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, March 1, 2011


I mentioned the other day that I had received an e-mail from an anonymous customer requesting a bespoke perfume. Whoever it is certainly has some lofty goals in life as well as some interesting and definite ideas about what he wants. Since he presented the brief as a challenge, almost a sport, how could I not take it on?

He included a photograph, presumably so that I could match the perfume to his appearance, but that won’t be easy since he seems to be concealing most of his face. Somehow I suspect that he’s in the habit of constantly creating himself as a fictional character to conceal his true identity. Regardless of whatever neuroses this customer may have, here’s the brief:

I need…a perfume. Perfume is one of the things she lives for, one of the reasons she loves to breathe.
I want it to be unlike anything you've ever made. I want it to be dark, bitter, otherworldly. A lot of base, a lot of bass. I want it to unnerve and surprise her. I want her to say 'yes'.
I want you to think for a moment about ‘sin’. Think about something…forbidden, something taboo. Something subversive, which makes it seductive and alluring, almost by default.
What is the ultimate human taboo in terms of scent? It’s your ultimate dirty secret, the very secret you use your perfumes to conceal and hide or on the other hand, accentuate:
You’re animals underneath it all. With animal appetites, animal urges you try to ignore, suppress, hide and deny at your peril. Or animal appetites you want to advertise, just not in so many words.
The very kind I embody, or so you think.
What would I be as a human animal? I’m the Devil, so they’ve said. Neither animal nor human but a combination of both, just enough of each of them to be dangerous, and that’s the whole idea. Danger. I want her to be able to know exactly who I am by her sense of smell alone.

So – the perfume. Now, I love frankincense, I love it for that sense of sanctity it implies, for that mood of contemplation it creates. I love it because it’s outside of time, just like me. Boswellia neglecta, and a touch of Boswellia serrata, too, and labdanum. Labdanum is a note she loves, labdanum is animal and sexy and slightly goatish. Perfect. She loves galbanum and cinnamon leaf. Castoreum? Civet? Civet is sweeter and sexier than musk I’ve always thought, but that’s your business, to think this out for me.
Dangerous, remember? This is part of my bait, the part of my bait that I hope she bites. I have a feeling that she will surprise me, and trust me, not too much does any more.

I want you, my chosen perfumer, to surprise me. Think dark, think sacred, think bitter, think…just the slightest bit overpowering, the kind that breaks down resistance.
The kind that will make her take the bait.
I told you. I want her to say ‘yes’. I want you to create a perfume for me that makes sure she does.
Are you up to that challenge? Do you think you can do it? Do you think you can surprise me, too?

I’ll be in touch later. Let me see if you can do it. I think you might. I like surprises. They come with the job description!


So there you have it, folks. This is going to be quite a project.


  1. Oh yes. :) Quite the project!
    I can't wait to hear how it goes and smell eventually the final result.
    The brief is tantalizing.

  2. Une liaison dangereuse et anonyme. Excellent.
    No pressure, but...every fumehead in creation is going to want to sniff this! Especially with the wave of summer-soft orange flower and citrus releases approaching. Much as I like summer scents, this sounds infinitely more exciting.

  3. I have this person tattooed all over my right arm, so suffice it to say.. OMG OMG! Do you want to know who it is? I will be happy to tell you, or you can keep it a mystery if it helps your creativity. :)

  4. Carrie, I know who the person in the picture is but, fortunately or unfortunately, that picture is just the fantasy image that the real author of the brief wants to project. That's why I put in those comments about a fictional character. More shall be revealed.

  5. But it seems very creepy don't you think? Trying to catch a woman with perfume as 'bait'. And, as this person says, 'not too much [trusts] me anymore.' Hmmm ... Do be careful won't you?

  6. Perfect! What an intriguing task! I hope this project brings both of you the recognition you deserve in your fields! And I cannot wait to smell that! :)

  7. Hooray! I can't wait to smell this! I can't wait to smell it while reading QD! I'm so glad you've taken on this project Ellen :)

  8. I find those who work with nature and science are willing to wade into the murky mysteries of life. They are witness to things thought of as "dark, bitter, otherworldy".

    Elly, I can't think of a better person to create this perfume.

  9. Annemarie, using a perfume as "bait" is no more creepy than all of the guys who post on the forums that they're looking for a perfume that's a "chick magnet" of the women who post that they're looking for a perfume that will seduce a guy. Our anonymous friend just put it a little more poetically.

    Joan Elaine, you're so right that those of us who work with nature and science get drawn into the "dark, bitter, otherworldly" murky mysteries of life. "It comes with the job description", as the brief says in a different context.

  10. Anonymous seems to be requesting a sort of reverse pollination. He (I assume this anonymous is a he) is playing the role of a flower (an orchid of course) using chemicals to entice a pollinator. Perhaps his requested perfume is another candidate for a breath of Brasso. By the way, Ellen, considering enticing scents (and Anonymous' animal references), do you know why Pionus parrots broadcast a kind of powdery, honey scent when they are excited? I have one of these birds and every once in awhile he surprises me with his very personal animal fragrance. Someone suggested once that it was to attract ants to clean the birds nests? I find that hard to believe...its just not romantic enough. Gail

  11. Gail, That's fascinating that the parrot emits a scent, but my guess would be that it's to attract females (you? :-)). I suppose the other reason for giving off a scent would be to repel predators, but we usually find those sorts of scents unpleasant (think skunk).

    There are orchids (myrmecophilia) that attract ants, presumably with some sort of odor cue. I have a couple of species in my greenhouse, and one of them developed an ant colony in the stem, even though our local ant species are very different from the tropical ones that normally colonize the plants. So the idea of the parrot scent attracting ants may not be so far-fetched, but it doesn't explain why the scent is emitted only when the bird is excited.

  12. Ellen, My Pionus isn't the only smell good parrot. Many different parrots produce scents. Their owners describe these odors as musky, grassy, like hay, citrus, fig, banana, honey, various florals or combinations of all of these. Some people report that their parrots smell like dirty socks or thanksgiving turkeys. Perhaps every parrot has a unique (personal) fragrance (what Anonymous is looking for) and every parrot person (or woman) may have a different ability or capability to perceive, distinguish and catalogue fragrance. The intent of the scent production still puzzles me, although I agree that the attraction of a mate is the most likely (and straight forward) reason for the scent production. I prefer hearts and flowers to nest cleaning by "myrmi" maids (I couldn't resist that one). I would like to believe that the intent of the fragrance was some kind of multi level sophisticated communication that we have yet to understand. Anonymous may be asking for a scent to communicate one thing and in, fact, be partially, if not totally misunderstood through no fault of his own or the perfumer's. Communication by scent is really a challenge! Gail