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.

Saturday, June 27, 2015


The winner of the Maria Amalia draw is LILLIAN HOLLOWAY.

Please contact us with your full shipping address. The e-mail is olympicorchids at gmail dot com. US shipping only.

Friday, June 26, 2015


There’s a saying, often true, that a picture is worth a thousand words. However, there are times when a word is worth a thousand blurry pictures.

I’ve always been puzzled by the fact that perfume people so often post a picture of a perfume bottle instead of naming the perfume. This happens on the forums when people post comments about a perfume. They seem unable to write out the name and, instead, link to a photo of the bottle. Sometimes it’s clear what it is and other times it’s not.

On the Facebook groups and other similar venues, people often post pictures of bottles. Sometimes it’s possible to identify them, but other times the photos are too dark, too low resolution, or just too poor quality overall. Maybe posting an unidentifiable photo makes people feel superior to the ignorant masses who cannot immediately identify every perfume in existence by the general shape of the bottle. It can’t be laziness because it would be far easier just to type out the name of the perfume than to search for and download a little gif file or use their phone to take a poorly lighted photo in their bedroom or bathroom.

The fact is that many perfume bottles look similar, so it’s not possible to tell what they are based on their general outline. No one wants to have to zoom in on a photo to try to see what it is, especially since the name will probably still be unreadable due to the low resolution of the image. If anyone out there can provide insight into why people use photos instead of perfume names, I’d be curious to hear your explanation. 

If anyone can identify the bad photo in this post, you will receive a valuable prize.

[This photo is mine, processed to degrade the quality] 

Sunday, June 21, 2015


Today is the longest day of the year (or shortest if you’re in the southern hemisphere), so it represents a turning point in the seasons. It’s a time for reflection on the spring that just passed and the summer to come. For me, it’s a time to send out the summer Scents of the Seasons to subscribers. Happy solstice to all!

This spring was a whirlwind for me, passing by in what seemed like no time. Summer should be calmer, with July being a month in which I can focus on formulating a couple of new fragrances, upgrading the websites, doing some promotion and some writing.

A botanical treat this month has been Bulbophyllum patens, an orchid that belongs to a genus noted for its stinky flowers that smell like feces and/or rotten meat. This one, on the other hand smells a lot like carnations! It has that same clove scent along with some light fruity-floral notes. The flowers have a mobile lip that jiggles in the breeze, enticing insects to light on it. Apparently in the wild, it is pollinated by fruit flies, males of which are attracted by methyl eugenol, the clove note, raspberry ketone, and zingerone, a ginger-like scent. All of these are perfectly good perfume materials. I discovered that if I press down on the lip as an insect would, the lip catapults upward, presumably throwing the insect against the pollinia. 

I did a little reading and, according to this account, what happens is that flies light on the lip to feed on the chemical attractants that it secretes, and as they progress inward, the lip reaches a see-saw fulcrum point, flipping the fly into the column cavity, with the lip acting as a closed door behind it. Trying to escape, the insect backs up, catching the sticky pollinia on its back. When it visits another flower, the process is repeated, with the pollen being deposited in the appropriate slot. All I can say is that these flowers are amazing, both for their co-evolution with fruit flies, and for the beautiful scent that fills the air around them.

[Summer sunrise at Stonehenge photo from Wikimedia; Bulbophyllum patens photos are mine.]

Friday, June 19, 2015


Yesterday I took the Kingston Ferry to pick up orchid flasks. Riding the ferry across the sound is always like a mini-vacation, and yesterday was unusually beautiful. The weather was warm, the sky partly overcast, the smell of freshly exposed seaweed in the air, and the water completely calm. It was the lowest tide I’ve seen for a long time. I stood on the front deck of the ferry and stared down at the hypnotic, moving reflection patterns in the water. Those water patterns are more fascinating than any psychedelic show if you focus on appreciating their beauty instead of looking at the gaggle of summer shorts-clad, selfie-snapping, soda-slurping tourists that infest Seattle ferries at this time of year.

At one point the sun partially broke through the clouds, and the shifting water patterns were joined by bright rainbow patches that danced around and took me completely by surprise.

I noticed a young tourist girl who seemed as fascinated as I was by the water, ignoring her family’s loud comments about her clothing, and their suggestions that everyone should go inside, “out of the wind”. I like to think that she saw the same beauty that I did, and that there are still children and artists whose minds have not been completely shaped to only perceive and value manmade things.  

Here’s a question for you, dear reader: If you have seen the kind of water patterns I’m talking about, or the dancing patterns of sun and shadows on a stream bed, what sort of perfume would represent them?

[Painting by Claude Monet, who seemed as fascinated by water patterns as I am, other images from Wikimedia.] 

Sunday, June 14, 2015


If everything had gone according to plan, we would have been on vacation in Ireland this week – our first real vacation since our honeymoon 15 years ago, and I would probably be hiking somewhere, not writing anything for the blog. I did a marathon grading and end-of-academic-year cleanup session, submitted all of my grades early, cleared my calendar of all commitments, and was set to leave the day after classes ended.

Then husband Michael broke his ankle. The highly orchestrated whirlwind trip has been postponed until August and I feel like I’m floating free in a dreamlike state most of the time, living the lifestyle of our cat, who has no responsibilities, comes and goes as he pleases, and enjoys the long days of summer to the fullest. Other than driving Michael to medical appointments, I’m free of commitments, and have not made an effort to reschedule any of the ones that I canceled for the trip.

I’ve almost caught up on filling and shipping orders, have been working on replenishing perfume concentrates and stock, and should actually have time to update my websites and send out newsletters next week. I might even have time to update my perfume bottle photos, something that’s been at the back of my mind for years, but never manages to rise to the top of the “urgent” list.

The sensation of jumping from a packed, hectic schedule one day to no schedule the next day has been a fascinating experience. It felt like going from being constantly knocked around like a soccer ball in full play to floating freely in a void where time stands still. For the past week I’ve been able to get enough sleep, go running every day, go grocery shopping and cook, and just enjoy being outdoors in the perfect warm, sunny, summer weather that we’ve had all through the month of June.

The experience of floating through a week of summer with nothing on my calendar and almost no one knowing I wasn’t out of town made me think about what sort of perfume would epitomize that state. My favorite experience whenever I’m in LA is walking down the street and smelling jasmine. It’s everywhere, and to me it epitomizes being in a carefree, sunny place. When I travel, I usually try to take an extra day just to float free, out of touch with everyday life, wandering around the city, foraging my way through parks, museums, eating places, markets, shops, or whatever seems interesting. Sometimes it’s just sitting quietly in a coffee shop enjoying being alone. There’s something magical about the anonymity of being in an unknown place, with no one I know being aware of where I am. This is the free-floating experience that I’d like to capture in a perfume. Maybe magic can't be captured in a bottle, but I’m willing to try. 

[All photos from Wikimedia except the second one, of the madrone tree on a cliff. That one is mine.]

Friday, June 5, 2015


The winner of Last Monday's draw for decants from Azar's big bottles is CCDOUGLASS. See last Monday's post for information on how to claim your prize.


[Photo by Azar]