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, September 29, 2011


It seems like I’m always complaining about something. I’ve written about bad sample designs before, but recently I’ve encountered some new lows in sample packaging that I feel compelled to write about.

When I got a carded sample of Versace’s Versense, I thought the vial was cute with the little tab sticking up from the light green stopper. Little did I suspect that it would be the stimulus that prompted me to write about new lows when it comes to vial design. It turns out that the “stopper” is actually a cap that is permanently fused to the vial, and the dabber stick is fused to it by a thin layer of plastic. To get at the contents of the vial the dabber stick has to be carefully wiggled back and forth by the tab and broken away from its attachment to the cap. Once the thin plastic seal is broken, the dabber stick lifts out through a tiny hole in the cap. I needed to use a pair of pliers to remove the dabber without breaking it off from the tab, and I suspect that many people would break it off entirely, leaving the dabber stick stuck in the vial, with no way to retrieve it and no way to reseal the vial. Even though I successfully opened the sample, I suspect the liquid that remains in the vial after taking out a test drop will evaporate rapidly once the seal is broken, since the dabber just sits there on the cap without forming a seal. Does the manufacturer really think that people are going to pour the whole vial on themselves at one go? What a waste, assuming I ever wanted to try the stuff again. Fortunately, I do not.

Glass vials that can’t be resealed are not the worst things out there, though. Some manufacturers now use cardboard sheets with a little plastic bubble containing the sample. The Carven Homme pictured here has about 1 or 2 ml of liquid in a clear plastic bubble with a pull-tab on the back to open it up. Once open, that’s it. Single-use, throw away the rest. Again, what are testers to do? Dip their fingers in and dab it on? Pour the whole thing on themselves? Decant it into a real vial with a hypodermic syringe? Did it ever occur to Carven that people might want to try their fragrance more than once before deciding whether to buy it, and don’t want to have to provide their own container in order to do so? I’m not even going to try it once. Things like this deserve to go in the trash.

Right on a par with the plastic bubbles are the moist towelettes sealed up in a plastic or foil packet like the lemon-scented ones given out by eating establishments to clean your hands after eating greasy finger food. I can’t decide whether they are better or worse than the bubble packs. At least they blatantly acknowledge the fact that they are single-use, but I find the whole concept of wiping myself with perfume from a moist towelette off-putting. These go straight to the trash, too. Maybe my snobbishness causes me to miss some of the world’s most wonderful scents, but somehow I doubt it.

Maybe there are other sample packaging lows even lower than the three that I’ve mentioned, but it’s hard to imagine.

Sunday, September 25, 2011


Every fall I teach an intensive 4-week class for incoming freshmen. The building where I teach is surrounded with a planting of dozens of jasmine bushes. Over the past three years I’ve watched them grow from tiny starts to mature bushes that are now becoming vines, sprawling over the beds of landscaping chips. Every year there are more and more flowers, and this fall there was a bumper crop.

On my way to class, I could smell jasmine as soon as I was in the square next to the building. Walking up to the entrance every morning, I was surrounded by a thick, heavy cloud of jasmine fragrance. It was insistent and unmistakable. I assumed that my students would have noticed the smell, but I was wrong.

About three weeks into the class, I asked if anyone had noticed any flower fragrance outside the building, on the way to class. I got a lot of blank stares and puzzled looks. No one had noticed any flowers, and no one had noticed any scent. Not a single student had any idea what I was talking about. When we went on a field trip to the other side of campus, I pointed out the jasmine as we left the building. Without exception, the students said that they had not noticed it, either to see or to smell. It’s as if they were both blind and anosmic to their surroundings.

I’m at a loss to understand how someone could not notice a strong and pervasive flower scent. What is going on? Are people so bombarded with air fresheners, deodorizers, laundry products, department store signature scents, cleaning products, and other artificial smells that they are unable to smell things in nature? Has all this olfactory cacophony resulted in people expecting to smell something all the time, so they don’t pay attention to smells of any sort? Do people spend so much time in front of a screen that they don’t notice the things that are around them in the real world? Is smelling flowers so uncool that no one is willing to admit that they smell jasmine on the way to class? Are teenagers really that oblivious to everything?

I have no good explanation for why more than two dozen students can’t (or don’t) smell jasmine. However, I do hope that the current budget crisis will put a damper on the university landscaping team’s constant digging up of one thing and replanting with something else so that the jasmine will continue to grow and perfume the fall and winter quarter classes that I teach in what I’ve come to think of as the “jasmine building”.

Friday, September 23, 2011


For the past few days we’ve been having a weather phenomenon that I first learned about in the Alps, called “Foehn”. It starts out with bizarre cloud formations like corrugated sheets with clear sky on the far side, and other isolated clouds that look like flying saucers. All of the mountains suddenly become extremely clear, with every detail standing out. The big volcano, Mount Rainier, looks like it’s in our back yard. The wind starts to blow, and it gets warm. We had the partly cloudy type of weather for two days, but today it’s perfectly clear and almost hot, with temperatures of 80+ F and strong winds.

I suppose this is what would be called Indian summer, the last hurrah before fall starts. The smell of ripe blackberries is everywhere, attracting lots of people who are picking them along the roadside. The lavender that grows in everyone’s yard is pumping out its scent, too, attracting lazy bees, spoiled by the unseasonably warm weather.

When I got home tonight after a trip to the grocery store, while still in my car I smelled something like rotting, fermented fruit. I thought something in my bags had spoiled while I parked and went to look for costume materials for our theatre group’s October show, but when I got out of the car the smell was even stronger. We have quite a few fruit trees bearing fruit this time of year, mostly figs, apples, and pears, so I suppose some of the fruit had dropped and fermented on the ground. When I go outside now that it’s evening, I smell wood smoke. Either someone is barbecuing with wood or there’s a forest fire nearby. Blackberries, lavender, overripe fruit, dry grass, and smoke truly epitomize the smells of Indian summer.

I hadn’t looked at my orchids for quite a while, but today I discovered that several of them are blooming. Dendrobium schneideri has sprays of tiny greenish-white flowers with a light anise scent. Cattleya harrisoniae is lavender with a white lip, and is strongly fragrant. It smells like indolic artificial grape and rose, along with hints of a fruity generic-Cattleya note. It’s only fragrant during the day. Brassavola nodosa, the big one with red spots in the throat, suddenly burst into bloom. I brought it inside, and tonight it’s perfuming the room with its scent of smoky cloves and ylang-ylang. During the day it has no fragrance, but as soon as it gets dark, out comes the perfume, just like clockwork. This discretely-spotted variety is one of my favorite orchids.

[Lentiform clouds and Mount Rainier photo from Wikipedia]

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


There’s no easy way to say it, especially after such a long hiatus on here, so I’ll just say it. My mother died on the morning of September 4, after a long illness. It was not unexpected, but it was still an upheaval of my world. This remarkable woman who had always been there for me, is no longer a part of my life. I can’t visit her, listen to her reminiscences, talk to her on the phone, go for a walk with her, listen to her sing or complain about her neighbors or the broken elevator in her building, treat her to a tub of halvah, a bottle of perfume, or a music compilation on CD. I’m still grappling with the reality that I can’t just dial her number and talk to her. She’s gone. Disappeared from the face of the earth. Living only in my memory.

I took some time off from everything this summer so that my son and I could spend time with her while she was still able to appreciate it. When I wasn’t with her in person, my husband and I talked on the phone with her almost daily. My brother and I became a lot closer. I don’t regret a second of it. So what if I got behind on everything? I’ll eventually catch up on those things that are important, and the rest can just go undone forever. Sometimes it takes a death to make us realize what is truly important and what is just meaningless busy work.

This is going to be a short note just to let my readers know why I haven’t been posting anything here and to help me break out of the emotional paralysis that has been part of my life for the last few months. Fortunately I have supportive friends and family, but ultimately this is still a shock that I have to deal with on my own. Today is the first time I’ve felt like writing about it, so I hope it’s a trend that will lead back to doing the things I love to do, including writing, while minimizing all of the things I have to do but don’t enjoy.