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.

Monday, December 28, 2015


It’s that time again when I have been putting together a seasonal collection for my Scents of the Season subscribers, and it’s always a challenge to pick a group of fragrances that I haven’t sent out before. At some point I suppose I’ll have to start recycling some of them, but so far I haven’t yet reached that point. My color printer stopped working when the internet went down after the last big rain- and windstorm, and I haven't gotten it back up and running so won't have the nice color box labels this time. Oh well, maybe by spring. 

This winter’s collection is mostly centered around resinous and balsamic scents, partly because of an experience I had the other day when I was mixing up a batch of concentrate that used some balsamic notes and was struck by what a subtly rich smell they had. As a limited edition extrait for the winter collection I mixed up a balsamic fragrance that I’ve been enjoying for the past few days, showcasing these types of materials. Some of the main ingredients are benzoin, tolu balsam, and liquidambar. These would typically be base notes, but they are beautiful alone.

Most people who are into perfume have probably at least heard of benzoin and tolu balsam, but Liquidambar styraciflua is the American sweetgum tree, an ancient species that has been around for at least 50 million years and is often planted as an ornamental. It grows fast, puts on a gorgeous show of orange, red, and purple leaves in the fall and drops those pesky, spiky “gumballs” that fall on the roads and sidewalk like a scattering of ball-bearings, creating a hazard for unsuspecting runners. Although not generally thought of as a source of perfume, the sweetgum tree exudes a sweet-smelling gummy resin when wounded. The resin has a unique balsamic smell and has been burned like frankincense and chewed like gum. On its own, I find that it contains an odd note that’s not entirely pleasant, but combined with other resins it enhances and deepens the richness and sweetness of the mix.

Tomorrow I’m going on a local “adventure” trip on Whidbey Island, and will be out of electronic contact for a couple of days. Before I go, I’d like to share the fact that two of my perfumes have made the 2015 “best-of” lists: White Cattleya on Cafleurebon, and Zoologist Bat on Now Smell This (NST). A big thank-you to Michelyn and Erin!

Leave a comment here on your favorite perfumes to wear in 2015 (they don’t need to have been released in 2015) and be entered to win a Scents of the Season Winter 2015 sample pack (including Bat), plus a sample of White Cattleya. The drawing will occur on Saturday, January 9. Please share info about the drawing with your perfume-loving friends and family.

[The top photo was grabbed from the local ski area webcam, the bat graphic is the one that's on the label of Zoologist Perfumes Bat, and the other two are adapted from Wikimedia. The lowest one shows Deception Pass, the gateway to Whidbey Island.]

Monday, December 21, 2015


Where to start? I’ve been away from the blog for so long that it seems strange to be writing again, but now that the worst of the fall quarter is over I’ll have a couple of weeks to get back to normal before school starts back up in January.

As always happens at the winter solstice, my Laelia anceps and Laelia rubescens have shot up their ridiculously long spikes and are blooming. We’ve had an entire month of rain, including windstorms and one internet outage that took days to fix. It doesn’t get light until 8 in the morning, and it gets dark at 4 in the afternoon. The fact that the sky is covered by heavy clouds and near-constant rain doesn’t help. 

They have 6 feet of snow in the mountains. I look at the webcam at the local ski area every morning, but the thought of actually finding time to go skiing is laughable. I feel sorry for all of the orchid plants that are having to put up with this unpleasant season and mentally cheer them on, just hoping they hang in there and stay alive until February.

The good news is that I’ve finally managed to launch my new orchid fragrance, White Cattleya, and it’s been reviewed once already. Now I just have to find time to get it out to all of the other reviewers on my list. Maybe once the holiday shipping rush is over.

The fragrance that I made for Zoologist is set to launch at the end of December, and I understand that Bat is already available for pre-release sale in Niche Essence in Toronto. Victor Wong does an amazing job with packaging!

Here’s to a post-solstice lengthening of the days, much happiness and success to all, and my getting back to posting here on the blog.

[All photos are mine]

Tuesday, November 10, 2015


I missed my usual Mass-Market Monday post because I spent the entire day putting things away after the weekend’s orchid show, and catching up on shipping orders. I’m still not caught up, but it’s better.

Our hometown fall orchid show is always held at one of the local nurseries, and my tradition is to buy one or more cyclamen plants for the garden. Over the years I’ve collected quite a variety of cyclamens, which seem to have interbred and produced more different leaf and flower designs. They’re really fun to grow because they go dormant and disappear over the summer, but as soon as the rains start in the fall, up pop the flowers or the leaves, in different order depending on the species, and sometimes both flowers and leaves together. Different species bloom at different times, so there are flowers continuously from early fall through winter and spring.

This year I went all-out and bought 4 plants – a pointed-leaf hederifolium, a coum with variegated leaves to offset the silver-leaf ones that have bred like rabbits and gone wild beneath the fig tree, and two gorgeous purpurascens. Most cyclamen species have at least a little fragrance, unlike the big florist hybrids, which are unscented. What I wasn’t expecting was a huge blast of fragrance that rivaled jasmine or fragrant lilies in strength. As I approached the cyclamen bench, I smelled what could have been a fine floral perfume wafting through the air. It didn’t take long to trace it to the Cyclamen purpurascens, which were pumping it out like crazy.  After a lot of sniffing I chose the two most fragrant ones, which, just by chance, have very different leaf designs. They are now happily planted in the front garden under a Japanese maple tree.

If this doesn't make you want to grow cyclamens, I don't know what will. 

[All photos are mine]

Monday, November 2, 2015


Thanks to Azar for another Mass-Market Monday post! Somehow I missed ever smelling this one.
The golden leaves and blustery wet weather make it clear that winter is on its way.  It is time to snuggle up near a warm fire with a good book.  It's also time for couple of generous blasts of my favorite spicy oriental fragrance - vintage Basile by Basile.  I much prefer this warm, Italian mass-market beauty to the more popular (and more expensive) YSL Opium.

The Basile I love is the EdP from the 1980s. This deep amber colored jus resides in a narrow, angular bottle adorned with geometric, black plastic "shoulder pads" - so 80s! As far as I know the newer version of Basile is only available in EdT. While very similar to the original, the reformulation is missing the shoulder pads and seriously skimps on the rich clove, warm ylang-ylang and intense tangerine that are so generously supplied in the earlier version.

Here are the notes listed on Fragrantica: 
Top - tangerine, orange blossom, ylang-ylang, cinnamon, cloves.
Heart - jasmine, tuberose, rose, iris.
Base - sandalwood, patchouli, oakmoss, amber.

I don't always agree with or understand the published breakdown of a fragrance, but vintage Basile evolves exactly as the description above suggests. Sparkling tangerine is spiced with cinnamon and clove and rounded out with the richness of ylang-ylang and orange blossom. The fragrance evolves to a lush rosy, floral and dries after 8 hours (or so) to amber, oakmoss and sandalwood infused with remnants of the initial comforting ylang-ylang and mouthwatering tangerine.

The "mouthwatering tangerine" reminds me that November is the month when the new crops of citrus fruits hit our Pacific Northwest markets.  It is time for me to start nagging the produce managers about just when to expect the new pomelos, tangerines and grapefruits!  When these new crops finally arrive I am invariably treated to fresh cut samples of the latest and greatest from Florida, California, Texas and around the world.  Yum!

I wear the majority of my big, spicy oriental fragrances any time of the year but for some reason I tend to reserve Basile  (which is a little more "subtle" than most) for late fall and early winter.  What is your favorite spicy oriental?  Do you enjoy it year round?   
Azar xx  
Sounds like I need to try this! It looks like you can get a very large bottle of the new version for under $15 on Amazon. 

[Bottle with shoulder pads photo by Azar; new bottle photo from Fragrantica; other images from Wikimedia]


The winner of the book offered in the Dead Department Store Drawing is:



Friday, October 30, 2015


I have two perfume websites, the older one with a local hosting company, iEasySite, and a newer one on Shopify. Both of these websites, as well as my orchid nursery website, have a built-in e-mail feature. However, checking three clunky e-mail programs multiple times a day would be unnecessarily labor-intensive, so I have all mail from these addresses forwarded to a single gmail account that works quite efficiently, and from which I conduct all of my business.

My local website host leaves me alone, so my only communication with them happens when I contact them because of a problem. They are always very responsive, but then go back to their hands-off management strategy, which is how I prefer it.

Shopify, on the other hand, regularly sends me unsolicited e-mail “newsletters” with what they seem to think are helpful hints about how to run an online business. After reading a number of these, I can’t help concluding that Shopify caters to people who have absolutely no experience running a business, online or otherwise, who are simply trying to sell stuff as a hobby, who are running some sort of marginal business reselling other companies’ products, or who are trying to establish an online business so that they can quickly sell it to someone else. Most of them seem to deal in T-shirts.

Some of the hints may be slightly useful, especially for those with zero experience, but a lot of the others are what I consider really bad advice.  I’m just going to consider two of them here. On a regular basis Shopify warns people that if they use a gmail address they will be perceived as “unprofessional”. They justify this statement by saying that “anyone can get a gmail address”. What? Can’t anyone get a Shopify website? I don’t remember having to present any qualifications other than the ability to pay a few dollars a month. Anyone can do that. In fact, anyone can get a website or an e-mail account from any service that provides them, no questions asked.

Over the past few years, gmail has become the most convenient e-mail system to use, even for business, especially if one runs multiple branches of a business and wants to consolidate the output of multiple e-mail accounts into one. My prediction is that more and more businesses will forego the “support@yourname” e-mail systems and go to “yourname@gmail”. After all, it’s ultimately the quality of customer service and communication that counts toward a “professional” image, not the form of the e-mail address. However, in case my perception is wrong, which it could be, I’ll pose the question to you readers: Do you think using a gmail address makes a business look unprofessional?

The other day I received another “newsletter” from Shopify advising people not to ship items in standard brown cardboard boxes or plain bubble mailers because everyone wants a spectacular “unpackaging experience”. OK, I know how exciting it always is to receive a package in the mail, but is the excitement due to the appearance of the shipped package itself or the anticipation of what’s inside? Is it really better to wrap the outer package in bright colored, metallic, sequined materials, tie it with ribbon, and paste hearts and unicorn stickers all over it? Or make your package look like a velvet tuxedo with a satin collar and bow tie? Or ship an ugly t-shirt in a big metal canister that looks like an oil drum? Or ship a package of tea bags in a hand-carved wooden box sealed with sealing wax and sporting a calligraphy handwritten address?

I actually have had customers who ask me to be sure to ship their perfume in a plain brown box because they have received some of those gaudy, glittery special-interest packages in the mail and found them embarrassing. If nothing else, too much elaborate outer packaging is wasteful. The purpose of outer packaging is to protect whatever is inside from the bashing that inevitably occurs as the poor little package is tumbled and smashed with millions of others like it or bigger and heavier than it is. Can’t people wait to see the nice packaging on the inside after they’ve ripped away the outer protective layers? Again, I’ll post the question to you readers: Do you enjoy getting special external packaging even when the goods inside are wrapped and packaged nicely? Would you be willing to pay more for merchandise in order to cover the cost of fancy shipping boxes and mailers, which can get quite pricey?

I guess the bottom line of all this is that Shopify seems to think that everyone focuses entirely on factors that are completely superficial, and that no one cares about quality of goods or service as long as the delivery is flashy. A bad meal delivered to your doorstep by a musical drone with a pulsating laser light show, anyone? Maybe that’s what the world is coming to, but if so, it’s sad.

[Images are taken from various retailers' websites.]