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.

Friday, September 23, 2011


For the past few days we’ve been having a weather phenomenon that I first learned about in the Alps, called “Foehn”. It starts out with bizarre cloud formations like corrugated sheets with clear sky on the far side, and other isolated clouds that look like flying saucers. All of the mountains suddenly become extremely clear, with every detail standing out. The big volcano, Mount Rainier, looks like it’s in our back yard. The wind starts to blow, and it gets warm. We had the partly cloudy type of weather for two days, but today it’s perfectly clear and almost hot, with temperatures of 80+ F and strong winds.

I suppose this is what would be called Indian summer, the last hurrah before fall starts. The smell of ripe blackberries is everywhere, attracting lots of people who are picking them along the roadside. The lavender that grows in everyone’s yard is pumping out its scent, too, attracting lazy bees, spoiled by the unseasonably warm weather.

When I got home tonight after a trip to the grocery store, while still in my car I smelled something like rotting, fermented fruit. I thought something in my bags had spoiled while I parked and went to look for costume materials for our theatre group’s October show, but when I got out of the car the smell was even stronger. We have quite a few fruit trees bearing fruit this time of year, mostly figs, apples, and pears, so I suppose some of the fruit had dropped and fermented on the ground. When I go outside now that it’s evening, I smell wood smoke. Either someone is barbecuing with wood or there’s a forest fire nearby. Blackberries, lavender, overripe fruit, dry grass, and smoke truly epitomize the smells of Indian summer.

I hadn’t looked at my orchids for quite a while, but today I discovered that several of them are blooming. Dendrobium schneideri has sprays of tiny greenish-white flowers with a light anise scent. Cattleya harrisoniae is lavender with a white lip, and is strongly fragrant. It smells like indolic artificial grape and rose, along with hints of a fruity generic-Cattleya note. It’s only fragrant during the day. Brassavola nodosa, the big one with red spots in the throat, suddenly burst into bloom. I brought it inside, and tonight it’s perfuming the room with its scent of smoky cloves and ylang-ylang. During the day it has no fragrance, but as soon as it gets dark, out comes the perfume, just like clockwork. This discretely-spotted variety is one of my favorite orchids.

[Lentiform clouds and Mount Rainier photo from Wikipedia]


  1. Hi Ellen,

    What a beautiful picture of Mt. Rainier! "Season of mists and mellow fruitfullness." for sure. The old memorized lines of Keats really describe the orchards and the fruits that have fallen. Indian summer may be warmer than our real summer but it smells like fall has arrived. Here in Issaquah we are still waiting for the mists. "Much have I travelled in the realms of gold." are walks through the vine maples or contemplation of the cleanup we face when our many big leaf maples drop their yellow leaves. Such a great time to be living here in the PNW.


  2. After getting some light frost, it's warmed up here, too. We always get Seattle's left over weather! Today is supposed to be the last day of it, though, so I'd best start harvesting all the herbs.

  3. We had fog this morning so, even though it lifted quickly and the sun is shining, it seems that fall is here. I think this is my favorite time of year in the PNW, big leaf maple leaves and all!

  4. "smoky cloves and ylang-ylang"? That sounds like an odd, yet stunning fragrance. Have you ever been inspired to make a perfume based on Brassavola nodosa?

    I must see and smell the PNW someday. Your descriptions of the Foehn phenomenom and the smells in the air sound divine.