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.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


Somehow it seems like this year has gone by extraordinarily fast. It was just summer a few weeks ago, and now it’s suddenly winter, sliding into the home stretch to the solstice. Where did fall go? Here in the Pacific Northwest, days get very short this time of year, with the sun setting around 4 PM. Because of my schedule, I’ve started trying to run in the mornings instead of the afternoons or evenings, so have had a chance to enjoy the splendors of winter mornings, the only time I’m up “early” enough to actually experience a sunrise. Yesterday was clear and sunny, but very cold, with frost everywhere on the ground. The air smelled clean and earthy, punctuated by the occasional plume of smoke from someone’s wood fire. On the way home I picked some lavender and a late-blooming rose for our cat’s new grave. I’m learning that cut flowers last a ridiculously long time outdoors.

When I look out my window as I write, most of the leaves have fallen off the trees, restoring my view of the snow-capped Olympic Mountains. To me, this is a sad time of year, just cold enough to kill a lot of vegetation with night frosts, but not cold enough to really drive one indoors to a warm fireplace, hot drinks, and hibernation mode.

This week and next are also the home stretch into the end of fall quarter, with a grand finale of exams, term papers, and meetings that’s like the last burst of a fireworks show when they just decide to send up everything that’s left and light up the whole sky. Instead of running today, I’m squeezing in a minimal blog post before I have to leave the house at 8:30 for a morning meeting that kicks off a round of business that doesn’t end until late tonight. By next week, or at least mid-December I hope to get back to posting more.

[Photo of winter sunrise is from the webcam of our local ski area] 

Thursday, November 22, 2012


Our beloved cat, Rosy, died Tuesday night. He had been with us for fourteen years, coming to us as a full-grown adult shortly after we moved into the house where we live now, so we don’t know how old he was. Rosy was a member of the family, the most sensitive and loving cat I’ve ever known, but also the toughest. He could walk among closely spaced perfume bottles or orchid plants without ever touching them, jump more than 6 feet in the air to get to the upper shelf of the closet where he liked to sleep, purr like a machine almost 24 hours a day, wake me in the morning with a gentle tap of his paw on my face, stand his ground against a 40-pound raccoon, and love and be loved by everyone he came in contact with, whether human or animal.

We’ve spent the last two days crying for his loss, but are thankful that he’s now released from whatever pain he suffered for the past two weeks. We knew that he was ready to move on, and we had to respect his decision. This Thanksgiving I’m grateful that I had the privilege of knowing Rosy for so many years and experiencing a unique type of feather-light and unconditional love.  

Monday, November 19, 2012


Saturday morning I worked a shift as a volunteer at one of our local science museums that sponsored a “Meet the Mammals” day. Standing with a few other volunteers at the “flying mammals” table, I had the distinct feeling that I was at a trade show, selling bats, sugar gliders, and flying foxes, and their marvelous adaptations for flight to crowds of little kids and their parents. I felt sad that the small local holiday bazaar in which I participated last year has been canceled this year. 

To make up for this void, I have decided to put together the first ever Olympic Orchids holiday gift box, with a selection of limited edition fragrances for Winter 2012. I’ve modified Café V a bit, and it will be the featured perfume item, in the form of a 5 ml parfum concentration spray. I’ve written about the Café V experiment before, and the fact that it was abandoned because it contains a significant amount of cardamom, a spice that some people seem to dislike. Knowing this, I'm giving customers the option of trying Café V or substituting any of the other 5 ml spray parfums in current production.

Along with the perfume, there will be a bottle of Amber-Labdanum bath oil, the offspring of the popular bath salts I sold at last year’s holiday bazaar, laced with Olympic Amber and a perfect dose of labdanum. There will also be a bar of all-natural patchouli-scented soap, formulated at the request of a friend. As a bonus, thanks to Michael, there will be a CD by the jazz group that he plays with.

The red boxes are here, a batch of Café V is ready to go, and the gift box is listed on the website. I've just set up a Black Friday promotion of free shipping anywhere in the US (code = HOLIDAY) or $5 off international shipping (code = INTERNATIONAL). The codes will be good from midnight on November 22 through midnight on Saturday, November 24, Pacific standard time.

The last time I tried to do a promotion, the discount code function on my shopping cart didn’t work reliably and I had to issue a lot of refunds manually. I’ll talk to the people who host my website (they are actually real people!) and try to make sure the codes are functional this time. Speaking of websites, I’m in the process of switching over my orchid plant website from the dysfunctional company that currently hosts it to the same company that hosts my perfume website. When I tested the link to the orchid plant website, I found that even that doesn't work, and I get a warning from Sophos that a virus has been detected, so I removed the link! It seems that 1&1 is going from bad to worse every day. The switch to the new platform should happen within the next week or two. As soon as the new plant website is up and running there will be free shipping on all orders until I get the new shipping-by-weight algorithms set up. Unfortunately, plants can’t be shipped internationally.

Here’s wishing everyone in the US a happy Thanksgiving and safe travels if you’re going somewhere for the holiday. 

Thursday, November 15, 2012


A couple of days ago I read an interesting blog post by Undina, entitled, “A Wish List for the Perfume Industry”, a point-by point list of things she'd like to see happen. Although I'm certainly not part of the mass-market "industry", I read it and agree with most of what she wrote, but have my own take on some of her points. 

1. There’s a need for more samples. I agree that every perfume manufacturer should provide samples, but as I mentioned in a previous post, I suspect that most people don't realize how expensive and labor-intensive it is to produce samples by hand. I don't know about mass-producing them by machine, but it probably isn't that much cheaper than mass-producing bottles. Knowing what I know about sample production, I personally don't mind paying for them, and don't expect the cost to be deducted from any bottle purchases I may ultimately make. 

2. There’s a need for more smaller size bottles. I wholeheartedly agree with this, and think most indie perfumers do tend to provide smaller sizes than their mass-market colleagues.  Many also provide a range of sizes, as I do. As a consumer, I would never buy a bottle larger than 30 ml, and prefer to just buy samples or "official" mini sizes of a few ml, provided they're in bottles that don't leak or allow for evaporation, a common problem with mass-market minis.

3. Warnings about reformulation or discontinuation. So far I've not had to reformulate anything, but if I did, I would certainly let people know that the fragrance was going to be reformulated, or that it would simply be discontinued, which is probably a better strategy than reformulation that changes the very nature of the fragrance. Reformulation should be announced before supplies run out, so that customers can stock up on their favorite formula. I did discontinue one fragrance because I wasn’t particularly fond of it, but still keep some on hand for anyone who knows about it and wants to order it.

4. Including the production year on the label. I think this is a good idea, not so much because perfumes have an expiration date like milk, produce, or baked goods do, but because natural materials vary from year to year, just as wine vintages do. For example, it might be that the version of a given fragrance using the 2011 harvest of olibanum resin from Somalia will be better than the version using the 2012 harvest. For most customers, such subtleties probably wouldn’t matter, but for others they might. I think I’ll start doing this in 2013.

5. Reissuing discontinued perfumes as special editions. In theory, this might be a good idea, but the reality is that perfumes are often discontinued because a material is no longer available or is restricted, so it may not always be possible to re-issue them in their original form. It would make no sense to re-issue them in a reformulation. If the only reason for discontinuing the perfume is cost of materials, poor sales, or an arbitrary decision, then this would be a viable strategy if people are willing to pay for the original formula.

6. Too many new releases. The issue of multiple new releases is one that bothers me quite a bit. Too many new mass-market releases are just flankers or more of the same old stuff, for no reason other than to keep the brand in the public eye. We're all caught up in the same new-release-inflation game, just to keep our brand in the spotlight. For an indie perfumer like me, creating new (and better) perfumes is a good part of the fun, and the reason we got into the business in the first place, but I realize that too many new releases can get overwhelming for those who try to follow the perfume industry large and/or small. The issue of new releases is one that seems to have no good solution. I'd be interested to hear from readers how many new releases you like to see per year from any one brand. Do you think that when a new fragrance is released, an old one should be discontinued to keep the number of offerings somewhat constant? 

7. Packaging, or as Undina put it, “wasting a beautiful bottle on a mediocre perfume or undermining a beautiful perfume with an ugly bottle”. This is all very well, except for the fact that what is beautiful or ugly lies mostly in the eye of the beholder. This applies to both visual design and perfume. For my own packaging, I prefer simplicity, choosing to spend money on quality materials rather than fancy packaging, but I know that for some people the appearance of the bottle is very important.

8. Trendy perfume notes. Undina’s main complaint is that she doesn’t like oud, and I'm sure that many people agree with her. However, if those people wait, a new trendy material will come along. Maybe they'll like it better. It’s just the cycles of fashion, and the fact that when new materials become readily available, most perfumers will want to try them and jump on the bandwagon for a while. I actually sometimes wear oud straight (the real thing – guilty pleasure, I know), and enjoy it very much. At the same time that genuine, unadulterated oud oil has practically become extinct, many good synthetic reconstitutions have become available, and these are almost certainly what is used in virtually all perfumes that are in the non-astronomical price range. In my opinion, many of these synthetic ouds are very nice, and can be useful in formulating perfumes, so I don’t hesitate to use them, trendy or not. A large percentage of the perfumes in existence use bergamot, but as far as I know, no one complains about it being overused, so I’m not sure why oud gets such a bad rap. Whether or not you like oud is simply a matter of personal taste, just as whether or not you like citrus top notes, which are much more common than oud bases. 

What would you add to the wish list? Curious perfumers want to know. 

Thursday, November 8, 2012


For years we’ve had a few different varieties of grape vines growing in the back yard. It seems that every year they put all of their energy into rambling all over the place, climbing over the fence, flopping into the paths, and invading the garden spaces. We ended up removing two vines that got too big for the area where they were growing, but have left two others that were planted in a more forgiving space. As I recall, one was a Concord grape and the other a Champagne grape, although I could be wrong. The Concord has languished, never producing so much as a single grape, and not much in the way of a vine. The Champagne grape, on the other hand, goes berserk with vegetative growth every year, producing a few stray grapes along the way, most of which have always been consumed by the quail before we could even taste them.

This year I decided to adopt a kill-or-cure strategy. After the vine bloomed this spring, I kept cutting the canes back to the point where bunches of baby grapes were growing. Maybe not regularly, but enough so that some of the plant’s energy actually went into the fruit instead of over-the-top vines. A few weeks ago I went out and harvested the first four bunches of grapes, and what a treat they were! We ate them, picked right off the vine, still chilled by the cold, wet, outdoor air.

The small grapes are a beautiful, translucent, frosted lavender-pink, with no hint of the sliminess that many home-grown grapes have. They’re just sweet enough, but not too sweet, with subtle flowery and fruity flavors. Although they’re not extremely sweet, they have no hint of sourness, which makes for really good eating. As far as I could tell, they are seedless. In the subsequent weeks we’ve harvested quite a few more bunches, just as good as the first ones. There are still a few stragglers left on the vine, so we’ll be having at least a taste of grapes through the middle of November.

I can imagine that these grapes could be used to make champagne. It would be a light, dry variety. Their fragrance, picked up by the nose while eating them, isn’t the heavy, methyl anthranilate smell of concord grapes or grape artificial flavor. There’s a slight hint of that, just enough to identify them as grapes, but most of the fragrance is a juicy, sweet-astringent, complex accord of flowers and unidentified fruit notes. If they were a perfume, it would be a light, one with a paradoxical wet-dry feel.

Now out to pick the last of the grapes!