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, May 23, 2016


Finally I have gotten around to shaking up the names of those who entered the last drawing, for the Hampton Sun Privet Bloom.

The winner is PORTIA!

Please send me an e-mail or FB message with your current address. I think my last package to you went to the wrong place.

[Photo from Wikimedia]

Saturday, May 21, 2016


The hamster-wheel of life spins round again, and here I am back at my blogger desk until the inevitable next round of disruptions. This spring has brought a rapid-fire series of travels, all of which have involved a lot of moving of goods to a destination and back again, as well as a certain amount of grubby heavy lifting, either physically or mentally. The most recent disruption involved three days of setting up, manning, and breaking down a display at the AIX Scent Fair at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, crowned by a few minutes of glamour when Victor Wong and I received the Institute for Art and Olfaction Award for Bat, the fragrance I made for his company, Zoologist. Traveling is always a little surreal, but receiving an award is even more surreal, in a good way.

Coming home, there was the usual rush to catch up on pending orders and replenish stock, coordinate deferred orchid plant care, unpack the boxes that I shipped back from LA and store items where I can find them again, grade virtual reams of student papers, and deal with everything else that has a habit of falling through the cracks when I’m gone. A small task, but an annoying one, was clearing out the spam comments that had appeared while the blog was left unattended. Another task will be to deal with the giveaways that are still pending. That will happen this weekend.

Yesterday morning I went outside and ran a little for the first time in weeks. The sun was shining, and it was incredibly refreshing to get out and move. I always walk down our block at the beginning and end of a run, so get to talk to any neighbors who are out and smell whatever is in bloom. Currently the stars of the show are one neighbor’s roses that grow in a strip next to the street and another neighbor’s German irises (aka bearded iris) in a similar position. I know I’ve written about this before, but I’m always astounded by the fact that every variety of rose smells completely different. The pink ones are soft and gourmand, the yellow ones are like flavored tea, the red ones are rich and spicy, and so on. 

Bearded irises are the same. Every color has a different fragrance that has very little to do with perfumery “iris”. Like roses, they all have a recognizable “iris” scent that’s super-moist and cushiony-musky, but the ones down the street, with their bicolor scheme of lavender and purple, have spicy notes as well. The solid color lavender ones have a grape-candy note.

We only have Siberian irises, which are much less showy in every respect. The flowers only last a day or two, although they do bloom sequentially from the same stalk, and they’re not noticeably fragrant. In fact, they’re indestructible weeds whose only business in life is to quickly and stealthily make more and more Siberian irises. I wasn’t aware of this when I collected seeds a few years ago and scattered them around in the garden. I really need to replace or supplement them with some fragrant bearded irises.

What is your favorite variety of fragrant rose or iris?

[All photos are adapted from Wikimedia except for the photo of Victor and me, which is from the Art and Olfaction Awards photo collection.]

Monday, April 25, 2016


This past week has been ridiculously busy, but I went into some of my old stashes and pulled out a few perfumes that aren’t trendy, as far as I know, and that are made by brands that seem to occupy a space somewhere at the intersection of the candle-soap-and-lotion market, the mass-distributed fragrance market, and the funky artisan market. As always, one of them is a giveaway, with the winner to be determined in a random drawing.

Voluspa Cocoa Tamarind (release date and perfumer unknown)
This is strong and sweet, but with a distinct sour bite from the tamarind. It’s a mix of white florals, chocolate and, of course, the tamarind. I think the florals include a wet-papery tuberose as well as the listed gardenia, or maybe that’s just the way the gardenia was composed. It has quite a bit of sillage, but is not overpowering. I like it even though t's probably made with the very cheapest of materials. I think I’m just a sucker for tuberose in all its forms. There’s something really unique about this scent that I enjoy. It reminds me of tamarind syrup and dried fruits, among other things, so I guess it could be called a floral gourmand. The sillage is pleasant but huge, so it needs to be dosed with extreme caution.

Ebba Miss Ebba (release date and perfumer unknown)
This perfume oil has apparently been long discontinued because I can’t even find a picture of it; all I can find is Miss Marisa and its flankers. Miss Ebba is strongly fruity, a little sour at first, with peachy sillage. It was a pleasant surprise to find that it doesn’t reek of a candle shop, but instead is a very pleasant perfume. Yes, I can smell the oil itself, but it’s not off-putting. As it develops it becomes more floral while maintaining the fruity notes. At this point the fruit become more of a sour fig, as if waxy, milky, dried fig had been used to flavor a sour candy. It’s an interesting fragrance that rises above the usual craftsy perfume-oil genre. If this perfume had had a decent name and “story”, it would probably have become popular as a niche offering. As it is, I suspect that the brand suffers from the image of a little old lady somewhere in the Deep South making perfume in her kitchen and naming it for all of her little old Daughters of the Confederacy kaffeeklatsch friends. In fact, it’s as good as many of the niche fig perfumes out there, better than some. Very wearable, long-lasting,  and pleasant.

Sage Peridot (release date unknown, perfumer presumably Sage Machado)
At first this perfume oil seems very weak, but then I keep smelling a lovely, transparent, slightly gourmand, powdery-musky sillage. It hovers somewhere around threshold, but when it’s there it’s pleasant, cheerful, and a little candy-like. I wish it were more constant in intensity, but it’s nice anyway.  I think this is my favorite of the Sage line (most of which I have not been impressed with), not only because it doesn’t smell like a functional fragrance oil for candles, but because it’s sort of sexy in a super-subtle way. Longevity is not great, a couple of hours.

Hampton Sun Privet Bloom (2008, perfumer unknown)
When I first started reading the online perfume forums years ago, I saw everyone raving about Privet Bloom and thought I had to try it. I have had a small rollerball sitting around for a long time, and finally got around to sampling it. I was disappointed to find that it’s really not my thing at all. I’m not crazy about the scent of privet flowers to begin with, but this isn’t even privet. I suppose that if you’re suggestible you could somehow imagine that it smells like privet – after all both are floral in some way – but to me it’s a loud lily-of-the-valley and mixed polleny-floral scent that’s so strong it irritates my nose for at least the first hour even from a tiny roller-dab. As might be expected, it has quite a bit of sillage. It’s linear, continuing in the same floral mode for the duration, which is many hours. This one is the giveaway. 

Leave a comment about your favorite odd-brand perfume and be entered in the drawing for Hampton Sun Privet Bloom. 

[odd duck photo from Wikimedia, others from Fragrantica]

Thursday, April 21, 2016


Because of the orchid show last weekend I'm running several days late with everything. I just got caught up with shipping orders late last night. Now on to what should have been published on Tuesday.

The winner of the Four Roses draw is AZAR

The winner of the Out With The Flowers draw is TRINITI.

If you are a winner, please contact me by e-mail at olympicorchids at gmail dot com or on Facebook. I will need your full US shipping address.

[I know it's no longer crocus season, but here they are anyway, my photo]

Tuesday, April 19, 2016


Here's Azar's Mass-Market Monday post with accompanying giveaway, only one day late because of my travels. It came in with some odd formatting that is impossible to undo, so I fixed it as best I could given the time I have to fuss with it. It looks funky, but at least it's readable. Enjoy!
Let's face it:  Too many mass-market fragrances are mediocre at best and repellant at worst.  That being said, there are a few that I would not hesitate to describe as quite pleasant if not gorgeous!  I've chosen three of my favorites for today's post. Coincidentally, each one is tagged with an "M". The first is "M" by Mariah Carey, the next one Memoir Woman by Amouage and the third, the eponymous M. Micallef.  Not only do the names of these three frags have a letter in common, they also all have a variety of incense and smoky notes that I find nose worthy and potentially addictive.

Mariah Cary "M" (Carlos Benaim and Loc Dong, 2008)
"For me, creating this scent was like creating a song - it takes many notes to compose a fragrance. It's like a beautiful melody". 

Well, yes and no Mariah! But I won't get into that here. Suffice it to say that equating the creation of fragrance to the composition of music, including the inevitable reference to synesthesia, is a well-worn analogy that has been dredged up year after year since the days of Wagner's Gesamtkunstwerk (and probably before that).

What about the fragrance?  "M" is not as cloying as the marshmallow top note would suggest. The EdP features an aquatic, slightly salty marshmallow. I like to imagine tiny marshmallows, similar to the ones topping a mug of hot chocolate, floating on a tropical sea looking like (I hate to say it) an infestation of poisonous box jellies.  But never fear, the perfume marshmallows are almost non-toxic.  These small, sweet things wash ashore and become tangled in the flotsam at the tide-line.  Someone gathering driftwood for a beach fire manages to throw a few of Mariah's marshmallows into the flames and voila! "M" emerges from the smoke.  If you don't want to go to that much trouble for a pleasant fragrance, 30ml of "M" (which should be more than enough for most of us) can be had for less than $10 US at several online discounters.

Amouage Memoir Woman (Daniel Maurel and DorothĂ©e Piot – 2010) 
"This chypre fragrance is evoked by the transcendental discovery of her past, present and future echoed in his fragmented memoir."

Hmmm - Whatever that means it was important enough for someone to have it printed on the back of the manufacturer's carded sample.

To my nose Amouage Memoir Woman is all about Artemisia, blended with spices, incense, styrax and leather in such a way that it really does evoke some sort of primal perfume memory, perhaps of an older aunt shopping for fragrance at the perfume counter of the now defunct Frederick and Nelson department store in downtown Seattle.  Of the three "Mzz" this is my favorite.  Big bottles of Memoir Woman have now landed in the discount bins and are priced at less than half of the original $320 retail.

M. Micallef's M. Micallef (Jean-Claude Astier, 2011) 
I am invariably confused by the names Micallef gives to their fragrances.  The name M. Micallef by M. Micallef is probably one of the most confusing of all.  The perfume I am referring to is part of the Jewel series and I used to think it was called Jewel for Woman.  Whatever the case may be, this fragrance is loaded with cardamom and coriander.  There is a cool spiciness about M. Micallef that, to my nose, gives the impression of aromatic woods and the cold, dusty remnants of burnt incense.  M. Micallef has also reached the discounters and 100 ml can now be yours for $138 US.

I have far exceeded my 500 world limit so will end here with a giveaway.  Leave a comment about anything in this post and be eligible for a 2 ml carded sample of Amouage Memoir Woman and a 2 ml decant of "M" by Mariah Carey.

Azar xx

[Previous drawing winners will be announced tomorrow (Wednesday.]
[Bottle photos are all from Fragrantica. The gratuitous primrose photo (mass-market plants) is mine]

Wednesday, April 13, 2016


Welcome to materials Wednesday as the green lineup continues. 

Most people seem to love the smell of freshly cut grass. I don’t – in fact I find the smell of freshly cut lawn grass slightly disgusting. Maybe it’s because I associate it with the nasty clumps of green slime that I have to remove from the weedeater after I’ve been cutting the jungle of tall grass and other plants that takes over our little farm every summer right at the end of the rainy season, or maybe it’s just because I don’t associate that smell with childhood suburban lawns the way many people in the US do.

Cis-3-hexenol, aka leaf alcohol, is one of the main odorants that occurs naturally in grass, leaves, and other green plants. It’s used in artificial flavorings for food like “watermelon” and “green apple”. By itself, it does a perfectly convincing imitation of “cut green grass”, and is probably the main (or only) fragrance ingredient in those commercial fragrance oils called “fresh-cut grass”, “bamboo”, and the like. If you like the smell of macerated green vegetation, this one’s definitely for you.

As you can tell, I’m not fond of this material, and have used it only in trace amounts in creating green scents of various types. It serves as a powerful top note, but given that it only lasts a few hours neat on paper, it needs other materials to extend longevity and temper the super-grassy smell.

Leaf alcohol is one of the “green leaf volatiles” that is released from wounded leaves when insects like caterpillars feed on them. In some cases the leaf alcohol that’s floating around attracts more pests, but more often than not it repels them, or even attracts the enemies of the pests, which is what the plant wants. There is also some evidence that the most important role of leaf alcohol is to provide a means of communication among plants, triggering preemptive defense mechanisms in intact plants if their neighbor has been attacked. You can read all about it here.

It never ceases to amaze me that the chemical defense mechanisms of plants have produced so many wonderful perfume materials that we, as humans, enjoy. If you want green scents, leaf alcohol is a must-have to achieve that grassy green scent note. Just watch out for that very hungry caterpillar! Or maybe if you wear it while gardening, it will boost the defense mechanisms of your favorite plants.

[All images are from Wikimedia]