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, April 28, 2013


Yesterday I made my first full production batch of Tropic of Capricorn, the all-natural tropical floral perfume that I’ll be launching a week from today at the Seattle Artisan Fragrance Salon. With more-than-sample-size bottles of frangipani, osmanthus, and tuberose absolute lined up on my work table along with New Caledonian sandalwood absolute and three different kinds of jasmine, I realized how my perception of the cost of materials has changed over the years.

When I first started out dabbling in essential oils, I avoided anything over $30 an ounce, but have gradually pushed this boundary ever-higher as I’ve added more materials to my palette. Now I don’t bat an eye when the cost of a tiny bottle of an absolute or other rare material is in the triple-digit range, or when an order that comes in a relatively small box pushes toward the 4-digit boundary. What has happened? Have I become a materials snob?

I think the answer to these questions is complex. When I first started out, before I was selling my perfumes and before I was selling many plants, the materials I bought were all coming from my paycheck, and I was understandably cautious. Now that I have a reasonably steady cash flow from both the orchid business and the perfume business, I have been putting everything I make from sales back into buying more and better materials. As I sell more perfumes, I need to make larger batches, so the amount I buy at any given time has been steadily creeping up.  I’m now the proud owner of a good many 1 kg bottles of various things. Space in my nice new studio is once again getting crowded, illustrating the principle that everything expands and multiplies to fill all of the available space.

As I’ve experimented with both natural and synthetic materials, my tastes have changed, and my confidence in using expensive materials without the risk of “wasting” them has increased exponentially. Making a high-end all-natural perfume may have been a turning point in the process, pushing some of my fragrances into a different category where I feel justified in charging a little more for the product. However, by selling in small quantities (5 ml or 15 ml) those perfumes that are expensive to make, I can still keep them affordable by people like myself and my academic and artist friends, who have more skills and education than disposable income.

After the Seattle show, I plan to work intensively on the perfume business, reorganizing categories, doing a pricing analysis, upgrading my packaging, labeling, branding, and website and, most importantly, sending samples out to those people who should be getting samples. I love making perfume, but tend to be lazy about promoting it.

Here’s a question for you, dear reader. How has your perception of perfume purchasing changed over the years that you’ve been doing it? Has there been a change in your perception of how much you spend? Have your tastes changed? Leave a comment and be entered in a drawing to win 1 ml carded samples of Tropic of Capricorn and California Chocolate, a 3-ml spray sample of the newest gourmand scent, Seattle Chocolate, and a small box of handmade edible confections in an unusual flavor (not coffee!) that matches that of Seattle Chocolate. The drawing will be held on May 5, the day of the salon. 

[photos of frangipani, osmanthus, and tuberose adapted from Wikimedia]

Thursday, April 25, 2013


We’re back from Portland, so I’ve been dealing with the demands of my university job, an internet connection that was down most of yesterday, and the beginnings of panic about not being prepared for the Seattle Fragrance Salon on May 5.

The good news is that we survived the first orchid show in which we also displayed perfumes and, most importantly, survived driving in Portland. As soon as we crossed the bridge into the city, we saw a car with a bumper sticker that said “Keep Portland Weird”. It’s weird, all right, but probably not in the fun and funky way the bumper sticker people meant it. What’s weird is trying to navigate in a city where almost every street is one-way, the direction is randomly assorted rather than alternating, and there are very few functional signs indicating that streets are one-way. The standard “one way/do not enter” signs used at intersections elsewhere seem to be unheard of in Portland.

Whenever I’d visited Portland before, it was on the train from Seattle, then on public transportation around town. The times that we drove, we parked the car as soon as we arrived and took public transportation. That was simple. You just get on a bus or a tram and it takes you where you want to go. Easy enough.

Driving around Portland in a car jam-packed full of orchid plants, looking for an unfamiliar address, was a very different experience. The worst incident was when we turned onto an unmarked 4-lane street that looked as if it should be 2-way and found ourselves heading straight for an oncoming tram. I suppose people do this all the time because the tram driver and other oncoming cars saw us and slowed down to avoid a head-on collision, allowing us to not so gracefully find our way off of that street.

The orchid show was at a venue in the Convention Center-Rose Garden stadium district, a weird combination of hotels, motels, fast-food and stop-and-rob chains, an inordinate number of Starbucks (standing at one point we could see three!), and public buildings of all sizes. The good thing was that our hotel was only two blocks from the show venue. Setting up, we were a little uneasy about how perfume would be received at what is essentially an agricultural show. It was reassuring to see that some vendors were also selling bromeliads, begonias, and other non-orchid plants, and that there were framed orchid photographs and a few orchid-theme tchotchkes for sale as well.

Before the public even came in we had exhibitors and organizers coming over to smell the perfumes. In the rush of packing I had forgotten to bring sniff glasses, so we made do with disposable coffee cups from the hotel. They actually worked quite well, providing just the right blue-collar touch to the display.  I had also forgotten to bring the Just Orchids discovery sets that I had set out the night before, but we did manage to bring a lot of individual small sprays and some soaps. By the end of the show we had sold out of the orchid-line sprays and had made a dent in the Devil Scents!

It was a very good show, both in terms of perfumes and in terms of orchids. From now on, the perfumes are coming to orchid shows. In Seattle, some orchids will come with me to the fragrance salon, to serve as props and to be given away at the end. I’m starting to really appreciate the crossover between the two domains. 

[Portland landmark photos from Wikimedia]

Wednesday, April 17, 2013


It may be cold in the Pacific Northwest, but the cherry trees don’t seem to know it. The ornamental cherries on the university campus are just finishing up a long extravaganza of blooming, as are our ornamental plums and other non-fruit-producing “fruit” trees. This week it’s the turn of the blue-collar, working-class, fruit-producing, pear, apple, and cherry trees. The bees are buzzing around them today, enjoying a sun break, so the outlook for fruit production this summer is good.

The interesting thing about cherry blossoms, which we have in abundance, is that they have a faint cherry-fruit scent in addition to a light, airy, moist floral fragrance. People often ask if I have a “light” fragrance, but nothing I make is what I would call “light”. In fact that’s the whole idea, to make strong, full-bodied fragrances with decent longevity. However, I’ve been toying with the idea of making a light EdT, fashioned around the cherry blossom theme, something people could spray with abandon. This week I go out repeatedly each day to smell the cherry blossoms and get the scent imprinted on my memory so that I can work from it. 

Monday, April 15, 2013


It was spring for a few days, and we all got spoiled. Then the cold and the rain came back again with a vengeance as bands of storms came through, darkening the sky and dropping the temperatures. It could be worse, mind you. When I say cold, I mean night and early morning temperatures in the low 40s F (5-10 C), not the snow that they’ve been having in places like Wisconsin, where I’m still waiting for the weather to warm up enough so that I can ship orchid plants safely. Some customers in the frozen north have been waiting patiently for their plants since December!

Last Saturday, after a short burst of rain and thunder, I headed to the April event in the Blackbird Northwest Perfumers Circuit. Featured perfumer Suzinn Weiss of Portland, Oregon, is a garden designer turned perfumer, so the transition from working with plants to working with fragrances seemed very familiar to me, and I was excited to smell what she had created. As I drove through the Seattle University District, I discovered that all the power was out, including the traffic lights, so the excessively polite Seattle drivers were all waiting at every corner of every intersection with no one moving. But Seattle driving habits are a topic for another day. 

[In the photo, from left to right, Suzinn Weiss, Christi Meshell, Eliam Puente, Ellen Covey, Mesha Munyan]

The lights were out all the way through Wallingford and into Fremont. As the lights came on again, I started noticing what looked like snow on the roofs and then on the grass. By the time I neared Ballard, there was deep slush on the road as well as everywhere else. I was not expecting snow in April! It turns out that what I saw was not snow, but an accumulation of hail from what people described as the longest, hardest hailstorm they had ever seen. It’s not unusual to get hail in Seattle in spring and fall, and it’s always the small variety, just a little bigger than sleet, usually quite localized. When it accumulates, it looks like snow.

Despite the horrible weather, there was a good turnout at Blackbird, where we munched on chips and dips and enjoyed a variety of wines provided by Wine World & Spirits. Suzinn ‘s fragrances are all-natural and really are reminiscent of the subtle gardening smells of cut fresh branches, leaves, flower petals, and herbs. I think my favorite was Pink Rose, a scent that features three types of rose, fir, vetiver, and oud but doesn’t smell at all like floral rose. I also liked Drunken Flower, which features notes of rose and cognac. Her creation for Blackbird, Blackbird Vert, was a citrusy green scent to honor the newly unfurled tender green leaves of spring.

Suzinn's fragrances will be on sale at the Blackbird Apothecary in Ballard through May 11, and she will also be at the Seattle Artisan Fragrance Salon on May 5, so if you’re in Seattle and missed the Blackbird launch of her fragrance line, you can smell her perfumes at Blackbird during the coming month, or meet her in person and experience her creations first-hand at the salon.

[Photos by Kathleen Brennan, Christi Meshell, and Suzinn Weiss, grabbed from various Facebook pages. As usual, I got involved in talking and forgot to take photos.]  

Saturday, April 13, 2013


This spring has been a blur of traveling and overscheduling of events, so I’ve been remiss not only about posting here, but checking other blogs and groups and commenting on anything at all. Now that most of my planned travel is relatively local, I’m trying to get back in the habit of communicating.

The big event coming up is the Seattle Artisan Fragrance Salon on Sunday, May 5, so that’s where a lot of my effort is concentrated. I’m making a new special edition fragrance specifically for the show, and will be launching my new all-natural fragrance, Tropic of Capricorn, which was the winner of Lyn Ayre’s Tropical Challenge earlier this spring. Right now I’m waiting for more maile vine absolute and freeze-dried mango to arrive so that I can make a big batch.

My plans for the Seattle show include a display with lots of live orchid plants, which I can’t do at out-of-town shows. There will also be some goodies to taste, related to the Seattle theme perfume (not coffee!), samples of featured fragrances, and a drawing for a full bottle of something, still to be determined.

If you’re in the Seattle area, the salon is a unique opportunity to meet a variety of West Coast perfumers in person and enjoy samples of artisan chocolate creations, all on the Seattle waterfront.

Next weekend I’m going to be at the Oregon Orchid Show in Portland, exhibiting and selling plants. I’m also going to try something that I haven’t done for years, which is to bring some orchid-theme perfumes to the show. Michael’s coming with me, and will be demonstrating them as he does at the fragrance salons. He’s become quite good at it! If you’re in Portland and are curious about orchids, I highly recommend checking out the show, and stopping by to sniff my perfumes while you’re there. If you’ve never been to an orchid show before, it will be an amazing experience to see the variety of flowers and smell the fragrant ones.

Last night I spent several hours putting together 50 sample packs for the Los Angeles Scentsation event, which will take place on May 11, and includes a bus trip with the fabulous Portia of Australian Perfume Junkies. If you’re in LA, this seems like an amazing opportunity to indulge in a decadent day of perfume sniffing. You’ll probably get one of my sample packs in your swag bag, along with lots of other goodies. If I can’t be there in person, I’ll be there in spirit.

June should be calm and restful compared to everything that came before, giving me time to focus on preparing for the Blackbird Northwest Perfumers Circuit event on July 13, featuring my fragrance line. I have big plans for that, too, including live orchid plants, lots of edible goodies, beverages sponsored by Wine World, live music, a couple of drawings for perfume and/or orchid plants, and the launch of the special edition Blackbird perfume that I’m working on. 

[Seattle waterfront photo from Wikimedia; fragrance salon poster courtesy of Taste TV; Priscila bus photo stolen from Australian Perfume Junkies website, where you can find out who they stole it from]