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.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015


Being an orchid grower and a perfumer sometimes leads to strange experiences and gives me new names to describe what I smell in the greenhouse and the lab using crossover terminology from each area. I recently had the experience of encountering a familiar smell in an unexpected context.

I think I’ll start the story on the perfumery end with a material called Fructalate, also known as raspberry dicarboxylate or diethyl cyclohexane-1,4-dicarboxylate. It’s a common aroma chemical, manufactured by a number of different companies. The official description is, “fruity, raspberry, apple, ethereal … a long-lasting fruity, berry note which is powerful, affordable, and stable”. To me it doesn’t smell like raspberries, but it certainly is long-lasting, powerful and “affordable”, which is a euphemism for cheap.

A couple of years ago I bought a few kilos of the stuff as a favor to an overseas colleague who couldn’t get it locally. I split it with a few others and kept a little for myself “just in case”. In the process of pouring it from the big container into smaller ones for shipping, a little bit spilled on the bare wooden table where I do this sort of work and where I pack plants to ship. For the first year the smell on the table was quite noticeable all the time. Even now it still hangs around, being especially strong if it’s very warm or if the table gets damp. “Stable” is an understatement.

Last weekend when I walked into the greenhouse, I could have sworn that I smelled fructalate. It was exactly that same smell of over-ripe tropical fruit combined with an organic chemistry lab or petroleum refinery. I thought I must be hallucinating, because there had never been any fructalate anywhere near the greenhouse. I dismissed it and went about my work, but I kept smelling it. It was the strangest thing. Just as I was leaving the greenhouse I noticed a plant blooming with a long, thick tail of tiny yellow-orange flowers. It was Bulbophyllum dixonii, also called Bulbophyllum morphologlorum, and when I smelled it – bingo! It was a dead-ringer for fructalate. It must manufacture a scent molecule that’s identical or very similar to fructalate, presumably to attract pollinators that like to eat or lay eggs in rotting fruit. The long spray of tiny flowers even looks like a cross between a pineapple and a lumpy banana. 

It never ceases to amaze me that an orchid species and a man-made aroma chemical can share almost the same smell. Have you ever done a double-take smelling what you thought was a synthetic perfume note in nature?  

[fruit and refinery photos from Wikimedia; flower photo is mine] 

Monday, October 5, 2015


Here is Azar's post for Mass-Market Monday!
For several days I have been struggling to come up with a fragrant topic for this week's Mass Market Monday.  Now, at almost the last minute (zero hour), I am realizing that the perfect subject for a mass-market review has been and is (at this very moment) wafting right under my nose!  I am wearing Sung by Alfred Sung, the vintage 80s version created by Riviera Concepts Inc., Toronto, Canada.

In early September Portia, from Australian Perfume Junkies, wrote a wonderful review of this fragrance. When I read the post I remembered that I loved smelling Sung on my friends in the 80s but never bought a bottle for myself.  Recently I found a clean, vintage spray bottle on e-bay and have been enjoying many happy memories all week long.

Here are the notes for Sung listed on Fragrantica:
Top - Orange, mandarin, bergamot, lemon, ylang-ylang, galbanum, hyacinth.  Heart - Osmanthus, jasmine, iris, lily of the valley, carnation, orchid.     Base - Vanilla, orange blossom, sandalwood, amber, vetiver, oakmoss and musk.

For me Sung is all about super-sized hyacinth and galbanum.  I have been absolutely crazy about galbanum for years but until this purchase I never realized just how many of the mass-market fragrances in my collection (most of them vintage) are heavy with galbanum and lean toward the green.  To name but a few:  Vent Vert, Chanel No. 19, Ma Griffe, Fidji, Silences, Norrell…

My love affair with galbanum began in the early 1970s when I first encountered Guy Laroche Fidji http://thefragrantman.com/2013/11/17/in-the-street-of-the-perfume-sellers-al-ghazali/.  Sung has the same sharp, edgy, green opening that at first repelled and then attracted me to Fidji.   While these two fragrances have similar top notes I find that Fidji has a spicier heart and remains quite sharp until reaching the wood, musk and warm oakmoss in the dry down.  Sung, on the other hand, relaxes and rounds out midway with osmanthus and jasmine, finishing with a comforting and almost narcotic combination of vanilla, amber, sandalwood and orange blossom.  This perfume is great for romantic evenings by the fire and for sultry afternoons in the sun but not the best choice for encouraging concentration and coordination.  Several days of spritzing Sung might just be the reason for my struggle with this week's Mass Market Monday!

Now about reformulations:  Sadly the reformulated Fidji  (I believe it is now discontinued) is a pale ghost of its former green, spicy, floral self and, from what I hear, the newer version of Sung, licensed by Elizabeth Arden, is very much inferior to the original by Riviera Concepts, Inc.

Here are a couple of questions:  Have you worn Sung by Alfred Sung, vintage or reformulated?  Have you experienced or heard of a great 21st century fragrance that features galbanum?  I would very much like to try it!

Azar xx

[New bottle photos from Fragrantica, vintage bottle photos from internet sellers, Japanese maple photo is mine.] 

Friday, September 25, 2015


Until this year I had never really grown Lithops, those little plants native to South Africa that look like stones. All I’d ever had were the green hybrid kind that are sold in box stores or garden centers, usually bloated from overwatering and in their death throes. Earlier this year, inspired by the blog, My Life Among the Lithops, I stumbled upon a wonderful source for Lithops species, and now have a collection that occupies most of a nursery tray.

Never having had real Lithops before, I was in for several surprises and corrections of misconceptions about them. First, I assumed that they bloomed in spring. I’m not sure why I assumed this, except that some of the plants that I bought this spring had old flowers or seed pods attached to them. A couple of weeks after I got back from Ireland, I noticed that a few plants had little bumps sticking up between the leaves and thought they must be regenerating leaves out of season because the housesitter had watered them when he wasn’t supposed to. I watched in amazement as, day by day the bumps turned into what looked like flower buds.  Then I did the research that I should have done long ago and found out that they bloom in fall. Duh … they were just doing what they’re supposed to do.

The other thing that I read was that the flowers open in the afternoon and close at night, and – sure enough – that’s what they do. It seems like a short window of opportunity for pollination, but I guess that’s the time when the natural pollinators are out and about.

The second big surprise came when I discovered that the flowers are fragrant. Wow! They have a lovely, sweet, powdery smell sort of like yellow mimosa. The fragrance was an unexpected bonus. Once again I’m learning that hybrid plants are not nearly as much fun to grow as species, every one of which is like a unique work of art. As far as I know, the hybrid lithops don’t bloom and, if they did, I suspect the flowers wouldn’t be fragrant. They’re just engineered to grow fast so that they can be divided and divided and divided forever – who cares if they bloom or not? They all look alike and just have to survive overwatering in a dark box store long enough to be sold as a curiosity so that they can go home with someone and die.  

I have two box-store hybrids that have survived for several years. One of those hybrids has 10 growths, so I know it’s big enough to bloom. If they don’t bloom this year, inspired by heavy-duty lithops pheromones wafting from their ancestors, my suspicion about their inability to bloom will be confirmed.

Through all of this education and getting to know the species, I’ve developed a deep appreciation for these remarkable little plants.

[All photos (Lithops aucampiae, Lithops leslei, Lithops swantesii top to bottom) are mine]

Sunday, September 13, 2015


I’ve been traveling all my life, and the more I travel, the lighter I travel. Packing for a trip that extends over several weeks is an art and a science. If you do it right, it makes your life a lot easier. On my last trip I took all of my own advice and pared my luggage down to the bare essentials. Not being a slave to a suitcase made my trip a lot more enjoyable and produced the notes for this post.

I thought it would be fun to put together a list of the guidelines that I use when packing to travel by air, rail, and other forms of public transportation for more than a few days. Obviously if you’re going to be away from any sort of civilization it’s a different story, because you need to take food, camping gear and such. If you’re taking a road trip by car, you can throw as much crap in the car as you have room for. Eventually the things that you actually use will rise to the top.

Here’s my list of 10 ways to travel light:

1. Minimize toiletries. Because this is, after all, a perfume blog, I’ll put this one first. Wherever you go, security screening has different rules about toiletries, so reduce the chances of having an unpleasant and time-consuming examination of your bag by taking only what is absolutely necessary. There’s no need to pack a big, dedicated bag full of large-size cosmetics, lotions, creams, perfumes, and other stuff. I take one each of extremely basic cosmetic items (a black mascara and one dark brown eyeshadow with brush, a lip balm - that’s it), a small tube of toothpaste, a tiny decant bottle of makeup remover, one small tube or jar of all-purpose moisturizer, and a few 1-ml perfume or oud samples. They fit in a sandwich bag. No one has ever given me a hard time when they saw the bag with these things in it. If you find you need something, you can always buy a small size of whatever it is at your destination. There are stores almost everywhere, and it’s fun to shop in an unfamiliar place.

2. If you must travel with perfume, here’s what you can do. For every full bottle of perfume, expect to give up one item of clothing. You have your priorities, after all. There’s no problem taking bottles of 30 ml or less through security, as long as you put them in the regulation plastic bag. A lot of 30-ml bottles or one larger bottle could be a problem, and you don’t want your precious perfume confiscated along with your nail file and water bottle, so pack them securely in a checked bag. Perfumers take their stock to trade shows in a checked bag, so it seems there’s no limit on what you can take in checked luggage. But why do it unless you’re going to a trade show?

3. Don’t use a backpack. Backpacks make your shoulders tired and hit people behind you in the face. Invest in a small roller bag that fits well within the smallest of the airlines’ carry-on size limitations. For domestic US flights you can always take it on the plane and save the ridiculous extra charges to check a bag.

4. Don’t pack big shoes. Shoes are the worst of all space hogs, and a big pair of shoes will take up most of your bag. If you must have a pair of boots or running shoes on the trip, wear them on the flight. Do take one pair of tried-and-true walking shoes – the ones that you can walk in all day and not notice that they’re there. My go-to walking footwear is my favorite pair of flip-flops, which take up very little space. If I’m going to a cold place, I take a pair of comfortable boots or running shoes and wear them on the plane. I know, I know, you want shoes for all occasions, I do too, but resist the temptation. If you know there’s an occasion where you will need a pair of dressy shoes, OK, but take just one and be happy with the ones you take.

5. Check the weather at your destination(s) and plan exactly what you need to take. Don’t just throw random stuff in your bag thinking you can decide when you’re there. If you do that, you’ll probably end up using less than half of what you brought with you and schlepping it around unnecessarily all over the globe. If you are going to a very cold place and absolutely must have a heavy jacket or coat, wear it onto the plane. You can always stow it away once you’re seated. For unpredictable climates, pack some layers – tank top, t-shirt, lightweight sweater (fleece is good, heavy cotton or wool knits are the worst), nylon windbreaker. Choose the least bulky ones you have. Always pack a bathing suit. You never know when you’ll encounter a beach, indoor pool, or hot tub. It takes almost no space, and might come in handy.

6. You probably like to wear jeans – I do, too – but choose something less bulky for travel. Denim takes up a lot of room. I usually pack a pair of running shorts, a pair of black running tights that double as leggings, a pair of nylon windbreaker pants, and a pair of light cotton or knit pants for dress-up occasions. If I expect warm weather, I’ll include a lightweight tank-top style dress.

7. Minimize the electronics. Don’t take a laptop if you can avoid it. If you do, put it in a thin protective case and pack it in your carry-on bag to avoid having an extra bag. Same goes for a camera. If you’re traveling internationally or on commuter flights where you’ll have to (or want to) check your roller bag, then use one carryall-bag big enough for your regular purse items (“messenger bag” items, if you’re male) and the laptop and/or camera. The more separate bags you have, the higher the probability of losing one.

8. Plan on washing clothes during the trip. You can do that in the sink using shampoo, which is nothing but detergent anyway. Pack things that dry quickly. Needless to say, don’t pack anything white or light-colored that will show the least spot of anything. I invariably end up spilling something on my clothes, so like to wear black or dark colors. Underclothes were originally meant to protect outer clothes and minimize having to wash them, so pack a modest number of under-things and use them that way. Wash the innermost layers whenever you have enough time in one place, and don’t worry about the sweaters and pants. Just spray some of that perfume on them and air them out! If you are gone for a very long time and must have larger items laundered, small European hotels or B&Bs have reasonable laundry services, but never, ever use a hotel laundry service in the US. Their charges are so outrageous that buying all new items at a high-end store would be cheaper and a lot more fun. If you feel you must do a major batch of laundry, find a laundromat.

9. Roll your clothes tightly, don’t fold them. You can get a lot more items into a small bag that way. Put small items (like socks) in shoes. Wrap clothing around any potentially fragile items like cameras, laptops or tablets, perfume bottles, etc. to protect them in your carry-on.  Put the heaviest items on what will be the bottom of your bag when it’s rolling.

10. Don’t pack your bag completely full when you leave home. I always like to buy one item of clothing, shoes, handicrafts, art, or (of course) perfume as a souvenir of my trip, and if there’s extra space it slips in nicely for the trip home.

Have fun on your next trip and don’t worry too much about how you look while you’re on the road. Not fretting about your luggage will make you look relaxed and beautiful!

[I just spent a good part of yesterday getting the condition of my laptop restored to the point where I can download photos, so all of these images are randomly taken from Wikimedia, mostly to serve as examples of how not to travel in the 21st century.]