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, the challenges of marketing perfumes and other fragrance products, and random observations on philosophy and society. Spam comments will be marked as such and deleted; any comments that go beyond the boundaries of civil discourse will also be deleted. I am grateful to all of you, the readers, who contribute to the blog by commenting and making this a truly interactive perfume project.

Thursday, October 7, 2010


In my seminar last quarter we did a short session on the chemical senses and perfume making. After the class was over, I was talking with one student, Alyssum, about various aspects of perfume making. Somehow the conversation turned to the idea of making a perfume for her, based on her own inspiration and my resources. I’ve been wanting to try my hand at making a bespoke perfume, so here was the opportunity! I jumped on it. My hope is that the process will provide me with experience in accurately realizing someone else’s fragrance “vision”, and her with a unique scent that’s called - what else? - Alyssum?

The plan is to document the entire process here on my blog. Alyssum has given me permission to do so, and will be writing her own contributions from time to time in response to my attempts to formulate what she smells in her mind. The first stage in creating her perfume was to have her write a brief explaining what her ideal perfume would be like. I didn’t give her any instructions on how to do it, but she came up with a wonderfully clear and detailed description of what she was looking for. I’m particularly excited because it’s the kind of scent I would like to create anyway, something with a smoky base and light floral top notes, preferably the scent of sweet alyssum, that little rock garden plant with the tiny white flowers.

Not knowing what sweet alyssum smells like, I started doing some research. It turns out that the stuff that grows in gardens and rockeries isn’t alyssum at all, but Lobularia maritima, a species that’s closely related to the genus Alyssum, but classified separately. To actually find some in bloom, all I had to do was walk around my neighborhood and there it was, a little clump of finely spun white lace spread out on the ground. I crept into the neighbor’s garden, snapped a photo, and broke off a sprig of flowers. The fragrance was quite strong considering how tiny the flowers are. It’s like a powerful mixture of pollen and clover honey, earning its name “sweet” alyssum. There were bees all over the flowers, and I understand why. If I were a bee, I’d go for it, too. I’ve got an excellent image of what the flowers smell like now, but will probably go and buy a plant at one of the local garden centers anyway so that I can sniff it repeatedly. Sweet alyssum is supposed to be an annual, but I think around here it grows as a perennial, or it reseeds itself profusely and grows in shifts with little or no break in blooming because I see it in the same places all the time.

The next entry in this saga will be Alyssum’s brief. Stay tuned for more details!


  1. Alyssum seeds itself prolifically, so it just seems perennial. Even in warm climates, the plants bloom themselves out and die- I mean, who can blame them, with all the flowers and scent they make?

    It can cast it's scent a long ways, so that an edging of it will scent the entire walk and garden. (can you tell I love it?)

  2. I've never grown alyssum, so thanks, Laurie, for clearing up the mystery of its life cycle. What a wonderful little plant! Now I have to get some for the rockery part of my garden and hope that it keeps reseeding itself.