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, June 30, 2013


Over the past two years I’ve worked on several perfume projects that had shorter turnaround times than I’d like. Some of the rush was because I was given very little time (by my standards) to work on a project and some was due to the fact that I tend to juggle multiple tasks and procrastinate on whatever is not extremely urgent. Of course, the result of procrastination is also a short deadline. I don’t think the end products of the work that was done quickly are inferior in any way to those that have taken longer. In fact, one of my favorite fragrances was produced on a short deadline. What I can say, though, is that the end products might have been different if I’d had more time to think about them and tweak them, and I might have savored the creative process more.

I don’t like being rushed by externally imposed deadlines. Just as I enjoy waking up slowly in the morning with my laptop and coffee and just as I enjoy eating things that would be categorized as belonging to the “slow food” movement, I’m a believer in “slow perfume”.  I like to take my time and savor every stage of formulation, tweaking subtly as I go, and thinking about it as I sniff over the course of days, weeks, months, and sometimes even years. It’s happened more than once that a formula just didn’t quite smell the way I wanted it to, so I put it aside. Later, I discovered a new material that was exactly what I needed to finish it up. Working on a strict deadline, I would have settled for something that was not my original vision.

I’ve thought about the concept of slow perfume as I’ve worked on Blackbird, going through a 6-month process that mostly involved thinking about it and testing materials. For me, perfume-making is like writing – most of the work is done consciously or subconsciously in my head before I put fingers to keyboard or do any mixing of materials. Perfume materials need time to blend, so smelling has to be done after they have time to settle in together. The blending may also be a multi-stage process, with each stage taking time to mature before it’s combined with other components.

I don’t know how other perfumers work, but I do know that for most endeavors, having time to think and reflect is important. Good wine, cheese, and some perfume materials are better when aged. Bees painstakingly select the best nectar and collect it to make real honey, not a high-fructose corn syrup imitation. Creative concepts also need time to develop. Products made with love and thought must somehow reflect that slow process. 

[Photos all from Wikimedia]

Thursday, June 27, 2013


In the Pacific Northwest we sometimes get a weather phenomenon called a “Pineapple Express”. It happens when a big current of warm, tropical air blows over the Pacific from Hawaii, and it causes a lot of rain. It usually happens in the winter, during the rainy season, so I suppose it’s actually one cause of the rainy season rather than an effect. The past couple of days we’ve had the unheard-of occurrence of a pineapple express during what should be the start of the summer dry season. Yesterday I read that there was flooding in one of the local shopping malls because the roof couldn’t handle that much rain all at one time. 

When I went out for a run yesterday morning, the air was humid and tropical, with all kinds of wet, green scents that I normally don’t smell in late June. The most striking one was a powerful smell of privet flowers. I don’t know where it was coming from, but it was unmistakable.  Overnight, a bunch of new bamboo shoots have emerged to go with the big new canes that are already growing. I’m afraid the warm, wet weather is going to stimulate the black bamboo even more than it already has been, sending it into a full-on manic phase of uncontrolled growth. I wonder if climate change is going to turn Seattle into Hawaii? The orchids would probably enjoy it. 

Yesterday I filtered the first small trial production batch of Blackbird EdP, and was a little surprised at how dark it is. I did use real blackberry fruit products, but didn’t realize how intense a color they would produce even in dilution. The other strongly colored material that I used is fir balsam absolute, which is dark green. Together they produce a juice that is near-black, at least in the Boston round storage bottle, about the color of a Cabernet Sauvignon, but more transparent. I hope it will be lighter colored in the thin spray bottle, but I also modified the formula to make a “Backbird light” (literally light), thinking that most people are probably scared of dark-colored perfumes. Fortunately the dark juice doesn’t color or stain my skin, but I worry about light-colored fabrics. I don’t want to ruin anyone’s expensive, white, designer shirt.

I’m happy to say that the light version smells pretty much like the dark one, at least in the concentrate, which is still quite dark. I haven’t seen the light version in dilution yet, so don’t know how much of an improvement it will be, but I’ve still got almost two weeks to decide which one to go with. I suppose that if Serge Lutens can do purple perfume, I can do burgundy, and it would be in keeping with the Blackbird theme, but I may cautiously settle for dark pink. 

[photos from Wikimedia. The flooding river photo shows one of our local streams during a pineapple express] 

Sunday, June 23, 2013


The random drawing has taken place, and the winner is NADJA.

The prize is carded samples of The Vagabond Prince Enchanted Forest and PK Perfumes Gold leather, along with a few treats from Olympic Orchids.

[Roulette graphic adapted from Wikimedia]


Once again it’s that turning point in the northern year when the days start getting shorter but, paradoxically, the weather starts getting warmer. I still haven’t figured that one out. Actually, I don’t mind the days getting a little shorter because I find it somewhat disconcerting to still have it light at 10:30 PM, especially when the morning birds start singing about the time I go to sleep and my cat tries to wake me up at 4:30 AM.

Seattle engages in a summer solstice ritual called the Fremont solstice parade, sort of a delayed Mardi Gras celebration with colorful displays and costumes. The main attraction is the multitude of nude bicycle riders who paint their bodies and ride through the city in the parade. It’s all very friendly and informal, a great way to spend a sunny Saturday.

So happy solstice to all! Here’s hoping you can keep cool if it’s hot, keep safe if there are forest fires, tornadoes, or other summer-type disasters in your part of the world, and enjoy your winter solstice if you’re in the other half of the globe. 

[Photos adapted from the Seattle newspaper that still has free online access. If you're interested, you can see all of their solstice celebration photos here.] 

Thursday, June 20, 2013


I’m always morbidly fascinated by the strangeness of human behavior. Today’s example is the observation that lawyers will never cease to engage in their predatory, symbiotic relationship with those people who have no common sense. Thanks to Joan Elaine, I just read about an alleged incident in which Josh Lobb of Slumberhouse Perfumes received a letter from a lawyer representing Strange Invisible Perfumes ordering him to desist from the use of the word “strange” in his description of his fragrances or be faced with a lawsuit. For anyone who shares my morbid curiosity, here’s the document that was posted.

Of course, my first reaction to any incident like this is that it must be a practical joke. Maybe the joke is in poor taste and potentially damaging to all concerned if taken seriously, but a joke just the same, perpetrated by some unnamed party. If it’s not, it is indeed a strange reaction to the use of a common, perfectly innocent English word, and a sad commentary on the strange lengths to which lawyers will go to make a buck.

Somewhere on his website, Josh uses the phrase “strange and unique perfumes” to describe his products. According to the letter that he posted on Twitter, Ms. B of SIP took offense at his use of the word “strange”, which allegedly is protected as part of the “Strange Invisible Perfumes” trademark, and hired a strange, invisible lawyer to put a stop to his use of the word “strange”. By the same reasoning, the words “invisible” and “perfumes” would presumably be individually trademarked as well. Uh-oh. We have probably all used the word “perfumes” in our company names or product descriptions, little knowing that the word was the exclusive property of SIP. What about the “Invisible Fence” company, whose name for their dog containment system is trademarked? Can they sue SIP (or vice versa) for the use of the word “invisible”?

I looked up the Twitter thread, read the letter that was posted, and did a little bit of Google research on the lawyer in question, only to find that she seems to have no official business listing, and the address on the letter appears to be a drab suburban residence. There’s nothing wrong with working out of one’s home – many of us do it - but that’s not the typical pretentious behavior of lawyers, most of whom have slick websites and posh offices. In fact, it supports the practical joke hypothesis. An alternative hypothesis is that maybe it’s all just a pathetic publicity stunt on the part of one or more of the parties in question. After all, it’s a well-known fact that bad publicity is better than no publicity at all.

So given the fact that it’s not really clear what’s going on, why am I writing about this topic at all? Because the third, albeit most improbable-seeming, hypothesis is that it’s really true and not just an urban legend in the making. I hope that with time, more shall be revealed so that whatever nasty worms have been released from the proverbial can will come back to settle on the deserving party or parties.  In the meantime, maybe we should laugh because the situation is so outlandishly funny, cry at people’s general stupidity, and fantasize about Dick the Butcher’s famous suggestion about what to do with lawyers in Shakespeare’s Henry VI. 

[Thanks to Wikimedia for the can of worms image and for all three "strange" graphics used here, including Liquid Stranger's cover art for The Invisible Conquest (wow - strange, invisible and liquid, all in one spot!)]

Saturday, June 15, 2013


As my business develops, I’ve found it useful to send out newsletters from time to time announcing new products, sales, special events and other things likely to be of interest to at least some customers. So far, they’ve always been in the form of a basic text message with no images, fancy graphics, or other enhancements. That’s simple to do, and everyone can read them quickly and easily, if they care to.

I know most businesses now use HTML newsletters, because they regularly arrive in my inbox as colorful spreads designed to stimulate the visual system and get people to click on the relevant links. On one of my e-mail programs they show up right away, as intended, but on the other one they show up as text, sometimes jumbled, with little boxes containing question marks unless I “allow” display of images. That’s kind of annoying.

I must be some kind of alien creature out of step with the rest of society because I really don’t care whether messages are decorated or not. What’s important is whether the content interests me. After a while all of those HTML messages start looking as conceptually similar as the old black and white text did. That’s just me. I have to think that other people are different given the ubiquity of fancy graphics, so want to ask you, dear readers, what you think about HTML newsletters. I'm sitting on the fence trying to decide whether it’s worth it to take on the tedious and soul-sucking task of coding in HTML or pay one of those geekly services a monthly fee to do it for me. Your input will help guide my decision. 

Here are my questions: Do you enjoy reading HTML newsletters more than plain text ones? Would you be more likely to go to a website from a button in an HTML newsletter than from a highlighted link in a plain text one? Does the fancy presentation do more to enhance your image of the company that sent it than a simple text message would? Would there be enough of a change in your perception of the company to make you think that their products are superior to those of the company that sends a bare-bones text message?

If you answer these questions you will be entered into a drawing to win a goodie bag containing carded samples of The Vagabond Prince Enchanted Forest, PK Perfumes Gold Leather, and some other assorted surprises including an old-style Olympic Orchids 5 ml perfume travel spray in one of the remaining fragrances still in this packaging. The drawing will be held on Sunday, June 23. 

[Woman reading indoors by J. Raoux (1734); woman reading outdoors by N. Bogdanov-Belsky (1892); HTML newsletter template from one of the many newsletter services that pop up in a Google search]