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, December 25, 2014


The juxtaposition of several events this past weekend made me start thinking about the concept of simplicity and how it applies to fashion, art, perfume, and life in general. From Friday through Sunday I participated in a holiday pop-up shop where vendors were selling everything from taxidermied animals, high-end hipster clothing, chandeliers, crude wooden shelves and knick-knacks, handmade chocolates, antique china and cactus plants to various forms of jewelry and, of course, perfumes.

As I passed in and out of my area, I kept going by a display by jewelry maker and metal artist Faris DuGraf, where one necklace particularly caught my eye. On the morning of the second day I ended up buying it. It’s a good thing I did because it turned out to be one-of-a-kind. I was particularly impressed by Faris’s creations because they fall into the category of “deceptively simple” – things that have clean and simple lines without being bland, boring or consciously contrived to make an obvious statement.

After I’d bought the necklace and was wearing it, I recommended Faris to a customer who was looking for a gift for her sister. The customer seemed indignant that I would suggest anything from the pop-up shop, saying “my sister only wears diamonds. She only wears REAL jewelry”. Of course this immediately conjured up images of ugly, ornate, traditional, outrageously expensive diamond jewelry, the sole purpose of which is to flaunt the wealth of a woman’s male caretaker. This, of course, opened the worm-box question of what “real” anything is. Is it real only if it costs someone’s life savings? Is it real only if it conforms to the exact image of what one has been taught to expect? Is it real only if it consists entirely of natural materials? Is it real only if it is manufactured by a large corporation and sold in a large retail store? Is anything real if you make it yourself, or does the fact that it is made by someone else lend a stamp of authenticity to it even if you could make something better? This question is just as valid for perfume as jewelry, so it made me wonder what this woman would consider “real perfume” – what would her sister wear?

The second phase of considering the whole concept of simplicity came when I read a review of my new fragrance, Woodcut”, in which the reviewer wrote, “Radical in its seeming simplicity ...”. I found these words to be some of the most flattering that he could possibly have written, because “seeming simplicity” is one of the hardest tricks of any trade. Doing simplicity well is much harder than doing ornate. Playing a simple Mozart piece well is much harder to do than playing a fast piece with big, crashing chords. There’s some sort of sweet spot where things are so simple that they’re boring - a solid white canvas posing as art simply because of its price tag, or the “solichem” fragrances like ambroxan and Iso E that have been exploited for a while in the name of trendiness. At the other end of the spectrum are the overly complex creations that end up being just plain ugly. This is especially a danger in making natural perfumes, because mixed materials can quickly create a “muddy” result.

Then there’s the other dimension of crude versus polished. Sometimes crude can be beautiful, as in the case of natural, found objects that are displayed as is. Other times, it simply looks (or smells) like an inexpert or bungled job. At the polished end of the spectrum are creations that are so contrived from the outset as to be embarrassingly obvious in their cleverness. We all walk a fine line between the extremes, and everyone’s sweet spot at the intersection of all these dimensions is in a slightly different place.

What’s particularly interesting is the observation of how often we as artists unconsciously make a statement and don’t realize it until afterwards. I didn’t create Woodcut with the idea of making an environmental statement, but when I finally ended up writing a description of it, I realized that it did make a strong statement. Einsof, in writing about it in his review, amplified the statement and made me realize some things that I hadn’t thought of myself. 

Here are my questions for you: What "real" perfume would you equate to “only wearing diamonds”? What is your take on the issue of simplicity vs complexity and “real” vs “not real”?

Leave a comment and be entered in a drawing for a travel spray of Woodcut. 

[Necklace and madrone photos are mine; diamond ring and plastic cuckoo clock photos are from Wikimedia] 

Sunday, December 14, 2014


Grades are all calculated, book proofs have been returned, I’m more or less caught up on shipping, and the temperature is staying above freezing, so life is good.

This week’s big push is to get the winter 2014 Scents of the Season sets ready to ship and get ready for a holiday pop-up shop, the Little Green House in Ballard, where we’ll be vendors. Our dates there are Friday, 19 December through Sunday, 21 December. Hours are 11:00 AM – 8:00 PM, so if you’re in the Seattle area, please stop by and say hello!

I will be using this occasion to launch the wood fence fragrance that I’ve been talking about for so long. The main obstacle holding up its release was the fact that I was sitting on the fence (no pun intended, of course!) about what to call it. I’d seen everyone’s suggestions, each with its merits, but none of them felt completely right. Last week I finally decided to call it “Woodcut”. No one else uses the name for a perfume or other fragrance product, and it really conveys the spirit of what I’m trying to do with the scent. Here’s the description that I wrote to go with it:

“Strong lines and delicate tracery combine to tell an archetypal tale of man’s rape of the earth. Woodcut conjures up dark images of ancient trees inhabited by spirits from a time when the earth was new, the flowing sap of felled trees, and the burnt sugar of the trees’ blood when it is heated by the saws of lumbermen and builders. The inspiration for this fragrance came from passing by a building site where old trees had been newly cut for a development and lumber was being sawed for a fence. The scent of cut wood was intoxicatingly beautiful and primitive, like a fleeting glimpse of the invisible essence of life spilled carelessly on the ground and burned as an offering to human greed.”

It just occurred to me that December is the perfect time to launch Woodcut as millions of trees are cut to be sold as Christmas-trees. I don't know which is worse, cutting real trees grown for the purpose or using plastic "trees" made in China. Probably the latter. 

Woodcut will officially go on sale this Friday, 19 December, and I’ll be promoting it at the Little Green House Pop-up Shop. I’ll also do a sneak preview of another new one, Mardi Gras, scheduled for release in February 2015. One other local perfumer will be launching her new line, Parfum Magnet,  at the Little Green House on Friday night, so there will be lots of first-sniff-ever fragrances. We’ll have a big perfume bash on Friday night, so that would be the ideal time to come. However, Saturday and Sunday would be good, too!

Now, off to prepare the winter discovery sets and all of the stuff for the holiday event. 

[For those in Seattle, the address of the Little Green House is 5341 Ballard Avenue NW, Seattle, WA  98107. Old woodcut images and Christmas tree photo from Wikimedia; Little Green House photo from their event website.] 

Monday, December 8, 2014


It’s been difficult to post anything what with the end-of-term academic scramble, the Black Friday sales, and the usual round of family and professional events that require my attendance, compounded by yesterday’s receipt of final proofs for a 200+ page scientific book that I have to go through to catch any new errors introduced by the publisher. Just when I was giving up hope of ever writing anything for the blog, Azar came to the rescue with a post on her candied pomelo rinds. I tasted them last week, and they’re delicious! I haven’t seen it, but what we need is pomelo essential oil for perfumery. 

Here’s Azar’s post:

Fall and winter are usually very wet, cold and dark here in the Pacific Northwest.  Nevertheless I look forward to November and December, not so much for the holidays as for the seasonal advent of the new citrus crop.  I'm crazy for the zest, the colors, scents and flavors of navels, grapefruit, blood oranges, tangerines, mandarins, Honeybells, kumquats and their hybrids, the lemons and the limes (especially the Persian variety) and, of course, my all time favorite citrus fruit, the monster pomelo (AKA Citrus maxima, Citrus grandis, pummelo, lusho fruit, shaddock).

Pomelos range in size from 5 to over 10 inches in diameter.  These big guys look like extra large grapefruits varying in color from bright green to lemon yellow and weighing in anywhere from 2 to almost 5 lbs. per fruit.  The pink or yellowish flesh is crisp and sweet, but getting to the innards of a pomelo can be a real challenge.

To peel and segment a pomelo first chop off the ends, score the peel like you would a Valencia orange and then carefully peel the rind from the fruit.  The fragrant pith of a pomelo is colored like white and pink cotton candy and is thick, smooth and squishy to the touch.  Remove as much of the pith as possible, pull the fruit in half, score on the segment lines and break into natural segments.  Trim the edges of the segments and then insert a sharp fillet knife under each membrane and separate from the flesh as you would when skinning or filleting a fish.  With practice this will leave you with neat, ready to eat pomelo segments. I have to admit that I still need practice even after years of pomelos!

It always saddens me to throw away the peels, so this year I decided to turn the rinds into candied citron and use them in my version of that sadly misunderstood and maligned holiday staple, the fruitcake! I love fruitcake, from the scariest drugstore versions in the questionably decorated tins to the expensive, specialty fruitcakes individually prepared in homes and monasteries around the world.  Since I can no longer eat pecans, walnuts or commercial candied cherries and citron colored with "mad dog red No. 3", I will probably have to develop a fruitcake recipe using almonds and my own candied pomelo peels.

Azar's Candied Pomelo Peels
peels from 1 large pomelo
1 cup white granulated sugar plus some additional sugar to coat the peels
1 cup water

Peel the pomelo and eat the flesh.  Remove most of the pith from the peels. Cut into ½ " strips.  Blanch the peels 3 to 5 times (or more) to soften and remove bitterness. Heat water and 1 cup sugar until clear, add the peels and simmer on low for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.  Transfer the cooked peels to a drying rack, cool and pat off the excess liquid.  Roll the rinds in the additional sugar (or shake them in a bag with the sugar) until coated.  Return the peels to the rack, put the rack on a parchment covered cookie sheet and dry the peels in a 160 degree F oven for 12 to 18 hours until the peels are slightly crisp and dry to the touch. Cool the rinds on the rack and store in Ziploc bags.  

Candied pomelo peels can be munched as is, dipped in semi sweet chocolate, chopped for use in spumoni ice cream or cannoli filling and, of course, added to your favorite fruitcake recipe. All of this talk about fruitcake brings to mind this holiday riddle:  Why is your grandfather's gold watch like your grandmother's fruitcake?

Happy Baking,
Azar xx

And that’s it, folks! The cool thing is that you could do this with any citrus rinds and probably any sort of fruit. I assume that an answer to the riddle will be forthcoming.

[All photos are by Azar]

Tuesday, December 2, 2014


One unfortunate aspect of my multifaceted lifestyle is that the end of the academic autumn quarter coincides with the ramping up of the winter holiday season. This means that just as the university gears up into end-of-term frenzy mode, I have to prepare for holiday sales, starting with Black Friday.

Over the years it seems that Black Friday has been extended into Saturday, Sunday, Monday, and on through the week as retailers try to lure in the more recalcitrant customers. It seems to me that three days, with a week’s advance notice, should be enough time for any customers who want to take advantage of discounts to do so. More spam in their mailboxes isn’t going to lure them in (Staples, I’m looking at you).

Every year I read the same dire articles in the press bemoaning the fact that retailers and the economy are suffering because “Black Friday sales are down”, meaning that instead of the projected-wishful-thinking 10% increase in sales over last year, sales only increased by 7%. There’s something fundamentally wrong with thinking that the economy must constantly grow in order to be healthy. But that’s an issue for another post.

This season I was much more prepared than I’ve been in the past, with plenty of stock on the shelves, plenty of shipping supplies, and a couple of days dedicated time to deal with filling orders. I only ran out of one thing, Tropic of Capricorn. I have to say that the whole experience was good, and that the process went much more smoothly than I expected.

Nearly all of the Black Friday orders have been shipped, so I can relax and prepare to launch the two new fragrances I’ve been working on, put together my spa set (soaps, bath oil, body balm and “room sprays” for the perfume-phobic), put together the winter 2014 Scents of the Season collection, and get ready to participate in a pop-up shop the weekend before Christmas. Oh yeah, and I have to grade a lot of exams and term papers, try to keep my orchids from freezing during the horrible cold weather that we’re having, and spend some quality time with my family.  Maybe there’ll be time for a blog post or two in between everything else.

I’m not complaining – I wouldn’t have it any other way!

[Dark snowy day photo grabbed from the webcam of our local ski area; Fight of the moneybags by Pieter van der Heyden, ca. 1550; snow on tree branches is my photo]