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, April 17, 2012


Sometimes I do things totally by mistake that appear highly thought out when I later come back to what I’ve created and look at it from a different point of view, as if I’m a different person seeing it for the first time with new eyes. Although the thing seemed to develop spontaneously and randomly at the time, I can later see an over-reaching method in the madness. I wonder how many artists of all sorts do this, embedding symbolic meaning in their work without consciously planning to do so? How many of the analyses that are done in school, pushing students to find the “correct” interpretation of symbolism in a writer’s, composer’s or artist’s work, are far removed from the actual facts of how the work was created or the artist’s original inspiration or intention? How many artists, put on the spot by people asking for an explanation of their work, “back into” a perfectly valid interpretation after its creation?

In the case of the different versions of Dev, made for the Devilscent project, I created each one when I was reading a different part of Tarleisio/Sheila’s Eggenberger’s book Quantum Demonology. My formulation of the scents must have been strongly influenced by the story line without my realizing it, because it just occurred to me a couple of days ago that the four versions of Dev form a progression that fits with the trajectory of the novel. I have debated whether I should make these thoughts public, before everyone’s reviews are published, but it seemed like a sort of revelation when it occurred to me that the four versions are not four free-standing and interchangeable alternatives, but four olfactory symbols corresponding to the natural progression of the story. I asked Sheila first, and she gave me the go-ahead, so I believe this will come out in near-perfect synchronicity with her own review of the four Devs in their mandala structure.

Dev 1 could be called “Foreplay”, since to me it seems relatively light, playful, aromatic, seductive, and optimistic, an enticing preview of possibilities that mostly overshadow the dark notes of labdanum (the common thread throughout) and African bluegrass that lurk beneath.

Dev 2 could be called “The Main Act”, since it’s rich, smoky, and spicy, fitting with the tempestuous, up-and-down romance that forms the central part of the story before it’s entirely clear that there’s no chance that anyone is going to live happily ever after. This was the part of the book where some additional perfume notes were mentioned, birch tar and immortelle, so these were added to the mix, consciously or unconsciously enriching it with rough smoke and honeyed sweetness.

Dev 3 could be called “Leavetaking” or “Resignation”. Its muted, brooding, mostly dark notes correspond to the final loss of innocence, after the story has turned really complex and dark and all has been revealed, when Dev and the protagonist both have to face the reality of their situation, move on, and maybe settle for less than they had initially wished for. It’s not strong or passionate, but rather more the melancholy feeling that is present after the mission is accomplished, while waiting for the inevitable to happen.

Dev 4 could be called “Reprise”, since it brings back the main theme pretty much stripped down to its bare bones, without ornamentation. It’s the feeling of having made it through major upheavals that left the characters smoothed down like tumbled stones, stripped to their essence, and in some sense triumphant in their resignation to fate and lack of illusions. The giant arborvitae in the top notes almost brings it back full circle to Dev 1, without any clutter, but with the implication that the cycle could begin again, on a different level.

Stay tuned for a special treat – an interview with Sheila on her creative process in writing the book.


  1. So how do we get to smell these Ellen? I just went and looked on your site but no luck. TEASER!
    Can't wait,
    Portia x

  2. Portia, this project is still under development, but it's possible that you could be added to the list of bloggers who are getting samples of all of the perfumes made for this project and writing about them. The person to contact is Tarleisio of The Alembicated Genie, who is orchestrating all of this.

    In any case samples will be available soon. And as for teasers, isn't that what it's all about?

  3. What a cool insight on the development of these scents! I love reading backstory on perfumes. Can't wait to get my nose on these. :D

  4. Doc Elly, as you know, this was a total exercise in synchronicity at its finest - or else that bar at the astral airport! :) Here we were, you and I, at opposite ends of the planet in a manner of speaking, and yet we stood at precisely the same spot, each from our own perspectives. It blew me away - as indeed your interpretations did! Strange and thrilling to think how far we've come on our common journey, you and I...and it has been an unsurpassing privilege to share it with you! More madness later, you think? ;)

  5. Wonderful analysis and synchronicity. I love how you write about Sheila's book. You have a unique perspective especially since you were there at the beginning! I wonder if you were able to tame that Giant Arborvitae?

  6. Maggie, I was absolutely blown away by the synchronicity. I think I may not have tamed the giant arborvitae, but have managed to harness its wild power. Samples are on the way to you.

  7. Tarleisio, Our common journey has been amazing. I hope it will take many more twists and turns in future.

  8. It seems that the devil is back again and more popular than ever in the public consciousness. Not since the days of Giacomo Meyerbeer's opera "Robert le Diable" (first performed in Paris in 1831) and, of course, Goethe's Faust, have there been so many devils in the arts. It seems that the current awareness began slowly in the 1980's with a number of 19th century literary and operatic revivals ("Robert the Devil" was one of those), gradually gaining momentum through novels, movies and television series and maturing in a more sophisticated interpretation during the last couple of years.

    There are other examples of recent synchronous "risings" of artistic archetypes. In the 70's and 80's many of us were involved in depicting Cnidaria (jellyfish, polyps, sea anemones, corals) in visual art, dance, stagecraft, music and of course glass. It all seemed to be happening at the same time across various disciplines. Strangely enough one common element was a revival of french symbolist poetry. I wonder now if our artistic obsession with jellyfish was a subconscious awareness or prophetic statement related to the appearance of the giant jellies along the coasts of Japan. I really believe that synchronicity in the arts is something we should all pay attention to and take seriously as a evidence of the evolution of global consciousness. Gail

  9. Gail, the whole issue of artistic archetypes across media is fascinating. Now you've made me curious about "Robert le Diable".

  10. I first encountered Robert the Devil about 22 years ago (more or less) when I was writing and directing music for an experimental theater piece entitled "Marie Taglione and Sea Anemone" in Gainesville, FL. Taglione was a ballet dancer who portrayed the abbess in Meyerbeer's 19th century comic (sort of) version of the old story of Robert the Devil. As I remember it, Meyerbeer placed his Robert the Devil in a convent and, as you can imagine, all kinds of hell broke loose. There are several versions of the story of Robert the Devil that date back to at least the 13th century. Meyerbeer's Robert the Devil was very popular and could be said to be one of his most important, though now largely forgotten, works.

  11. Oh, and by the way, our theater piece, about the dancer and the anemone, was one of those cnidarian related arts projects that I referred to in the other post. Gail

    1. Gail, It's fascinating how all of these threads come together!