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, August 18, 2014


This post was prompted by a new material that I discovered at Liberty Naturals called “round cypress” or “Cupressus rotundus”. I started out with a small amount to sample, but quickly became fascinated by it because it was the closest thing to real oud that I’ve smelled. Clearly it’s not oud, but it has a lot of the same woody-barnyard notes initially and the sharp “varnish” drydown that I smell in some varieties of oud. In short, it would make an excellent base for an oud-based scent, and raises the question of whether it’s actually used in India and elsewhere to adulterate “real” oud oils.

I was curious about what this ”round cypress tree” might look like, so searched online for it, imagining that it looked like the Monterrey cyprus in the photo above. The only thing that came up was the certificate of analysis sheet from Liberty. According to this source, Cupressus rotundus comes from India, is 100% natural, wildcrafted, steam distilled from the root, and – get this – comes from Cyperus scariosus [photo at above left], not “Cupressus rotundus”, or even Cyperus rotundus. There is actually a Cyperus rotundus, aka “nut grass” or “purple nutsedge” [photo in oval frame, below], whereas Cyperus scariosus is a larger plant, also known as “nagarmotha”, and is the source of cypriol. Both have tubers on the roots that can be distilled to yield oil. Are you confused yet?

There are about 600 different species of Cyperus distributed throughout the world, all sedge-like grasses that include ornamentals like umbrella papyrus, so it’s anyone’s guess as to which Cyperus species (or mix of species) this is.

I am extremely grateful to Liberty for publishing the certificate of analysis because it confirms what I suspected – that this material is not what it says it is (an imaginary species), and there is no way of really knowing what it is. It also confirms my skepticism about the accuracy of labeling on anything coming from India. Having said that, it brings up an interesting dilemma that every perfumer is sure to face at some point or another. What to do about attractive materials of dubious origin and composition?

On the one hand, I’d like to clear up the mystery of what “Cupressus rotundus” really is and not touch it until I do, but on the other hand, I want to use the material in a composition, even if it’s a single-batch fragrance that can’t be replicated later. It’s not standard nagarmotha or cypriol, so I ordered a big bottle of it for the purpose of making my own relatively inexpensive fine oud accord. 

In the end, I suppose this is no different from using pre-mixed accords from Givaudan, Firmenich, or other big companies. Like the “Cupressus/Cyperus rotundus/scariosus” oil, there is no indication of what is in those, and they could become unavailable at any time, as could any oil or single aroma chemical. I suppose the bottom line is that if it smells good and is harmless, then we should feel free to use it while it’s available. Not an ideal solution, but a pragmatic one.

[All photos are from Wikimedia] 

Friday, August 15, 2014


I have been selling off all 30 ml bottles in the old packaging, and gave myself a deadline of 15 August to move them all out. There are a couple left, which I promised to give away in a combined drawing (here and on Facebook), so here goes with the first bottle. It's 30 ml of Little Stars EdP, the very last one.

It's a pretty big prize, so I'm going to make you work just a little for it. All you have to do is leave a comment saying which Olympic Orchids sample you would like to try (or share with a friend) along with the full bottle of Little Stars. The winner will be announced on Friday, 22 August.

[Photo is mine, of my plant] 

Monday, August 11, 2014


If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you’ll probably have figured out that my store of ideas is far bigger than the time I have to realize them. However, a few of them are actually coming to fruition, and will make their debut on my website this fall.

I already wrote about the Peace-Love-Perfume project. Samples of those went out to my US beta-testers today, and the finished versions will be ready by September. My intention is to offer them in 5-ml sprays and 30-ml sprays, with special prices on the full set of 3 in either size.

The “new wood fence” fragrance is also nearing completion, and will go out to the beta-testers along with the PLP trio. A woody fragrance is perfect for a fall launch, and will be part of the Scents of the Season Autumn 2014 edition. You are invited to suggest a good name for it, and if I end up using it you will win a 30-ml spray bottle of  … whatever it ends up being called.  Just comment here or on my Facebook page with as many potential names as you like.

The other new item is going to be a “Scents of the Season” discovery pack, consisting of five 3-ml spray samples of fragrances that seem especially well-suited to the season and/or any new releases that season. They will be sold individually or as a one-year subscription. I plan to get that up on the website next week because people have seen it in the newsletter and are asking about it. Shipping of the Late Summer/Autumn 2014 set won’t take place until September, but it will be possible to pre-order very soon.

The other thing that I’m putting together is a “Spa Soaps” set with the old familiar Olympic Rainforest, which is wonderful in the shower, along with two others. One is a new western red cedar scent that is reminiscent of a cedar sauna, and the third is a lavender-based scent. That set will probably also appear some time in September.

Starting on August 15, I will be holding a few really nice drawings, so keep your eyes out for them. 

[Wood fence construction photo from Wikimedia, the others are mine from Lopez Island] 

Thursday, August 7, 2014


Finally I’m back online after a long and widespread outage of Frontier, who is our DSL provider. The most frustrating thing of all was that when the service first went down Michael and I each spent over an hour on the phone with the Frontier folks, who first tried to blame it on the browsers that we were using (how can you use a browser if you’re not connected to the internet?) and then blamed it on our modem. The only bright spot in the whole story is that Frontier actually has real people that answer the phone, never mind that they have no clue that the problem is a major outage in their network, not our software or equipment. Anyway, this morning things finally seem back to normal.

For today, I’ll just kick back and say that I'm not sure why this white cyclamen is blooming in August, or even where it came from, but it's cute. The leaves in the left of the photo are from the tuberose plants, which are gradually getting up to blooming size. This is their second year, so maybe by next year, when they don't get stepped all over by painters ... one can always hope. 

Anyway, this is really a post about another fragrant surprise in the garden, discovered during a desperate attempt to manage the out-of-control vegetation growing on the terraced rockery at the back of our property.  It’s a slope of about 20-35 degrees or more depending on where you look, apparently produced when the contractor took away part of a hillside to level the space where our house was built. I’ve been adding rocks to it gradually, and a few years ago when the local water company destroyed part of our driveway trying to find a leaking water main, I built terraces with all of the broken concrete pieces, which have gradually weathered to somewhat match the stones that were there already. In the back there was a jungle-like overgrowth of strawberry trees (Arbutus unedo), rhododendrons, and English ivy that had spilled over from the neighbor’s yard. The photo was taken after the clearing of the jungle. 

Lower down on the terrace everything was overgrown with tall grass, which is dry and brown this time of year. Eventually I’d like to eradicate the grass and replace it with various herbs and flowers, but for now it can be controlled with a weed-eater. While cutting the grass on the lowest terrace, I suddenly smelled a wonderful fragrance, like a mixture of lavender, thyme, marjoram, and something vaguely floral. It was coming from a mat of little fuzzy leaves formed by a small plants that I’d put there years ago and forgotten about – woolly thyme (Thymus pseudolanuginosus).

All of the descriptions of woolly thyme say that it has little or no scent, but this plant does. What’s especially interesting is that it seems to have a lot more fragrance in the evening than at other times. It was just serendipitous that I discovered it while working, because I like to work outside in the garden in the evening. During the day, while the sun is shining on it, it seems to have very little scent. It’s not simply a matter of temperature or humidity bringing out the scent because even if I crush the leaves the scent is much less during the day than in the evening. I know flowers adjust their fragrance according to time of day, so I’m not surprised to find that herbs do this, too. If I had enough woolly thyme to distill, I would want to pick it in the evening.

[All photos are mine]

Sunday, August 3, 2014


In case you’re not familiar with the Peace-Love-Perfume Facebook group, it is a very active community of over 600 perfume lovers, presided over by Goodsmella Carlos Powell. If you want to join PLP, you must be sponsored by a current member. This month they’re celebrating their third anniversary by sponsoring a huge one-a-day giveaway, including a bottle of one of my perfumes, and have sent out a challenge to perfumers to create a 3rd anniversary celebration trio of fragrances based on the peace-love-perfume theme. 

I don't know how many will respond, but how could I not accept the challenge? I’ve just finished formulating the initial drafts of each fragrance, and have reached the stage of tweaking proportions and adding little bits of modifiers as I test them. The general theme is a 70s peace-love-and-flower-child feeling, which is probably the most obvious and conventional approach possible, but that’s not a bad thing given the limited time I’ve had to work on the project.

What I’ve done is create three complementary perfumes that can be worn alone or together.

Peace represents the base, the serious oldest child, with emphasis on incense, vetiver, benzoin, and patchouli. It’s not a heavy, head-shop mix, and it’s not oud, in case anyone was afraid of that. Instead, it’s a thin wisp of incense smoke scented with transparent patchouli and a bit of real sandalwood. It’s light, something to quietly meditate on.

Love is the middle flower child, earthy and colorful. Sandalwood echoes the base of Peace, but with added vanilla, musk, and a blue lotus accord. The first draft uses a synthetic sandalwood material, but I find that it doesn’t harmonize well with the natural sandalwood in Peace, so the final version will use New Caledonian sandalwood absolute. That’s going to increase the cost, but oh well. It’s a limited edition anyway. I may end up adding some more floral notes, but it remains to be seen what happens when the new mix settles down.

Perfume is, as Carlos suggested, a cologne-type fragrance, the flighty and free-spirited youngest child, representing the top notes. It contains vetiver, atlas cedar, benzoin, a fractional distillation of pine wood, incense, Oregon lavender, myrtle, and grapefruit. So far it’s my favorite of the three. I will definitely be wearing this one during our unusually warm August!

I think the official launch date is supposed to be the first of September, so the trio should be ready by then.

[Images are modified from free clip art ones]