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 27, 2011


The last of the new fragrances was Café V, presented in two different versions. I learned something very interesting from the testing of these two, and will take the fragrance back to the drawing board for adjustments. This is the last super-long post for a while, I promise!

Café V#1
Initial: Sweet tobacco smoke and something like carnauba wax
5 minutes: Vanilla, tea and cocoa. The carnauba wax is still strong.
15 minutes: The waxy edge is blending with the vanilla and cocoa. The smoke is still evident.
30 minutes: The carnauba wax is still around but becoming less prominent. Some warm woody smells.
50 minutes: Cinnamon and some other spices appearing as wax dissipates.
2 hours: Wood, spices, vanilla. The wax is just about gone.
6 hours: Dries down to a familiar combination of nutmeg, vanilla, and spices.
General comments: The most memorable impression I had of Café V #1 was the odor of carnauba wax. After 2 hours this scent shifted from specifically carnauba wax to just a general “waxy” smell which lasted until about 4 hours into the test. At 6 hours there was still a hint of wax mixed with a distinctive Olympic Orchids blend of nutmeg, vanilla, etc. While I like the smell of carnauba wax I wouldn’t want to wear it as a personal fragrance. I like this scent from about 50 minutes to the end.

Café V #2
Initial: Sweet tobacco smoke, some spices and carnauba wax (less penetrating than in #1)
5 minutes: More spice, even less carnauba wax
15 minutes: Vanilla, cocoa, spice, generic wax
30 minutes: Less of an edge all around than #1. Vanilla, wax, pice, cocoa
1 hour: More vanilla. Some leather.
2 hours: Light vanilla, leather, very light cinnamon and spice.
6 hours: Light vanilla and leather. Very light combination spice. Familiar Olympic Orchid drydown like #1.
General comments: When I read your notes I couldn’t believe that I had totally missed the coffee element in both of the versions. #2 is creamier, less edgy than #1. I also don’t get as much of the carnauba wax in the opening of #2. #2 is easier for me to wear but it has less personality than #1.

Cafe 1 seems to be little bit more woody and the cocoa is toned down compared to version 2. I don't know if that reflects the concentrations or version 2 has different notes that are enhancing the cocoa. Maybe that could be explained by the presence of the creamy note. In version 2 the cocoa is more rounded and sweeter.

Cafe 1 feels more quiet , woody and leathery and the cocoa is showing more its dark and earthy side. It feels the other notes are surrounding the leather.
Version 2 somehow feels more friendly and rounded. After reading the composition I can definitely see that even if "the creamy note" is hard to define, still helps that first impression of friendliness; the cocoa is more chocolate-y but still dark, the leather is still there, but the coffee note comes out more defined. However, all notes blend together, they feel like being part of the same fragrance. They play the same melody.

In version 1 the coffee is more roasted and less smoky, it blends in the leathery tone, in Vesion 2 the coffee is smoky but little bit more defined and rounded with a gourmand feeling. Foody gourmand and not sweet gourmand.

If I have to choose that would be difficult. Ver 2 is little bit more accessible and also more loud, couple of notes more accentuated. Ver 1 feels more toned down, without that gourmandisime tone, feels more dry and distant, but distant in an inviting way. It makes you want to go back to get a bit more, like you are not satisfied enough. It makes you wonder.

Ver 2 is more about the coffee. Everything blends into it. After a sniff it my brain is able to remember the fragrance.

Somehow ver1 is hard to catch and describe. It feels like a fragrance with a multitude of faces. Coffee and leather and woody and smoky.

I have a hard time deciding what I like more.

Café V version 1- It opens with cinnamon, and leather, and sweetness. Too much leather for my taste. I have a problem with leather scents- even though I know darn well they have other things in them, leather tends to be all I can smell. Mike sent me a sample of one he made (the Paris Metro one) that had leather and flowers, and all I could smell was leather. I’ve tried to use leather myself, and finally gave up when I had it diluted to 1% (using leather accord from TGSC) and it was still overpowering. But, at least, with yours, after about a half hour the leather fades a bit and it gets sweeter. But I’m afraid I don’t smell it as very complex, even though I can see from your notes it is.

Café V version 2- okay, I love this one! It opens with a cinnamon bun hot out of the oven, warm and spicy. Five minutes in the leather steps forward, but the scent is still spicy, not skanky. The cinnamon fades a bit and lets the other spices out. The creamy note is defiantly noticeable- it kept making me think of ice cream. I love creamy. Never did smell the coffee. This one lasts a good amount of time on me; the balsam and myrrh and leather really hang in there- I can still faintly smell it after over six hours. AND the leather, though very apparent, never dominates. I was able to enjoy it rather than cringing from it! It would have never occurred to me to put leather and gourmand together, but it WORKS. Wonderfully.

Cafe V [1 and 2] both seem like fougeres with different top notes - something green in the #1 and incense in the #2. The fougere part of each has something that smells industrial to me, sort of like 3 in 1 Oil. I like it! I think I may have suggested using it in someone's discussion of what a steam punk perfume would be. It's not dominant.

I’ve tried going from one sample to the next (keeping them in different rooms). I found the Café V #1 to be slightly sweeter and the Café V #2 to be slightly more woody. I hope this helps with your planning, but it’s probably better if not too many people share my association of machine oil with myrrh. Or you could call it steam punk and put some sort of gothic Dickensian label on the bottle.

Café V: Unfortunately, both these variants are not my cup of tea (or should I say, coffee). There is a note in both these scents - also very dominant in Kyphi and somewhat less noticeable in Bay Rum - that I don't care for. And I can't put my finger on what it is! Mind you, while I LOVE coffee, I have yet to find a fragrance that contains coffee that I like - with the exception of Jean Laporte's L'Eau de Navigateur where the very heavy spices seem to enhance the coffee note. I am sure that you will get positive responses from your other testers on both these scents, but I would have felt like a hypocrite if I didn't give my honest opinion. Incidentally I have been wearing and enjoying your three other samples that you sent to me. I even tried mixing a very small amount of the Salamanca with some Rose Chypre and the result was very beautiful - at least to me.

Cafe V 1
First impression: creamy mocha w/ a touch of bitter coffee
Vetiver and patchouli? violet leaf?
2nd testing, one week later: a nutty, oily note, walnut-like. Citrus - peel, not juice. 5 min. in, there seems to be a note that's hovering above, all-spice or nutmeg, mace? Feels discordant to me.
20 min in: notes smell more harmonious at this point, but something still seems to be hovering.
35 min. in: I think I have identified the hovering smell - it's not "discordant", it smells like a spice I don't like: cardamom. I think that's the nutty, oily smell too.
I like the creamy/bitter contrast.
On paper, it smells delicious, like chai without the black tea. Unfortunately for me, it smells flat and oily on my skin!
cafe V 2
Orange mocha!
This doesn't smell creamy, it smells citrusy - more orange, bitter coffee and cardamom. I prefer this blend to no.1.
On paper, it's quite juicy and vibrant, chocolate-y, rosy, a little spicy. Patchouli, rose, nutmeg? It smells wonderful.
For some reason, it smells flat on my skin- again, that nutty, oily smell. However, 10 minutes in, it starts to pop up - spicy coffee.
Pleasant and cozy, it would make a beautiful scent for Autumn.

Cafe V #1 - No medicinal opening here, dry and less sweet or creamy so not really gourmand, though still foodie in a way. Like the smell of fresh roasted coffee beans instead of a coffee drink or flavored food. It's less chocolate-y and more like a good shot of espresso from beans with a touch of coffee to them. It's less aggressive than two, and the sillage is smaller, but I like it very much. I probably prefer #1 to #2, which surprised me because I normally love sweet foodie, but this really spoke to me.

Cafe V #2 - I get an almost medicinal sweetness in the immediate opening here, like a combination of dry bitter chocolate and moss. Almost liqueur-like, like one made of coconut and chocolate liqueur. I definitely get the leather, like new fresh leather, newly treated for commercial use. Veeery foodie, particularly next to #1. The whole thing in my mind is like an exhibit in a modern art exhibit: a coffee cream filled dark chocolate petit four made, not from food, but made entirely of different colors, textures, and ages of leathers.

I really am sorry to say that something in those two samples doesn't work well with my stomach. I'm guessing the leather-cardamom combination. That doesn't happen often, but recently it also happened with DSH Cuir et champignon.
Of the two, I think version 1 is lighter on my stomach. It smells to me rocky, sweetly, lightly coffe-ish and smoky.

Number two has a lightly meaty quality I couldn't place where I was getting it from the notes and seemed to me a bit stronger version of 1. I don't understand the idea of meaty smokiness but it just doesn't suit me, so if I were you, I'd take my thoughts on these 2 out of the equation.

All of the comments were insightful and fun to read, and there were two comments that I was particularly struck by - the characterization of Café V as “steampunk” and the one that described it as a modern art rendition of a petit four made entirely of leather. Now that I think about it, a big industrial espresso machine does have a steampunk look, so it's right in keeping with the theme. And I love the idea of the leather sculpture.

Poetic descriptions aside, the first and most important thing that I discovered from these reviews is that a lot of people intensely dislike cardamom. This comes as a little bit of a surprise to me, since it’s one of my favorite spices. The first adjustment will probably be to either back off a lot with the cardamom or omit it entirely. The second thing - not a surprise - was that the coffee needs to be bumped up. The addition of the creamy note seems to be a toss-up. Some like it, others prefer the version without it.

Some impressions are all over the map - carnauba wax, 3-in-1 oil, meat, orange, etc. I don’t worry too much about these outliers, since everybody comes up with their own odd take on things. What I do worry about is several people mentioning that the cardamom was overpowering and the coffee hardly noticeable. I think the chocolate needs bumping up, too.

The bottom line seems to be that this is worth pursuing, but will require some more work to make it appealing to the majority of people.

[All images, including the anonymous painting, are from Wikimedia]

Saturday, October 22, 2011


I’ve presented the two perfumes that I’ll add to my line, and now it’s time for the two that I’m going to rethink a little before deciding what to do with them. The first of these is Emergence, meant to represent the first few indolic days of an orchid’s bloom, before it goes into full production of its main theme.

Initial: Immediate blast of sweet and funky fruit and flowers
1 minute: Some sandalwood? Camphor is here but more like an aura than a distinct fragrance note.
2 minutes: Some sweet citrus appears
5 minutes: The fruity funk still predominates, but the citrus and camphor push through
6 minutes: Here comes some honey. Also can detect some amber (?) and labdanum (?). The fragrance is losing its sweet edge and is blending into the familiar Golden Cattleya.
15 minutes: The initial funk has still not faded. I think I would like some cedar and more camphor at this point
30 minutes: “Golden Cattleya” is here with a sweet, camphor halo.
1 hour: Similar to 30 minutes but weaker.
2 hours: Lingering orange, honey and a little spice (?)
6 hours: A trace of what I smelled at 2 hours. All but gone.
General comments: The initial sweet blast was almost too much for me but it didn’t take long for the first impression to resolve into a modified “Golden Cattleya” with a lovely aura of camphor. The sweet introduction, including indole and civet and some fruit or other seemed to be stronger in “Emergence” than in the prototype “Cattleya #1”. While I find these quite strong my husband really likes them. There is something very sexy and brazen about the first impression of this fragrance.

This is my old love. I can feel the top note are changed. Indolic and slightly camphorous. Beautiful. The base is less sweet and I like that. If the old version was more opulent and rich this one comes with a little bit of introduction. I love indoles so even a higher ratio would have been fine. I find this fragrance unique and lovable. No attributes will make justice. No description can be satisfying. This is a fragrance you have to smell and enjoy.

After the dryness of the first two scents, this one really startled me. So sweet! And not just sweet, but effervescent! It was like Sweet Tarts (those sour/sweet candies we had as kids, er, 50 years ago) and it *fizzed* in my nose! I’d love to know how you managed that. I’d mix it with something winey and try for champagne in a scent! Anyway, after about 10 minutes the fizzy goes away for the most part and the scent deepened, and it smells like musk and feels like mink. After 30 minutes, it is powdery, warm and golden, but still sweet. I LOVE it, and was sorry that it faded so fast on me- an hour? But like I said above, that’s not unusual for me. I don’t know what notes a standard Golden Cattleya has but I think I’d like it. Aha! Reading your notes again I see there is civet- that’s where the mink came from.

Emergence seems like it stays "the same" (something like orange) but changes character from a fruit to a floral to a spice to a wood. I have to check "the same" by comparing samples put on paper at different times but it's something I haven't heard of any perfumer doing before. Love it!

[After trying them all] Emergence remains my favorite. To my nose it started as a sweet fruity orange, then morphed into a semi-floral orange, a citrusy orange, a spicy orange, a woody orange, and finally a dusty orange, all over about 15 hours (on paper). Surround was good but I wouldn’t worry about intruding on others.

My first thought was that this was a copy of Golden Cattleya. However, when comparing them side-by-side, there are distinct differences: the Emergence is fresher and lighter with some sort of medicinal note while the older version is very heavy, sweet and sultry. I believe that the older version is a better fragrance; it seems more rounded and more distinctive. Golden Cattleya reminds me of Guerlain's L'Heure Bleue. While the fragrances have distinctively different notes, they both have the glow of sunset and an enduringly heady projection. Golden Cattleya seems to come from a different era - one where opulence and indolence were common among the extremely wealthy. Narcisse Noir also belongs in this category.

With that being said, I would probably wear the Emergence on special occasions; the Golden Cattleya is just too floral and sweet. Basically I see Emergence as a good fragrance but Golden Cattleya as being better and perfect on the right woman. I am just very thankful that someone is making fragrance that is neither "fresh", "clean" nor "on-trend" and does not smell as if it comes from a chemical factory!

First impression on skin: citrus leather, a little creamy. Sweet but not sugary -honeyed!
Signature - this perfume was created by Ellen Covey, no doubt!
Second testing a week later - Reminds me of Golden Cattleya. Do not smell anything leathery. I tested it the same night I tested Salamanca - maybe that's why I thought I could smell leather?
Very well blended at top. Neroli? Orange blossom? About 5+ minutes in, seems more floral - narcissus and jasmine? Smells fantastic!
Seems to be getting sweeter now, 15+ minutes in, candied.
30 min: muskiness seems to be emererging. I like this- like a honeyed-skin, ripe peaches.
Sunny, sweet and sexy! 

Oh so pink! But also something bitter and dry at the front. I get a lot of civet, so the scent gets earthier throughout the drydown. It reminded me of candied roasted pecans rolled in fertilizer. After looking at brief: the dryness must be the camphor. Personally I get a lot of civet, almost too much. That can be good, under the right circumstances. For me, though, this might be just a touch too much.

Well, it really reminds me of your other orchid scents. Unfortunately I didn't try those side by side with this one, I can just tell it has your orchid signature. And before you take me wrong, I really like that. It's uniquely yours and very enjoyable.

Starts sweet and lightly fruity and reminds me a lot of a type of bubblegum we had here when I was little. Afterward, sometimes I get an ambery feel I enjoy a lot, and sometimes I don't, but it doesn't seem to change a lot.
The comments overall seem positive, but the take-home message that I got is that it’s still a little too close to the original Golden Cattleya. After sending out samples, I found that the indole, civet and camphorous notes progressively decline as the concentrate sits. These notes were super-strong at first, but are now quite subtle. The differences in the extent to which people smelled indole, civet, and camphor may have had to do, in part, with the time that the blend sat before testing. I have learned that this particular formula requires a very long time to stabilize. I’m trying to decide whether to tweak it some more or just move on to another indolic, civet-drenched orchid scent, that of Encyclia radiata. I think I may go for the Encyclia.

After all of this testing, I will probably end up with a list of fragrances that will never be listed on the main pages of my website, but that can be special-ordered through the wild card option if anyone wants them.

Sunday, October 16, 2011


Salamanca is the second test fragrance that seems to have been well-received by most everyone who tried it, so I’ll be gearing up to produce it, too, at least for a while. Here are the remarks of the testers, only slightly edited to consolidate information about this scent:

Initial impression: Sweet, smoke
4 minutes: More smoke, paper, industrial oil smell, oiled leather
33 minutes: Industrial oil smell has faded somewhat. Smoke remains. Noticing some earth, hay or grass and sweet flowers.
1 hour: Industrial smell gone but smoke remains. Perhaps vetiver? The same earth smell, hay or grass and sweet flowers.
2 hour: Dry grass, sweet flowers, light vetiver. The heavier smoky smell is gone.
6 hours: Just a light sweetness remains.
General comments: I found this to be the most interesting of the samples. The industrial oil smell I refer to is what I recently encountered when I opened a wooden crate that contained a wood chipper made in China. I could also describe the industrial scent as the smell of a fire burning high clay content paper and plastic. While I found the industrial oil scent intriguing, I was glad when it faded. I did a test a couple of days after this recorded test and found that the industrial smell faded a lot faster the second time. I like the dry aspect of “Salamanca”, the hay, earth and sweet flowers and would wear it as is with no changes. When I opened the envelope I was surprised to learn of the air-cured ham!

It reminds of Leather Oud by Dior. However I like this one much more. It feels more refined. The woody- herbal side is a perfect combination.

Definitely immortelle in it. I love its dryness and the lack of sweetness. It feels arid and partly raw but in my books this is a perfect leather. It is really beautiful.

It is all about the leather, the other notes feel like a glove embracing it. They add complexity, enhancing all the aspects of the central leathery accord. For me this is just perfect.

Maybe other noses would prefer it less dry and feel it more accessible if there was a warmer undertone. I am not thinking about vanilla or tonka that are too much on the sweeter side. Maybe a warm tone with an animalic feeling that would embrace the leather. Maybe Labdanum in a very low ratio 0.01 - 0.001/1 ml of total extract. More like an aura and not a main player.

Also I like the soft smokiness. It gives more substrate to the base.
The herbal tones are a perfect match. They become more evident in the late drydown once the leather tones down. I love the woody accord. Maybe there was no intention to have a woody accord but somehow all the woody notes come together. They blend perfectly with the herbaceous earthy notes.

This leather is just glowing. Obviously I love it. One of the best modern leathers.

This is a fairly linear scent on me. At the very opening, just for an instant, there is a harsh note that fades almost instantly. Then the scent is very dry, a hayfield in late summer with no sweetness. I smell a tiny touch of leather. I think you hit this one right on the head based on your description- I tried it on a dry day and it was right with the feel of the day; I tried it on a very humid day and it made me feel better and less sticky! (ah, the brain is a wonderful thing) All the bottle needed was the sound of grasshoppers creaking around… I need to get hold of some mitti. I’ve tried to do a scent before that had grass and herbs and earth, and failed at the earth. I’m wondering if the mitti would do the trick.

First impression on skin: leather? cedar? birch tar? cumin?
Second impression, one week later. Upon application, seems so tightly blended, nothing is popping out at me. Has a smoothness to it, and an effect of smokiness that doesn't choke like breathing in smoke would - almost like the feel of smoking a menthol cigarette. Smoky, yet smooth.
15 minutes in, this one really builds a momentum on my skin, it's quite radiant, but no change. Mostly linear. A few minutes later, I smell a light floral note. Jasmine or rose? I would love more!
The dry down gets smokier, campfire smoky, but there is also a herbal scent in there, coriander perhaps? I quite like the drydown!
On paper, I smell a grassy note, and a minute later begins to get smoky/leathery. I can smell a floral note, rose? Is there a bit of tobacco in there? Salamanca smells better on paper than on my skin. On the right person, this would smell fantastic!

I find Salamanca to be dominated by the note that’s probably myrrh but that my nose keeps identifying as 3-in-1 oil. When I smell myrrh, it doesn’t smell like machine oil. But it doesn’t smell very strongly of anything to me – maybe slightly woodsy but not smoky. Yet when I smell the 3-in-1 oil right after the myrrh, I don’t smell the oil much either. I guess there’s something in common & I’m not very sensitive to the differences. Maybe my brain insists on identifying the unknown as the thing it knows better.
I’ve tried going from one sample to the next. The Salamanca seems much the biggest and the most like 3-in-1 oil. But I also get a lot of frankincense and maybe just a touch of orange. I like the frankincense I own but it is a very short-lived top note. The frankincense in Salamanca lasted at least 3 hours. So Salamanca is my favorite of these three [the other two are the different versions of Café V].

You know what this smells like it me? A lovely new leather notebook and a pair of brand new leather shoes. It's a great smell, and incredibly identifiable. As a journal writer for most of my life, I know and love this smell. To me? Smells like new beginnings. Looking over the brief you wrote: I think it's a good description. I get all the things you mention except for the ham (okay maybe a little smoked meat in there, but on me its overwhelmed by leather). Grass, leather, the faintest hint of immortelle -- all there. I love how musty/dusty it smells -- a good old used book store! My favorite of the group. So pretty and so familiar and beloved a smell it makes me feel a bit verklempt. Wonderful -- don't change a thing!

I really enjoyed this one, the dry, sharp beginning but in my mind it smells more enviromental than perfumey. Which I guess is what you were aiming for. The smell of the city. It really smells like a person being somewhere and smelling around himself. Plus, I really like the idea of leather and polish, it reminds me a lot of shoemakers shops when I was little. It's strong, potent, dry as dust but also sharp with a herbal tinge (like a very fragrant shrub). On me it basically dries down to the same thing it started from, only less sharp and dry.

There seem to be two camps on Salamanca, those who smell machine oil and/or notes unrelated to anything that’s in the mix, and those who smell dusty dry grass and leather. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why there should be this bimodal distribution, but it seems to be fairly typical of population reactions to perfume, when enough people sample it. It must have to do with the genetics of olfactory receptors, or maybe it’s simply different experiences, in this case recent experience with machine oil of certain types. It’s possible that the mimosa absolute that I used comes across as “oily” to some people, since it does have an odd, sharp note at the beginning. There’s no smoke, although people seem to interpret the vetiver or some aspect of the leather as smoky, and I can certainly understand how either or both of these might seem smoky. I think on the whole, though, people perceived pretty much what I set out to represent - a dry, dusty, leathery, grassy, herbal scent with the woodiness of vetiver and just a touch of sweetness added by the mimosa and immortelle.

On the whole, the reactions were positive enough to encourage me to go ahead and produce Salamanca for as long as I can obtain the materials that go into it. It contains a quite a few natural materials, including a wonderful vetiver-mitti codistillation that I used in the dry grass accord. To my surprise and chagrin, soon after I formulated Salamanca, the supplier stopped carrying the vetiver-mitti combo along with a lot of other materials, so unless I can locate a new source, Salamanca in its present form will be a limited edition. However, I have a decent supply for now, so onward with this one!

Thursday, October 13, 2011


Before I can launch the rose chypre fragrance, I have to name it. Several of you proposed names, and I’m considering all of them at the moment.

Waftbycarol: “PATALA, which is Sanskrit for rose colored.”

Queen Cupcake:” Le Spectre de la Rose. It was the name of a ballet by Karsavina and Nijinsky, the charming story of which is told here. A young girl returns from the ball, enchanted by the scent of a rose given her by a young man. She falls asleep and dreams that she waltzes with the spirit of the rose. What a romantic and intoxicating scent is rose!”

EdC said...
“This may be too literal but I suggest, The Rose Escapes. I initially smelled a dry rose with just a bit of leather. Pretty soon the leather took over & dominated. But then over time the leather faded and the rose remained free of leather for a long dry down.”

Celina said: “If the top notes were less musky I would have called it Rose Couture or Chypre & Couture.”

These are all wonderful suggestions. Patala also refers to the underworld in Hindu mythology, so might not seem like the best choice. On the other hand, maybe it would be fitting for a musky but intellectual rose that’s like a lover’s bouquet of two dozen roses that have been destroyed in an angry outburst by putting them through a wood chipper (Diana, as you can see, I love the wood chipper image!) How about “Crushed Rose”? “Rose Crush”? “Mangled Rose”? Of course after the roses have been through the chipper, they’re just floating around as ghosts, so “Le Spectre de la Rose” fits, too. I like the ballet reference, since it goes with the idea that the scent is both sensual and intellectual, just as a ballet is full of both emotional abandon and physical discipline. According to EdC, the rose temporarily escaped the clutches of the wood chipper, but eventually got shoved in there anyway to release all of the fragrance from its macerated parts. Celina’s suggestion of “Rose Couture” goes with the intellectual and traditional aspects of the scent. The bottom line is that I like all of these suggestions, and find it really hard to choose just one.

In the end, I’ve been calling it simply “Rose Chypre” for so long that maybe that’s become its name by default. What do you think?

[Vase of roses painting by Ferdinand Georg Waldmueller, 1843]

Sunday, October 9, 2011


This morning I sampled Andrea Maack’s “Sharp”. I expected this EdP to be … well … sharp - full of aldehydes and galbanum, or something along those lines, but it’s not. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. It’s soft and matte, more a light woody vanilla gourmand than anything else. It’s like white almond nougat, mostly just sugary sweet with traces of meringue, toasted almond and vanilla. What makes it different is the woody aspect, as if it had been made in an oak barrel. The whole thing is underscored by white musks, not obtrusive, but filling out the composition. After my initial encounter I read the list of notes, which are pretty much in line with what I smelled, except for the listed orange blossom, which is minimal at best, although orange blossom does briefly appear close to the skin about an hour or two into the drydown if one goes looking for it. In the end, it’s a standard, soft vanilla-musk.

I was liking the scent a good bit, in a low-key sort of way, until I read the manufacturer’s list of notes, which immediately sent me into rant mode. What the **** is “angel skin”??? Andrea Maack is an icelandic artist who farmed out the making of several perfumes to a French manufacturer, so maybe it’s an Icelandic name for white nougat, but then why not use the common name for the candy? If it’s not an obscure type of candy, then it’s completely unhelpful to the person trying to decide if they want to try the perfume, since I would think the common assumption would be that angel skin, like the skin of other mythical creatures, is odorless. As far as I know, it’s not like “dragon’s blood”, which is an actual plant-derived resin, or “baby’s breath”, which is a flower, or “angel hair”, which is a type of pasta, or even “angel food”, which is a type of cake. Googling “angel skin” doesn’t turn up any such alternative meaning, although I did see one comment on a perfume forum asking “how many angel skins can fit into a bottle of “Sharp?" This question immediately conjured up visions of a witch stirring a bubbling pot filled with the foreskins of newly-circumcised baby angels. I know white styrofoam packing peanuts are sometimes referred to as “angel turds”, so maybe “angel skin” is bubble wrap. And “soothing softness”? Come on, can’t you be more specific? Is this a euphemism for “fabric softener scent”? Am I missing some intended clever irony in calling a perfume full of “soothing softness” “Sharp”? Is the Andrea Maack perfume called “Smart” going to turn out to be stupid or dowdy, and the one called “Craft”, a bungled mess? I really hope not.

Maybe there’s a whole untapped realm of perfume notes - angel feathers, unicorn sweat, alien spaceship deodorizer, hell-fire and brimstone, ghost’s aura, Santa Claus beard, the river Styx, Pandora’s box … the list could go on and on. It’s one thing to use these sorts of names for a perfume, but it’s quite another to use them as descriptions of the materials that went into making the perfume, which I always thought were intended to give potential buyers an idea of what the fragrance would actually smell like in real-world terms with which they are familiar. On the other hand, we have “amber”, “aquatic”, and “musk” commonly used to describe perfume notes even though they have nothing to do with the scent of real amber, water, or musk, so maybe it’s OK for odd names to be used to describe synthetic fantasy notes. If used often enough, eventually everyone will come to recognize them for what they are.

Of course, one advantage of using silly names for perfume notes is that people will discuss what they might be. As we all know, bad publicity or dubious publicity is better than no publicity, so maybe there's a rationale behind it all.

What do you think about the use of fantasy names for perfume notes? What about contradictions between the name and the fragrance?

[Angel painting by Franz Von Stuck, 1889; Unicorn painting by Domenico Zampieri, 1602]

Thursday, October 6, 2011


WARNING: This is a very long post!

Most of the testers of the four new fragrances have sent comments back to me, so I’m going to start the series on evaluating them. If I've mislaid anyone's comments, please let me know! It looks like two of the fragrances will go into production with minimal tweaking, and two others will go back to the “lab” for further work. I’ll discuss the two that seem more or less ready for release first. As a thank-you for reviewing this fragrance, each of you will who responded will receive a 5-ml spray vial of the rose chypre once it’s officially named and the formula and packaging are finalized.

The rose chypre seems to have been fairly well received by everyone who’s responded so far. It’s fascinating to read the different comments and be reminded of just how much variety there is in the way different people perceive the same scent, and even the different ways in which the same person perceives it at different times. First, I’ll present the comments in their raw form, and then try to pull some common threads out of them.

GAIL writes:
“Initial: Sweet herbs and rose
5 minutes: Citrus begins to predominate over the rose. Bergamot? Citrus leaves?
6 minutes: I expected some waxy aldehyde and here it is.
10 minutes: Musk warms up the rose. Citrus fades a bit.
30 minutes: Labdanum, spicy green rose, soap (wax)
40 minutes: Oakmoss is taking over the rose and herbs. Not much citrus
1 hour: Oakmoss predominates
2 hours: Oakmoss, rose and herbs
6 hours: Faint rose/oakmoss
General comments: This is a lovely Rose/Chypre. Very classic as you say and well balanced. On my skin it was a cool, green rendition of a rose, more leafy than spicy. I wouldn’t change it at all. I liked it, but would probably not wear it often. I prefer tropicals.”

CELINA writes:
“A clean cousin of L'Arte de Gucci, with some skanky, naughty musk.
The floral - woody balance is quite well proportioned. I like the top note and the first few minutes, after that the musk seems to be little bit overpowering for me and distracts from the beauty of the construction. The musks come down after a while. Because I am not a big fan of the musky notes I still find them overwhelming for the first 2 hours. The rose is pretty nice without being overwhelming. It is more green with a sharp fine edge, not the lush sensuous kind. And that comes most probably from the woody notes. I like the overall feeling.

The best part is the dry down where the rose is like a glow for the whole composition. The woody- musky notes are balancing each other perfectly. I would say there is also a subtle tone of earthy pepperiness, and that makes the musks more attractive.

It feels more of an intellectual fragrance in dry down. If the top is skanky and at some point gives you a frivolous feeling, the dry down is part sophisticated and part intellectual with a subdued femininity. Pretty well done. I wish the musks were less liberal in the top note but that is just me. I am sure lots would love it exactly like this. (I am not the best judge when talking about musk.) After 4 hours it is perfect and beautiful. The musks are more quiet, everything is in perfect harmony. Well put together.”

“I tried this one first because I love chypres. I’d kill to get another bottle of the Coty original, which I had years ago. Right off the top, I get a hay-like note (which is odd, since I don’t see any coumarin in your notes!) There is a breeze of something powdery. About five minutes in, roses start to bloom. Tea rose and the oakmoss start coming on. Then something golden arrives- I’m going to guess it’s the labdanum. After about 20 minutes, the roses come back, but deeper, red roses this time, like an old Hybrid Perpetual like General Jacqueminot. After awhile, the rose fades again, and the oakmoss takes center stage for several hours, actually. But there is a sweetish edge to the oakmoss – the labdanum again? The musks? Or perhaps the patchouli, although at no point could I have pinpointed patchouli in the blend. I like it a lot, although I think I’d like it even better with something green in it, perhaps a tiny touch of galbanum. But that’s just me; I love green.”

ROBERT writes:
“Another beauty... Your Rose Chypre fragrance reminds me of the wonderful scents that were available from a myriad of sources during the Fifties and Sixties. A bright and lush rose is surrounded by a veil of forest. It is a little like Cabochard (but not as spicy) or Knowing (but not as dark). I have worn Aramis 900 so I am not that unfamiliar with this type of fragrance and I will be wearing this on more formal occasions; the chypre ingredients seem to make the rose fragrance less overtly floral. This is a beautiful scent, Elly, and I hope you add it to your regular line. I would also be interested to see this fragrance with just a smidgen of leather added. Again, it is a pleasure to use a scent that seems to contain a lot of high quality naturals. Incidentally, the sillage and longevity are excellent.”

First impressions on skin: Top is berry-like, slightly medicinal fruity scent, like red licorice. There seems to be a note in this I have smelled in another Olympic Orchids perfume; an icy note- Osafume.
One week later, 2nd testing: The medicinal tone doesn't seem to be there any longer, nor the icy note. Rose smells brighter, tea-rose like. Reminds me of Etat Libre d'Orange Rossy de Palma.
3rd testing, the next day: There is a lightly-powdered muskiness I quite like. Better than the Rossy de Palma. I swear I can smell something like mango, or pineapple - perhaps lending its natural muskiness?
This fragrance has good sillage and longevity. Lasts for hours! I changed my mind about this scent in one week - why sampling is important! On paper, it smells like it does on my skin, but I detect a "violet" note - like face powder.”

EdC writes:
I was very impressed by your rose chypre. I like that it starts as a dry rose, becomes a leathery rose, and goes to almost complete leather domination, then works back to rose, all in about 3 hours. Then it stays a clear rose for another 6 or 8 hours. I have no idea how you can alternate which note dominates but I enjoy it.

DIANA writes:
I love the opening because it is aggressive, bold and sexy. I get a lot of clove with the rose. I feel like this would have a middling to large sillage wake. Not overly sweet. Feels very modern to me. I get rose petals, stem, and leaf, as though someone put two dozen roses through a wood chipper and sent it to you in one giant box. I love it! *And* iI don't think it smells like anything else because you managed to avoid an overly sweet or flowery rose.

INES writes:
The last time I tried it, it literally blew me off my feet. :-) It's really incredible. :-)
Dewy, slightly clean/watery in the beginning, rich and full of blossoms, and lighty tinged green. What's not to love?! Honestly, I find it incredible. It also smells purple to me. :-)
It has a deep and rich rose feel, and it reminds me a bit of Paestum Rose by Eau d'Italie but improved. But it also made me think if there are some spices in there, as I know there are in Paestum Rose but compared to Rose Chypre, PR sort of lacks depth and richness. Warm and dry and rosy and absolutely enchanting.
And I can't help but feel it matured into this since the first time I smelled it.

Taking all of these comments together, it seems that everyone smelled some sort of rose, although it varied from very green to not nearly green enough, “spicy and green” to “deep and red”. I think the rose can stay pretty much as is, since it is different types of roses to different people, but still rose. A rose is a rose, even when it’s green, red, spicy, or reduced to mangled petals, thorns, and stems straight from the wood chipper. A tiny bit of galbanum in the opening probably wouldn’t hurt, since I like galbanum and it would enhance the initial green impression.

Most everyone seems to have smelled at least some musk, which may be what was perceived as “powdery” or “leathery” by some, although the labdanum could also have been what one tester perceived as “leathery”. One tester thought there was too much musk, which may be quite valid for those of us who can smell every musk ever invented. For others, it’s just fine, so I don’t think I’ll mess with the musks much. I might reduce them a tiny bit, though, since the musk opening seems strong to me, too.

Most testers seem to have gotten at least some hint of the typical chypre structure (bergamot-aldehydes-floral-oakmoss-musk), so I’m satisfied in that respect. I found it interesting that one tester found it to be a very “leathery” scent, while another called for adding a dollop of leather. I’ll think about adding just a touch of leather accord or bumping up the labdanum resin a tiny bit.

I’m pleased that the scent seems to evolve in an interesting way and have good longevity. My goal was to use high quality natural materials to make a classic chypre of the type that is no longer produced by the mainstream, and it seems to have worked out fairly well. I guess in the end, it’s a classic chypre that uses enough modern materials along with the traditional ones so that it doesn’t smell dated. On to final formulation and production!

Sunday, October 2, 2011


It’s blackberry season in the Pacific Northwest. Come to think of it, it’s pretty much blackberry season all year round. The incident in Tom Robbins’ Still Life with Woodpecker, where the house in the Seattle suburbs becomes completely engulfed by blackberry vines was not really an exaggeration. It could happen. It has happened to abandoned buildings in the Seattle suburb where I live.

The blackberries that are the plague of the Seattle area are Rubus armeniacus, the Himalayan blackberry, not the native blackberries, which are puny wimps that don’t stand a chance when their Asian cousins move into the neighborhood. According to one of the local government invasive weed sites, the canes can easily grow 6-12 meters long (20-40 feet), and root at the tips wherever they touch the ground. They can grow from chopped-up bits and pieces. They can produce up to 525 canes per square meter! The mature canes can grow almost as thick as my wrist. I know because I’ve chopped down thousands of them.

The Himalayan blackberry was originally introduced to the US East Coast in 1885 by Luther Burbank, because of its large, sweet, delicious fruit. On the East Coast, from what I’ve seen, it stays fairly well-behaved. However, in 1945 it was brought to the Pacific Northwest, where it apparently found ideal conditions and quickly became a Hydra-like monster that has swallowed up nearly every inch of untended land and invaded even the most cared-for and well-groomed yards, gardens, and open spaces.

Like the deposed king in Still Life, I wage an ongoing battle with the blackberry vines. However, these blackberries are so devious in their evil ways that they lure us into not ever wanting to destroy ALL of them, so they just continue to proliferate. This year, from mid-July through October, they have been producing masses of juicy, aromatic, luscious fruit. Even though I hate blackberries with a passion, I can't help loving it when I walk along a summer roadside and smell blackberries stewing in the sun before I even see them. Once spotted, I can’t resist hunting for the largest, fattest, juiciest, sweetest ones to eat on the spot.

There are different blackberry smells according to the season. In the winter the evergreen vines have a characteristic moldy, musty smell that comes partly from old dried up fruit and partly from the plants themselves. Anyone who has ever chopped blackberry vines knows the sickly green smell of the vegetative parts of the plant. In spring, the moldy smell mostly dissipates and the plants smell wetter and greener, as the new growth explodes. The flowers in spring and early summer don’t have much fragrance, which is probably a good thing because if they did, I would have even more sympathy for them. As it is, I’m so fond of the scent of ripe blackberries that I can’t bring myself to slaughter them all.

Ripe blackberries in the sun have a dense, dark, jammy-sweet, almost floral and musky fragrance that is like nothing else in the fruity realm. Being in the Pacific Northwest, blackberry capital of the world, I’ll have to eventually use the scent of blackberry fruit in a perfume. I’ve got some ideas, but so far haven’t found a good starting formula for making a blackberry accord, and I haven’t smelled anything very realistic in the world of blackberry-themed perfumery. I suppose I could take a raspberry formula and modify it, but just haven’t tried yet. Oh well, yet another adventure that’s on my list of things to do!