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 22, 2011


The whole story behind JAR Perfumes has been covered in detail in other blogs, (perfumeposse and aromascope) so I won’t go into it here except to say that these perfumes are made by a jeweler I had never heard of, Joel A Rosenthal, who markets them only through only a couple of very exclusive and expensive department stores, where they are sold for outrageous prices with a great deal of pretentious ceremony, reminiscent of the Wizard of Oz before his fall. Not being a consumer of expensive jewelry, it’s not surprising that I never heard of Monsieur Rosenthal in any context other than perfume, but being a believer in providing equal opportunity for any and all perfumes to steal my heart, sooner or later it was inevitable that I should plunk my money down on the virtual counter of The Perfumed Court and get samples of the JAR lineup to rub shoulders with the latest $1 designer samples from Raffy.

JAR Diamond Water
Diamond Water was the first JAR perfume that I tried, simply because it was the first to emerge out of the great melting pot and pseudorandom grab bag where I put all of my untested samples. The first thing I smell is cloves and maybe some West Indian bay that combine to produce a strong carnation scent that for some reason reminds me of a man’s shaving product, sort of like a toned-down bay rum without the rum. I believe an ex of mine used a type of solid shaving soap that smelled very similar to this. I have to say that it’s a realistic, spicy carnation scent for a while, but when the nutmeg hits, it could be a packet of spices for a pumpkin pie. The nutmeg eventually drifts away and it then settles back down into the original clove-studded carnation. I’m not sure what carnations have to do with diamonds. “Ruby Slippers” might have been a more appropriate name, but who am I, poor bohemian that I am, to question the Wizard’s choices. I like spicy scents and I like carnation - in fact, it’s one of the handful of florals that I can tolerate. However, I have a couple of other carnation scents that I like just as well, Floris Malmaison and Etro Dianthus, both of which are considerably cheaper even though Malmaison has long been discontinued and is just as hard to come by as any JAR creation. However, just when I thought carnation was all there was to the scent, the drydown reveals a lovely, woody incense note, similar to the incense in CDG’s Avignon. It’s not strong, it doesn’t last long, but it’s there, and it’s something that would be totally missed in the Wizard’s sampling ceremony, which apparently only permits a supervised peek at the top notes. However, for my incense fix, I’ll go with JAR’s poor relations, CDG Avignon or Heeley Cardinal, and enjoy a full day of incense in all its true glory. As the incense begins to back off, a little bit of sandalwood kicks in, not strong, but noticeably present. Again, for the price, I’ll go with a tola of pure Mysore sandalwood from a reputable supplier. The final lap of the drydown is a woody, incensy, clove-spiced base that stays fairly close to the skin, lasting at least 6-8 hours. My final conclusion: Diamond Water is an excellent, well-made perfume, but it’s just not worth all of the pretentiousness and all of the money.

I highly recommend reading another review of JAR Diamond Water that compares it to Tiger Balm (a valid comparison, by the way, especially with the extra strength Tiger Balm formula). This same review also includes a really thoughtful and well-written analysis of the whole question of how to approach perfumes with marketing strategies on the far extreme end of the snobbery scale.

JAR Bolt of Lightning
This is like no other perfume I’ve smelled, and it’s hard to decide whether I like or dislike it. At first there’s an overpoweringly strong green note that’s sort of like turning over a big pile of cut vegetation - both grass and weeds - that’s been sitting on the compost pile for a day or two, fermenting, steaming, and incubating its last blast of greenness. Along with the green stuff there’s a strange fruity or candy note, sort of like a mix of overripe and green pears, but not quite, since it also reminds me of some organic solvent. Then come the white flowers, but faint ones, not up to the standards of the fanfare with which they were introduced. At this point, 10-15 minutes after applying the perfume, what’s left is a quiet mix of gardenia, tuberose, carnation (again) and artificial grape (orange blossom accord overdosed with methyl anthranilate?) with only a faint hint of the weird green notes remaining. It sticks around as a light, slightly musky skin scent for a few hours, then gradually trickles off into the post-lightning storm drains of oblivion. This is obviously a perfume designed to impress through the top notes, with little to recommend the segment that should be the main attraction.

JAR Golconda
Starts out as a strong carnation scent, heavy on the cloves, with hints of white flowers in the background. It’s a spicier, heftier, thicker carnation than some others (Floris Malmaison, Etro Dianthus or the real thing), as if multiple takes of carnation had been electronically overlaid and amplified. It’s not a monster carnation in the same way that Alien is a monster jasmine, it’s just an enhanced one, at least in the opening. For the first hour there’s a lot of sillage, but after that it rapidly loses energy, ramping down linearly to a shadow of its former self. Like the other JAR perfumes I’ve tried, Golconda comes in with a roar and slinks out without much of a goodbye. I would not spend the money on it even if I had an unlimited perfume budget.

JAR Ferme Tes Yeux
I guess I was expecting something skankier, given the reviews that I’d read before trying this. Maybe I have an unusually high threshold for skank, since I work with some of those nasty materials in their pure form, or maybe some of my orchids have a fragrance so skanky that they put any perfume to shame. FTY starts out strong as an indolic jasmine with a hint of civet and root beer, very much like an orchid flower in its full skank phase. There’s also a strange metallic note that I can’t identify. This indolic, metallic jasmine phase lasts for an hour or so, then gradually fades away. By the fourth JAR encounter I note a pattern in how all of these perfumes evolve - they are premature ejaculators that shoot their wad of top notes, then just go to sleep and fade away into mediocrity.

I think the bottom line of this sampling exercise is that I might have liked every one of these perfumes much more, maybe even loved them in some way, if there had not been such a buildup of unrealistic expectation due to their rarity, cost, and the hype surrounding them. It is sad to note that excessively high expectations can only lead to disappointment, so those dream merchants who set up this sort of mystique may not be doing themselves any favors.

[Steaming compost image adapted from Wikimedia; man with carnation painting by Hans Holbein the younger, 1535]

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