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.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


We lucked out on the weather for the orchid show in Seaside, Oregon weekend before last. After a week of record monsoon rains all along the northwest coast, the sun came out and things had a chance to dry a little.

Working an orchid show is like working any other trade show – major stress for a few days before, preparing and packing everything, getting to the venue, and setting up. Once the show opens, it’s having to be constantly “on” for two days, but that’s like a vacation compared to prep, travel, and load-in.

The good thing about the orchid show was that it closed at 4 or 5 o’clock on both days, so we were able to go out and enjoy the beach in the evenings. The first evening it was calm and clear, and the tide was farther out than I’ve ever seen it. In addition to the regular beach there was a good half-kilometer of sand that must usually be underwater. The clammers were out in droves, hunting for little creatures in the sand with shovels and some sort of suction devices.

I was barefoot, and kept thinking that soon I would be wading in the surf as I headed west, but the sand with a thin layer of water just kept going on and on. The low sun shining on the thin water layer gave me the feeling of walking on the surface of the ocean. As the sun set, the film of water reflecting the light looked just like shimmery gold foil. Now I know what it would feel like to walk on water!

Everywhere we looked there were sand dollars washed up, lying on the sand, covered by that shining film of water. Many of them were intact, perfect circles with the 5-petaled design and 5-pointed star in the very center. That evening we collected 48 perfect sand dollars! I was afraid they might stink up our hotel room that night with rotting invertebrate bodies, but they just emitted a pleasant ocean scent of seaweed and salt water, so the little animals that inhabited the shells must have been long gone. 

I think maybe I should make a Seaside perfume and give away a sand dollar with each bottle!  What would Walking on Water (WOW!) smell like? Salt, iodine, fresh seaweed. fresh air, water, and not much else. It would be like the cathartic, clean feeling one gets from walking on the beach, but without any conventional “aquatic” notes, which really don’t smell like water or fresh air. Something to think about. 

Saturday, October 19, 2013


The winner of the fall contest, determined by random drawing, is ANKICA. Please send me a PM with your current mailing address and your choice of fragrance.

There was only one entrant in the contest to guess the all-time top 5 posts, so by default, the winner of that contest is BELLE. Please send me your mailing address and choice of fragrance.

Belle actually had two correct guesses, although the rank wasn't right. Here are the five posts with the most views:

1. Abdul Samad Al Qurashi Reviews
2. Ambrette Seeds, Okra, and Botanical Musk
3. Topiary Tree Torture
4. The Making of a Summer Fragrance: Dendrobium moniliforme
5. Sweet Alyssum: The Perfume Note

This reminds me that I need to finish up Alyssum, but first, I'll get the packages sent out to the fall contest winners.

Friday, October 18, 2013


English Ivy, also called Hedera helix, is somewhere up there just below blackberries on the list of plants I hate. In Washington, it’s classified as a “Class C noxious weed”, which means that it’s a non-native plant that has already invaded so much territory that the state has completely given up on controlling it, let alone eradicating it. Our neighbors to the south grow it in their garden, and it’s a constant battle to keep it out of our back yard.

I’ve always disliked ivy because it spreads like wildfire, smothers and kills everything in its path on the ground, and even climbs up huge trees and slowly chokes them to death. It isn’t even an attractive plant, like bamboo, or a fruit-producing plant like blackberries.

For the past two months I’ve been too busy to go running, but this week I’ve been trying to get out and do it a few times. Yesterday I went out just before sunset, and as I neared the end of our road I was assaulted by a smell that was like one of those open drains that one sometimes encounters in places with no access to public sewer lines, where everything from sewage to bath water and laundry water gets dumped. But it wasn’t just the open drain smell. This odor also had a strong component of semen. Yes, it was a strange combination of semen, sewage, and rotting laundry detergent.

I had no idea what the smell might be, but was even more surprised to smell exactly the same odor again, even stronger, a half-mile or so down a side road. The only thing I could see that might be responsible was a large ivy-covered fence or wall. The ivy looked like it was in bloom, with spherical clusters of small, unattractive, greenish flowers. I passed by the ivy, knowing that if I smelled the odor on the way back, I would need to stop and stick my nose in it to confirm that it was the ivy.

Sure enough, long before I reached the ivy on the return trip I started to smell it. Once I was close to it, there was no doubt. The scent from a cluster of ivy flowers is almost enough to knock you over. Sewage, rotten detergent, and a whopping big dose of semen. I know many small, white flowers smell like semen (a topic for another post), but ivy adds other unpleasant notes to it, making for a really aversive olfactory experience.

I did learn something from my encounter with the stinky flowers. Ivy blooms in the fall, with the berries ripening in the spring, when food for birds is scarce. Nature has designed yet another bird-propagated plant destined to take over the world if allowed to.

The funny thing is that there are so many “English ivy” fragrance products on the market, mostly fragrance oils and candles. I wonder if the people who come up with these products have ever smelled English ivy flowers? In all fairness, they’re probably thinking about the leaves, which just have a vaguely spicy, waxy, sharp and toxic-unpleasant green-plant smell. I don’t think I would want my house or my person to smell that way, but to each his own. More likely, they’re thinking of some abstract rendition of ancient ivy-covered architectural structures in England, something that seems to fascinate the many Anglo-Saxon wannabes in the US.

The Good Scents Company lists Hedera helix absolute as a perfume ingredient, but apparently there are no suppliers of it. That’s not too surprising given that similar effects can be achieved with other green materials like violet leaf absolute, but it is surprising given how abundant and cheap the raw material would be. Maybe it’s because English ivy is reported to cause contact dermatitis in some people, so it’s not a good thing to put in perfume. One more reason to dislike ivy. 

[I don't take my phone with me when I run, so didn't get any photos of the actual plant that emitted the smell. These photos are all adapted from Wikimedia.] 

Thursday, October 10, 2013


This week has been nothing but a breathless game of catch-up after being out of town over the weekend. Looking at the responses to my fall contest (or rather, the lack of responses!), I realize that the task I set was much too hard. The one person who did bravely venture a guess will get some sort of special recognition in the form of merchandise, but it's not really fair to have a contest with just one entry.

For that reason, I've decided to change the requirement for entering the contest, making it something that everyone can take a stab at with very little investment of time. Just answer the question, "what perfume (of any type) are you curious to see reviewed?" and you'll be entered in the drawing for a 30 ml spray of the Olympic Orchids fragrance of your choice, in the new packaging. Good luck!

The drawing will be held on Sunday, October 20.

[Fall-blooming passion flower photo is mine] 

Friday, October 4, 2013


Fall is officially here in the Pacific Northwest. Nights are cooler. Days are shorter. We’ve started having the usual monsoon-like rainstorms. The fall crocuses have bloomed and gone, the cyclamens are starting their winter display, and the second, huge crop of brown turkey figs is getting ripe, almost as big as apples and dripping with sugary juice. There’s not much fall color yet, but there are tinges of red and yellow on some trees.

Now that the dismal winter season is just around the corner (at least in my hemisphere), it’s time to have another contest of wits and luck. Every so often, once a year, maybe, I check the statistics on my blog to see which posts have the most views. I’m always surprised by the results. As the years accumulate, some posts come and go, while others become perennial favorites.

To win this contest, you have to guess which 5 blog posts are the all-time favorites, in rank order. Whoever comes closest will win a 30 ml spray bottle of any of the 10 Olympic Orchids fragrances that are available in the new retail packaging. That’s probably the most valuable prize I’ve ever given away!

This contest will also keep you busy until next week when I get back from the orchid show in Seaside, Oregon and can post again. Enter your guesses, and stay tuned for another exciting contest soon.
So have at it, folks. Here’s a hint: you may find some clues in the posts relevant to the last contest of this type. 

[My photos. There's no trickery in the top one - the figs really are that gigantic due to all the rain we've had.]

Thursday, October 3, 2013


The new boxes arrived from the manufacturer yesterday. The outside box was totally beat up, but once I looked inside I was happy to find that the new boxes were intact and exactly what I had envisioned. I was ecstatic knowing that nothing had gone wrong in the process from design to communication, materials selection, manufacturing both boxes and inserts, printing the different labels, packing, and shipping the order. Best of all, I was able to source custom boxes in the US, so didn’t have to have them shipped all the way from China.

The boxes are shiny black with red and white logo and name, and are made out of a reasonably sturdy recycled cardboard. According to the manufacturer, the ink is eco-friendly, probably much more so than the inkjet cartridges I use. I’m looking forward to having to print fewer labels using those things. It’s nice to know that recycled/ecofriendly materials don’t all have to look like bare, raw, brown cardboard.

Inside the box is a standard corrugated cardboard liner that pads and protects the bottle. I’m really excited to start using these boxes, which I can do as soon as my first production run of bottles comes back from the printer, also local, in Seattle. 

These boxes are so nice that I’m gradually going to switch everything over to this basic type of design. I’ll probably have individual fragrance names printed only on the larger “retail line” boxes and use generic boxes with pre-printed stick-on labels for the others. We’ll see. I’m loving all of the possibilities that are opened up by having found a good custom box manufacturer.  

Tuesday, October 1, 2013


For those who don’t follow US news closely, the government has just been shut down by the Tea Party Republican faction, who object to anything even remotely resembling a national health care system. I know it makes no sense, but the US political system makes no sense anyway. 

The absurdity of adults acting like children is not the topic of this post, although it could be. What I wanted to rant about when I set out to write this on a stormy Monday morning was the approach of people on all sides of a problem to try to solve it simply by throwing money at it.

Over the past weeks, I’ve been receiving dozens of e-mails in my inbox asking for help in preserving the proposed health care act while at the same time preventing a government shutdown. It should be simple, right? Apparently not, because rather than think logically and get an adult dialogue going, everyone would rather collect money to run emotion-charged ads against the opposing side(s). Today, after the fact, the e-mails focus on contributing money for ads to shame the Republicans for bad behavior, not action to urge both parties to resolve their disagreements. Admittedly, it’s hard to reason with irrational people, but one should at least try.

Every time I open those e-mails, I expect them to say, “please contact your representatives in congress and ask them to … (plug in your favorite request)”. Instead, what I see is a plea for small donations of $3, $5, or …(plug in your favorite amount). I get the impression that the goal is not have a serious discussion and figure out what makes pragmatic sense and is ethically right in dealing with a gray issue, but to determine the winner of a black and white issue on the basis of who can collect the most money and scream loudest to the world about their wealth.

Unfortunately, the strategy of throwing money at symptoms of a problem is easier than trying to find the cause of the problem and deal with it intelligently. Just throwing money at a problem in a shotgun approach, hoping that some of it will hit the symptoms, is even easier. It happens all the time, in every walk of life. There seems to be a belief that the appearance of having lavish stores of money to spend will have a magical, beneficial effect.

As someone who is trying to run a small business, I see similar tendencies even in the perfume industry. Just throw money at high-profile advertising; toss large sums of money to a celebrity to endorse or front your product; run up multi-million dollar bills attending or sponsoring the most expensive events all over the world so that you can be seen flaunting your wealth. There seems to be a belief that the more money that appears to be spent on things not directly related to the product itself, the more attractive the product will be to the public. 

Don’t get me wrong. I have no problem with advertising on a modest scale or attending appropriate trade shows. I have no problem with flaunting the quality of the materials I use in my fragrances, even if they're expensive. Fans of my work are, in my mind, a better endorsement than any paid celebrity would be. What I do have a problem with is the belief that virtue, quality, desirability, and other positive attributes are all directly proportional to how much money is thrown into the purchase of gratuitous, superficial status symbols.

As my business grows, I am constantly reminded of the need to carefully weigh the costs versus benefits of any expenditure not directly related to making a better product and getting it to all potential customers who might enjoy it. No mad hatter's tea parties for me!

[Mad Hatter and Mardi Gras images adapted from Wikimedia; extravagant perfume launch image from the linked news article]