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.

Monday, September 29, 2014


Last weekend we participated in the family outing to gather hazelnuts from a farm somewhere out in the pre-foothills of Mount Baker, halfway to Canada. Never having gone on a hazelnut-hunting safari before, I had no idea what to expect. After a long trek through the bush we arrived at the farm, where we were instructed on how to tell good nuts (light-colored and shiny with no dark spots) from bad nuts (dark, overly striped, moldy, etc), given buckets and big tubs, and turned loose into the orchard. As I looked at the ground, I despaired of ever finding enough nuts to fill a small bucket, let alone a tub. I picked up a few and tossed them into the bucket.

Then I hit the mother lode and started seeing nuts all over the ground. They blended in with the fallen leaves, and some were hidden underneath leaves, but they were there in profusion. I started picking them up with both hands at once. In no time the bucket was full and emptied into the tub. I was now in a brainstem-directed hunter-gatherer frenzy, picking up hazelnuts like a machine, waddling along the ground in a squatting position as I worked. Michael was equally efficient, in his own way. After an hour or so, our tub was full, weighing in at 45 pounds. After a picnic lunch, we went back to work, quickly filling a second tub.

We came home with 90 pounds of hazelnuts! We had been told to spread them out on a sheet in a large space and let them dry for 2 weeks or more before roasting them. The only space that seemed appropriate was in the middle of the floor in my studio, so right now I’m having to tiptoe around the edges of a sea of 90 pounds of hazelnuts. I’m actually getting used to not being able to step on most of the floor.

The first day, the smell from the freshly gathered nuts was overpoweringly earthy, like loam, dead leaves, and mushrooms. Over the next couple of days it subsided, but it’s still there. Smelling the outsides of the nuts made me want to haul out the hazelnut CO2 extract that I acquired a while back but haven’t yet used in a perfume. It’s fairly subtle, with a distinctly oily smell and top notes that are a bit like the nuts themselves. It’s not Nutella. I think it could easily get overpowered by most other materials, so would have to be used in large quantities as a featured note in a simple, subtle fragrance or as a modifier in a complex one, contributing some nutty top notes and oily, slightly animalic ones to the middle.

I was told by one of the instigators of the hazelnut trip that when they’re roasted they give off a strong earthy scent, so now I’m wondering what would happen if I were to tincture hazelnut shells. It might produce a beautiful, earthy scent. Combine that with hazelnut CO2 extract, and who knows what might result? It’s probably worth a shot. 

Saturday, September 27, 2014


All last week I’ve been in a cleaning frenzy. I’m not usually a compulsive cleaner – in fact, I’m not a cleaner at all - but there’s something about starting the year off with a clean house that is both comforting and liberating. I cleaned things that hadn’t been cleaned for ages, like the floor of the pantry, under the bed, and the work table in the solarium. At school, I shredded old exams and repotted two of my three office plants, and I deleted thousands of old e-mails in all of my accounts. I took boxes of stuff to the local thrift store and threw out old odd-sized cardboard boxes that I’d been saving like a card-carrying hoarder. Now it’s time to get back to the blog.

Yesterday I picked the first of the second crop of brown turkey figs. There are so many that I’m freezing most of them to go with the earlier batch, and plan to make jam later this fall. The rains have come and swollen the figs to gigantic proportions. The tree has grown so tall that we can’t reach the fruit on the top branches even with a ladder, so the heavy, split figs from the top branches plop down on the ground, explode, and make a mess. I’ve never in my life done any canning, so jam-making will be a new adventure.

Today we’re going with Michael’s family to harvest hazelnuts from a farm up north, near Bellingham. We have wild hazelnut trees growing on our property, but not a single nut survives the squirrels, who eat them while they’re still green, or bury them and forget where they put them, creating more trees in the spring. I have no idea how a nut farm stays squirrel-free, but maybe I’ll find out.

The forest outside my window is still lush and green, but here and there I see signs of autumn color starting to tint the trees. I was just putting together a batch of Devil Scent discovery sets, and realized that Dev Two is the perfect fall scent, spicy and smoky. I think I’ll wear it for hazelnut hunting today. It’s strange how, after not smelling one of my perfumes for a while, I revisit it with a new nose and realize how much I really enjoy it.

All summer long I’ve been neglecting this blog, but I’m going to try to get back into a routine of posting. Today is the first day of the new effort!

[Today I took the lazy way out, so all images are from Wikimedia] 

Saturday, September 20, 2014


The scraps of paper have been mixed up thoroughly and two of them were drawn.

The grand prize winner of the 30 ml bottle of Sonnet XVII is YUKI.

The runner-up, who will receive a sample set of Peace-Love-Perfume is PEPPY OBRIEN.

To claim your winnings, please e-mail me at olympicorchids at gmail dot com.

[Roulette wheel photo from Wikimedia]

Saturday, September 13, 2014


I’m way behind on everything except running double speed to keep from falling horribly behind on the things that have hard deadlines, so the quarter million pageview mark has come and gone while I’ve been busy with those things. However, I still intend to put on a drawing to celebrate all of the wonderful viewers who have lurked in the background as well as those who have come out of the lurking closet to comment over the past few years.

Here’s what I have for you:

The grand prize is the very last brown cardboard box ever – one that I’ve been saving for this purpose - a 30 ml spray bottle of Sonnet XVII perfume.

Runner-up prizes are as follows:

Two 1-ml sample sets of the Peace-Love-Perfume trio.

This is an easy drawing – you don’t have to do anything except leave a comment saying what the weather is like in your part of the world. In Seattle it’s beautiful, clear, sunny, dry, and warm. Look at that blue sky! My tuberoses are finally blooming, so I’m excited. Their fragrance isn’t as strong as I had expected, but it’s lovely, quite a bit different from tuberose absolute. Maybe it will increase as more flowers open, or maybe it changes over the course of a day. I'll have to check it in the morning.

[tuberose pic was taken today in my garden]

Thursday, September 11, 2014


The winner of the latest draw is CYNTHIA MC.

To claim your prize, please contact azarsmith7 at gmail dot com.

There's a new draw coming up soon. Right now I'm just trying to get through the last week and a half of the class I'm teaching!

[gratuitous photo of Adenium obesum flowers is mine.]

Monday, September 1, 2014

Labor Day Reflections - Assisting the Sorceress

Guest post by AZAR

I have no doubt that Olympic Orchids Perfumes are magical.  Ellen Covey's success as an indie perfumer is grounded in her creative spirit and reinforced by her extensive knowledge of fragrance materials, countless hours at the perfume organ, carefully considered artistic marketing and her commitment to the time-consuming and repetitive tasks associated with any successful enterprise. While I have no illusions about my ability to create a fragrance, I do know that I can handle the time-consuming and repetitive.  In my experience even the most glamorous jobs can dull with repetition.  I have also learned that it takes a relatively high level of discipline to successfully perform the same small motor task over and over again without losing focus or precision (both lessons learned from 60 years at the piano).  I am certain that my talent for the tedious could be put to good use on a fragrance sample assembly line. 

Unfortunately, many of today's independent perfumers and niche fragrance houses cannot be bothered to offer samples.  The labor and expense involved in filling, labeling, packaging and posting the samples is not seen as cost effective.  These guys rely on their websites, social media and the blogging community to sell their perfumes.  Why go to all the trouble of offering samples when new customers can be so easily manipulated into blind, full bottle buys?  I have succumbed to this strategy more often than I care to admit. As a result I have come to appreciate and support the perfumers who offer their customers a sniff.

About a month ago I visited my friend Ellen with the express purpose of putting together samples.  Before we began she took me on a tour of her bamboo grove, orchard and gardens.  She opened and shared some newly arrived absolutes and then we headed upstairs to the atelier where we tested (and Ellen tweaked) several soon to be released fragrances.  After all the fun we finally set to work putting together samples of California Chocolate.

I am no stranger to decanting and labeling but have had no previous experience with the solo assembly line.  Ellen gave me the simple tasks of labeling tiny plastic bags, labeling and filling vials and packaging the samples in the bags.  She monitored my progress and gave me helpful suggestions along the way.  A pipette gun with disposable tips and a rack for vials made working the line a lot easier.  My first adventure in serious sample production was rather slow and clumsy but I know, that with practice, my speed and precision will improve.  As a reward for the work, both Brad and I were treated to a fabulous salmon dinner prepared by Ellen and Michael followed by an amazing dessert of ice cream, guava sauce, whipped cream and figs freshly picked from Ellen's garden. "Nice work if you can get it…".

Now for a Belated Labor Day Give-Away:  I have one mixed bag of ten or so niche and indie decants and carded samples that I am offering for a draw.  These are all scents that I enjoy, including, of course, a sample from Olympic Orchids Perfumes.  To be eligible for the draw, reveal (if possible) approximately how many samples you have laying around your house, place of business, in your car, purse wherever.  Have you developed a workable plan to store your samples? Let us hear about it!  Entries will close September 7 and winners will be announced in a subsequent post.  I'm sorry but I have to limit the draw to US addresses this time around.

Azar xx 

[Thank you, Azar! All photos are mine (Ellen's).  I just realized that the photo of my perfume organ was taken a while back when it was younger, smaller, and cuter. I see now how quickly it has grown!]