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, May 30, 2013


Sometimes trying new things is a good idea and sometimes it turns out not to be so good. This has certainly been the case when it comes to perfume bottles. It’s really hard to find interesting and fully functional bottles off the rack. All of the really unique and/or attractive ones that you see in stores are custom designed and manufactured, with minimum orders far beyond anything a small-scale indie perfumer could afford or use. Unusual-looking bottles are also available ready-made, on a wholesale basis, from manufacturers in China, but they’re generally ugly and cheap-looking and reportedly tend to malfunction in every conceivable way. I haven’t been tempted to try them.

What I was tempted to do was to buy a bunch of 5-ml spray bottles with metallic gold and silver cases (above photo) from a US supplier I hadn’t used before. They cost less than the sturdy shiny black or red ones I’d been using, and supposedly held more juice, 7.5 ml to be exact. Once I started using them, though, I discovered that they might be able to hold 7 ml or so if one were able to fill the glass interior bottle all the way to the brim, but that if one left enough space to accommodate the rather bulky spray mechanism and screw it on, the available space was back down to about 5 ml. Something ventured, nothing gained.

The other thing I didn’t like about these bottles was the fact that the outside casing was designed to make them look like they hold more than they actually do. Like a lot of packaging, they feature a big exterior box with a small interior container, and take up more packing space than they need to. A couple of the sprayers on the testers didn’t work properly, and there was no way to test the unsprayed ones before shipping. I didn’t get any complaints about malfunctioning sprayers, and I hope no one got one, but I’d like to minimize that possibility in future.

I’ve gone back to the old model 5-ml sprays with a sturdy glass bottle, a shiny black casing, and a better quality sprayer. I’m holding a special sale to sell off all of the old model sprays, including testers, so that I can completely transition to the new bottles.

The other mistake I made was ordering a lot of 30-ml spray bottles from the new supplier as well. They’re basically functional and attractive, but the sprayers seem lower quality than those from my old supplier. The cost is about the same. I just used up the last of the “new” 30-ml bottles and have transitioned back to the better ones. The difference probably isn’t immediately obvious to the consumer, but I hope the sprayer will be more reliable with long-term use.

Over the next year or two, I have plans to change my labeling from the stick-on labels that I currently use to labels printed directly on the bottles. These will look nicer, be more resistant to damage, and make my life easier since I will no longer have to print, cut and apply labels. Getting them all done is a far away dream, but I’ll be starting in July with the special edition that I’m making for Blackbird, a Seattle boutique specializing in men’s clothing and fragrance and will make the transition one fragrance at a time.  

Upgrading my packaging has been a continuously ongoing, trial-and-error process over the entire three years that I’ve been in business.  A major makeover is one of the goals, and I’m sure that, even if it doesn’t all get completed, at least some headway will be made on this project over the coming year. I know that quality packaging is an important aspect of perfume, and will be doing what I can, as I can, to make sure that the packaging better reflects the quality of what’s inside. 
[Fountain of Youth painting by Lucas Cranach, 1546] 

Sunday, May 26, 2013


It’s hard to believe that this blog celebrated its third anniversary this month. Somehow those milestones are starting to just slip by without my noticing. The blog is starting on its fourth year now, and I’m finally coming to grips with the fact that it’s OK if I don’t post something every day, as long as I do it fairly regularly, when I have something to say, the time to say it, and the mental discipline to sit down and actually do it. At this point there’s a certain amount of mild momentum going on, it’s all working reasonably well, and I plan to just keep on doing what I’m doing blog-wise over the coming year.

Olympic Orchids Artisan Perfumes will be three years old in July, and that’s where the changes will happen. It seems like I just started with the perfume-making process and am still in the infant stages of learning about production, packaging, marketing and everything having to do with the business end of things. I keep experimenting, finding that what works at one stage becomes maladaptive at the next stage, and I need to rethink processes, products, and presentations. Here are a few of the changes that I’ve made, or plan on making.

Formulating fragrances is the easy part of the process. As a perfumer who does everything myself, the hardest task is making samples. It’s tedious work labeling and filling all those tiny vials, but it has to be done. I keep changing the way I label and package the smallest, 1-ml samples, trying to find the best way to present them. I finally broke down and bought a label maker that spits out the stick-on labels that go on the vials. That’s great, but what I found was that when the vials were packaged next to each other in my storage bins or in a plastic bag, the tiny bit of exposed adhesive on the edge of one label would sometimes stick to the adhesive on the label of its neighbor, causing the labels to try to pull each other off the vials. No one complained about this, but I’m sure it must have happened to customers, not just to me.

The solution I’ve come up with, at least for the immediate future, is to put each sample in a tiny labeled baggie of its own, so the sample is double-labeled, once on the vial and once on its baggie. One of my pet gripes is with unlabeled sample vials that are on a card or other container, so that once taken out of their wrapping there’s no way of knowing what they are. Another gripe is with samples that are labeled with the name of the fragrance, but not the brand, or the brand but not the fragrance. I put both on each vial and each baggie.

With 28 different fragrances in production (how did that happen?) it’s no longer practical to send out sample packs of everything. For the 1 ml vials, customers can now order individual single samples, 5-sample packs, or 10-sample packs. I’m still selling the 16-sample deluxe variety pack of 2-ml screw-top bottles (photo on left), but will probably discontinue it once I use up my current supply of little bottles.

Because many people prefer larger spray samples I’ve added several boxed discovery sets containing 5 or 6 samples in 3-ml glass spray bottles, each with its own theme (Just Orchids, Scents of Place, etc), and these have been very popular. I just put together a special Father’s Day discovery set containing the 6 most popular fragrances with a “masculine” tendency.

One thing that struck me at the Seattle Artisan Fragrance Salon earlier this month was the number of people who wanted to mix and match samples from several of the pre-made discovery packs. To accommodate this desire, I’m going to add a “build your own” discovery pack of 6 spray samples.

As the queen of sample hoarders (I have a library of over two thousand!), I’m very much aware of the need to have a good sampling program. I try to keep costs down, more or less covering materials and my own less than minimum wage work producing them, thinking of them as sort of a hybrid between advertising and a commodity for people to purchase and enjoy.  Shipping of samples is free within the US, and a nominal amount internationally, and will stay that way unless postage rates go up dramatically. All orders for full bottles include a pack of free samples.

I thought I would cover everything in this post, but just talking about samples is filling up what seems like all the available space in a single post. If any of you have suggestions, please leave a comment. What kind of samples do you like? How do you like them packaged? What else can you tell me that would improve my sampling program? The spray sample discovery sets were in response to a customer’s comments, so this sort of feedback is important.

If you leave a substantive comment, you will be entered in a random drawing for a Perfumer’s Perfumes Discovery Set. 

[Both third birthday cake images from Wikimedia]

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


This is the final chapter in the reviews of the fragrances made for Sheila Eggenberger's Devil Scent project, based on the characters in her novel Quantum Demonology

Neil Morris’s Lilith
starts out as a heady mix of flowers, citrusy roses and powdery violets, along with some newly cut grass. It is flowers at their most piercing and insistent, flowers that will simply not be ignored. It’s extremely sweet, keeping just below the threshold of cloying, pushing sweetness to the maximum level at which it’s still pleasant. The sillage has an almost candy-like edge to it, like candied violets.

There’s nothing at all funky about Neil’s Lilith, which came a bit of a surprise. It’s a straight-up floral fragrance that you could wear in any company. No one would raise their eyebrows, except maybe to ask what that divine-smelling floral scent is. This Lilith kills you with love, and you don’t even know it. It reminds me of the old Grateful Dead song lyrics from Push Comes to Shove

“Shakin’ in the garden, the fear within you grows,
Here there may be roses, to punch you in the nose,
Wrap their arms around you, squeeze you till you cry,
Wrap you in their sweet perfume, and love you till you die.”

That’s exactly what Lilith does. I’m not a big fan of florals, but Neil’s Lilith is an amazingly gorgeous specimen of the floral genre. I would wear it proudly when I want to invoke the soft, super-feminine, seductive side of Lilith. Lilith reclining on a Barbie-bed in her pink lingerie smiling demurely and beckoning to her victim, or Lilith tripping through the sunshine in her flowered sundress, appearing oh so sweet and innocent, never looking at her admirers, but knowing that all eyes are on her and that her victim will inevitably be drawn to her for the kill. Lilith, who pushes her sweet and innocent appearance to the very border of credibility, stopping just milliseconds short of revealing her underlying evil intentions.

Eventually the no-holds-barred florals dry down, leaving a beautiful, soft, powdery comfort scent that makes you want to snuggle up next to it. At this stage it reminds me of a vintage Patou, only better. I could see Lilith becoming my go-to floral fragrance. Kudos, Neil! I’m probably going to "need" a bottle.

is quite a different creature. LIL is as sharp as Neil’s Lilith is rounded, the floral notes pumped full of piercing kewda, aldehydes, and lime leaf announcing her heartless and evil intentions from the get-go. She’s an immaculately groomed schemer and dominatrix in stiletto heels, her leather underwear camouflaged by a lime-green designer business suit and persuasive smile, her whip at the ready in her designer briefcase. She intimidates her victims with absolute confidence and ruthlessness, using her irresistible will rather than her powers of sweet seduction to force them to their knees. Wealth, confidence, and power can be as seductive in their own way as breathtaking beauty and vulnerability are in theirs.

I’m blown away by how Neil and I managed to invoke these two opposing sides of Lilith so completely, Neil depicting her feminine side, I depicting her masculine side. Put them together, and you have an unstoppable force of nature. I have to go out in public all day today, but next time I’m home alone I’m going to try combining the two and see what happens. One Lilith on the right wrist, one on the left … the yin and the yang ... it should be interesting!

Many thanks to Neil Morris and Amanda Feeley for providing samples of their wonderful creations and to Sheila for inspiring it all. 

[All images taken from the Wikimedia collections] 

Saturday, May 18, 2013


The random drawing took place this morning, and the winner of the 30 ml bottle is ..... GAIL! The runner-up is .... TARA DURKAN. Tara, you will get 5-sample set. Just e-mail me with your choices and complete mailing address. My contact info is in the profile section. Congratulations to the winners, and a huge thank-you to everyone who commented.

Friday, May 17, 2013


I'm  finally coming to the end of the Devil Scent series, at least the ones I could get my hands on. These are the fourth in each series, names notwithstanding, so all that's left to review are the two Liliths. They're coming soon! 

Neil Morris Devil Scent #3
At first this smells a little more bitter than the others, with herbal notes that remind me of Amanda’s compositions in spirit, but of course nothing like the same scents in reality. At first it’s strong and full of intense green cut-grass and floral notes, accompanied by campfire smoke and spice. I’m probably one of the few people who dislikes the smell of fresh-cut grass, and here I find it incongruous when smelled next to the other notes. Sometimes incongruous is good, but here it’s just strange. Eventually the cold, wet, cut grass goes away, leaving a lovely floral-incense fragrance that’s rather subtle and warm, definitely more to my liking. As it runs its course, it eventually develops into a musky labdanum and incense base that smells a lot like some of my own Dev bases. That phase lasts a good while, subtle but clearly present. Even after a few wearings I’m still trying to figure out what to make of Dev #3. Maybe the mix of cold and dead, illustrated by cut grass, and warm, illustrated by smoke and spice, depicts the conflicted feelings of the heroine when the lost love of her life reappears. 

Coda by Amanda Feeley 
Starts out very spicy, scented with lemongrass and rose, much warmer than her other three. The same bitter herbs that were in the first three Devil Scents are still there, just buried under the strong spice and floral notes. As Coda develops, it becomes sweeter, almost candied, with vanilla undertones. It is full-bodied and rich, quasi-gourmand, and I really enjoy it a lot. I think it’s all-natural, so the sillage is very good, and it lasts for a respectable time. After wearing it a few times I’ve discovered that the lemongrass-citrus and herbal notes at the beginning are more or less prominent on different days. Overall, this is a soft, sensuous, romantic fragrance, a beautiful, happy ending to a difficult story. Amanda, you must release this so that everyone can enjoy it!

DEV #4 by Olympic Orchids
My DEV #4 (Reprise) is a calm variation on the starting notes of DEV #1, a stripped-down version that emphasizes the labdanum, with just enough of the other notes to recall the promise held by the beginning of the journey and to suggest that a new journey is about to begin. 

Once again, the three different perfumers’ interpretations of the story’s ending fit together like pieces of a puzzle to provide a coherent whole. Neil’s perfume suggests that the heroine has an approach-avoidance dilemma when Dev comes back into her life, one that is ultimately resolved in calm resignation. Amanda’s interpretation is a joyous celebration of the end of a long struggle, and the sweetness of being reunited with a loved one. Underlying the sweetness is the memory of the bitterness of the past, but the bitter notes make the sweetness all the more beautiful. My interpretation is that of a purifying and cleansing process in which the new beginning of the relationship is stripped of its old baggage and is free to continue on an honest basis of mutual understanding and acceptance. I was particularly struck by the fact that both Amanda and I chose to interpret this phase as the ending segment of a musical piece. In my version it was a reprise of the overture that included the final cadence, and in Amanda's version, it was a climactic and happy final ending. 

[cut grass photo adapted from Wikimedia; flowers and fruit by Georges Jeannin, 2011, Susanna's bath by Theodore Chasseriau, 1839]