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, November 19, 2014

HOARDERS, GROOMERS AND HIDERS


From time to time I take off and go walkabout in my neighborhood, exploring places I wouldn’t normally go. On one of these expeditions I decided to go check out a road that I hadn’t been on for several years. I think my neglect of this area was partly because it’s in an odd location, accessed from an intersection on a sharp curve on a steep hill with no sight distance in any direction from either road, and no shoulders to walk on initially. However, I think the main reason was that it’s not obviously a road, looking more like a driveway, and I just didn’t think to go there. Once on the road, it’s OK for walking, and actually provides some fascinating sights along the way.

The neighborhood is interesting because it’s a mosaic of older houses, probably built in the 1950s through 1970s, and new developments that have sprung up within the past 5 years or so. The older houses all have large lots and range in style from one that practically looks like a fancy country estate to rickety old buildings surrounded by a wasteland of weeds and blackberries. The new houses are crammed close together on small lots, and are all built in the currently popular style of a big rectangular wooden box with a faux-craftsman façade on the part of the front that isn’t occupied by a garage entrance. The feature that all of the houses have in common is way too many vehicles parked in front of them, not surprising I suppose given that this part of the county has no public transportation to speak of.

The real contrast, however, is between the houses that are clearly occupied by hoarders and those occupied by compulsively neat people, at least as regards the exterior of their dwellings. There are a surprising number of outdoor hoarder houses in this neighborhood. These are the houses where the front yard is completely filled with junk vehicles in various states of disrepair, old parts of buildings, rusty bits of ironwork, disintegrating plastic bags full of garbage, old sofas with moss growing on them, and other less vegetation-friendly furniture and appliances. We do have weekly garbage pickup, junkyards, and other disposal and recycling services, so I can’t help wondering why people collect garbage in their yards. I suppose it makes a fashion statement of some kind. Maybe they consider it art, which it could conceivably be if it were picked up on a truck and hauled to a museum so that it could be viewed with a card explaining its deep significance.

The people on the other end of the spectrum must spend all of their time (or someone else’s) grooming their property. There’s always a blanket of freshly trimmed bright green grass with not a leaf or twig in sight to mar its uniformity, a sidewalk of some sort, freshly swept so that there’s not a grain of sand in sight to mar its smoothness, and various shrubs severely pruned into symmetrical cubes or spheres, with not a leaf out of place. Poor plants. The people who spend enormous effort trying to hold back the tendencies of nature and rigorously control the landscape are as incomprehensible to me as the ones who place all of their long-discarded and decaying items on full display. Maybe they’re two ends on a circular spectrum of compulsion.

Somewhere in between these extremes, or off the spectrum, are the people who pimp out their yards with statuary, little ponds or fountains, trimmed-poodle trees, and labor-intensive annual flower beds, or the people who hide behind great walls of overgrown vegetation, needing a machete to get from the street to the front door, wherever it is.

As a person who owns an enormous number of perfumes in different forms, I have to think about how my perfume storage areas relate to the types of landscaping people choose. I don’t display any of my perfumes publicly, so maybe my perfume holding areas don’t even qualify because they’re more like the fenced private back yard that no one but family and good friends ever see. With bottles I’m probably most like the hoarder who keeps everything reasonably neatly piled in a closet, thinking I might use it some day. With samples, I’m like the geek collector who keeps everything neatly cataloged and accessible for perusal at any time. However, for every sample in my organized “library”, there are ten samples junked in disorderly boxes waiting to be tested, so there the junk-collector aesthetic applies.

What sort of perfume-keeper are you? Are you a public hoarder who puts your whole disorderly collection out in plain sight? Are you a groomer who lines your bottles up neatly in a display, maybe in alphabetical order or by size or color of bottle, and dusts them regularly? Do you pimp-out your perfume display with fancy shelves, ornaments, plastic flowers, or other accessories? Do you keep your stash hidden behind closed doors in a neat or disorganized condition? Is it art? 

[To avoid implicating anyone in my extended neighborhood, all photos are taken from Wikimedia] 

Monday, November 17, 2014

THE POLAR EVENT AND NEW MATERIALS


Just a little over a week ago we were experiencing the monsoon, but that came to a screeching halt when the “polar outbreak” happened weekend before last. Last year the disgusting cold snap was called the “polar vortex”, but that name seems to have fallen out of favor in the media. In any case, it’s a phenomenon that apparently is caused by global anthropogenic climate change, due in this case to a major hurricane (aka typhoon) off the coast of Alaska.

Overnight, the still-green leaves on the tender, growing trees and plants were flash-frozen and freeze-dried. This wasn’t just a little dusting of frost, it was a hard freeze, with temperatures as low as 28F (-2C)! The worst thing was that everything was completely waterlogged, so I expect there will be some major damage in the garden when the final tally comes in. Weather like this happens occasionally in December and January, after plants are acclimated to the cold, but not in early November. The only positive aspect of the whole debacle is that it’s sunny during the day (what there is of it) so the greenhouse is warmed a little by the sun.

I’ve been continuing my evaluation of the new perfume materials that I got, so thought I’d share some of my notes here.

Shangralide is a musk base with super longevity. It's supposed to be similar to deer musk. It starts out with a characteristic moist, quasi-floral musk scent and stays that way for quite a long time. To me it seems softer and “squisiher” than a lot of the other musks. After more than a month on paper it dries down to a faint, slightly soapy residue.


Animalis is something that I’ve been wanting to try for a long time, and finally got my hands on. It’s an odd one. It starts off with a slightly off-putting “perfumey” scent, like the old hippie formula,  “Egyptian musk”. After a while, though, it does a complete about-face and turns into a truly animalic scent that resembles civet, slightly fecal and – well – animalic is the best description. At this point, I really like it as a base material, and I’m sure I’ll end up using it. After more than month, the Egyptian musk smell comes back, faintly, having come full circle.

DMBCB (I won't burden you with the chemical name) is supposed to smell like green, floral, woody plum, but what I get is something like plum mixed with old coffee grounds. It could be useful in the proper context, but it’s not very pleasant on its own.


Sandalwood Oliffac was something of a disappointment, but I’m used to that when it comes to synthetic versions of sandalwood. It once again confirmed that there’s nothing like the real thing. More than anything else, it smells like mushroom or moist fungus, and reminds me a lot of Bruno Acampora Musc, which smells like some type of fungus. Maybe that scent was overdosed with this version of synthetic sandalwood. I can see uses for it in creating an earthy mushroom fragrance or as a component in a sandalwood accord, but not as a direct replacement for sandalwood. 

I’ve got a couple of new fragrances just about ready to release, so will be sending them to my testers as soon as I get a chance to prepare samples and package them up. 

Have you suffered damage from the latest unseasonable cold spell? 

[Dead fig leaves and fruits photo is mine, the rest are from Wikimedia] 

Monday, November 10, 2014

MASS-MARKET MONDAY: FREDERIC MALLE AND MONTANA PARFUM DE PEAU


After last week’s post, I’ve decided that Mondays are going to be my day to review mass-market fragrances. But first, it has been interesting to read all of the commentary on Le Labo and Frederic Malle being acquired by Estee Lauder. The high-ticket niche big boys have sold out to the mother of all perfume mass-market companies. That’s life. Estee Lauder started out as a one-woman indie company back in 1946, and look what she’s become.

People are bemoaning the fact that their favorite niche perfumes are going to be ruined by mass manufacturing, and that may well be. However, for every niche/indie perfume company that goes mass-market, new ones will take their place. I seriously doubt that there will be any shortage of high-quality, original perfume out there even if Le Labo and Frederic Malle end up on WalMart discount shelves. The internet is a fantastic resource for learning about small companies that still make affordable perfume using quality materials.

I feel no conflict of interest if I review every Le Labo and Frederic Malle creation as a mass-market fragrance, not that I ever did see them as competitors, but now it’s clearly spelled out.

For this week’s Mass-Market Monday, I pulled a sample out at random, as is my custom.

Montana Parfum de Peau is a strong, assertive, ambery-oriental scent with a floral-musk base. What I have is a “vintage” EdT, so it’s anybody’s guess how strong the EdP would have been. As it is, a tiny dab from a vial produces a huge cloud of sillage. It radiates a peach note initially, along with slightly soapy florals, and despite this description is not bad at all. Compared with the current crop of designer fragrances, it almost smells natural. Apparently it was released in 1986, and although it is a prototypical 1980s designer fragrance, it really doesn’t smell as dated or overbearing as I would have expected. It was fruity-floral before fruity-floral became insanely popular and degraded to banality, and is a much more attractive, smoother version of the genre than its descendants. After the initial fruity-floral notes wear off, there’s a sharp, patchouli-tinged “perfumey” base that reminds me of some of my mother’s perfumes, and finally a warm musk. I understand that there are several versions, with the newest one being pretty bad. That’s sad, because the original was well-made and excellent for what it was. If you like a perfume with well-tailored shoulder pads, the original version is it!

What do you think about niche-indie brands going mass-market? Have you tried the newer versions of Montana Parfum de Peau, and if so, what do you think of them? 

[Photos from Fragrantica and a random retailer's website] 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

NEW TOYS IN MONSOON SEASON


Every autumn Seattle experiences a monsoon season that peaks in November and December. After living here for going on 20 years, I’m fully aware that it always rains at this time, but this year has been ridiculous, with wave after wave of storms bringing torrential rain and wind. This morning I woke up to see a clear, golden sky that, combined with the bright yellow leaves of the trees, gave everything a magical glow. I thought we might get a break in the rain, but no such luck. Five minutes later it was almost as dark as night, with buckets of rain pouring down again, and the wind tearing at the gold-tinged leaves of the big-leaf maple outside my widow.Monsoon clouds in Seattle look exactly like the picture of monsoon clouds in India (photo below).

The monsoon season comes with its own distinctive smells. Mostly it’s mud and water and newly decaying leaves that have fallen. There’s also fallen fruit that’s rotting and fermenting. For some reason this scent is particularly strong at night. The scent that wafts from the lavender changes from pungent to sweetly floral, and is especially strong in neighborhood areas where people have just pruned their lavender shrubs.

To brighten up this gloomy time of year, I recently got in a set of new perfume materials to test. Most of them are base notes that have persisted on my test strips for 3 weeks and are still going strong. The only one that was a mid or top note was Sagecete, which is supposed to smell like clary sage, but fruitier. I found it strange and a little off-putting, with aspects of bitter herbs, fruitiness, and an odd metallic component. I’m not sure how it would fit into a perfume, but the sharp metallic note might be used to good effect in certain compositions.

Clearwood is another one of those woody-ambery materials, touted as a “patchouli replacer” or a “clean” version of patchouli. It’s quite nice, with aspects of patchouli, cedar, and wet dirt. Longevity is moderate, so it would fall somewhere in the bridging space between mid- and base notes. I can envision using it when I want a clean, mineral-y woody-patchouli-cedar note.

Patchoulyl acetate is another patchouli-type material made by acetylation of patchouli essential oil and subsequent fractional distillation. It’s one of those materials that falls in the no-man’s-land between natural and synthetic. Basically, it smells like patchouli, but lighter, less earthy, and more diffusive. It has better longevity on paper than Clearwood. It would be a nice choice in a composition where there is a need for the sharpness of patchouli without the usual quasi-animalic, earthy aspects.

Aldron is supposed to be an animalic note, but to me it smells more like a super-strength benzene-based industrial metal cleaner or lubricant, powerful and persistent, laced with a little pinch of cumin. Perfumer & Flavorist states that there is a high degree of variability in how individuals perceive Aldron, with impressions ranging from “clean and woody” to “animalic and sweat-like”. It has the popular reputation of smelling like a man’s sweat. I can see how any of these interpretations might fit, but the problem is that all of them do to some degree, but are not the whole picture. 

Aldron has a smell all its own, and could be used to give a subtle animalic touch to woody accords or a sharp, pungent touch to animalic compositions. It has amazing longevity, and would definitely help anchor the base notes of a fragrance, especially one that uses cumin. It’s worth playing with when I create my super-animalic perfume. 

[All photos are from Wikimedia. It was too rainy to take photos this morning!]

Monday, November 3, 2014

I LOEWE YOU AND A NEW USE FOR WINDEX


As many of you know, I’ll test just about anything that has a smell. I’ve mentioned many times that I have a special dislike for a large subset of mass-market fragrances that are dominated by what I call the “scratchy green tea” note. It’s possible that I’m especially sensitive to it, because a lot of people seem to like, or even love, this type of fragrance. I say this because it’s a mystery to me how anyone can stand to smell it on themselves when wearing such a mega-sillage monster, how irritating it is to the respiratory tract, and how deeply it becomes embedded in one’s skin, simply refusing to let go. 

I was reminded of this yet again when I pulled out a carded sample of Loewe’s I Loewe You. I have no qualms about reviewing mass-market fragrances, since I don’t consider the manufacturers competitors or colleagues in any sense of the word. I probably should review mass-market scents more often because some are actually quite good.

 I have no idea where the Loewe sample came from, but there it was. I discipline myself by always trying whatever pops up from the box, so I sprayed a tiny bit on my arm. Whoom!!! The sillage bomb went off, filling the room with the dreaded “scratchy green tea” note along with a little bit of aldehydic citrus, generic floral notes, and a harsh woody base. It smells like a thousand or a million other fragrances with artificial citrus, generic florals, and the green tea note. For me, it’s not wearable because I hate this stereotypical type of perfume with a passion. It tends to give me a headache, in addition to choking me. Of course it lasts forever once it’s bonded to your skin, and can’t be removed even by scrubbing.

Once I was sure things weren’t going to improve fairly rapidly, I tried to scrub it off, first using soap and water, and then alcohol. I even tried acetone. Nothing worked. The scratchy green tea demon was there to stay, a noisome parasite burrowed into my skin.

If you’ve ever seen the film “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”, you may remember that there are many uses for Windex besides cleaning windows and DVDs from Netflix and acting as an ant repellant. With this in mind, I tried spraying my arm with Windex and scrubbing away. It didn’t get quite everything out, but it did a better job than anything else I’d tried. I think the functional fragrance from the Windex somehow reacts with the green tea stuff and neutralizes or masks the worst of the scratchiness. So if you’ve ever got a scrubber on your skin that doesn’t want to come off, you could try Windex. Don't blame me if you're allergic to Windex. 

[Green demon images adapted from Wikimedia; I Loewe You image from the Loewe website, and Windex image from a random box store's website]