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, February 8, 2016


My apologies for missing Materials Wednesday and the other posts I should have put up this past week, but deadlines got out of hand on multiple fronts. I think it will be a little easier this week.

I typically do not enjoy ultra-feminine floral perfumes, but by the same token I don’t enjoy those that adhere closely to the conservative, stereotyped “masculine” pattern. The three that I review today for Mass-Market Monday are either solidly in the traditional masculine class or have tendencies towards it.  One of them is a giveaway.

Diptyque L’Eau de Neroli (2008)
True to its name, it starts off smelling like neroli, but with some added spiciness and woodiness. It’s sharp, clean, and fresh smelling, with just the right amount of ambery-woody notes and musk. The first hour or two are quite nice. It approaches “manly cologne” territory, but stays floral enough to avoid going down that slippery slope head-first.  It stays pretty much linear, with moderate sillage through the first couple of hours, but then suddenly turns into extremely strong “white musk” that lasts for another 6-7 hours before fading away. The abrupt transformation is complete and surprising. It’s certainly wearable, but you’d better be prepared for many hours of heavy-duty musk. 

Clive Christian L for men (2014)
For the first few minutes it smells like just about any other “manly cologne”, with a lot of citrus, herbs, vetiver, and tonka. Within minutes it becomes a sweet, powdery-floral scent, nothing special, just a conservative fragrance that is probably grossly overpriced based on what’s in it. It then flips back to something approaching the initial “manly” scent, which makes me involuntarily think of the “Sex Panther” satiric perfume and imagine this is an upscale version of what it smells like (reminder: must try Sex Panther!) Don’t get me wrong. L for Men is not bad, it’s just a clone of thousands of other “men’s” perfumes with nothing to distinguish it except its price. If I give Clive Christian the benefit of the doubt and believe that the price is justified because they used real oud oil in the composition, it was a big waste of oud because the standard-recipe manly stuff completely masks it. After about 2-3 hours it’s faded down to a musky skin scent. It’s wearable, but I am underwhelmed.

Prada Luna Rossa Extreme (2013)

I was disappointed with this, not because it was bad, but because I’ve been favorably impressed by all of the other Prada fragrances that I’ve tried. In fact, some of them are in my “work scent” rotation. Luna Rossa Extreme starts out as a prototypical “manly cologne” with citrus, lavender and light spices, but mellows a bit as is dries down, becoming smoother and sweeter. Once the resinous-vanilla aspects appear, it’s quite wearable, though by no means exciting. By the 4-hour mark it’s pretty much gone, “extreme” status notwithstanding. Luna Rossa Extreme is a conservative, nicely made, traditionally masculine scent with moderate sillage and longevity. I have no real criticisms, but it’s so generic that I see no reason to choose it over many others in this genre. I have a mini bottle of Luna Rossa Extreme that I’m probably never going to wear, so will offer it to someone who leaves a comment on what you consider a prototypical “masculine” fragrance.

[All bottle photos are from Fragrantica; the mountain with fog photo is a grab from the trusty webcam at our local ski area, which I look at obsessively every day.] 

Thursday, February 4, 2016


With apologies for missing this Wednesday's materials series due to some extra, time-consuming work at the university, I am happy to announce that the winner of the artifact fancy bottle drawing is LAUREN. I understand Azar's dog Fender did the choosing.

[The photo, for no particular reason, is the green spotted hellebore that's blooming now, child of the dark red one. There seems to be no consistency in how the offspring look.] 

Monday, February 1, 2016


For Mass-Market Monday I reached in my sample box and sniffed a few perfumes. One is old, one is new, but the two middle-aged ones are my favorites of the bunch. The sampling includes one bottle that, for me, is not a keeper. For you, it might be just what you want, so there’s a drawing for it.

Cacharel LouLou (1987)
This is an oldie from the late 80s that I used to wear on occasion. On revisiting the vintage version, I find that it’s exactly the same as I remember it, a powdery blue plastic flower made from a vinyl shower curtain. It’s an unmistakable scent, the prototype of its genre. In real-world terminology, the main components are probably heliotrope, mimosa, violet/iris (ionones, but dosed in a reasonable way), a generic white flower mix, a tonka-resin combo, and a bit of vanilla. However, the sum is greater than the parts, and it’s none of these things. To me, LouLou is a wonderful example of a perfume that goes beyond the natural world to create a blatantly synthetic, artificial scent, and I mean this in a good way. It’s perfectly linear, and smells the same at the 8-hour mark as it did when initially dabbed, just not as strong. I haven’t smelled the new version, but imagine it has less character.

Miller Harris Noix de Tubereuse (2003)
I thought this was going to be a super-perfumey floral at first, but after the first blast it settles into a pleasant tuberose scent with candy nuances. It seems the candy comes from mimosa and possibly a bit of violet/iris. It’s sweet without being gourmand, almost a vintage type scent. Sillage is moderate, clearly present in the air but not punching you forcefully in the nose – in other words, the level is just right after a tiny vial-dab. This is a great tuberose scent!

Le Labo Patchouli 24 (2006)
This doesn’t smell like patchouli, but I like it anyway, much more so than if it actually were patchouli. It’s a strange composition with dominant notes of smoky, powdery green tea (the real thing, lapsang suchong, not the commercial scratchy green tea variety), a little hint of dry rose petals, and some vanilla. Altogether it’s a real treat, gentle, but with plenty of strength and sillage. I love wearing this. It’s animalic, soft, and gourmand all at the same time. Sillage is moderate, as is longevity, on the order of 4-5 hours, but that’s enough to be satisfying. I think I should order a bottle of this before an Estee Lauder reformulation screws it up.

Fresh Life (2013)
This starts off from the get-go with screaming generic flowers, including super-synthetic lilac, lily-of-the-valley, Alien-type jasmine, and lord knows what else. From reading the description and people’s comments on the forums, I thought it was supposed to be a light grapefruit scent, but instead it’s a hugely amped-up version of a 1980s floral shampoo or lotion scent. If there’s any grapefruit or other citrus present, it’s completely masked by the heavy floral stuff.  Sillage is enormous, even from a tiny application. Nothing changes over the course of 12 hours, not even the huge sillage, which hangs around like a malevolent giant mutant flower breathing its corrosive fumes down my neck. Are you getting the impression that I don’t like Fresh Life? If so, that would be correct. For me, it’s a scrubber, but for you, it may be your floral match made in heaven. That’s why I’m offering my small spray bottle in a random draw.

To be entered in the drawing for a 15 ml spray bottle of Fresh Life, leave a comment about whether you’ve tried the old and/or new versions of LouLou or your favorite big floral perfume. The winner will be drawn on Monday, February 8.

[Perfume bottle photos are all from Fragrantica]

Saturday, January 30, 2016


I am a sample junkie – I admit that I enjoy using samples much more than the full size of anything. I have thousands of 1-ml vial perfume samples, and quite a lot of skin care and cosmetic samples. For some reason the samples always seem better than the full size, and my theory is that alternating and rotating is much more effective and enjoyable than finding a “favorite” and sticking with it. I know some people use samples as a means to the end of finding the one fragrance or other product that they will commit to using continuously, but to me, samples are an end in themselves.

I recently acquired some samples of various make-up removers and face cleansers, some of which are (in my opinion) better than others. Here’s my report:

Sephora Waterproof Eye Makeup Remover: This comes as two phases, a water-based blue one at the bottom and a clear oil-based one on top. Basically, it’s just water and oil, which, when shaken up temporarily mix together as a suspension and can take off both water-soluble and oil-soluble makeup. It works effectively on eye make-up, but not as a complete face wash. It costs $14 for about 7 ounces, so is not prohibitively expensive.

Clinique Take the Day Off Makeup Remover: Almost identical to the Sephora product except for the fact that it appears to be colorless. It also comes as two phases (oil and water) that have to be shaken together before using.  It takes eye makeup off effectively, but is not meant to function as a complete face wash. At $19 for 4.2 ounces, it costs about twice what the generic Sephora product does, so I see no advantage to using it.

Fresh Soy Face Cleanser: This is a strongly cucumber-scented runny gel that has to be squeezed out of a tube and plops in odd places if your hand isn’t under the mouth of the tube to catch it. It doesn’t really work as a night-time remover for eye makeup or any other type of makeup, so I use it in the morning in the shower where it basically functions as a shower gel for the face. It works OK in that context. It doesn’t foam at all, but it does seem to clean my skin. So does soap. The sample tube doesn’t seem to contain much product given its size, but I’ll give the full size the benefit of the doubt and assume that it is completely full. At $38 for 5.1 ounces, it doesn’t seem worth it.

Ole Henriksen Pure Truth Melting Cleanser: My favorite of the bunch, this is a gel that melts on the skin to function as a complete eye makeup remover, general makeup remover, and face wash. It comes in a jar, so it’s easy to control how much you use. A tiny dab scrubbed around on the face really does remove everything from waterproof mascara to just plain dirt. It has a light citrus scent, does not end up particularly oily, and simply rinses away with water, leaving my skin feeling clean, but moisturized. It’s great for quick makeup removal at night. I really like it. It seems kind of pricey at $34 for 4 ounces, but a little goes a long way, and the convenience of a single product that does everything justifies the price. My small sample is lasting a long time, so when it runs out I might just spring for a full size.

[Sample photo is mine, others are from a retailer's website] 

Wednesday, January 27, 2016


Before moving on to a series on what we usually think of as the perfume materials themselves, I thought it might be interesting to consider the component of most perfumes that everyone takes for granted, the carrier. Perfumes are generally fragrance materials diluted with a more or less odorless substance, never completely odorless, but benign enough to be masked and/or quick to evaporate.

By far the most common carrier is alcohol, usually 95% ethanol (ethyl alcohol), the same alcohol that’s in alcoholic beverages. Perfumer’s alcohol is typically grain alcohol that contains a bitter, low-odor “denaturant” that renders it unpalatable to drink, thus minimizing the chances that the alcohol could be resold as a beverage without the authorities having collected beverage taxes on it. If you see “SD alcohol” or “alcohol denat” on a perfume label, it just stands for “specially denatured alcohol”.

Some perfumers also use non-denatured alcohol, which can be obtained with the proper type of license. It is usually considerably more expensive than SD alcohol, and may be produced by craft distilleries that cater to the beverage and/or natural perfumery trade. Popular types of non-denatured alcohol include grain or potato alcohol, which have very little extra odor from the plant matter that was fermented and distilled, grape alcohol, which has a strong grappa smell, and sugar cane alcohol, which has a rum-like smell. These special effects are fine, if you want them in your perfume, but because of the extra expense and extra smells, most perfumers stick with the garden-variety SD alcohol.

Because alcohol is a non-polar solvent, it works well with most essential oils and aroma chemicals, which readily go into solution in alcohol and stay there. It is volatile, so evaporates quickly, leaving the less volatile fragrance materials behind for our enjoyment. Alcohol-based solutions are thin enough to easily be sprayed. The only down side is that ethanol is flammable at relatively low temperatures and has some smell of its own. Other than that, it’s the ideal carrier.

Oil is another traditional carrier for perfumes. Like alcohol, it easily mixes with essential oils and aroma chemicals. However, not every oil can work as a perfume base. Many oils have strong smells of their own (think about olive oil, or sesame oil). Unless the scent of the carrier oil is intended to be part of the fragrance, it is best to use low-odor oils. The other problem with oils is that many of them go rancid quickly. I will never forget pulling out some samples of oil-based perfumes that had been sitting around for about a year and being hit with the smell of rancid oil. It was so bad that I had to throw them away.  The oils that I’ve used that tend not to go rancid are argan and fractionated coconut oil (FCO). Grapefruit seed oil can be added as a natural preservative and, of course, there are lots of synthetic preservatives that will work with oil.
Traditional attars are made from flowers or other materials distilled into a carrier of sandalwood oil or vetiver oil, both of which have their own scent that contributes to the attar. Today some attars are distilled into diethylphthalate (DEP) or dioctylphthalate (DOP), which act as cheap substitutes for the traditional oils. If you are buying attars and want to avoid phthalates, you should find out what the carrier is.  Oil-based perfumes tend to go on sticky, with the fragrance developing more slowly than it does in alcohol-based ones.

I have tried a few water-based perfumes and was not impressed. First, most fragrance materials are not soluble in water, so the best that can be done is to produce a suspension or emulsion of the oils or aroma chemicals. For this reason, water-based perfumes tend to be cloudy. The amount of fragrance that can be added to water is limited, so they are usually quite weak.

Concentrations of fragrance materials in carrier are all over the place, ranging from minute amounts of fragrance materials to the pure concentrate. The highest concentrations are found in attars and concentrated perfume oils (CPOs), followed (in theory) by extraits/parfum, eau de parfum (EdP), eau de toilette (EdT), eau de cologne (EdC), and body sprays, which typically use a carrier with a high ratio of water to alcohol. However, you can’t really go by these designations because an EdT may smell stronger than an extrait. It depends on the fragrance itself and how the manufacturer defines the terms.

[Except for (maybe) the 190 proof grain alcohol in the first photo, all are things that should not be in perfume, just included for the visual interest. All images are from Wikimedia]