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.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Labor Day Reflections - Assisting the Sorceress

Guest post by AZAR

I have no doubt that Olympic Orchids Perfumes are magical.  Ellen Covey's success as an indie perfumer is grounded in her creative spirit and reinforced by her extensive knowledge of fragrance materials, countless hours at the perfume organ, carefully considered artistic marketing and her commitment to the time-consuming and repetitive tasks associated with any successful enterprise. While I have no illusions about my ability to create a fragrance, I do know that I can handle the time-consuming and repetitive.  In my experience even the most glamorous jobs can dull with repetition.  I have also learned that it takes a relatively high level of discipline to successfully perform the same small motor task over and over again without losing focus or precision (both lessons learned from 60 years at the piano).  I am certain that my talent for the tedious could be put to good use on a fragrance sample assembly line. 

Unfortunately, many of today's independent perfumers and niche fragrance houses cannot be bothered to offer samples.  The labor and expense involved in filling, labeling, packaging and posting the samples is not seen as cost effective.  These guys rely on their websites, social media and the blogging community to sell their perfumes.  Why go to all the trouble of offering samples when new customers can be so easily manipulated into blind, full bottle buys?  I have succumbed to this strategy more often than I care to admit. As a result I have come to appreciate and support the perfumers who offer their customers a sniff.

About a month ago I visited my friend Ellen with the express purpose of putting together samples.  Before we began she took me on a tour of her bamboo grove, orchard and gardens.  She opened and shared some newly arrived absolutes and then we headed upstairs to the atelier where we tested (and Ellen tweaked) several soon to be released fragrances.  After all the fun we finally set to work putting together samples of California Chocolate.

I am no stranger to decanting and labeling but have had no previous experience with the solo assembly line.  Ellen gave me the simple tasks of labeling tiny plastic bags, labeling and filling vials and packaging the samples in the bags.  She monitored my progress and gave me helpful suggestions along the way.  A pipette gun with disposable tips and a rack for vials made working the line a lot easier.  My first adventure in serious sample production was rather slow and clumsy but I know, that with practice, my speed and precision will improve.  As a reward for the work, both Brad and I were treated to a fabulous salmon dinner prepared by Ellen and Michael followed by an amazing dessert of ice cream, guava sauce, whipped cream and figs freshly picked from Ellen's garden. "Nice work if you can get it…".

Now for a Belated Labor Day Give-Away:  I have one mixed bag of ten or so niche and indie decants and carded samples that I am offering for a draw.  These are all scents that I enjoy, including, of course, a sample from Olympic Orchids Perfumes.  To be eligible for the draw, reveal (if possible) approximately how many samples you have laying around your house, place of business, in your car, purse wherever.  Have you developed a workable plan to store your samples? Let us hear about it!  Entries will close September 7 and winners will be announced in a subsequent post.  I'm sorry but I have to limit the draw to US addresses this time around.

Azar xx 

[Thank you, Azar! All photos are mine (Ellen's).  I just realized that the photo of my perfume organ was taken a while back when it was younger, smaller, and cuter. I see now how quickly it has grown!]

Saturday, August 30, 2014


I know I said I would post the results of the drawing on Friday, but my fall teaching started this past week and I didn’t have time to do much of anything except “day job” work. This weekend I have a little respite, so the paper scraps have been thoroughly mixed and shaken up, and one grand prize winner has been drawn.

The winner of the full bottle of LIL is NAOMI SCOTT

The runners-up, who win samples of their choice are:



To claim your winnings, all you need to do is send me a PM with your full shipping info. You can e-mail me at olympicorchids at gmail dot com, or leave a PM on Facebook.

Everyone who has entered the last tow drawings in automatically entered in the quarter million pageviews grand prize drawing. If you have not yet entered, there will be a post with an opportunity to enter that one.

[photo of Pandanus odoratissimus, aka kewda, is from Wikimedia. Kewda is one of the notes n Lil.] 

Friday, August 22, 2014


The penultimate drawing of the old brown cardboard boxes is going to be a 30 ml bottle of Lil. The grand finale will be a special drawing to celebrate a quarter million pageviews of the blog, coming up soon.

You can enter by leaving a comment here or on Facebook. All you have to do is say which of the Devil Scents is your favorite or, if you haven’t tried any of them, which one you’d most like to sample.

The winner will be announced on Friday, 29 August. 


But before I announce the winner, let me tell you how the drawing was done. Instead of going all high-tech and using random.org, I always randomize the old-fashioned way by putting everyone’s name on a little piece of paper, folding them up into equal-size wads, shaking thoroughly, and pulling one out of the bag. It doesn’t get much more random than that.

However, this morning Jasper the cat decided that he wanted to get in on the fun. One of his favorite things to do is get up on the table where I’m working, lie down on the stack of orders that I need to fill, and get them all dirty with his big, muddy paws. Today he was fascinated by all of those little wads of paper, so he batted and scrambled them around, doing as good a job as I could have at randomizing them. Then, lo and behold, he picked one up in his mouth and started chewing on it! I figured that was as good a way to draw a name as any, so I opened it up to reveal the winner of the 30 ml bottle of Little Stars ….. 

Who entered on Facebook and had the unexpected honor of being chosen by a cat.

Not to be outdone by a cat, I then drew names of four more people who will get their samples of choice if they contact me with shipping info….

SUZANNE Cb (entered on Facebook)
CHLOE HUBER (entered here on the blog)
LAUREN GONZALEZ (entered on Facebook)
FREDDIE ALBRIGHTON (entered on Facebook)

If you are a winner, please send a PM to olympicorchids at gmail dot com or leave a PM on Facebook. If you're not a winner this time, there's another drawing coming right up. 

[Photo is mine, taken this morning while I was still putting names in the pile. I thought it was cute that he was sitting there quietly supervising, but little did I know that he would be the one doing the drawing.] 

Monday, August 18, 2014


This post was prompted by a new material that I discovered at Liberty Naturals called “round cypress” or “Cupressus rotundus”. I started out with a small amount to sample, but quickly became fascinated by it because it was the closest thing to real oud that I’ve smelled. Clearly it’s not oud, but it has a lot of the same woody-barnyard notes initially and the sharp “varnish” drydown that I smell in some varieties of oud. In short, it would make an excellent base for an oud-based scent, and raises the question of whether it’s actually used in India and elsewhere to adulterate “real” oud oils.

I was curious about what this ”round cypress tree” might look like, so searched online for it, imagining that it looked like the Monterrey cyprus in the photo above. The only thing that came up was the certificate of analysis sheet from Liberty. According to this source, Cupressus rotundus comes from India, is 100% natural, wildcrafted, steam distilled from the root, and – get this – comes from Cyperus scariosus [photo at above left], not “Cupressus rotundus”, or even Cyperus rotundus. There is actually a Cyperus rotundus, aka “nut grass” or “purple nutsedge” [photo in oval frame, below], whereas Cyperus scariosus is a larger plant, also known as “nagarmotha”, and is the source of cypriol. Both have tubers on the roots that can be distilled to yield oil. Are you confused yet?

There are about 600 different species of Cyperus distributed throughout the world, all sedge-like grasses that include ornamentals like umbrella papyrus, so it’s anyone’s guess as to which Cyperus species (or mix of species) this is.

I am extremely grateful to Liberty for publishing the certificate of analysis because it confirms what I suspected – that this material is not what it says it is (an imaginary species), and there is no way of really knowing what it is. It also confirms my skepticism about the accuracy of labeling on anything coming from India. Having said that, it brings up an interesting dilemma that every perfumer is sure to face at some point or another. What to do about attractive materials of dubious origin and composition?

On the one hand, I’d like to clear up the mystery of what “Cupressus rotundus” really is and not touch it until I do, but on the other hand, I want to use the material in a composition, even if it’s a single-batch fragrance that can’t be replicated later. It’s not standard nagarmotha or cypriol, so I ordered a big bottle of it for the purpose of making my own relatively inexpensive fine oud accord. 

In the end, I suppose this is no different from using pre-mixed accords from Givaudan, Firmenich, or other big companies. Like the “Cupressus/Cyperus rotundus/scariosus” oil, there is no indication of what is in those, and they could become unavailable at any time, as could any oil or single aroma chemical. I suppose the bottom line is that if it smells good and is harmless, then we should feel free to use it while it’s available. Not an ideal solution, but a pragmatic one.

[All photos are from Wikimedia]