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, July 10, 2010


One of the high priorities on my to-make list is a scent that in some way re-creates the odors that I experienced years ago in India. It’s an intimidating task because there are an uncountable number of them, and there’s a serious risk of combining so many incompatible things that the mixture becomes a complete mess. One of the key notes that I have envisioned for this scent is a smoky one, something reminiscent of the burning cow-dung that is (or at least used to be) hanging in the air everywhere, all the time. I know this sounds awful and disgusting, but burning cow dung is actually a pleasant, campfire-like scent. After all, it’s just semi-digested grass briquettes and it smells a lot better than American barbecue charcoal. I considered a lot of different things including cade and birch tar, but when I got a bottle of choya loban I knew I had found the holy grail of smoke scents, at least for the purpose of this formulation. It may prove to be useful in making “burning incense” notes, too.

Choya loban is a thick, almost black liquid distilled from the Indian species of frankincense, Boswellia serrata, which has a lighter and more citrus-like scent than any of the African species. From what I’ve read, the distillation of B serrata resin “tears” (the dried sap exuded by the trees) is done in clay jars, so that the result smells smoky, earthy, and just a little resinous. Perfect. Today I mixed up an experimental base using choya loban, sandalwood, and a few other things. It wasn’t perfect (what is, the first time around?) but it turned out better than I expected, and I almost like it too much to combine it with other things. I’m sure I’ll change my mind after I get used to smelling it, though.

I can see that the Indian scent is going to be an ongoing project for a while, along with the orchid scent, Osafume.


  1. I am VERY excited about this one! I love India, love incense scents, love messy wonderful things! Keep us posted on your progress. The choya loban sounds interesting on its own, even....

  2. This one could get REALLY messy! That part is easy. The "wonderful" part is going to take a lot of experimentation.

  3. I had some choya loban and much preferred it to my other "smoky" perfume ingredients. But as a frankincense junkie, I thought, "too smokey!" and didn't use it much. I sent it to March of Perfume Posse, and she went nuts, saying, if I remember correctly, "The angels had a barbecue!"- She's right. It's gorgeous. I wish I still had some, and I'll probably get some more. Thanks for writing about these somewhat obscure perfumery ingredients!

  4. Hi Marla, I have a lot of choya loban, so if you want some I can send you a small amount. Just PM me with your mailing address. I do like it better than birch tar, cade, choya ral, choya nakh, etc.

    I ended up using choya loban in my perfume, Gujarat, to give a subtle smoky note.

  5. My boyfriend is hoping to create a scent similar to his much loved Andy Tauer L'air du Marocain (cathedral incense type smell). Apparently Tauer's marocain doesn't contain frankincense. My boyfriend is hoping to use: isobutyl quinoline, birch tar, cade oil, myrrh, benzoin, iso e super. I think perhaps he needs some choya loban also. I think he will be very lucky to get anywhere near Tauer's great perfume but good luck to him. Any advice on what else to add would be much appreciated???

    1. This list of materials doesn't sound like it would create a "cathedral incense" type scent, but it's worth a try to see what emerges. With both birch tar and cade, I don't think an additional smoky material would add much. Good luck to both of you.