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, February 17, 2016


In my Wednesday series exploring perfume materials I have to start somewhere, so will begin by considering a new essential oil that I recently acquired but have yet to use in a formula.

Palo santo, aka Bursera graveolens,  is a deciduous tree that grows throughout Central America and parts of South America. It is in the same family as frankincense and myrrh, so the wood is resinous and aromatic. The trees are attractive, with chunky trunks and branches, compound leaves with broad leaflets, small yellow-white flowers, and small round fruits. 

A long time ago I had bought a small bottle of palo santo essential oil, but didn’t like the smell, so never used it. However, late last year I bought some palo santo wood chips for burning and was immediately wowed by the fresh, clean, green smell of the wood, both in its raw state and when burning. I suddenly understood why palo santo wood was used by the Incas in purifying rituals and is still used for similar purposes in aromatherapy.  It really does smell exceptionally clean and uplifting. I decided to give palo santo essential oil another try.

I bought a good-sized bottle of palo santo oil from a reputable supplier, and after smelling two different versions have learned that there seems to be a lot of variation in palo santo oil from different sources. The new oil has many of same the fresh, green notes that the wood has, but I do detect a small amount of “off”-notes similar to those in the original bottle that I got.  I would characterize these contaminating notes as “greasy moth balls and pea soup”.  This seems to be something that is generated when the wood is distilled, not something that is in the raw wood itself.

I really want to use palo santo in a fragrance, but will need to find a workaround to mask the “off”-notes and enhance its unique suite of clean, green notes. 

I will be traveling this weekend through next Thursday, so may miss next Wednesday's materials post. If you would like to be entered in a drawing for a sample of palo santo oil diluted to 25% so that you can apply it as a perfume and experience the material by itself, leave a comment relevant to this post. Unfortunately, due to exorbitant international postage costs for small packages, this is a US and Canada only drawing. There will be a few international giveaways in future, so keep watching for them. 

[Images are from Wikimedia or a retailer's website] 

Tuesday, February 16, 2016


The drawing, such as it was, has taken place and the winner has emerged.

The winner is JAMES WEAVER. To claim your prize, please provide your mailing address by sending an e-mail to olympicorchids at gmail dot com or leave a PM on Facebook

Just to clarify the parameters of our giveaway system, any drawing with less than two entrants will be extended so that that prize is offered along with the next one. Any unclaimed prizes will be accumulated so that each giveaway's winner will receive whatever the total accumulation is. It works sort of like the real lottery where the pot keeps getting bigger if no one claims it.

Don't forget there's a great drawing for two different Harajuku Lovers perfumes this week, including a 100 ml bottle of Wicked Baby! All you have to do is leave a comment.

Because the cost of international shipping has now become truly outrageous, some drawings will be US only. Any shipping limitations will be made explicit in each post.

[Photoshopped moon photo is mine]

Saturday, February 13, 2016


I have a lot of sample mascaras, but will only report on the three that I’ve been testing for the past 6 months or so. One of them is as awesome as they come, and I can’t say enough good things about it. One is OK, and the other is a miserable mess. I’ll go from the good to the bad.

Buxom Lash Mascara (black)
This is the champ - probably the best mascara I’ve ever tried. It doesn’t clump at all, it colors each lash separately instead of making them stick together, it stays put all day until I remove it, and the little sample tube lasts and lasts. I have literally been using the small sample size several times a week for the past 6 months and it’s still going strong. The brush looks a little strange because it’s long, thin, and seems to be covered with tiny, slick plastic spikes instead of bristles, but it works like a charm. I love this mascara and would certainly buy a full size if I ever ran out of samples.

Lancome Hypnose Drama (black)
This works after a fashion, but I find that it is excessively goopy and tends to make my lashes stick together. It also tends to clump, but that can be mitigated if I frequently wipe the brush off with a tissue to remove excess buildup and recharge it with fresh mascara from the tube. The brush is a weird twisted shape that makes it hard to apply the mascara evenly, so there’s a definite learning curve if you want to use it. The mascara seems reasonably secure once it’s on, staying put until it’s removed. It’s OK, but I wouldn’t buy a full size because there are much cheaper ones that are as good or better.

Josie Maran Argan Black Oil Mascara (black)
It seems that everything is wrong with this mascara. It’s extremely thick and would be goopy if it were not so dry. It has generated nothing but clumps and crumbs from day one. It even clumps on the brush. I gave it the benefit of the doubt and tried it several times, but obtained the same clumpy, ugly result every time. Even though it seems dry, once it's on, it tends to smear. The brush is weird, with bristles of all different lengths. It looks like it has a bad case of mange that's made its bristles come out in tufts here and there. The photo at the right doesn't show the half of it. The uneven brush makes it impossible to apply the stuff properly. I cannot even use my sample, let alone think about buying a full size. This one is a no-go and will be headed to the garbage. 

[Photos from retailers’ websites]

Friday, February 12, 2016


The claims made by some perfume companies and the journalists who write about them never cease to amaze me. Recently on one of the many Facebook perfume groups there was a link to this article entitled,Could sniffing this perfume be the answer to being skinny?”,  claiming that a company that shall remain nameless here had released a perfume that can cause weight loss.

Not only are the claims over-the-top (“the first fragrance to boost your well-being”!), the journalist who writes about them seems to have no sense of logic. He or she writes, “A whiff of chocolate chip cookies baking in the oven can beckon even the fullest stomach to take a bite. Likewise, something rather foul can quickly turn off even the most prominent of hunger pangs. And now there’s a perfume that’s claiming to work in a similar way.

Which way? Does the perfume smell so foul that it “turns off hunger pangs”? That would be the logical conclusion, but the article goes on to describe the perfume as “a blend of light, fruity and floral notes”. If so, then it’s no different from thousands of other perfumes dipped from the same vat, so what’s the point?

Reading on, apparently the point is that the perfume is supposed to alter your mood and make you feel “happy” (as other perfumes also claim), which will, in turn, lower stress, which will, in turn, cause you to eat less, assuming stress is what causes you to overeat in the first place. The problem here is that any pleasant odor that you like to smell, or any activity that you enjoy, will do the same thing, so the claims are not specific to the perfume in question, or even to perfume in general.

In the name of investigative reporting, the journalist appears to have consulted an aromatherapist who agrees that inhaling pleasant odors can affect mood, but who goes on to try to debunk the claims as follows: “they say it is the topical application that will affect mood … but absorbing through the skin would take up to 12 hours to travel through the body to finally reach the brain, so spraying this perfume would not be a way to get an instant mood shift”. Who said that perfume had to be “absorbed through the skin” to improve mood or that it would ever reach the brain via that route? I thought the whole point was smelling it regardless of where or how it was applied. Aromatherapists may not like to hear this, but it’s still aromatherapy even if it’s not straight essential oils sniffed from an organic, vegan diffuser.

The aromatherapist and a nutritionist go on to bash perfumes that contain alcohol and imply that perfumes all contain “harmful chemicals”.

There is so much wrong with practically every statement in this article that I couldn’t begin to enumerate them all and will steer clear of commenting on the many misconceptions about biology. Unfortunately, this article epitomizes the overblown claims of perfume manufacturers (and those of many other industries), as well as the profound ignorance and/or lack of any real critical thinking on the part of those who write about them. As my father would say, if it weren’t so funny it would be tragic.

This concludes my rant for the day.

[Perfume bottle photos from retailers’ websites; Jack Sprat images from nursery-rhyme illustrations posted online. “Jack Sprat could eat no fat, his wife could eat no lean; and so between them both they licked the patter clean”, one point being that it takes all kinds to make the world go round and function as well as it apparently does for the two happy lovers in the last image.]

Wednesday, February 10, 2016


First, I want to announce that the winner of the mini bottle of Fresh Life is  SUN MI   Please contact me at olympicorchids at gmail dot com or leave a message on Facebook with your complete, correct name and shipping address.

On the last Materials Wednesday when I posted on perfume carriers, there was talk about solid perfumes, so it seems reasonable to cover that, too. Personally, I’m not a fan of solid perfumes, but I know many people like them.

Basically, solid perfumes are fragrance in a carrier of wax and oil in a ratio that makes the resulting mass solid but spreadable. The fragrance can be anything from essential oils to ready-made synthetic fragrance oils or concentrates. The solid wax is heated enough to melt it, and the carrier oil and fragrance oil are added in whatever ratio gives the desired consistency and scent. While liquid, the mixture is poured into a small tin or jar, where it is allowed to solidify, and voila! You have solid perfume.

The high-end commercial “natural” and/or low-end DIY solid perfume formulas typically use beeswax, candelilla wax, carnauba wax, shea butter, cocoa butter, or mango butter along with various liquid oils like almond, coconut, olive, sunflower, grape seed, or jojoba. Many of these ingredients have scents of their own, so contribute subtly to the final fragrance, which is one reason why solid perfumes often smell a little different from liquid ones.

There are not a lot of mass-market commercial solid perfumes, and those that exist do not disclose all of their ingredients, but they probably use soy wax, paraffin wax, deodorized castor oil, mineral oil, and small amounts of other “natural”-sounding waxes and oils like the ones mentioned above, along with synthetic/mixed-media fragrance concentrates.

Next week I’ll actually start on the perfume materials themselves.

[Beeswax photos are from Wikimedia, solid perfume photos from retailers' websites, and Fresh Life bottle from Fragrantica]

Thursday, February 4, 2016


With apologies for missing this Wednesday's materials series due to some extra, time-consuming work at the university, I am happy to announce that the winner of the artifact fancy bottle drawing is LAUREN. I understand Azar's dog Fender did the choosing.

[The photo, for no particular reason, is the green spotted hellebore that's blooming now, child of the dark red one. There seems to be no consistency in how the offspring look.]