extremely tenacious, drying down to a minerally-woody scent that is really beautiful. A little bit goes a long way. To date, I’ve used it in one of my perfumes, but now that I have a supply, will probably use it more in future.

Just as the plant has a multitude of uses, so the essential oil of vetiver has a multitude of uses in perfumery.

What is your favorite fragrance that contains a clearly detectable vetiver note?

[Vetiver plant photos from Wikimedia; vetiver mat and "ruh khus" photos from retailers' websites.]