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.

Sunday, June 12, 2011


This perfume that combines burning cedar wood and sweet alyssum flowers has turned out to be the most difficult perfumery task I’ve tackled yet. Initially, it was easy to come up with the various accords of cedar wood, campfire smoke and the flower itself, but putting them together and smoothing out the whole composition is another matter.

A month or two ago I decided to try putting the accords together, but made the mistake of tweaking every one of them first. I decided to add benzoin, Nootka tree oil, and a few other things to the cedar accord, only to find that the changes caused the whole thing to degenerate into dusty pencil shavings. Because Alyssum had mentioned that she’d like some “airy” top notes, I tried adding some ozonic-type notes to the flower accord, only to find that the interaction created an unpleasant sensation of cat-piss. Sometimes it’s better to leave well enough alone.

I went back to the drawing board and re-created both of the ruined accords, and am now letting them mellow for a little while before starting the real mixing. I used a different “airy” aroma chemical in the flower accord and so far it seems to be working OK. I bumped up the aromatic aspect of the cedar wood a little. I think both will be improved versions of the original.

Last night I tried mixing everything together on my skin to get a rough idea of what was going to happen. The bottom line seemed to be that the flower notes dominated the woody and smoky ones, so that gives me a rough idea of what the ratios will need to be. I also understand why sweet alyssum is not used as a perfume note. The other fact that came through loud and clear was that this particular set of woody, smoky, and floral notes are not natural soulmates and will need a lot of trace materials to bind them together and provide a smooth transition from top to base.

Today I'm wearing a mixture of the new accords plus a tiny hint of cyclamen to help bridge the gap between the airy notes, the honeyed sweet alyssum, and the smoky wood. This isn't perfect yet, but it's far better than the last trial.

I’ve gone from feeling overwhelmed by this project to getting back on what seems to be a marked trail. A challenging trail, but one that I think I’ll make it through to the end.

[Firewood photo from Wikimedia]


  1. When I took mbira lessons in the mid 1980's my teacher, Dumisami Mahrere, would refer to the melodic voicings of the instrument as "The Obvious and Present", The Present but Not Obvious" and the psychoacoustic and magical effect of the "The Obvious but Not Present"! This last effect, as well as parallels to Interference and Cancellation in acoustics seem to be surfacing in this search for Alyssum. Very similar to creating sounds on the old tone generators, but I imagine much more complex. Gail

  2. Glad to hear you feel like you're on the right track. Always a nice feeling!

  3. Gail, you are absolutely right that in perfumery there are positive and negative interference patterns just as there are in acoustics. An example of the "obvious but not present" is the missing fundamental of a harmonic complex, or the emergent "fougere" note that results from combining lavender and coumarin.

    Not all of the interactions in perfumery can be attributed to chemical reactions, but instead must result from interference patterns created in patterns of neural activity by the different molecules, resulting in effects that are comparable to acoustic interference, beat frequencies, timbre, chords, etc.

  4. Ah! So Cool!


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  6. Ghost, I'm glad you like the blog. I try to provide some insight into the process of perfume creation.