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, October 27, 2011


The last of the new fragrances was Café V, presented in two different versions. I learned something very interesting from the testing of these two, and will take the fragrance back to the drawing board for adjustments. This is the last super-long post for a while, I promise!

Café V#1
Initial: Sweet tobacco smoke and something like carnauba wax
5 minutes: Vanilla, tea and cocoa. The carnauba wax is still strong.
15 minutes: The waxy edge is blending with the vanilla and cocoa. The smoke is still evident.
30 minutes: The carnauba wax is still around but becoming less prominent. Some warm woody smells.
50 minutes: Cinnamon and some other spices appearing as wax dissipates.
2 hours: Wood, spices, vanilla. The wax is just about gone.
6 hours: Dries down to a familiar combination of nutmeg, vanilla, and spices.
General comments: The most memorable impression I had of Café V #1 was the odor of carnauba wax. After 2 hours this scent shifted from specifically carnauba wax to just a general “waxy” smell which lasted until about 4 hours into the test. At 6 hours there was still a hint of wax mixed with a distinctive Olympic Orchids blend of nutmeg, vanilla, etc. While I like the smell of carnauba wax I wouldn’t want to wear it as a personal fragrance. I like this scent from about 50 minutes to the end.

Café V #2
Initial: Sweet tobacco smoke, some spices and carnauba wax (less penetrating than in #1)
5 minutes: More spice, even less carnauba wax
15 minutes: Vanilla, cocoa, spice, generic wax
30 minutes: Less of an edge all around than #1. Vanilla, wax, pice, cocoa
1 hour: More vanilla. Some leather.
2 hours: Light vanilla, leather, very light cinnamon and spice.
6 hours: Light vanilla and leather. Very light combination spice. Familiar Olympic Orchid drydown like #1.
General comments: When I read your notes I couldn’t believe that I had totally missed the coffee element in both of the versions. #2 is creamier, less edgy than #1. I also don’t get as much of the carnauba wax in the opening of #2. #2 is easier for me to wear but it has less personality than #1.

Cafe 1 seems to be little bit more woody and the cocoa is toned down compared to version 2. I don't know if that reflects the concentrations or version 2 has different notes that are enhancing the cocoa. Maybe that could be explained by the presence of the creamy note. In version 2 the cocoa is more rounded and sweeter.

Cafe 1 feels more quiet , woody and leathery and the cocoa is showing more its dark and earthy side. It feels the other notes are surrounding the leather.
Version 2 somehow feels more friendly and rounded. After reading the composition I can definitely see that even if "the creamy note" is hard to define, still helps that first impression of friendliness; the cocoa is more chocolate-y but still dark, the leather is still there, but the coffee note comes out more defined. However, all notes blend together, they feel like being part of the same fragrance. They play the same melody.

In version 1 the coffee is more roasted and less smoky, it blends in the leathery tone, in Vesion 2 the coffee is smoky but little bit more defined and rounded with a gourmand feeling. Foody gourmand and not sweet gourmand.

If I have to choose that would be difficult. Ver 2 is little bit more accessible and also more loud, couple of notes more accentuated. Ver 1 feels more toned down, without that gourmandisime tone, feels more dry and distant, but distant in an inviting way. It makes you want to go back to get a bit more, like you are not satisfied enough. It makes you wonder.

Ver 2 is more about the coffee. Everything blends into it. After a sniff it my brain is able to remember the fragrance.

Somehow ver1 is hard to catch and describe. It feels like a fragrance with a multitude of faces. Coffee and leather and woody and smoky.

I have a hard time deciding what I like more.

Café V version 1- It opens with cinnamon, and leather, and sweetness. Too much leather for my taste. I have a problem with leather scents- even though I know darn well they have other things in them, leather tends to be all I can smell. Mike sent me a sample of one he made (the Paris Metro one) that had leather and flowers, and all I could smell was leather. I’ve tried to use leather myself, and finally gave up when I had it diluted to 1% (using leather accord from TGSC) and it was still overpowering. But, at least, with yours, after about a half hour the leather fades a bit and it gets sweeter. But I’m afraid I don’t smell it as very complex, even though I can see from your notes it is.

Café V version 2- okay, I love this one! It opens with a cinnamon bun hot out of the oven, warm and spicy. Five minutes in the leather steps forward, but the scent is still spicy, not skanky. The cinnamon fades a bit and lets the other spices out. The creamy note is defiantly noticeable- it kept making me think of ice cream. I love creamy. Never did smell the coffee. This one lasts a good amount of time on me; the balsam and myrrh and leather really hang in there- I can still faintly smell it after over six hours. AND the leather, though very apparent, never dominates. I was able to enjoy it rather than cringing from it! It would have never occurred to me to put leather and gourmand together, but it WORKS. Wonderfully.

Cafe V [1 and 2] both seem like fougeres with different top notes - something green in the #1 and incense in the #2. The fougere part of each has something that smells industrial to me, sort of like 3 in 1 Oil. I like it! I think I may have suggested using it in someone's discussion of what a steam punk perfume would be. It's not dominant.

I’ve tried going from one sample to the next (keeping them in different rooms). I found the Café V #1 to be slightly sweeter and the Café V #2 to be slightly more woody. I hope this helps with your planning, but it’s probably better if not too many people share my association of machine oil with myrrh. Or you could call it steam punk and put some sort of gothic Dickensian label on the bottle.

Café V: Unfortunately, both these variants are not my cup of tea (or should I say, coffee). There is a note in both these scents - also very dominant in Kyphi and somewhat less noticeable in Bay Rum - that I don't care for. And I can't put my finger on what it is! Mind you, while I LOVE coffee, I have yet to find a fragrance that contains coffee that I like - with the exception of Jean Laporte's L'Eau de Navigateur where the very heavy spices seem to enhance the coffee note. I am sure that you will get positive responses from your other testers on both these scents, but I would have felt like a hypocrite if I didn't give my honest opinion. Incidentally I have been wearing and enjoying your three other samples that you sent to me. I even tried mixing a very small amount of the Salamanca with some Rose Chypre and the result was very beautiful - at least to me.

Cafe V 1
First impression: creamy mocha w/ a touch of bitter coffee
Vetiver and patchouli? violet leaf?
2nd testing, one week later: a nutty, oily note, walnut-like. Citrus - peel, not juice. 5 min. in, there seems to be a note that's hovering above, all-spice or nutmeg, mace? Feels discordant to me.
20 min in: notes smell more harmonious at this point, but something still seems to be hovering.
35 min. in: I think I have identified the hovering smell - it's not "discordant", it smells like a spice I don't like: cardamom. I think that's the nutty, oily smell too.
I like the creamy/bitter contrast.
On paper, it smells delicious, like chai without the black tea. Unfortunately for me, it smells flat and oily on my skin!
cafe V 2
Orange mocha!
This doesn't smell creamy, it smells citrusy - more orange, bitter coffee and cardamom. I prefer this blend to no.1.
On paper, it's quite juicy and vibrant, chocolate-y, rosy, a little spicy. Patchouli, rose, nutmeg? It smells wonderful.
For some reason, it smells flat on my skin- again, that nutty, oily smell. However, 10 minutes in, it starts to pop up - spicy coffee.
Pleasant and cozy, it would make a beautiful scent for Autumn.

Cafe V #1 - No medicinal opening here, dry and less sweet or creamy so not really gourmand, though still foodie in a way. Like the smell of fresh roasted coffee beans instead of a coffee drink or flavored food. It's less chocolate-y and more like a good shot of espresso from beans with a touch of coffee to them. It's less aggressive than two, and the sillage is smaller, but I like it very much. I probably prefer #1 to #2, which surprised me because I normally love sweet foodie, but this really spoke to me.

Cafe V #2 - I get an almost medicinal sweetness in the immediate opening here, like a combination of dry bitter chocolate and moss. Almost liqueur-like, like one made of coconut and chocolate liqueur. I definitely get the leather, like new fresh leather, newly treated for commercial use. Veeery foodie, particularly next to #1. The whole thing in my mind is like an exhibit in a modern art exhibit: a coffee cream filled dark chocolate petit four made, not from food, but made entirely of different colors, textures, and ages of leathers.

I really am sorry to say that something in those two samples doesn't work well with my stomach. I'm guessing the leather-cardamom combination. That doesn't happen often, but recently it also happened with DSH Cuir et champignon.
Of the two, I think version 1 is lighter on my stomach. It smells to me rocky, sweetly, lightly coffe-ish and smoky.

Number two has a lightly meaty quality I couldn't place where I was getting it from the notes and seemed to me a bit stronger version of 1. I don't understand the idea of meaty smokiness but it just doesn't suit me, so if I were you, I'd take my thoughts on these 2 out of the equation.

All of the comments were insightful and fun to read, and there were two comments that I was particularly struck by - the characterization of Café V as “steampunk” and the one that described it as a modern art rendition of a petit four made entirely of leather. Now that I think about it, a big industrial espresso machine does have a steampunk look, so it's right in keeping with the theme. And I love the idea of the leather sculpture.

Poetic descriptions aside, the first and most important thing that I discovered from these reviews is that a lot of people intensely dislike cardamom. This comes as a little bit of a surprise to me, since it’s one of my favorite spices. The first adjustment will probably be to either back off a lot with the cardamom or omit it entirely. The second thing - not a surprise - was that the coffee needs to be bumped up. The addition of the creamy note seems to be a toss-up. Some like it, others prefer the version without it.

Some impressions are all over the map - carnauba wax, 3-in-1 oil, meat, orange, etc. I don’t worry too much about these outliers, since everybody comes up with their own odd take on things. What I do worry about is several people mentioning that the cardamom was overpowering and the coffee hardly noticeable. I think the chocolate needs bumping up, too.

The bottom line seems to be that this is worth pursuing, but will require some more work to make it appealing to the majority of people.

[All images, including the anonymous painting, are from Wikimedia]


  1. Ellen,
    I don't know if this helps explain the range of associations but the Wikipedia article on 3-in-One Oil says, "The formula consists of pale spindle oil with a small amount of corrosion inhibitor and citronella oil (which gives the product its distinctive sharp odor)."

    I like cardamom but maybe there's a note in there that other people smell and I don't. I know you make accords like cardamom from individual aromachemicals. Is there anythink in there with a known anosmia problem?


  2. Ed, for things that are available as an essential oil, extract, or absolute, I prefer to let nature do the work and use the natural material, which is typically richer-smelling than a synthetic accord. I use aroma chemicals and synthetic accords only when I can't get the desired scent or effect using naturals. Cardamom essential oil smells just like the spice, so I use it.

    There is no citronella in either of the Cafe V formulas, but it is possible that if you are anosmic to some of the components of the natural cardamom oil, it could smell oily and not spicy.

    I'll have to look into possible reasons why some people find cardamom so aversive.

  3. Huh. I love cardamom. It's one of my favorite spices. Cinnamon, now, which everyone else in the universe loves, I don't like, except as a very minor note, whether in food or perfume.