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, April 25, 2013


We’re back from Portland, so I’ve been dealing with the demands of my university job, an internet connection that was down most of yesterday, and the beginnings of panic about not being prepared for the Seattle Fragrance Salon on May 5.

The good news is that we survived the first orchid show in which we also displayed perfumes and, most importantly, survived driving in Portland. As soon as we crossed the bridge into the city, we saw a car with a bumper sticker that said “Keep Portland Weird”. It’s weird, all right, but probably not in the fun and funky way the bumper sticker people meant it. What’s weird is trying to navigate in a city where almost every street is one-way, the direction is randomly assorted rather than alternating, and there are very few functional signs indicating that streets are one-way. The standard “one way/do not enter” signs used at intersections elsewhere seem to be unheard of in Portland.

Whenever I’d visited Portland before, it was on the train from Seattle, then on public transportation around town. The times that we drove, we parked the car as soon as we arrived and took public transportation. That was simple. You just get on a bus or a tram and it takes you where you want to go. Easy enough.

Driving around Portland in a car jam-packed full of orchid plants, looking for an unfamiliar address, was a very different experience. The worst incident was when we turned onto an unmarked 4-lane street that looked as if it should be 2-way and found ourselves heading straight for an oncoming tram. I suppose people do this all the time because the tram driver and other oncoming cars saw us and slowed down to avoid a head-on collision, allowing us to not so gracefully find our way off of that street.

The orchid show was at a venue in the Convention Center-Rose Garden stadium district, a weird combination of hotels, motels, fast-food and stop-and-rob chains, an inordinate number of Starbucks (standing at one point we could see three!), and public buildings of all sizes. The good thing was that our hotel was only two blocks from the show venue. Setting up, we were a little uneasy about how perfume would be received at what is essentially an agricultural show. It was reassuring to see that some vendors were also selling bromeliads, begonias, and other non-orchid plants, and that there were framed orchid photographs and a few orchid-theme tchotchkes for sale as well.

Before the public even came in we had exhibitors and organizers coming over to smell the perfumes. In the rush of packing I had forgotten to bring sniff glasses, so we made do with disposable coffee cups from the hotel. They actually worked quite well, providing just the right blue-collar touch to the display.  I had also forgotten to bring the Just Orchids discovery sets that I had set out the night before, but we did manage to bring a lot of individual small sprays and some soaps. By the end of the show we had sold out of the orchid-line sprays and had made a dent in the Devil Scents!

It was a very good show, both in terms of perfumes and in terms of orchids. From now on, the perfumes are coming to orchid shows. In Seattle, some orchids will come with me to the fragrance salon, to serve as props and to be given away at the end. I’m starting to really appreciate the crossover between the two domains. 

[Portland landmark photos from Wikimedia]


  1. HI Ellen,

    You and Michael look really happy in the photo. I'm glad the show was such a success.

    Yes! Portland traffic really is weird. When we had the house in Yachats we would often stop in Portland to shop and eat (if we didn't take the coast road). We dreaded the bridges and the crazy or often totally missing signage. We are also quite familiar with that convention center and the surrounding district.

    Portland has some very interesting restaurants, food carts, public gardens, pleasant neighborhoods and an active alternative music/art scene. I like Portland but I wouldn't want to live there. I can't really tell you why. Perhaps the city is just a little too warm, funky and fuzzy for me.


    1. Gail, We had a lot of fun in Portland, despite the traffic issues. Michael's two brothers live in Portland, so we go there regularly to visit them. However, we know where we're going and can park the car and take public transport, so really never encountered the horrors of trying to find an unknown address while driving.

      This trip, I realized that I probably wouldn't want to live in Portland, either. The weather was cloudy, cool, and damp, with clouds that hovered somewhere about halfway down the surrounding hills. There was a generally depressed feel about the city. For some reason it reminded me of the West Virginia-Pennsylvania part of Appalachia.

  2. Apart from the driving, this sounds like a ton of fun! I remember getting lost on the roads in Portland back in the 90s. Here's for good public transportation, how I miss it! I think artisanal perfumes belong at a lot more shows. They bring in the olfactory sense and enhance our memories, and that's a good thing.

    1. Marla, here's to good public transportation! It's one of the things that makes a city civilized.

      I agree that artisanal perfumes belong at more types of shows, and will be bringing them to orchid shows from now on. I think I'll also selectively participate in some of the local crafts shows this year, especially one that occurs before the winter holiday season.