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.

Thursday, November 18, 2010


Yesterday I got the usual monthly e-mail from Luckyscent offering a sample pack full of the latest goodies. This one contained some duplicates of samples that I already have, so I started checking up on the items I wasn’t familiar with to see if the pack was worth ordering for the ones I didn’t have (it wasn’t). What caught my eye was Luckyscent’s blurb for Juliette Has a Gun’s Not a Perfume, and I quote here a part of what you can read in full on their website if you wish:

“Along with today’s minimalist trend, Not a Perfume follows suit and adds extremity, irreverence and conceptual characteristics to deliver a true art form. You have now stepped into a new and elegant form of perfumery. With Not a Perfume you get exactly what you want from the scent: it does not evolve; it is not a composition, but rather a particular fragrance that is very strong & lasting on skin. Just like the white packaging it’s housed in, its makeup is fresh, clean, and clinical. This brand new concept from Romano Ricci is a modern day fragrance that is 100% synthetic and created without allergens. Not a Perfume is made of 1 single synthetic ingredient – Ambroxan.”

First of all, selling dilutions of a single aroma chemical is not a “brand new concept”. Among high profile perfumers, Escentric Molecules already did this a while back with Iso E Super and vetiveryl acetate, so what Juliette has a Gun has now done with Ambroxan is not all that innovative. Selling a dilution of a single material can obviously be done with any aroma chemical, essential oil, or fragrance oil, and I suspect it is done a good deal at the low end of the perfume world through sheer laziness and lack of imagination.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the smell of ambroxan, and have about 15 g of the pure stuff sitting upstairs in my workshop. It is one of the more expensive aroma chemicals, probably because Firmenich still has a patent on it, costing about $31 for an ounce if you don’t buy by the kilo. At Luckyscent’s prices, I’m sitting on a small fortune since a 1% dilution of my 15g would produce about 1500 ml of product. At Luckyscent’s prices, that’s over $1500 minus the cost of the crystals and a few nice 100 ml spray bottles, a good bit more if sold in 50 ml bottles.

Inspired by Juliette, I mixed up a 10% dilution of ambroxan, a small portion of which I further diluted to 1%, the recommended concentration for smelling. It’s lovely and strong even at that seemingly low concentration, with plenty of sillage. It’s one of those aroma chemicals that was developed to replace ambergris, but in some ways surpassed the natural material. It does have a hint of a salty, animalic ocean-like scent reminiscent of ambergris, but it also has a sharp woody aspect to it. For a single molecule, it has an unusually full and complex scent, and is certainly capable of holding its own as a perfume without any help from other notes. It’s long-lasting and, as Luckyscent says, linear. Honestly, I’d much rather wear pure ambroxan than any of the fruity-florals that are out there in such abundance. Moreover, I'd venture to guess that making a 1% solution of ambroxan costs every bit as much or more than making any of those fruity-florals and celebrity abominations.

And now for Luckyscent’s argument that a single diluted aroma chemical constitutes “a true art form”. I suppose it is as much an art form as those minimalist canvases that are in every gallery at every level, covered with a single color or just blobby off-white paint. The value of the primer-covered or solid blue canvas is determined by the reputation of the painter who created it, not by its intrinsic value, just as the value of a perfume is determined by reputation and advertising regardless of its composition. Maybe ambroxan is really not so minimalist, but more like a single objet trouvĂ©, a pretty seashell with a complex form picked up on the beach and hung on a gallery wall, or a Campbell’s soup can (chicken noodle, because tomato has already been done) set on a pedestal in a gallery. As long as someone is willing to consider an item art, I suppose it is art, at least in the eye of the gallery owner or curator and the beholder who shells out their hard-earned money to view it or buy it.

The question of what art is can’t be resolved, but what I can do is offer 5-ml samples of ambroxan to the first two who leave a comment requesting them. If you leave a comment about how you personally define art, I’ll include an extra goodie assortment if you’re one of the first two, and will select a third person to receive an ambroxan sample.


  1. My personal definition of art is...an event, a concept, a creative expression in form that, simply put, makes us look again. And in so doing, challenges and changes our perceptions - for good, for bad or for indifferent - but that change must be there, a slight slant or view askew that did not exist before. Whether through redefining beauty - as Van Gogh famously did with irises and sunflowers - or redefining the everyday and mundane, as Warhol did with his Campbell's soup cans - in both instances, our perceptions of what constitutes "art", or "beauty" have been irrevocably changed. An iris is a flower in a garden, and a haunting perfume, and an ultraviolet emotion on a canvas but never merely "iris" again, a soup can can be...dinner, or a silk-screened poster, or an ad or a statement, but never...quite what it was, changed by that nebulous concept that is..."art". I also think this applies equally to whatever genre of artistic statement is used - music, fine arts, performing arts, perfume...

    Or at least, that's my definition! ;-)

    I'm a big fan of Juliette Has A Gun's 'Lady Vengeance' (one of the better 'dark roses'), but I also have to say - sometimes, it can be a good and applaudable act to question our often preconceived notions as to what constitutes "art" - in perfumery, in this instance.

    We perfumoholics (I don't know enough to be considered 'perfumista' just yet!) can sometimes get a bit too comfortable in our notions of what constitutes perfumery-as-art, and every once in a while, to have our preconceptions turned ever-so-slightly on their heads can teach us a great deal, about art, about the art that is perfume, and about ourselves, not least!

    And while I'm on my oversized soapbox, as an avid reader of your blog, can I just say how much I appreciate it, and how much you've taught me - about art, about orchids and about an art that is close to both our hearts! ;-)

  2. Tarleisio, That's an excellent definition of art - something that makes us see (or hear, or smell) things in a new way and appreciate the beauty of what that might otherwise have been overlooked.

    I've sent you an e-mail to get your mailing address for the samples.

    On another note, how sad that the spammers have found this blog. There must be a way to block them ...?

  3. There is, through your Blogger dashboard! Check your mail, and I'll walk you through it!

  4. Thanks. I found the trashcan, and the spam has gone to the big electronic landfill in the sky.

  5. You know, I sort of not think about what is art. Because sometimes it seems things that are deemed as art are completely bizarre and I for the life of me cannot imagine why they would be art.
    But if I had to give my opinion of what art is, I'd say it is a creative way of expressing your thoughts in any manner or through any material that lends itself to interpretation.
    Now, I'm off to read what tarleisio wrote (I didn't want to influence myself). :)

    Btw, I got your kyphy package yesterday - thank you! I'll give it more time but for my first try, I can say this smells more Egyptian to me than any other kyphi I tried (and some other Egyptian themed scents). Very strange and completely intriguing.

  6. Ines, I'm glad the Kyphi arrived safely and that you find that it smells Egyptian! I hope you enjoy it.

    Would you like an ambroxan sample, too? So far I'm only sending one to Tarleisio, so you would be number two.

  7. Ellen, hopefully not sounding very ungrateful, but of course I would!
    Since, I cannot offer any products of my own making, I hope in return, you wouldn't mind some Croatian chocolate?

  8. Ines, please don't feel that you need to send anything in exchange for the samples that I send you. It's my pleasure to share the things that I create with others.

    Of course, I'm never one to turn down good chocolate, but your feedback is really enough.

  9. Although I love all of them, I think I prefer Cetalox to Ambroxan. They are the same molecule but made in different ways, so produce slightly different off-isomers, or whatever phrase the chemists use.

  10. Hi! I found your blog completely by chance and I am really happy I did! Would you by any chance mind letting me know how you dilute ambroxan, what the process looks like? I am a complete novice but am absolutely obsessed with Not a Perfume by Juliette has a Gun but thought it would be even more special if I could create this on my own. Thank you ever so much in advance for any advice you might have! All the very best, Pia Larsson

  11. Hi, Pia! I'm glad you like the blog. To dilute ambroxan, which comes as solid crystals, it's just 1% in perfumer's alcohol (95% ethanol). That's 1g ambroxan and 99g ethanol. You can buy ambroxan crystals in small quantities from Perfumer's Apprentice. Have fun with it!

  12. Thank you for this blog. I received my June 2012 Birchibox last evening and discovered in it my new absolute favorite fragrance, Ambroxan or, as labeled, “Not a Perfume.” I knew right away that I had to get more of it. Your blog is the first follow up I’ve made, after Wikipedia’s definition of ambroxan. I haven’t even gone to Juliet Has a Gun as yet. As I continue in my search for affordable ambroxan for my own perfume collection, I now have a clear understanding of what I may encounter. Thank you, again.

  13. Alexine, Ambroxan diluted at 1% does indeed make a wonderful perfume, and I sometimes wear it myself. If you would like to order it in 0.5 oz or 1 oz sizes, you can go to my website (orchidscents.com) and order the "Wild Card", specifying that the fragrance you would like is Ambroxan.

  14. In hopes that I am number 3- my definition of art is in the eye of the beholder, meaning that:
    When you look at art and study it for some time, a feeling overcomes your body causing a reaction. This feeling, or emotion, being good or bad, defines what the art holds inside. Since we all react differently, with a wide range of emotions, the art then evolves to convey message. When you discover that message, you Have "read" what the art is speaking to you. People should create and buy art based on their emotions, not because the said artist is popular, nor because your friend loves it. That is how I convey the Definition of art. Hope it's not too confusing. It's really difficult to convey the message!

    1. JensTreats, Thanks for your comments. This is an old thread, so the giveaway is long past. However, I've no shortage of ambroxan, so if you'd like a sample, just e-mail me with your address. You can find my e-mail in the profile section.

      I agree that people should judge art by their own emotions, but all too often they just follow the crowd, wanting to "fit in".

  15. Dear readers,

    Aromatic chemicals for making perfumes available with us in small pack of 1 to 10 ml.

    We can send you the list of available ingredients upon knowing your interest.

    Tks & rgds