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, October 20, 2014


Anyone who has ever tried to produce a theatre event has probably experienced the modern version of the deus ex machina phenomenon. Up until opening night everything that can go wrong seemingly does go wrong, and it looks as if the show will never come together. Everyone is grumpy and starting to scream at each other, on the verge of calling it all off. Then, magically, on opening night everything works - the actors remember their entrances and exits, their lines and their blocking, the music and lights come on and go off when they should, the audience laughs at the right times for the right reasons, and everyone breathes a huge sigh of relief. By some miracle it all worked. The deus came down in the machina and made it all right. That’s probably how the Greek dramatists got the idea because in theatre the unbelievable really does happen behind the scenes.

Tech people are the bane of my life as a producer. It’s easy to find actors, because they all love their time on stage. Being on stage is its own reward. Playing a role well is like being skillful at a sport that requires a lot of concentration and coordination, all the while being cheered on by a crowd. Designing and running sound and lights is an invisible, thankless job that everyone takes for granted. The lights and sound appear to come from nowhere, seamlessly integrated with the events on stage.

Every time our little playwrights’ group puts on a show, the question arises of who will run tech.  All too often the people who say they want to do tech are completely unreliable and after their initial one or two contacts we never hear from them again. Then somehow, magically, a person drops from the sky offering to run tech and all is well. It happened again with the show that opens this Friday. We theoretically had a tech director, but I hadn’t heard from him in weeks and was waking up at night in a panic, wondering if he’d bailed. Day before yesterday I finally got hold of him, and our lighting setup and sound testing yesterday was the smoothest we’ve ever had. Deus ex machina saved the day again.

Of course, for this blog I had to think how to relate the topic to perfume, but it’s really pretty easy. I’m sure we’ve all been dismayed to put on a perfume that smelled awful, but after some time did an about-face and ended up smelling wonderful. Which perfume(s) have you experienced that were saved in the end by an olfactory deus ex machina? Leave a comment and be entered in a drawing for a set of interesting fragrant samples, to be searched out from my infinite store. The drawing will be on Monday, October 27.

[Images from Literature Wiki and a site called TVTropes that Google coughed up.] 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014


Maybe a perfume blog isn’t the best place for a post on my decision to stop doing neuroscience research, but right now that decision is a big part of my ridiculously fragmented life, and one that occupies my time and impacts everything else, including blogging and perfume-making. I don’t know whether anyone in my university life ever reads my blog, but some of the things I say here need to be said, whoever reads them. This post is basically an updated version of an unpublished essay that I wrote a few years ago, thinking I’d send it to some academic publication like the Chronicle of Higher Education. I never did - or if I did, they didn’t publish it. In any case, it’s even more valid now than it was when I first wrote it, and this is my personal space for venting. So here goes.

One of the clich├ęs among those who do grant-supported research is that we have to reinvent ourselves every few years, whenever a new application is due. For more than a quarter of a century I did just that, taking my research in new directions based on conceptual turning points and technological breakthroughs, each time asking questions and adopting approaches that I would never have dreamed of when I submitted the previous application. It’s been a good run.

It’s past time to reinvent myself again as a researcher, but the playing field has slowly been changing, and certain aspects of the research process have finally progressed beyond the threshold of what I find tolerable. It seems that grant applications are increasingly judged on factors other than the quality of the science. For example, one government agency has, for some time now, required descriptions of things like community-service activities, K-12 (kindergarten through high school) partnerships and other public education activities, explicit descriptions of training programs for postdocs who work in the lab, ways in which the research will benefit society and the economy, how the research will help train underrepresented minority students, and other such tangential bits of information.

These requirements may all be well-intentioned, but they end up consuming a good part of the application. The latest addition was a “data management plan”, which is a 2-page statement of how the data obtained will be stored, analyzed, published, and made available to colleagues and the general public. Doesn’t it go without saying that data will be stored, analyzed, and shared? Writing grant applications always involved a certain amount of glibness in describing the science, but increasingly we are evaluated on our ability to generate pages and pages of gratuitous, bureaucrat-mandated fluff, with the stakes ever higher as applicants try to outdo each other in the novelty and scope of their peripheral activities. These gratuitous pages have slowly proliferated to the point where they leave progressively less and less room for substantive descriptions of the science itself.

In addition to the proliferation of busywork, there seems to be a trend toward politicization of what is deemed fundable. There have always been fashions in science, a fascination with flashy new techniques, reluctance to fund research that is truly outside the box, and individual reviewers who shamelessly promote or attack people in their own field or other fields. Now, in addition to these “normal” factors, it appears that most government funding organizations have a blanket policy of preferentially funding what they euphemistically refer to as “translational research”, research that clearly will produce a product, process, or treatment that can be patented, manufactured and/or sold for some corporation’s economic gain.

Over the past couple of years I’ve done a lot of soul-searching, wondering if I truly want to reinvent myself in the 21st-century bureaucratic and translational image, using the technique du jour and hoping that my project can be reviewed and funded before a new technique du jour comes along. The answer is that I wouldn’t mind too much if doing science were still fun, but it’s not, at least not for me. As the years have passed, more and more of our lab budget has been eaten up by mandated bureaucratic chores and paraphernalia. I’m tired of paying the people who work in my lab to write reports on how often they cleaned behind the refrigerator and when and where the lab coats were laundered. I’m tired of weekly inspections, one of which tells us to move the refrigerator regularly and clean under it, while the other tells us to bolt it to the wall so that it can’t be moved. I’m tired of repeatedly taking online “courses” and “tests” to comply with some regulation or other. I’m tired of paying mandatory submission fees and page charges every time I publish a paper in a “prestigious” scientific journal, subsidizing what is, if the truth be voiced, just another form of vanity press. 

No, research isn’t fun any more. I’m too much of an old fogey and academic cowboy to want to be hemmed in by micromanagement, arbitrary regulations, bureaucracy, and bottom-line bean-counters. I’m not content to design research projects that will help line some CEO’s pockets or look for answers only under the streetlight beam of the current politically correct approach using the latest flashy (and expensive) technology.

About two years ago I decided that I wanted to be grant-less by choice and stopped applying for federal grants. Finally the money is running out and the time has come to close the doors to the lab. Making final arrangements for the “going-out-of-business” process has been taking a lot of my time, but once it’s all over I’ll have more fun than I’ve had in years reinventing myself in an entirely new image that is no longer a variation on the old one and has nothing to do with high-ticket grant-funded scientific research. 

[All illustrations adapted from Wikimedia]

Thursday, October 2, 2014


I received this sample longer ago than I care to think about, and have been hanging on to this review waiting to see if there was anything more to add. In the end, it's going to be a short review, because there’s only so much to say about a classic style cologne.

To begin with, Cologne du Mahgreb smells strongly lemony-citrusy, almost like a mix of citronella and lemongrass. There’s also a bit of cedar and something that smells like juniper berry as well as some softer, herbal things. It’s a very nice classic cologne, pleasant and wearable. After about an hour the lemony notes burn off and what’s left is a mildly sweaty cedar-herbal scent sweetened by just a hint of flowers. By 2-3 hours, very little is left except a faint labdanum trace on the skin. It’s an all-natural cologne, so longevity is not expected to be one of its strong points. I’m not a big fan of colognes, but I will say that while it lasts, it’s pleasant and wearable, the sort of thing that would be fun to spritz liberally on a warm summer day.

[Sample kindly provided by Hypoluxe; photo snatched from a commercial website.] 

Monday, September 29, 2014


Last weekend we participated in the family outing to gather hazelnuts from a farm somewhere out in the pre-foothills of Mount Baker, halfway to Canada. Never having gone on a hazelnut-hunting safari before, I had no idea what to expect. After a long trek through the bush we arrived at the farm, where we were instructed on how to tell good nuts (light-colored and shiny with no dark spots) from bad nuts (dark, overly striped, moldy, etc), given buckets and big tubs, and turned loose into the orchard. As I looked at the ground, I despaired of ever finding enough nuts to fill a small bucket, let alone a tub. I picked up a few and tossed them into the bucket.

Then I hit the mother lode and started seeing nuts all over the ground. They blended in with the fallen leaves, and some were hidden underneath leaves, but they were there in profusion. I started picking them up with both hands at once. In no time the bucket was full and emptied into the tub. I was now in a brainstem-directed hunter-gatherer frenzy, picking up hazelnuts like a machine, waddling along the ground in a squatting position as I worked. Michael was equally efficient, in his own way. After an hour or so, our tub was full, weighing in at 45 pounds. After a picnic lunch, we went back to work, quickly filling a second tub.

We came home with 90 pounds of hazelnuts! We had been told to spread them out on a sheet in a large space and let them dry for 2 weeks or more before roasting them. The only space that seemed appropriate was in the middle of the floor in my studio, so right now I’m having to tiptoe around the edges of a sea of 90 pounds of hazelnuts. I’m actually getting used to not being able to step on most of the floor.

The first day, the smell from the freshly gathered nuts was overpoweringly earthy, like loam, dead leaves, and mushrooms. Over the next couple of days it subsided, but it’s still there. Smelling the outsides of the nuts made me want to haul out the hazelnut CO2 extract that I acquired a while back but haven’t yet used in a perfume. It’s fairly subtle, with a distinctly oily smell and top notes that are a bit like the nuts themselves. It’s not Nutella. I think it could easily get overpowered by most other materials, so would have to be used in large quantities as a featured note in a simple, subtle fragrance or as a modifier in a complex one, contributing some nutty top notes and oily, slightly animalic ones to the middle.

I was told by one of the instigators of the hazelnut trip that when they’re roasted they give off a strong earthy scent, so now I’m wondering what would happen if I were to tincture hazelnut shells. It might produce a beautiful, earthy scent. Combine that with hazelnut CO2 extract, and who knows what might result? It’s probably worth a shot. 

Saturday, September 27, 2014


All last week I’ve been in a cleaning frenzy. I’m not usually a compulsive cleaner – in fact, I’m not a cleaner at all - but there’s something about starting the year off with a clean house that is both comforting and liberating. I cleaned things that hadn’t been cleaned for ages, like the floor of the pantry, under the bed, and the work table in the solarium. At school, I shredded old exams and repotted two of my three office plants, and I deleted thousands of old e-mails in all of my accounts. I took boxes of stuff to the local thrift store and threw out old odd-sized cardboard boxes that I’d been saving like a card-carrying hoarder. Now it’s time to get back to the blog.

Yesterday I picked the first of the second crop of brown turkey figs. There are so many that I’m freezing most of them to go with the earlier batch, and plan to make jam later this fall. The rains have come and swollen the figs to gigantic proportions. The tree has grown so tall that we can’t reach the fruit on the top branches even with a ladder, so the heavy, split figs from the top branches plop down on the ground, explode, and make a mess. I’ve never in my life done any canning, so jam-making will be a new adventure.

Today we’re going with Michael’s family to harvest hazelnuts from a farm up north, near Bellingham. We have wild hazelnut trees growing on our property, but not a single nut survives the squirrels, who eat them while they’re still green, or bury them and forget where they put them, creating more trees in the spring. I have no idea how a nut farm stays squirrel-free, but maybe I’ll find out.

The forest outside my window is still lush and green, but here and there I see signs of autumn color starting to tint the trees. I was just putting together a batch of Devil Scent discovery sets, and realized that Dev Two is the perfect fall scent, spicy and smoky. I think I’ll wear it for hazelnut hunting today. It’s strange how, after not smelling one of my perfumes for a while, I revisit it with a new nose and realize how much I really enjoy it.

All summer long I’ve been neglecting this blog, but I’m going to try to get back into a routine of posting. Today is the first day of the new effort!

[Today I took the lazy way out, so all images are from Wikimedia]