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, March 26, 2014


On Saturday, April 12, Meredith Smith and I are planning a fun event at her Sweet Anthem shop in West Seattle (6021 California Ave SW, Seattle, WA  98136). I will be minding the shop for her while she’s away, starting at noon, and will use the opportunity to have a “meet the perfumer” social event combined with a trunk show of my products, an opportunity for everyone to sniff and sample new things I’m currently working on, and a chance to sample two of the perfumes that are finalists for the Art and Olfaction Awards, my Blackbird and Meredith’s Owl. How funny that two birds, both from Seattle, are in the finalist group!

If you’re in the Seattle area and have time, please stop by Sweet Anthem on April 12th and say hello!

[Photo of Sweet Anthem storefront from a Yelp page. The only photo I ever took was in the snow, not really appropriate for April!] 

Friday, March 21, 2014


The Artisan Fragrance Salon in San Francisco was a lot of work, but it was fun to mingle with perfumer colleagues old and new, serious perfumistas, and perfume-naïve drop-ins from the chocolate show. Michael and I were both busy from the time we got there until load-out time except for the few minutes that we each took to go do a whirlwind sampling of the chocolates, wines, and spirits that were there for the tasting.

The standout in the foodie area was a company from San Leandro, CA called The Tea Room. They make what they call “chocolate fusion” products that combine quality chocolate with various kinds of teas. My favorite was the lapsang suchong chocolate, in which the authentic smoky taste of the tea combined perfectly with dark chocolate. Unfortunately this flavor was sold out by the time I got there, so I couldn’t bring any home. What I did grab were some of the green Earl Grey chocolate bars, another delicious combination with plenty of bergamot flavor. Michael’s favorite was the raspberry rooibos. I also picked up a jasmine milk chocolate bar and a few more conventional flavors. Good stuff!

I’ve been working on some new fragrances and decided to bring two of them to the show to get feedback on what to do to finish them up. I was a little surprised to find that everyone seemed to like them just as they are, so maybe I should quit while I’m ahead and stop tweaking them. I already wrote about African Orchid, originally intended to be a replacement for Little Stars, but so different that it’s not at all comparable. It’s an exotic mix of jasmine grandiflorum, ylang-ylang, birch bark (for that characteristic root-beer note that the real orchid produces), a basic orchid accord that I originally made for another purpose, a little twist of passion fruit, some subtle spicy notes, and a sensuous mix of musks. Since the show I’ve worn it a few times and am fairly satisfied with it.

The second one was Sakura, the cherry-blossom fragrance that I wrote about some time ago. The goal in making Sakura was to create a light, minimally sweet fragrance that really smells like the cherry blossoms that bloom on a cold, damp day at the end of winter, with a very light floral scent accompanied by cool airy notes and just enough transparent musk to hold it all in place. It was a universal hit, appealing to the chocolate walk-by crowd as well as the true perfume-lovers. I took lots of e-mail addresses so that I can notify people when it’s released!

Cafleurebon is offering a draw for samples of African Orchid and Sakura, both scheduled to be released in April, so hurry over there and leave a comment before the entries close. While you’re there you can read a much more balanced account of the show than I can provide.

When I gave Michelyn the short list of notes in Sakura, she commented that it’s “good to keep it simple”. I had to laugh to myself because recreating the cherry blossom accord was not at all simple. In fact, it has a lot more ingredients than one might think. I didn’t want it to smell like any of the commercial “cherry blossom”, “plum blossom”, or “apple blossom” fragrances that are out there, always much too heavy, too perfumey, and too floral. I remember that when I was a kid my mother had an “apple blossom” fragrance that always gave me a headache. Sakura is as close to the real live blossoms as I could get and still have it work as a perfume.

The Japanese cherry trees (sakura) are blooming all over Seattle this month, most notably on the university campus where there are many very old trees that put on an amazing show. In fact, they even have their own Facebook page where new photos of the cherry blossoms are posted every day so that one can follow their progress. Today they’re at 100%. 

[Photo from San Francisco show is one that someone took on my phone. Chocolate variety from the Tea Room website; Aerangis fastuosa is my plant; cherry blossom photos are from the cherry trees' Facebook page] 

Thursday, March 20, 2014


When we left San Francisco Monday night we never expected to endure a long ordeal of flight cancellations and delays, but that’s what happened. We finally did manage to make it back to Seattle, totally exhausted and debilitated from eating the horrible airport food that the airlines provided to keep us quiet while we waited. The only consolation was that our plane didn’t disappear en route like the Malaysian one did, and Jasper the cat was glad to see us when we walked in the door.

The last few days have been a blur of unpacking boxes from the San Francisco salon, packing and shipping orders that had accumulated while I was gone, reading students’ papers from the quarter that just finished and turning in grades, taking care of badly dehydrated orchids, and dealing with whatever e-mails and other tasks were extremely urgent.

Today, at last, I got some closure. Grades are all turned in, so now I can focus on getting ready for next quarter, which begins a week from Monday. At the same time I’m reading grant applications for a meeting I’m going to in DC that week. In case you’re thinking something doesn’t add up, you’re right. I’m going to miss the first week of class, so I have to get everything ready for substitutes to come in and teach my classes.  I have a book manuscript due at the publisher’s next month. I have to make more perfume concentrates because I’m running out of stock on some things. My car is having issues, so I need to take it to the shop during “spring break” week. My to-do list goes on and on.

I can’t face any of this stuff right now, so blew it all off and treated myself to a short run outside in the sunny weather, a nice dinner and glass of wine, and a hot bath scented with the dregs left in small bottles that had contained rose de mai absolute and mehndi attar. They make a nice combination. Oh yeah, that reminds me. I need to order a bunch of perfume materials. Put that on the list, too. My crowning achievement of the evening is actually sitting down and writing something for the blog, even if it’s minimal.

I’m sure that tomorrow I’ll be in a more upbeat mood and can report a little on the San Francisco Salon and upcoming perfume events in Seattle.

[Gratuitous cat photo is our own Jasper. Photo of our San Francisco booth is by Shelley Waddington. Sandalwood and rose photos from Wikimedia] 

Thursday, March 6, 2014


If you live in the San Francisco area and would like to attend the Artisan Fragrance Salon on March 15, I have two guest passes that will get you in for free. They will also get you into the concurrent Chocolate Salon, pictured at right before opening to the public last year, so if you want a day tasting chocolate and other treats and smelling perfumes from more than 20 perfumers, let me know right away. I need to register guests by March 10.

The first two people to send an e-mail to olympicorchids@gmail.com will get the passes. Go for it!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014


I haven’t posted anything here for over two weeks, so it’s time to do something to help me get back in the habit of blogging regularly. Anything is better than nothing, even the superficial “what I did last weekend” report along with a few announcements of upcoming perfume-related events. Posting is easier said than done with the ridiculous schedule that I got myself into for the first half of 2014.

This past weekend we packed up a big batch of orchid plants and took them to the Mount Baker Orchid Show and Sale in a small agricultural town halfway to Canada. It was fun, as usual, but I got way behind on everything else. As I sold plants I thought of the nursery rhyme,

This little orchid went to market,
This little orchid stayed home.
This little orchid got a good home,
This little orchid got none,
And this little orchid went squee, squee, squee, squee
All the way home.

Coming home we drove the whole way in a monsoon, which has continued all night and all day so far, and is expected to continue until further notice. The amount of water coming out of the sky is incredible. At least it’s not a blizzard, which I understand it is in the mountains, closing the passes periodically for avalanche control. The photos are webcam shots from one of the local ski areas, where there’s over 130 inches of snow accumulation.

Week after next, on March 15, there’s the San Francisco Artisan Fragrance Salon, so this week I pack up stuff for my display and ship it off to the hotel. Every time I do it, it gets a little easier and less anxiety-provoking, but it’s still a lot of work. If any of my readers are in the Bay Area, the fragrance show is in tandem with the chocolate expo at Fort Mason. If you decide to go, please stop by and say hello, say you saw the announcement here, and get a surprise free sample.

It looks like there may be another Seattle Fragrance Salon in May, so stay tuned for more information! If it happens, it will be at the same venue as last year, right on the waterfront.

On the afternoon of March 29, I’ll be at the Sweet Anthem perfume shop in West Seattle, with a “meet the perfumer” event and trunk show. It’s free and it’s fun, so if you’re in the Seattle area, put it on your calendar and plan to attend. More details will follow over the next couple of weeks here and on Facebook. Sweet Anthem is located at 6021 California Ave SW, Seattle, WA  98136. 

Sunday, February 16, 2014


Kafkaesque’s blog recently featured an extremely thoughtful and thorough discussion about the perennial issue of increasingly stringent EU regulations being proposed for the perfume industry. The latest version of the EU regulations would essentially ban a large number of traditionally used natural materials, thereby severely limiting the palettes of European perfumers and wreaking havoc on Grasse and other regions that produce essential oils and absolutes for the perfume industry. 

The ostensible argument for these regulations is that a very small percentage of the population might be allergic to the materials in question. Whether “allergic” is the right term to use is questionable, but that was the topic of a previous post a long time ago. Even if it were correct, the obvious approach would be to have perfume manufacturers list all of the potential allergens (or irritants) on the label and let people make up their own minds whether or not to use the product. This is what is currently done with foods “that may contain peanuts” and other materials that could cause an allergic reaction far worse than anything that could potentially result from a little bit of dilute oakmoss or bergamot on the skin.

By the EU’s reasoning, practically all food should be banned, and it appears that this process is already underway with the restriction of cinnamon in Danish pastries. Soon to follow will be all spices, nuts, dairy products, wheat products, meat products, fruits and vegetables. If allergies are a problem, then the EU should ban all pollen-producing plants, trees, and grass. Ever heard of “hay fever”? That’s a real allergy, but as far as I know, no one wants to get rid of forests, food crops, green lawns and pastures except the developers who put up ugly housing projects, strip malls, and parking lots.

Given that the reasoning behind the current and proposed regulations makes no sense at all from a logical point of view, the question of "why?" remains unanswered. No one is going to clearly benefit financially, and probably the regulations will harm many EU industries large and small.

Cynic that I am, my guess about the motives underlying this type of micromanagement by the EU is that it is mega-bureaucracy's way of instilling a feeling of learned helplessness in their subjects. I see this tactic used all the time by the administration of the university where I work, by the local, state, and federal governments, by religious organizations throughout history, and by corporations that do not want to provide any sort of service to their customers. 

Teach people not to ask why they are instructed to do or not to do something; teach them not to question “authority”; teach them not to ask to talk to a human being who takes responsibility for having made the rules; teach them that if they ask questions or complain they will get no response or at best a dismissive response; shame or penalize them if they have a reasonable reaction to an unreasonable rule. Eventually people will realize their powerlessness in the face of the mega-bureaucracy and obediently behave as the bureaucracy asks them to. 

A populace trained in learned helplessness will eventually swallow any bullshit piled upon them. Too many times history has seen oppression start with the ridiculous and end up as harm to the oppressed themselves, or as harm inflicted by the oppressed on those who have been designated by the authorities as inferiors or enemies. Often it begins with arbitrary, but seemingly harmless, rules. 

[Lavender, peanut butter and cinnamon roll photos from Wikimedia; last photo is from Orson Welles film of Kafka's "The Trial".]