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 Artisan 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, and the theory and practice of perfume making. I no longer post reviews of the perfumes that I sample, unless specifically requested to do so. 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.
I just got back in town last night and the first thing I found was a message from my mystery client. Finally! As time goes on, he seems to be revealing more and more of his true identity, so it won’t be long until he shows one of his many faces full-on. However, for the moment, the webcam shows him occupied with some sort of seduction-like activity, blowing music out one pipe and perfume out the other, maybe conducting a test of what he’s selected so far. I think he’s trying to tranquilize her (his assistant?) and make her feel better. Here’s what he writes: ------------------------------------
I heard you thought I'd forgotten about our little project. Not so. I've just been busy, she's been frantic - and sick, lately - and the rest of the world has been busy going to Hell in a handcart, as the saying goes.
But I haven't forgotten. It's just...you know...stuff, life, things...happen.
Man, those samples were...something else. Sometimes, I forget what it is I love so much about Planet Earth - the sheer, utter diversity of it all, the tastes and tones and scents of it, down to and including frankincense and labdanum and cistus. She and I had a fun evening playing around with them. I've caught her in the act on a few occasions, sticking her nose - a short, straight, Northern European nose - in that box and inhaling, just for the pleasure of it. I've caught her on other occasions before she leaves in the morning, dabbing on a little labdanum. It always puts a smile on her face. She thinks I don't notice, but I do.
I read some of the comments you got from my email. I thought it was funny, that one comment said it was kind of creepy to use a scent to seduce. As if you humans haven't been doing it for thousands of years, turning it into an art form, men and women alike, using scents in all their permutations to entice and beckon closer. If that's not the general, overriding idea, why bother?
I said we have a bass line with that combo, and do you know, I think we do. It's just...the percussion is a little too sharp. We need to dampen it a little, mix it slightly back, bring those incredible frankincenses a little more forward. I'm not worried about the labdanum. That stuff is almost radioactive. Add just a drop or two of something slightly softer and woodier, maybe - perhaps one of those wood extracts you told her about, a smidgen or two of cedar, and something just a little - I do mean a little - sweet. I may be the Devil, but I'm not the biggest monster on Earth. We both know who that is.
You're on a roll, and you've done a great job so far. I'm looking forward to the next stage of the process. And come on - I'll bet you are, too!
I'll be in touch, sooner than you think this time. --------------------------------------------------
Sounds like my next step is going to be to combine all of the materials selected by this odd team to produce a first draft of the over-percussive bass, and send that along with samples of some woody and sweetish materials. The giant arborvitae might be just the solution. It’s sweet, woody, fruity, and truly unique. I’ll also include some musks - cosmone, galaxolide, helvetolide, and such, just in case, and a couple of cedary things including nootka tree oil and the cedar accord that I made for Alyssum. I think I’ll also include choya loban in case they want a smoky note. Vanilla? I don’t think so, but a touch of it might provide the sweetness they’re looking for. Just in case, I'm going to mix up a special vanilla accord. I need a good, thick, sensual-smelling one anyway.
I can tell that the mystery client and his assistant are starting to think about heart and top notes. What can we add that would go with the base and not make a gigantic mess? It seems to me that the melody line may be in the bass, so the rest would be ornamentation, but we shall see. In any case, the whole base/heart/top convention is artificial, so we don’t really have to work that way.
What they’re right about is that I’m looking forward to the next stage of the process!
Sorry folks, fruity-floral scents are not a scourge of the early 21st century, they were developed back in prehistoric times by orchids. A few days ago I brought in an orange-red hybrid cattleya orchid that was starting to bloom in the greenhouse, and set it on the kitchen counter. It’s called Blc Dennis Kone x Wanda’s Fire, for those who care about nomenclature. Yesterday afternoon, I was walking into the kitchen and smelled a strong fruity fragrance, like apricots. I dismissed it as coming from the bowl of fruit that was sitting out on the counter, even though it had no apricots in it. Later on when I was watering the plant, I realized that the fragrance was coming from the flowers! This orchid is a fruity floral par excellence, more fruity than floral. It puffs out its scent all day, perfuming the house with what could easily pass for the next celebrity perfume.
Speaking of orchid fragrances, I have a couple of perfumes (not my own) that are reputed to smell like cattleya orchids. I’ll post reviews on here since both of them do actually have a cattleya orchid-like note.
Dior Hypnotic Poison Eau Sensuelle I normally avoid flankers just because I don’t like the concept. If you’re going to make a new perfume, just make a new one. If you’re going to reformulate the old one, just reformulate. You can’t please all of the people all of the time, so why try? However, because I grow orchids, Abigail sent me a sample of HP Eau Sensuelle to try, and I appreciate the opportunity to test something that would not otherwise be at the top of my testing queue. HPES starts out with an odd toasted-vanilla fortune cookie scent, aquatic notes, and some lovely florals. I’m happy to report that the floral notes could conceivably include a cattleya orchid accord, since they share the slightly spicy, fruity, moist, mixed-flower-flavored-with-vanilla vibe that’s in the fragrance of cattleya hybrid orchids. However, as an orchid grower, I have to say that “orchid” is a safe description to use for just about any perfume note, since in life, as in perfumery, it can mean just about anything given that orchid scents are all over the olfactory map. Orchids or not, HPES is a sweet, floral-gourmand scent. After the opening, which does actually remind me a little of orchid flowers, the scent changes for a while into plastic flowers and fortune cookie along with a little patchouli, then finally to a slightly powdery base that’s mostly sweet, lightly caramelized vanilla. I have to say that I like this fragrance, although I’m not sure I’d want to wear it very often.
Shiseido Message from Orchids A while back I was fortunate to find a sample of this limited-edition scent created by Shiseido in 1996 (or 2000, depending on whose information you believe) for the Japanese Grand Prix orchid show, to represent the fragrance of the “orange cattleya orchid”. It is a peachy floral that really does manage to capture the scent of a cattleya orchid. It has that gentle, full, moist, fruity, slightly spicy feeling characteristic of a big “corsage-type” orchid in mid-bloom, especially in the top notes. After an hour it dries down to a lightly floral skin scent with some warm musk in it, and by 4-6 hours, it’s pretty much gone. Since I grow orchids, I was interested to sample this, and pleased to find that it does smell something like a hybrid cattleya flower. I’m not sure it’s anything that I’d ever wear except out of curiosity, but it’s a nice floral perfume.
I will be out of town until Sunday, visiting my mother, so there will probably be another hiatus in blog posting.
This is a reposting of Tarleisio’s well-crafted response to a recent magazine article that, unfortunately, is typical of the shallow, advertising-driven “advice” that is given to women in many areas, not just perfume. I apologize for the redundancy if you have seen it already, but hope that this joint action by a number of bloggers will call attention to the problem of thoughtless writing in the media that not only perpetuates, but actually creates stereotypes, not least of which is the myth that women’s lives are over at 40. There are many of us out here who refuse to be stereotyped, and who would like to read real information based on fact rather than fluff designed to promote the products of the companies who advertise in the various publications.
Without further ado, here is Tarleisio’s letter:
An open letter to the editor of Women’s Health magazine
An article in the Beauty section of the April edition of Women’s Health, entitled ‘Your Perfect Scent’ was brought to my attention by a friend and fellow blogger, and several statements in the article as well as the overall tone compelled me to write you.
The article attempts to categorize women in a range of ages – from their teens until ‘40+’ according to perfume category, arguing that throughout their lives, women prioritize their fragrance choices differently and gravitate towards the perfumes that reflect those priorities. It then proceeds to cite various perfumes currently available that might appeal, and this is where I feel compelled to protest – both at the underlying assumptions that teenagers want to impersonate walking cupcakes, that women in their thirties wear perfume to feel ‘sexy and secure’ and finally the statement that women in their forties wear perfume to feel ‘elegant’.
Women at any age read magazines such as yours for information and inspiration in their lifestyle choices, and few of them are entirely aware that for print media in a competitive digital age, advertising revenue takes pride of place over relevant content. As a consequence of perfume being formulated to target certain demographics and as a result of what you choose to advocate in your editorial pages, the perfumes sold in department stores and mall chain stores are all indistinguishable from one another. One sweet, fruity floral scent segues seamlessly into the next sweet, fruity floral, and only the name of the designer on the label is interchangeable. So women are shortchanged from both sides of that equation – by the major designer houses that are often the only luxury these women can afford, and by the very magazines they read for inspiration promoting only the brands they already advertise on their pages.
The problem is that neither your readers in general nor women in particular are thrilled about being defined in demographic terms, any more than teenaged girls can be lumped into cupcake fragrance categories, women in their thirties need to feel ‘sexy or ‘secure’ or ‘forty+’ women – a term I personally find more than slightly condescending - want to be considered ‘elegant’ above all other reasons for wearing perfume.
What surprises me more than any other aspect of a very important issue in general, namely the stereotyping of women in the media, is that we live in an individualistic age. As women and as individuals, the opportunity to make individual choices that reflect our unique selves has never been greater, and this includes the very subject matter of your article – perfume. What is more, as social media change how we are informed and entertained and inspired to make those choices, creating and maintaining a dialogue with your readers is a valuable tool to retain the very readership that underlies your role in that media landscape, whether on a newsstand or on the Web.
There is a rich and invaluable resource available to any journalist interested in her subject matter – perfume blogs. We would quite happily have participated and in the process been thrilled to share what we know – that you are not doomed to ‘elegance’ simply for a diminished sense of smell – a claim I find quite unsubstantiated by scientific evidence in the article or in my personal experience, nor are you compelled to waft cupcake as a teenager, simply because there’s nothing else to choose from. There’s not too much else to choose from in the mainstream market because a tiny number of companies determine what scents land on department store shelves, and if one sweet, fruity floral scent becomes a success, it must therefore follow – so dictate the laws of the marketing briefs of these companies promoting this or that ‘exclusive designer’ – that only sweet, fruity, floral perfumes will do.
Women’s Health is a magazine that has a broad scope – to promote a healthy, happy and fulfilled lifestyle for its readership that goes beyond the usual stereotypical ‘women’s magazines’. Even so, when you attempted to inform your readers about a very personal choice, you fell victim to that precise stereotyping, and ignored a perfect opportunity to elevate your editorial content a bit above the stereotypical content of any other women’s magazine currently available.
Which is why we read you, after all.
Yours sincerely, Tarleisio, perfume blogger at Scent Less Sensibilities
This letter has also been published on the following participating blogs:
I usually don’t post reviews here, since I like to use the blog for other purposes, but the two scents I’m reviewing today are special because the samples were sent to me by Ines along with Hilde Soliani's Conaffetto, which I reviewed earlier.
Serge Lutens Boxeuses This is the second in the trio of samples I received fom from Ines. At first, it smells surprisingly bland, but after a few minutes the scent starts to develop, taking on an odd, slightly spicy, iris note. It’s fruity, powdery, a little metallic, and a little doughy. To me, this first stage it isn’t evocative of leather, as it is to others, but rather orris, anise, ionones, and fruits. It takes at least a half hour for the sillage to develop, but when it does, it’s sharp and “perfumey” in the sense of so many old-fashioned compositions. At this point the iris/leather, spice, and fruit are gone, and it smells like a generic version of a vintage perfume. The transformation that occurs over the course of a few hours is nothing short of amazing. I have to say that about an hour into wearing Boxeuses I started to develop a migraine. It could have been pure coincidence, so I won’t blame the perfume, but the pairing of the headache with the scent is going to put me off trying it again any time soon. I’m left scratching my head about this one, wondering why it gets so many rave reviews.
Ormonde Jayne Ta’if As I expected, this is basically a rose scent, but it also has a sandalwood note at the opening, a hint of honeyed tobacco, and very strong citrus in the sillage. Maybe the sweet tobacco-like scent that I smell is the “date” accord. The rose is accompanied by enough spice, saffron, and other floral notes to keep it out of soliflore territory, but if I had to characterize the rose, it would be a very dark red one, at the peak of its bloom. Once the scent settles down into its main theme, which to me is a rosy, musky, sandalwood, it stays linear all the way through to the end. The scent is strong and long-lasting, with plenty of sillage. I really like this take on rose, and find that it’s far enough toward the spicy-woody-musky end of the spectrum to make the flowers enjoyable. Thumbs up for Tai’if!
Turns out I love Conaffetto and Ta’if at first sniff, so two out of three isn’t bad! I haven’t made up my mind on Boxeuses yet, but I can’t see it ever becoming one of my favorites.
On other fronts, I haven’t heard from my mystery perfume customer for a long time. Maybe the samples I sent were so strong that they put him into a coma for a while. Or maybe too much church incense sent him packing? Or maybe he’s too busy giving advice to politicians and economists and Women's Health Magazine? Whatever it is he needs to be roused from his catatonic state.
The alyssum plants, which apparently survive the winter here, are blooming again, so I’m now ready to mix up the airy top notes to go with the floral heart notes in Alyssum’s perfume. I even bought a pack of alyssum seedlings to plant in my garden.
Once I return from next week’s trip to visit my mother, I’ll start back with perfumery in earnest!
The month of April is pretty much trashed for me, at least as far as blogging is concerned. First, there was the trip to Oregon, now I’m involved in two theatre shows running more or less simultaneously, one as playwright and co-producer, and the other as an actress. Next week I’ve got another trip planned to visit my mother. An then there’s my real job … I won’t even go there. Over the next few days I plan to post reviews of the perfume samples so generously sent to me by Ines and Abigail. By the last week of April, everything will be back to normal. Do I keep saying that?
Hilde Soliani Conaffetto This was the first of Ines’s trio that I tried. I was surprised to find that it goes on like a perfume oil, not an alcohol-based perfume. It’s almond, but not your usual sweet almond marzipan. Up close it’s unsugared toasted almond along with an unusually bitter, woody, herbal note that may be a mixture of petitgrain and galbanum. At the same time, however, the sillage is pure cotton candy. I have to say that I love the opening. The juxtaposition of bitter and sweet is not only brilliant perfume composition but, since this perfume was reportedly made for a wedding, it’s a wise commentary on the nature of weddings and the emotions they represent.
In the background I detect a sharp, oily, citronella-like note that fortunately stays in its place where it nicely underscores the rest of the notes. There’s a bit of orange blossom, but the fragrance never descends into floral territory. After about 3 hours the scent dries down to an intense, beautiful, vanilla base, but the sillage maintains its sugar-cone-with-a-scoop-of-vanilla-ice-cream character all the way to the end. The amount of sillage is just right; it persists throughout, and the fragrance is long-lasting.
Almond is a difficult note to use in perfumery, but Hilde Soliani has done it to perfection, so kudos to her skill. This is a perfume that I wish I had made, and I seldom say or think that. Now I will have to try more of her creations.
Bronhi Toffee The Bronhi sweets, made in Croatia, are cute and pretty. They consist of rolled up alternating thin layers of brown and white, making them look a little like tiny logs with the tree rings showing at both ends. The flavor is unique - sweet caramel toffee flavored with strong licorice and medicinal-smelling herbs like eucalyptus, mint, and camphor. They’re absolutely delicious! I’m limiting myself to one a day to make them last longer.
I was recently asked to recommend some Madini fragrances, so will do so, prefaced by the caveat that my tastes are a little eccentric and may not represent the majority view. As always, sample before you buy! Of the Madini creations that I’ve tried, I would recommend the following: Ambre, Ambergris, Incense, Autumn, Musk Gazelle, Mimosa (my first Madini), Mokhalate Malaki, Musk Pierre, Spring, and Malvaloca. I have a lot more samples to try, so stay tuned for more recommendations. Here are the latest reviews:
Madini Malvaloca I was expecting something floral, since this fragrance is supposed to be made from Moroccan wild geraniums, but Malvaloca is extremely green, camphorous and herbal, almost like a mixture of eucalyptus and pine. It showcases the geranium leaves and stems, not the flowers, but it’s not any of the standard garden geranium leaf scents. Instead, it’s something totally different that can’t really be described in terms of other scents. With time it sweetens, taking on a tonka-like note. Overall, it’s a fresh, clean, somewhat medicinal herbal scent that eventually mellows into a mildly sweet, almost hay-like base. It’s not overly strong, and it only lasts 5-6 hours. As someone who enjoys smelling Tiger Balm, Vicks Vaporub, and various wintergreen-scented sports rubs, Malvaloca is right up my alley, being a unique take on this genre. I like it a lot, and will likely end up ordering a bottle.
Madini Fire Not really what I would have expected, since the short description on the Talisman/Madini website just mentions wood, spices, and lavender. Yes, there’s a little spice in there, mostly cinnamon as is befitting, but there’s also a lot of floral stuff. I could swear there’s tuberose and jasmine, both very strong. I don’t smell much in the way of wood or lavender, at least not up front, but I do smell a strange, rubbery note, maybe something in the tuberose. Fire is too floral for my taste, so I’ll be content with my sample. However, since I seem to be developing a taste for tuberose, I may end up changing my mind.
Madini Summer Extremely powerful, spicy, lily-like floral. The description says it has “every flower” in it, and I believe it. Want to try the contents of Madini’s millefleurs vat, anyone? I applied very little, but the floral notes are so overpowering that I had to scrub to knock the intensity down to something tolerable. Even then there was ridiculously strong sillage, and the mess-of-flowers scent stayed on my skin for a good 24 hours. I like strong perfumes, but enough is enough, especially when it comes to mixed flowers. Not for me. I’m glad I just have a sample and not a blind-buy full bottle. This must be another of the subpar “newer” Madinis.
Madini Paradise Strong, slightly spicy floral that’s supposed to be carnation, but doesn’t really smell like carnation to me. It’s more of a mixed bouquet in which no particular flower stands out at first. After an hour, there’s a strong violet note in the sillage that persists for hours along with traces of carnation and rose up close to the skin. It stays linear up through the end, with the violet never becoming very powdery, but rather staying fresh and dry. It’s an odd combination of carnation and violet that works well, even for someone who usually doesn’t like florals. This is powerful stuff, so a tiny drop dabbed on is enough to produce mega-sillage and last 24 hours on your skin and probably through a wash or two on clothing. It’s interesting to note that I had recently tried Floris White Rose and was struck by the similarity between it and Paradise. It was almost as if Floris had diluted the Madini oil to make an EdT or Madini had taken the Floris concentrate and used it as an oil.
We just got back from nearly a week on the road in Oregon, a mix of the city and the wilderness, the upscale and the downscale. I won’t bore you with a travelogue, but suffice it to say that the first two nights we stayed at nice hotels, and the rest of the nights we camped in our car in various parks that ranged from the mountain rainforest to the coastal sand dunes.
When I was packing, one important consideration was what, if any, perfumes to take with me. I decided on four - Frederic Malle’s Musc Ravageur, which both my husband (M) and I love; Teo Cabanel’s Alahine, which I love; a very old mini bottle of L’Occitane Vanille Bourbon, which he loves; and a bottle of my own A Midsummer Day’s Dream, which was more or less untested in a real-life wearing situation. In the rush to leave, I forgot my camera.
The first night, in Portland, we went out to hear live music, and I wore A Midsummer Day’s Dream. It was a little strange to actually be wearing a perfume, not just testing it, and it gave me a little more perspective on how “normal” people use and perceive perfumes. M liked it a lot, and I have to say I did, too. It had a lot more sillage than I thought it would, and it lasted much longer than I expected. I liked it so much that I applied it again the next morning, and it lasted through a wonderful dinner at the Oregon Gardens, a sort of botanical garden, nature preserve, and conference center where we got to see 400-year-old oak trees covered from top to bottom in oak moss, and surrounded by daffodils! If I make an Oregon-inspired perfume it will be based on oakmoss and daffodils, since the whole state is full of them. It’s also full of skunk cabbage. I’ve never seen so many skunk cabbage plants, with entire low-lying fields bright yellow with their flowers.
The next day I put on some L’Occitane vanilla and we headed for the mountains. Interestingly, M usually raves about how good it smells, but this time he didn’t. I think he’s getting jaded when it comes to perfume, since he has to smell so many different things when I’m sampling. We spent the day on trails in the rainforest and soaked in a rock pool fed by a hot spring that poured out of a steaming cave in the side of the mountain. Then it started to rain. We found a state park area, folded the back seats down, and slept very comfortably in the car, with the rain and occasional hail pattering on the roof. That was the way we “camped” for the rest of the trip. The down side was that my little carry-on suitcase with “non-essential” items got jammed between the car seats under some other stuff, in an inaccessible position for the rest of the trip, leaving me without any perfume. I survived. My nose is probably all the better for having had a vacation.
The other deprivation that I suffered was not having my laptop, but I have to say that I really didn’t miss it. On the third day the battery of my phone ran down, so I didn’t have a phone, either. Technology-free, I survived to enjoy the dunes and the trip up the rocky coast on highway 101, with alternating waves of rain, hail, and sunshine. It was gorgeous.
When I got home, there was a package from Croatia waiting for me. Oh, the thrill! I do so love getting packages in the mail! Ines had sent me a packet containing three perfume samples - Hilde Solani Conaffetto, Serge Lutens Boxeuses, and Ormonde Jayne Ta’if, none of which I have tried. To top it off, there was a packet of Croatian sweets called Bronhi. I’ll be sampling all of these gustatory and olfactory treats over the next few days and reporting on them.
It’s good to be back home!
[Because I forgot my camera, the flower photos are adapted from Wikimedia]
I am a research scientist based in the Seattle metropolitan area who has many other parallel lives. This blog is primarily about my experiences as a perfumer but will also weave in threads from my lives as an orchid grower, runner, theatre person, and lover of food, fashion, travel, and other good things in life.
All written material and original photos on this website are copyrighted by the author of this blog. Prior written authorization is required for reproduction. You can contact me for permission at email@example.com