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, July 29, 2014


This summer I’ve had a couple of fragrant surprises from the Dendrobium side of the greenhouse. The first was a little Dendrobium palpebrae that had been quietly and unobtrusively growing in a corner, but suddenly burst out with big pendant sprays of white flowers with bright yellow centers. Best of all, they were strongly fragrant, smelling distinctly “perfumey” in a designer-fragrance sort of way, but in a good way. They had a sharp scent that was a bit like a combination of geranium and patchouli, amber (in the mass-market sense) and lily-of-the-valley. Nice, but not something I would want to reproduce since it’s too similar to many other perfumes.

The second surprise awaited me when I got back from San Francisco. A little Dendrobium moniliforme ‘Kinkaku’ had produced an exuberant bouquet of big white flowers with lime-green throats. Finally, a Dendrobium moniliforme whose flower buds escaped the hungry mouths of the slugs that like to sneak in and eat the Dendrobium and Masdevallia buds!

A couple of years ago I made a perfume based on the fragrance of another Dendrobium moniliforme variety, ‘Osafume’. Those flowers have a delicate anise-like scent, but the ‘Kinkaku’ flowers are totally different. In fact, I smelled them in the greenhouse before I saw them. They have a strong fragrance like rose-scented soap enriched with spices, especially nutmeg. When I smell these flowers, I could swear it’s some sort of fancy lotion. It’s not something I want to mimic, but it’s fun to smell flowers that appear to reproduce typical manmade scents that we think of as smelling "synthetic". It’s also interesting to observe how different cultivars of the same species can have dramatically different fragrances. 

[Photos of Dendrobium palpebrae and the flower of Dendrobium moniliforme 'Kinkaku' are mine] 


The winners of the mystery giveaway are:


Please contact azarsmith7atgmaildotcom to claim your prizes. Believe me, they’re worth it!

Stay tuned for more giveaways in August!

[Gratuitous photo shows the neighborhood near where I was staying in San Francisco] 

Sunday, July 27, 2014


I got back from San Francisco last Sunday, just in time for our friends’ wedding, and have been playing catch-up ever since. This weekend is a little better, given that I have taken care of most of my backlog of shipping and the worst of my backlog of university administrative tasks, but there’s still a long way to go to feel back to normal again. 

The event at Tigerlily in San Francisco was great fun, a wonderful chance to meet customers, including some who have become good friends, and see what Antonia Kohl has done with her shop. The history of Tigerlily, as I understand it, is that it started out in a tiny corner of the Love and Luxe jewelry shop down the street from where it is now, then quickly expanded to occupy half of a shop in its current location at 973 Valencia Street. Given the number and enthusiasm of Tigerlily’s customers, it looks like it won’t be long before it outgrows that situation, too. If you’re in the San Francisco area I highly recommend that you spend an afternoon shopping on Valencia Street and sniffing perfume at Tigerlily,  followed by dinner at LoLo across the street, an excellent California-Mexican place that uses local ingredients, but has reasonable prices.

All but one of the Northwest perfumers featured in the NW Fragrance criterion discovery set were there, holding a small trunk show. I was amazed at the size of the  turnout and the enthusiasm of Antonia’s customer base. She is definitely doing something right. To enhance the evening’s festivities, she served cocktails based on each of the fragrances in the set. During the event there was constant traffic, so I was too busy to take any photos, but here are a few taken before the evening’s activities started. 

Here is Antonia herself. What a great smile!

Here is the Sweet Tea display by Jen Siems. She is in the background, behind the flowers. 

Here is the Pirouette Essentials display by Karyn Gold-Reineke. 

Here's the Sweet Anthem display by Meredith Smith with a picture of her back. 

Herre's Nikki Sherritt setting up her Rebel and Mercury display. 

[All photos are mine, taken with my trusty phone] 

Monday, July 14, 2014


Guest post by AZAR
Last summer Ellen, Michael, Brad and I took a field trip to Mesha Munyan's lavender farm near Sequim, WA USA.  We spent the day with Mesha and David Falsberg cutting lavender flowers and helping (observing really) Mesha as she distilled lavender oil and hydrosol in her 60-plus liter still. We had a great time and learned just enough to catch the "distill it yourself" bug. (See this post).  

The idea of creating our own custom distillations in our very own still was so appealing that in early January, 2014 we ordered a 35 liter hand made solid copper Al Ambiq alembic still from Destilarias Eau de Vie in Portugal. In a week or so the still arrived on my door step, in excellent condition, and was immediately placed on semi-permanent display on the kitchen island, gathering dust until we had the time and the good weather to get busy and get it cleaned. [The left half of the first photo shows it in its original, shiny condition and the right half shows it after its first run]

Constant heavy winter rains made it impossible to set up the propane burner out of doors.  Finally, on Sunday, June 29th, Ellen, Brad and I were all free and the skies were clear.  My son Andy set up the burner in the morning. When Ellen arrived just after noon we began sealing the joints and seams with rye paste - a kind of pasty glue made with rye flour and water [photo on right].  Rye is one of the most glutinous of all grains and, when made into a paste, makes an excellent sealant that prevents leaks of liquid and steam. When diluted with water to the consistency of a slurry [photo on left, breaking up lumps], rye flour serves to clean the still by adhering to the impurities, industrial oils and solvents left from the manufacturing process.

After adding the slurry (about 1 kilo of rye flour and 13 or so liters of water) to the still we attempted to light the burner.  There was one tense moment when the gas leaked at a line connection, but that was quickly taken care of and soon the slurry was boiling and bubbling merrily, making its way up the curved pipe of the swan neck, through the condenser coil and out into the cleaning bucket, carrying the industrial residues with it. [Brad lights the gas, upper photo; the first liquid comes out, left half of the photo below, and starts collecting in the bucket, right half of the photo]

After the initial cleaning we discovered considerable scorch in the bottom of the pot.  Ellen and I took turns scrubbing out the inside of the still, we then did a clear water distillation, rinsed and dried the still thoroughly and placed it once again on display, this time with a lovely new patina, ready, at last, for our first distillations of essential oils.  The whole process was quite time consuming, taking at least five hours to complete! [Gail scrubs the inside of the still in the last photo]

At this point you might be wondering what we plan to give away.  Sorry, we are not giving away the still, especially after all that work!  The two winners will each receive samples of two different varieties of the completely legal dried herb that we plan to use for our first serious distillations.  In addition to the mysterious herbs each winner will receive one 2ml spray decant of a favorite vintage fragrance that uses the scent of the herb(s) as a prominent top note.  To be eligible just leave a comment about stills, distilling or about your favorite essential oils.  We are sorry that we have to limit this drawing to US addresses only. The dried plant material might have trouble traveling internationally!    
[The before and after photos of the still are Gail's, the rest are mine]         

Sunday, July 13, 2014


We are back from our trip to southern Oregon, and I’m taking a few days to get organized and packed up for the Pacific Northwest Perfumers’ Salon at Tigerlily Perfumery in San Francisco, which will take place from 6:00-9:00 PM on Thursday, July 17. Tigerlily is located at 973 Valencia Street in the Mission district of San Francisco. It’s free, there will be special cocktails, and a 10% discount on all of Tigerlily’s stock, so it’s definitely worth checking out if you’re in the bay area.

It was refreshing to spend a few days in a place where it’s really hot. I know most people would not think of 100F/38C heat as refreshing, but after years of dank chilling in Seattle, it is a pleasure to bake in the dry heat during the day and not have to wear a jacket at night. There’s something liberating about being warm 24 hours a day.

Most of the time was spent in Ashland and the surrounding area, doing town things, searching for sagebrush and other interesting plants in the hills, and visiting wineries and hot springs. The bottom line is that sagebrush doesn’t grow in the Ashland area, so we need to look closer to home. However, there were all sorts of small aromatic plants that I haven’t seen before, including a lot of things in the mint family.

The other interesting thing is that Jackson Hot Springs, which has a small hot pool and a large swimming pool, “purifies” the water to remove the sulfur smell that is characteristic of hot springs. Having been to natural hot springs where the water comes straight out of the ground steaming and smelling of sulfur, I thought the commercialization and “cleaning-up” of the water was an odd thing to do because it removed part of what seems like the “atmosphere” of places where volcanoes make their presence known in benign ways. We were there in the evening, so I think there may have been some "natural" pools that we missed. 

It’s always reassuring to visit a winery and actually see grapes growing. All too often the winery just buys grapes from growers at some remote location and is basically just a factory that processes them. The Belle Fiore Winery just outside Ashland is actually surrounded by extensive vineyards (and their wine is good, too). I was happy to see that they were pruning their grape vines at this time of year, which is what I’ve been doing too, in an attempt to control the ridiculously vigorous growth of new canes and leaves so that they can put more of their energy into producing fruit.

The vines at Belle Fiore had been trained to have one large trunk that grows upright, then branches at the top, with the branches trained upward between two wires. This is the model for how I’m going to train our grape vines next year. It’s too late for this year since the bunches of grapes are already developing, but I think that next spring I can do some retro-training to improve their growth habit even though they got off to an unruly start. Training the new growth upward between the wires and pruning often to keep the vines compact seems to be key.

[All photos are mine, taken on the trip, except the one from the Jackson Hot Springs website. The sunset was one of the most incredible I've ever seen.]