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.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015


I missed my usual Mass-Market Monday post because I spent the entire day putting things away after the weekend’s orchid show, and catching up on shipping orders. I’m still not caught up, but it’s better.

Our hometown fall orchid show is always held at one of the local nurseries, and my tradition is to buy one or more cyclamen plants for the garden. Over the years I’ve collected quite a variety of cyclamens, which seem to have interbred and produced more different leaf and flower designs. They’re really fun to grow because they go dormant and disappear over the summer, but as soon as the rains start in the fall, up pop the flowers or the leaves, in different order depending on the species, and sometimes both flowers and leaves together. Different species bloom at different times, so there are flowers continuously from early fall through winter and spring.

This year I went all-out and bought 4 plants – a pointed-leaf hederifolium, a coum with variegated leaves to offset the silver-leaf ones that have bred like rabbits and gone wild beneath the fig tree, and two gorgeous purpurascens. Most cyclamen species have at least a little fragrance, unlike the big florist hybrids, which are unscented. What I wasn’t expecting was a huge blast of fragrance that rivaled jasmine or fragrant lilies in strength. As I approached the cyclamen bench, I smelled what could have been a fine floral perfume wafting through the air. It didn’t take long to trace it to the Cyclamen purpurascens, which were pumping it out like crazy.  After a lot of sniffing I chose the two most fragrant ones, which, just by chance, have very different leaf designs. They are now happily planted in the front garden under a Japanese maple tree.

If this doesn't make you want to grow cyclamens, I don't know what will. 

[All photos are mine]

Monday, November 2, 2015


Thanks to Azar for another Mass-Market Monday post! Somehow I missed ever smelling this one.
The golden leaves and blustery wet weather make it clear that winter is on its way.  It is time to snuggle up near a warm fire with a good book.  It's also time for couple of generous blasts of my favorite spicy oriental fragrance - vintage Basile by Basile.  I much prefer this warm, Italian mass-market beauty to the more popular (and more expensive) YSL Opium.

The Basile I love is the EdP from the 1980s. This deep amber colored jus resides in a narrow, angular bottle adorned with geometric, black plastic "shoulder pads" - so 80s! As far as I know the newer version of Basile is only available in EdT. While very similar to the original, the reformulation is missing the shoulder pads and seriously skimps on the rich clove, warm ylang-ylang and intense tangerine that are so generously supplied in the earlier version.

Here are the notes listed on Fragrantica: 
Top - tangerine, orange blossom, ylang-ylang, cinnamon, cloves.
Heart - jasmine, tuberose, rose, iris.
Base - sandalwood, patchouli, oakmoss, amber.

I don't always agree with or understand the published breakdown of a fragrance, but vintage Basile evolves exactly as the description above suggests. Sparkling tangerine is spiced with cinnamon and clove and rounded out with the richness of ylang-ylang and orange blossom. The fragrance evolves to a lush rosy, floral and dries after 8 hours (or so) to amber, oakmoss and sandalwood infused with remnants of the initial comforting ylang-ylang and mouthwatering tangerine.

The "mouthwatering tangerine" reminds me that November is the month when the new crops of citrus fruits hit our Pacific Northwest markets.  It is time for me to start nagging the produce managers about just when to expect the new pomelos, tangerines and grapefruits!  When these new crops finally arrive I am invariably treated to fresh cut samples of the latest and greatest from Florida, California, Texas and around the world.  Yum!

I wear the majority of my big, spicy oriental fragrances any time of the year but for some reason I tend to reserve Basile  (which is a little more "subtle" than most) for late fall and early winter.  What is your favorite spicy oriental?  Do you enjoy it year round?   
Azar xx  
Sounds like I need to try this! It looks like you can get a very large bottle of the new version for under $15 on Amazon. 

[Bottle with shoulder pads photo by Azar; new bottle photo from Fragrantica; other images from Wikimedia]


The winner of the book offered in the Dead Department Store Drawing is:



Friday, October 30, 2015


I have two perfume websites, the older one with a local hosting company, iEasySite, and a newer one on Shopify. Both of these websites, as well as my orchid nursery website, have a built-in e-mail feature. However, checking three clunky e-mail programs multiple times a day would be unnecessarily labor-intensive, so I have all mail from these addresses forwarded to a single gmail account that works quite efficiently, and from which I conduct all of my business.

My local website host leaves me alone, so my only communication with them happens when I contact them because of a problem. They are always very responsive, but then go back to their hands-off management strategy, which is how I prefer it.

Shopify, on the other hand, regularly sends me unsolicited e-mail “newsletters” with what they seem to think are helpful hints about how to run an online business. After reading a number of these, I can’t help concluding that Shopify caters to people who have absolutely no experience running a business, online or otherwise, who are simply trying to sell stuff as a hobby, who are running some sort of marginal business reselling other companies’ products, or who are trying to establish an online business so that they can quickly sell it to someone else. Most of them seem to deal in T-shirts.

Some of the hints may be slightly useful, especially for those with zero experience, but a lot of the others are what I consider really bad advice.  I’m just going to consider two of them here. On a regular basis Shopify warns people that if they use a gmail address they will be perceived as “unprofessional”. They justify this statement by saying that “anyone can get a gmail address”. What? Can’t anyone get a Shopify website? I don’t remember having to present any qualifications other than the ability to pay a few dollars a month. Anyone can do that. In fact, anyone can get a website or an e-mail account from any service that provides them, no questions asked.

Over the past few years, gmail has become the most convenient e-mail system to use, even for business, especially if one runs multiple branches of a business and wants to consolidate the output of multiple e-mail accounts into one. My prediction is that more and more businesses will forego the “support@yourname” e-mail systems and go to “yourname@gmail”. After all, it’s ultimately the quality of customer service and communication that counts toward a “professional” image, not the form of the e-mail address. However, in case my perception is wrong, which it could be, I’ll pose the question to you readers: Do you think using a gmail address makes a business look unprofessional?

The other day I received another “newsletter” from Shopify advising people not to ship items in standard brown cardboard boxes or plain bubble mailers because everyone wants a spectacular “unpackaging experience”. OK, I know how exciting it always is to receive a package in the mail, but is the excitement due to the appearance of the shipped package itself or the anticipation of what’s inside? Is it really better to wrap the outer package in bright colored, metallic, sequined materials, tie it with ribbon, and paste hearts and unicorn stickers all over it? Or make your package look like a velvet tuxedo with a satin collar and bow tie? Or ship an ugly t-shirt in a big metal canister that looks like an oil drum? Or ship a package of tea bags in a hand-carved wooden box sealed with sealing wax and sporting a calligraphy handwritten address?

I actually have had customers who ask me to be sure to ship their perfume in a plain brown box because they have received some of those gaudy, glittery special-interest packages in the mail and found them embarrassing. If nothing else, too much elaborate outer packaging is wasteful. The purpose of outer packaging is to protect whatever is inside from the bashing that inevitably occurs as the poor little package is tumbled and smashed with millions of others like it or bigger and heavier than it is. Can’t people wait to see the nice packaging on the inside after they’ve ripped away the outer protective layers? Again, I’ll post the question to you readers: Do you enjoy getting special external packaging even when the goods inside are wrapped and packaged nicely? Would you be willing to pay more for merchandise in order to cover the cost of fancy shipping boxes and mailers, which can get quite pricey?

I guess the bottom line of all this is that Shopify seems to think that everyone focuses entirely on factors that are completely superficial, and that no one cares about quality of goods or service as long as the delivery is flashy. A bad meal delivered to your doorstep by a musical drone with a pulsating laser light show, anyone? Maybe that’s what the world is coming to, but if so, it’s sad.

[Images are taken from various retailers' websites.]

Monday, October 26, 2015


The world is full of so many things to experience that sometimes we miss the oldies-but-goodies in our frenzy to try the latest things. We read the latest best-seller but never read a classic novel, or we try the latest mass-market “niche” fragrances and never smell a classic vintage perfume. This phenomenon has hit home a few times recently in different areas.

In the academic world, publishers come out with new editions of science textbooks every couple of years. To make them seem “new”, they stuff them with the latest trendy research, sometimes skipping over the very basics that would allow students to understand and appreciate the field. I am always tempted to read new books, but have recently been reading classics that I find in my local used bookstore’s $1 bin. The latest is The Count of Monte Cristo – how I missed that one I’ll never know. As an adventure fantasy it makes Hollywood blockbusters pale by comparison and probably is, in many ways, one of their ancestors.

When I sample perfume, I try to mix the new and trendy with old classics and what I would call “pop classics” – the perfumes that have their die-hard fans but are not considered upscale like the Chanels and Guerlains. Here I take a look at two "pop classics" and one that’s just plain mass-market.

Prescriptives Calyx
I was fortunate to get a nice sample of the original 1987 Prescriptives formula before it was reissued in 2013 by Clinique, and presumably reformulated. Calyx is one of those perfumes that people rave about on the big forums, so I’d heard a lot about it and had to try it eventually. The original version is certainly unique. It’s greenish, but sweet and fruity, and at first it has an odd rubbery note that reminds me of some kind of hair treatment like a perm/straightener solution. It’s really hard to identify any specific notes at any point except maybe some peach. I like it, especially for its originality. Sillage is moderate. Later on there are some light minty notes. It lasts for at least 6-7 hours. To me it is wearable and enjoyable, but not something I love so much that it could become my “signature scent” as it seems to be for some people. It's not even something that I would wear on an occasional basis.

Estee Lauder Youth Dew
It’s interesting that I’d never tried this classic until this year, but maybe because it dates back to 1953 it was considered old-fashioned by the time I was getting into perfumes. It’s a full-bodied “oriental” chypre-type perfume in the vintage mode, richly floral, resinous, and spicy. It’s one of those perfumes that has no distinct notes and just produces a gestalt that is itself. I think what I have is an older vintage version because it smells strong but somewhat natural. I’m surprised that so many people on the big forums “dislike” it. I suppose it’s because it is natural-smelling, but in a sophisticated way, not a grocery-store aromatherapy mix. Or maybe the general dislike is just a matter of following the crowd because it seems trendy to dislike dark-colored classic chypres. Yes, it smells a little bit old-fashioned, the name notwithstanding, but it’s what I think many modern “natural perfumes” would like to be. 

DKNY Be Delicious EdT

I’m pretty sure this is one of those perfumes that I smell regularly whenever I get a hard-copy advertising publication with glue sample strips. When sprayed on skin it smells just like those glue-strips, at least it does at first. It starts out as strong, artificial “green apple” candy on the usual mass-market woody base. Once it settles down it becomes softer, with strong hints of violet. The violet was a total surprise. At this stage it’s not bad at all, a non-sweet violet along with the apple and woods. The top notes are enough to scare anyone away, but fortunately they don’t last long, and the rest of the scent is pleasant to wear. It’s “clean”-smelling and fruity without being at all sweet or floral. I am astounded to think that I could actually wear this. Sillage is strong-moderate for the first 4-5 hours, low-moderate thereafter. The trajectory is predictable, with the scent eventually reverting to synthetic apple and woody notes, which hang on for many more hours. Although it is quite wearable after the first blast of top notes burns off, it's not anything that I would choose to wear myself.

[Perfume bottle photos are all from Fragrantica; gratuitous flower photo is mine.] 

Thursday, October 22, 2015


A couple of days ago I read in our local newspaper that the Seattle Macy’s is downsizing by selling off the top floors of the store. Moreover, they’re selling off entire stores elsewhere. Thinking about that bit of news, I realized that I was not surprised because it’s been years since I set foot in a traditional department store. I think the last time I was in one was in San Francisco when I went to Barney’s to visit someone I knew who worked in the perfume department. That was a nice downtown department store not a mall store, and I didn’t go anywhere except one counter in the perfume department,  so it was a pleasant experience. I can’t say as much for the typical US department store.

Urban department stores a century or more ago were built to be beautiful temples to the gods of consumerism, but somewhere along the line aesthetics and the human-friendly touch got left behind in the rush to achieve infinite growth of sales and profits. There’s something profoundly depressing about suburban shopping malls in general, and their cornerstone department stores are especially depressing. I have not been to a typical shopping mall for at least a decade except to visit the Apple store when my laptop needed repairs. The Apple stores in both locations I go to are outside, so there’s no need to enter the mall itself. 

I suspect I’m not the only one who hates going to a mall or a big free-standing department store surrounded by acres of parking lots. It’s easier and less stressful to shop online if you’re looking for non-perishable things that don’t have to fit, it’s more fun to go to a small specialty shop in an urban area, and it’s almost always a successful and cheap exercise in opportunistic shopping to go foraging at one of the local second-hand stores.

The problem with department stores at all levels is that they have more or less generic merchandise, often cheaply made, at inflated prices. After all, they want to appeal to some mythical “average” consumer and they have high overhead. I think the same principle applies to their perfume counters – generic merchandise at full manufacturer’s suggested retail price.  Given online and specialty shop competition, I wonder how long the department store perfume counter will be a sustainable form of retailing.

To satisfy my curiosity, I’m going to ask how many of you readers regularly go to shopping malls and/or department stores? Do you enjoy going there? If so, what makes them appealing to you? If you do go to department stores, how likely are you to buy perfume there?

Because this post deals with the real and future prospect of ghost-town malls and big department stores and because Halloween is coming soon, when you leave a comment answering these questions you will be entered in a very special drawing for a hard-cover copy of Sheila Eggenberger’s book, Quantum Demonology, the story that was the inspiration for my Devil Scent series. Shipping is worldwide, with the drawing to be held on Halloween, October 31.

[I downloaded these photos a while back, but I think they were all from Wikimedia.]