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.

Friday, July 3, 2015

GROWING FRANKINCENSE TREES


As a plant and perfume enthusiast, what could be more perfect than growing a selection of plants traditionally used in perfumery? I’m not talking about roses and orange blossoms, I’m talking about more exotic things like frankincense and myrrh trees.

Recently I’ve gotten into growing cacti and succulents, thanks to a cactus that bloomed and produced 91 babies. When I saw baby frankincense trees for sale, I knew I had to have one. My first desert tree acquisition was a Boswellia carteri, the species most commonly used to make resin and oil [photo on right]. When it arrived, it looked like a bare-root dead stick with no leaves. I planted it, watered it, and within a few weeks some tiny, frilly leaves had begun to sprout. It’s now doing quite well in a hot spot high in the grow space. These trees go dormant when conditions are non-optimal, so I expect it will go lose its leaves again in winter.

One thing led to another, and I’m now the proud caretaker of a tiny Boswellia dioscoridis [photo on left] and a Boswellia neglecta, as well as a larger Commiphora wightii. [photo at bottom right, along with a Bursera fagaroides]. The Commiphora arrived just like the B carteri, as a dead-looking stick, and took forever to leaf out. However, it's now growing quite well. I’m on the lookout for an affordable Commiphora myrrha, the main species used to make resin and oil, but will have to be patient until one comes along. 

These all belong to the general class of pachycaul trees, which are fat-trunked trees that store up water for hard times – perfect for my conditions.

Pachycaul trees all seem to do OK in my hands, unlike the patchouli plant that I bought a couple of months ago, which turned out to be a disaster. The patchouli was nice and green when it arrived, but I quickly discovered that it goes through water even faster than a hydroponic basil plant. If not watered every day, it wilted. It also seems to want high humidity, which I simply can’t provide in the summer. I can’t deal with plants like that, so within a couple of weeks it had burned to a crisp despite my best efforts. No more patchouli for me. I will consider the poor patchouli plant a sacrifice to the gods of gardening to facilitate the growing of plants that can go for long periods of time without water like the little Boswellia trees.

I doubt that I’ll ever harvest resin from my frankincense or myrrh trees, but I just like having them around to remind me where the materials I use come from. 

[All photos are mine]

Monday, June 29, 2015

MASS MARKET MIMICRY


Today we are treated to another wonderful post by Azar! 
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Do you own a replica or a reproduction of a fragrance, a piece of furniture, a work of art, a watch or a handbag?  It is no secret that many of these duplicates are no more than clumsy copies, but there are a few amazing fakes that are more rare, more costly, and at least as exquisite as the coveted originals.  Take, for example, the fragile 18th century Chinese rice paste replicas of the once very expensive and collectable seashell Epitonium scalare, the Precious Wentletrap.

In my last post I mentioned Maria Amalia, the daughter of Empress Maria Theresa and Emperor Francis I. It seems that Francis I paid an extraordinary sum in the mid 1700s for a presumably genuine Epitonium scalare shell. Today a fine quality natural specimen of the Precious Wentletrap can be had for under $50.  The rice paste versions, on the other hand, are extraordinarily rare and collectable.  So much so, in fact, that people are now making ugly polymer clay copies of the beautiful original fakes.  The real fakes were so fragile that not many have survived the years.  In fact there are so few (if any?) remaining that some influential collectors and conchologists have called this story of 18th century Chinese commercial fakery into question, labeling it as apocryphal or simply a fabrication.

I doubt there is a direct parallel in perfume-land to this tale of the fantastic phony gastropod housing, but I do think that there are several perfume replicas or reproductions that are at least as interesting, wearable and well-crafted as the originals.  Often it does not seem to matter whether the motive is to legitimately recreate or to commercially deceive.  Beauty can result from either motive.  I have some amazing fakes in my perfume collection.  One of my favorites is the legitimate reproduction Duality, patterned after the long discontinued Anne Klein II.

Anne Klein II EdP was created by Parlux in 1985.  Listed notes include bergamot, green notes, peach, rosewood, lemon, jasmine, ylang-ylang, rose, carnation, iris root, vanilla, amber, sandalwood, musk, patchouli, benzoin and civet.  The fragrance opens for me with a rush of orris, amber, vanilla and lemon, blossoming into a peachy, woody ylang-ylang spiced with carnation settling into amber, rose, benzoin and more vanilla.  In typical 80s fashion, this fragrance is a sillage bomb that lasts for at least 12 hours on skin and for days on clothing. 

Duality EdT, introduced in 1999 by Jeffrey Dame for Irma Shorell/Long Lost Perfumes, lists every note in Anne Klein II with the exception of the civet.  On my skin Duality is a much rounder and gentler fragrance (perhaps due to the concentration?), opening with a warm, powdery vanilla. The dry down, while full of peach and ylang-ylang, is far less fruity and pungent than Anne Klein II.  Duality finishes with the same benzoin, amber, rose and vanilla. My overall impression of Duality is that of a 90s take on an 80s floriental - Anne Klein II without the shoulder pads.

Today on e-bay I found 35 pricey listings for Anne Klein II and not a single listing for Duality.  Duality can still be purchased (but not for long, I'm afraid) at Long Lost Perfumes (http://longlostperfume.com/) and on Amazon through Hypoluxe.  It seems that this lovely reproduction, like the rice paste wentletraps of the past, may soon be harder to come by - and more expensive - than the original inspiration.

What do you think of perfume replicas, reproductions and fakes?  Do you own any?

- Azar

[Seashell photos and artist copying a painting in Louvre photo from Wikimedia; polymer clay copy of shell from Etsy; Anne Klein II bottle from Basenotes; Duality bottle from E-bay where it apparently sold for around $200] 

Saturday, June 27, 2015

WINNER OF THE MARIA AMALIA DRAW

The winner of the Maria Amalia draw is LILLIAN HOLLOWAY.

Please contact us with your full shipping address. The e-mail is olympicorchids at gmail dot com. US shipping only.

Friday, June 26, 2015

TALKING IN PHOTOS


There’s a saying, often true, that a picture is worth a thousand words. However, there are times when a word is worth a thousand blurry pictures.

I’ve always been puzzled by the fact that perfume people so often post a picture of a perfume bottle instead of naming the perfume. This happens on the forums when people post comments about a perfume. They seem unable to write out the name and, instead, link to a photo of the bottle. Sometimes it’s clear what it is and other times it’s not.

On the Facebook groups and other similar venues, people often post pictures of bottles. Sometimes it’s possible to identify them, but other times the photos are too dark, too low resolution, or just too poor quality overall. Maybe posting an unidentifiable photo makes people feel superior to the ignorant masses who cannot immediately identify every perfume in existence by the general shape of the bottle. It can’t be laziness because it would be far easier just to type out the name of the perfume than to search for and download a little gif file or use their phone to take a poorly lighted photo in their bedroom or bathroom.

The fact is that many perfume bottles look similar, so it’s not possible to tell what they are based on their general outline. No one wants to have to zoom in on a photo to try to see what it is, especially since the name will probably still be unreadable due to the low resolution of the image. If anyone out there can provide insight into why people use photos instead of perfume names, I’d be curious to hear your explanation. 

If anyone can identify the bad photo in this post, you will receive a valuable prize.

[This photo is mine, processed to degrade the quality] 

Monday, June 22, 2015

MONDAY REVIEWS: SALVADOR DALI AND VERA WANG


For today’s Mass-Market Monday, here’s my take on two fragrances that I tried recently. The first one was a pleasant surprise; the second one was really no surprise, but fortunately not an unpleasant experience.

Salvador Dali Sea and Sun in Cadaques EdT
I have always avoided trying any fragrances from the Salvador Dali brand because I expected them to be bad, probably put off by the frowning lips on the bottles. To my surprise, Sea and Sun starts out on a pleasant peachy note.

It’s not the clich├ęd suntan lotion and aquatic notes offered by so many others in the “beach” genre. Instead, it’s a soft, dry peach with underlying caramel notes. It’s like a transparent gourmand scent, if that makes any sense. As it develops, I start to smell a little cassis and a fluffy musk. It’s by Michel Almairac, originally dating to 1983. I like it a lot. My sample was an EdT, so I was expecting it to be short-lived, but it sticks around at least 8 hours, with little whiffs of sillage drifting by from time to time. It doesn’t evolve much, but it’s nice as it is. I can see myself actually wearing this one.


Vera Wang Princess EDT
The very prototype of a mass-market “women’s” perfume, opening the sample vial smells just like opening one of the paper glue strips in an advertising flyer. In fact, it probably is something I’ve smelled on glue-paper in an advertising flyer. If it can be characterized at all beyond that, it would be as rose-scented soap on a synthetic woody base, topped with some citrus fruit. It’s not bad once the unpleasant initial glue-strip notes die down, a light generic floral with a hint of vanilla-amber. VW Princess is to perfume what Twinkies are to food. And it disappears almost as fast as a pack of Twinkies in a kid’s lunch box. Contrary to my initial fears, it’s wearable, with moderate sillage, lasting 3-4 hours tops. Admittedly, that’s with a tiny precautionary dab, but it is an EdT and not very strong. If you’re in the mood for a conventionally pretty, inoffensive generic scent, VW Princess would not be a bad choice.

Both of these are available from the online discounters at prices that put Salvador Dali in the “cheap thrills” range and Vera Wang in the “won’t break the bank” range.

[These comments are based on samples that I purchased. Images are taken from retailers’ websites. ]

Sunday, June 21, 2015

SUMMER SOLSTICE AND AN ORCHID THAT SMELLS LIKE CARNATIONS


Today is the longest day of the year (or shortest if you’re in the southern hemisphere), so it represents a turning point in the seasons. It’s a time for reflection on the spring that just passed and the summer to come. For me, it’s a time to send out the summer Scents of the Seasons to subscribers. Happy solstice to all!

This spring was a whirlwind for me, passing by in what seemed like no time. Summer should be calmer, with July being a month in which I can focus on formulating a couple of new fragrances, upgrading the websites, doing some promotion and some writing.

A botanical treat this month has been Bulbophyllum patens, an orchid that belongs to a genus noted for its stinky flowers that smell like feces and/or rotten meat. This one, on the other hand smells a lot like carnations! It has that same clove scent along with some light fruity-floral notes. The flowers have a mobile lip that jiggles in the breeze, enticing insects to light on it. Apparently in the wild, it is pollinated by fruit flies, males of which are attracted by methyl eugenol, the clove note, raspberry ketone, and zingerone, a ginger-like scent. All of these are perfectly good perfume materials. I discovered that if I press down on the lip as an insect would, the lip catapults upward, presumably throwing the insect against the pollinia. 

I did a little reading and, according to this account, what happens is that flies light on the lip to feed on the chemical attractants that it secretes, and as they progress inward, the lip reaches a see-saw fulcrum point, flipping the fly into the column cavity, with the lip acting as a closed door behind it. Trying to escape, the insect backs up, catching the sticky pollinia on its back. When it visits another flower, the process is repeated, with the pollen being deposited in the appropriate slot. All I can say is that these flowers are amazing, both for their co-evolution with fruit flies, and for the beautiful scent that fills the air around them.

[Summer sunrise at Stonehenge photo from Wikimedia; Bulbophyllum patens photos are mine.]