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.

Sunday, December 14, 2014


Grades are all calculated, book proofs have been returned, I’m more or less caught up on shipping, and the temperature is staying above freezing, so life is good.

This week’s big push is to get the winter 2014 Scents of the Season sets ready to ship and get ready for a holiday pop-up shop, the Little Green House in Ballard, where we’ll be vendors. Our dates there are Friday, 19 December through Sunday, 21 December. Hours are 11:00 AM – 8:00 PM, so if you’re in the Seattle area, please stop by and say hello!

I will be using this occasion to launch the wood fence fragrance that I’ve been talking about for so long. The main obstacle holding up its release was the fact that I was sitting on the fence (no pun intended, of course!) about what to call it. I’d seen everyone’s suggestions, each with its merits, but none of them felt completely right. Last week I finally decided to call it “Woodcut”. No one else uses the name for a perfume or other fragrance product, and it really conveys the spirit of what I’m trying to do with the scent. Here’s the description that I wrote to go with it:

“Strong lines and delicate tracery combine to tell an archetypal tale of man’s rape of the earth. Woodcut conjures up dark images of ancient trees inhabited by spirits from a time when the earth was new, the flowing sap of felled trees, and the burnt sugar of the trees’ blood when it is heated by the saws of lumbermen and builders. The inspiration for this fragrance came from passing by a building site where old trees had been newly cut for a development and lumber was being sawed for a fence. The scent of cut wood was intoxicatingly beautiful and primitive, like a fleeting glimpse of the invisible essence of life spilled carelessly on the ground and burned as an offering to human greed.”

It just occurred to me that December is the perfect time to launch Woodcut as millions of trees are cut to be sold as Christmas-trees. I don't know which is worse, cutting real trees grown for the purpose or using plastic "trees" made in China. Probably the latter. 

Woodcut will officially go on sale this Friday, 19 December, and I’ll be promoting it at the Little Green House Pop-up Shop. I’ll also do a sneak preview of another new one, Mardi Gras, scheduled for release in February 2015. One other local perfumer will be launching her new line, Parfum Magnet,  at the Little Green House on Friday night, so there will be lots of first-sniff-ever fragrances. We’ll have a big perfume bash on Friday night, so that would be the ideal time to come. However, Saturday and Sunday would be good, too!

Now, off to prepare the winter discovery sets and all of the stuff for the holiday event. 

[For those in Seattle, the address of the Little Green House is 5341 Ballard Avenue NW, Seattle, WA  98107. Old woodcut images and Christmas tree photo from Wikimedia; Little Green House photo from their event website.] 

Monday, December 8, 2014


It’s been difficult to post anything what with the end-of-term academic scramble, the Black Friday sales, and the usual round of family and professional events that require my attendance, compounded by yesterday’s receipt of final proofs for a 200+ page scientific book that I have to go through to catch any new errors introduced by the publisher. Just when I was giving up hope of ever writing anything for the blog, Azar came to the rescue with a post on her candied pomelo rinds. I tasted them last week, and they’re delicious! I haven’t seen it, but what we need is pomelo essential oil for perfumery. 

Here’s Azar’s post:

Fall and winter are usually very wet, cold and dark here in the Pacific Northwest.  Nevertheless I look forward to November and December, not so much for the holidays as for the seasonal advent of the new citrus crop.  I'm crazy for the zest, the colors, scents and flavors of navels, grapefruit, blood oranges, tangerines, mandarins, Honeybells, kumquats and their hybrids, the lemons and the limes (especially the Persian variety) and, of course, my all time favorite citrus fruit, the monster pomelo (AKA Citrus maxima, Citrus grandis, pummelo, lusho fruit, shaddock).

Pomelos range in size from 5 to over 10 inches in diameter.  These big guys look like extra large grapefruits varying in color from bright green to lemon yellow and weighing in anywhere from 2 to almost 5 lbs. per fruit.  The pink or yellowish flesh is crisp and sweet, but getting to the innards of a pomelo can be a real challenge.

To peel and segment a pomelo first chop off the ends, score the peel like you would a Valencia orange and then carefully peel the rind from the fruit.  The fragrant pith of a pomelo is colored like white and pink cotton candy and is thick, smooth and squishy to the touch.  Remove as much of the pith as possible, pull the fruit in half, score on the segment lines and break into natural segments.  Trim the edges of the segments and then insert a sharp fillet knife under each membrane and separate from the flesh as you would when skinning or filleting a fish.  With practice this will leave you with neat, ready to eat pomelo segments. I have to admit that I still need practice even after years of pomelos!

It always saddens me to throw away the peels, so this year I decided to turn the rinds into candied citron and use them in my version of that sadly misunderstood and maligned holiday staple, the fruitcake! I love fruitcake, from the scariest drugstore versions in the questionably decorated tins to the expensive, specialty fruitcakes individually prepared in homes and monasteries around the world.  Since I can no longer eat pecans, walnuts or commercial candied cherries and citron colored with "mad dog red No. 3", I will probably have to develop a fruitcake recipe using almonds and my own candied pomelo peels.

Azar's Candied Pomelo Peels
peels from 1 large pomelo
1 cup white granulated sugar plus some additional sugar to coat the peels
1 cup water

Peel the pomelo and eat the flesh.  Remove most of the pith from the peels. Cut into ½ " strips.  Blanch the peels 3 to 5 times (or more) to soften and remove bitterness. Heat water and 1 cup sugar until clear, add the peels and simmer on low for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.  Transfer the cooked peels to a drying rack, cool and pat off the excess liquid.  Roll the rinds in the additional sugar (or shake them in a bag with the sugar) until coated.  Return the peels to the rack, put the rack on a parchment covered cookie sheet and dry the peels in a 160 degree F oven for 12 to 18 hours until the peels are slightly crisp and dry to the touch. Cool the rinds on the rack and store in Ziploc bags.  

Candied pomelo peels can be munched as is, dipped in semi sweet chocolate, chopped for use in spumoni ice cream or cannoli filling and, of course, added to your favorite fruitcake recipe. All of this talk about fruitcake brings to mind this holiday riddle:  Why is your grandfather's gold watch like your grandmother's fruitcake?

Happy Baking,
Azar xx

And that’s it, folks! The cool thing is that you could do this with any citrus rinds and probably any sort of fruit. I assume that an answer to the riddle will be forthcoming.

[All photos are by Azar]

Tuesday, December 2, 2014


One unfortunate aspect of my multifaceted lifestyle is that the end of the academic autumn quarter coincides with the ramping up of the winter holiday season. This means that just as the university gears up into end-of-term frenzy mode, I have to prepare for holiday sales, starting with Black Friday.

Over the years it seems that Black Friday has been extended into Saturday, Sunday, Monday, and on through the week as retailers try to lure in the more recalcitrant customers. It seems to me that three days, with a week’s advance notice, should be enough time for any customers who want to take advantage of discounts to do so. More spam in their mailboxes isn’t going to lure them in (Staples, I’m looking at you).

Every year I read the same dire articles in the press bemoaning the fact that retailers and the economy are suffering because “Black Friday sales are down”, meaning that instead of the projected-wishful-thinking 10% increase in sales over last year, sales only increased by 7%. There’s something fundamentally wrong with thinking that the economy must constantly grow in order to be healthy. But that’s an issue for another post.

This season I was much more prepared than I’ve been in the past, with plenty of stock on the shelves, plenty of shipping supplies, and a couple of days dedicated time to deal with filling orders. I only ran out of one thing, Tropic of Capricorn. I have to say that the whole experience was good, and that the process went much more smoothly than I expected.

Nearly all of the Black Friday orders have been shipped, so I can relax and prepare to launch the two new fragrances I’ve been working on, put together my spa set (soaps, bath oil, body balm and “room sprays” for the perfume-phobic), put together the winter 2014 Scents of the Season collection, and get ready to participate in a pop-up shop the weekend before Christmas. Oh yeah, and I have to grade a lot of exams and term papers, try to keep my orchids from freezing during the horrible cold weather that we’re having, and spend some quality time with my family.  Maybe there’ll be time for a blog post or two in between everything else.

I’m not complaining – I wouldn’t have it any other way!

[Dark snowy day photo grabbed from the webcam of our local ski area; Fight of the moneybags by Pieter van der Heyden, ca. 1550; snow on tree branches is my photo] 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014


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 fa├žade 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]