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, March 28, 2013


We got back from San Francisco on Tuesday night and spent yesterday catching up on things that had piled up during our absence, mostly e-mail and preparations for spring quarter, which starts on Monday. Today will be spent packing and shipping orders that accumulated while I was gone, including plant orders that have been waiting since the dead of winter to be shipped to cold climates.

It’s always fun to visit San Francisco, and we took an extra day after the salon just to enjoy it. This time I gained a much better appreciation for the layout of the city by staying in the North Beach area and walking everywhere except Berkeley, which we visited by BART.

Overall I'd deem the second annual San Francisco show a success, especially given that these fragrance salons sponsored by Taste TV are a work in progress, still ascending the steepest part of the learning curve. 

Michael and I had been traveling in Europe and Canada (my university work, his vacation!) for most of March, so only had three days to prepare for the salon. I was glad that I’d done it before, so all I had to do was go down my checklist, making sure the 35 pounds of Fed Ex boxes were sent off in time to arrive before the show. Nevertheless, by the time I got to San Francisco, I was pretty much feeling like a zombie. 

The venue was a huge, enclosed dry dock at Fort Mason, a former military installation, so we were out on the water with gorgeous views of the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge. On the one hand, it was nice to have the perfumes in the relatively tiny "penthouse" up above the level of the chocolate, with plenty of ventilation. On the other hand, there were almost no signs informing people where we were, or even that we were there. With better signs in the park and the nearby farmers' market and cheaper tickets at the door, I think we could have had twice as many walk-in visitors. 

One puzzling feature was the large empty bar in the center of the fragrance penthouse area. I couldn’t figure out why someone wasn’t serving coffee, tea, and non-chocolate snacks in the morning, adding stronger drinks in the afternoon. It would have probably tripled the traffic to our area. As it was, it was a forlorn, abandoned spot that somehow detracted from the activity in the rest of the area.

The other puzzling feature at both this show and the Los Angeles one was the near-total disconnect between the fragrance salon and the chocolate salon. There was no cross-publicity, no clear indication at the door that the ticket was for both shows, and no signs directing the people in the enormous chocolate area to the tiny fragrance area, which was all the way at the back of the building up a flight of unmarked stairs.

Apparently I can never anticipate the audience. At previous shows I've sold a lot of discovery packs, and brought plenty of them this time. Contrary to expectations, most people this time bought full bottles, so I ran out and had to take orders to ship. It just proves that you never know. Sales seemed better at this show than previous ones, and even some walk-in customers from the chocolate show ended up buying. As at the LA show, I did a lot of educating about fragrance, fielding the question, “How do you make perfume?”, innumerable times and trying to figure out the proper response to the question, “Do you have something lite?”. Maybe it was my imagination, but it seemed that there were fewer press people at this show than previous ones. Maybe they just failed to identify themselves. 

In general, I'm happy with the way this show went. It’s always fun to meet and interact with other perfumers, see their displays, and attend the extracurricular events. I look forward to preparing better for the Seattle show in May. It will be fun not having to worry about shipping things ahead of time. 

Friday, March 22, 2013

Plagued by snow wherever I go

This morning I got up early to pack for the flight to San Francisco, and what was the first thing I saw? Snow! It’s on the ground, it’s on the trees, it’s coming down out of the sky, and it’s supposed to be spring. Ironically, it’s the first snow of the winter. It brings back recent memories of our 26-hour snow-plagued flight from Frankfurt to Totonto, which was going to be part 4 of the travel report. I’ll save that for the next post.

Before I go into details about that, however, I’d like to invite anyone in the San Francisco area to check out the Second Annual Artisan Fragrance Salon, which will take place on Sunday, March 24, at the Fort Mason Center Festival Pavillion at Fisherman’s Wharf. It’s in tandem with a chocolate show, so anyone coming to smell perfumes can also go to the other side and taste chocolates. It’s an opportunity to meet a lot of indie perfumers and smell their work, both old and new. I’ll be featuring six different, contrasting fragrances, ranging from an old standard to a new one that’s not yet been released.

I just hope it’s not snowing in San Francisco.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Travel report part 3: Tulips, primroses, and snow

The landscape between Bremen and Oldenburg was bleak, still stuck in the dead of winter. It reminded me of winter in New Jersey, with industrial areas flanked by bare deciduous trees and perpetually gray skies. Having arrived in Oldenburg on Wednesday night, Thursday and Friday were a blur of work, eating, and sleep whenever I could. I didn’t get to see much of the town, but Michael assured me that it was a lovely old town with good restaurants and cafes. On Friday afternoon we took the train to Bonn. Our friends, who live in a small village just outside Bonn, greeted us with an evening meal of raclette, quite the warm welcome in the universally cold atmosphere.

For two days we lounged around the house, visiting, catching up on how everyone’s children had grown, and enjoying one spectacular meal after another. On Sunday morning Karin and I went for a run on the rural trails that wind through horse pastures and agricultural fields. I have to say that it’s heavenly to be able to run on trails that are free of cars. I’ll take puddles, mud, horse manure, and all of the associated aromas over car exhaust any day!

Here are my notes from our last day in Bonn:
Monday, March 11: Snow! It started around noon, and has continued through afternoon. The streets are still clear, but the grass and trees are getting covered. We took the train from the little village where we’re staying to Bonn this afternoon, where we bought our tickets for the local train that will get us to the airport train to Frankfurt. We went to the central shopping area for a while, making the rounds of the usual H&M, Karstadt, and other stores. The smell of the perfume counter in Karstadt was especially pleasant given that it was associated with coming into a warm place from the cold and snow. I don’t think they had anything special, so we didn’t spend much time there, especially since Michael wanted to shop for clothes.

Now that we’re back at our friends’ house, I’m enjoying smelling the many potted primroses that they have on the windowsills (it’s too cold to grow them outside), and the tulips that they have in a vase. Tulip fragrances are unpredictable, many just with a greenish or pollen-like scent, but these multicolored, mostly red and yellow, frilly ones have a particularly nice, floral fragrance with notes of iris, violet, white radish, and a little spice. This combination would make an excellent, light perfume. The primroses have a similar fragrance, but with a heavy dose of gamma-decalactone, which to me has a dark, velvety feel. Each color primrose has a slightly different variation on the scent, some sweeter, some greener, some fainter, some softer, some sharper, but all identifiable as primrose. I suspect that many of the big, showy primroses sold in the US have been bred to be scent-free. Too bad.

One never knows where inspiration for a new perfume will come from, but the tulips are definitely on my list for when I want to make a fresh, springtime scent. 

[Bare trees image adapted from Wikimedia. Primrose and tulip photos from my garden]