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.

Friday, July 31, 2015


Two commenters will receive a decant of Krasnaya Moskva. They are:


Please e-mail azarsmith7@gmail.com with your shipping information. 

Thursday, July 30, 2015


SATURDAY, JULY 25: I’m starting to write this post on Saturday night, the day my Huernia zebrina bloomed. It looks like I’m going to be the only perfumer at the Seattle Chocolate Salon, which used to be the Chocolate and Fragrance Salon before the organizers decided they weren’t making enough money from the perfume side of it. I’m preparing for a crowd of people who probably have little or no knowledge about perfume, and little or no appreciation for it. Some may even be afraid of wearing perfume.

I’ve tried to design an eye-catching general-public-friendly display that has some items other than perfume - body balm and soap. There will be drawings for live orchid plants throughout the day, and the featured fragrances for both perfume and soap will include Seattle Chocolate and California Chocolate. I expect to do more educating than anything else. It’s not even 9 PM yet, and everything is ready to go! I’ve gotten quite efficient at packing for shows. 

MONDAY, JULY 27: The show is over, and played out pretty much as predicted. The venue was a large, suburban hotel next to a bleak freeway exit in the south end of Bellevue, just across the lake from Seattle. As far as I could tell, it was only accessible by car, ruling out attendance by anyone who did not drive, as well as any walk-in attendees.

Most surprising was the fact that the hotel was undergoing a major construction operation, so the vendors and public had to walk through a maze of plywood and plastic tunnels to reach the so-called “ballroom” where the event was held. Given the nature of the venue, its location, and its condition, I’m surprised that attendance was as good as it was.

The vendors were a mixed conglomeration of businesses, ranging from high-end chocolatiers who had flown in from Florida through Northwest tea retailers, a street-fair jewelry stand, and a financial consultant! I thought I would be the odd business out, but clearly I was wrong. I actually featured some chocolate-themed products that stimulated the chemical senses.

This strategy had its pros and cons. The fact that I highlighted chocolate-themed fragrances made me fit right into the mainstream, but it also resulted in more than a few people asking how to eat my products!

More than the usual number of people informed me that they were “allergic to perfume”. I think there’s a correlation between driving everywhere and being “allergic” to everything. If they really had allergies, I imagine they would have fled as soon as they smelled the moldy carpet in the ballroom, which was hard to ignore. Oddly, some of the “allergic” people asked me if I had scented candles.

As I expected, I sold more soaps and body balm than perfume, although the travel sprays were a popular item. This show was like a typical orchid show in that Red Cattleya was the fragrance preferred by the majority, with many of my other perfumes just evoking puzzled looks. That’s fine. I explained that not every perfume has to smell like walking into a Sephora shop. If even one person’s olfactory horizon expanded by a few molecules, I did my job.

Perfume shows are always good for discovering new types of anosmia, in this case an inability to smell the incredibly strong patchouli in my newly-minted Patchouli Lover’s soap!

Overall, it was an interesting day, not particularly profitable, but an interesting session of observing the people of the Eastside who go to chocolate shows and, with any luck, expanding their horizons. 

[All photos are mine except for the one with the Quantum Demonology book and Devil Scents, which is from the Taste TV Fragrance Salon Facebook page] 

Friday, July 17, 2015


Having two businesses and a day-job provides an opportunity for me to recycle leftovers from one enterprise for use in another. I wrap orchid plants in recycled copies of the student newspaper. I pack perfumes in recycled styrofoam peanuts from my department and from shipments of materials that I receive. I use cut-off paper grocery bags as carry-out boxes for drop-in customers who buy plants from the greenhouse. I shred the ugly advertising flyers that come to our mailbox several times a week to make padding to use in shipping delicate plants.

It recently occurred to me that when I pack perfume boxes in colored tissue paper and trim the ends off to make a neat package, I can save the trimmings and add them to the shredded paper stash that I use to pack the orchids. I drop the shredded tissue in a paper bag, letting it accumulate until the bag is full and then adding it to the shredded advertising flyers. It looks nice and colorful, and keeps the plants safe as they travel.

Little did I know what a treat this bag of shredded paper would be for our big cat, Jasper! He loves to tip the bag over, rake the shredded paper into a comfy bed, and sleep half in, half out of the bag. The more paper there is in the bag, the better he likes it. What could be cuter than a 20-pound cat sleeping in a grocery bag, surrounded by bright-colored paper streamers? I can only imagine what a feeling of luxury it gives him. 

[Photos are mine]

Wednesday, July 15, 2015


Having grown up in places where houses, apartment buildings, shops, and all other buildings are entered straight from the street, I never cease to be mystified by the peculiar design of entrances in suburban (and pseudo-urban) areas of the US. The perpetration and perpetuation of dysfunctional design really struck me the other day when I drove down a local thoroughfare where a wasteland of derelict structures had been torn down and the entire area rebuilt to look like an urban street lined with shops, complete with sidewalks. Forget about the fact that everything is one story, with no living spaces above the shops. It still looks like a huge improvement over the used car lots and abandoned K-Mart that were there before.

At least I thought it was an improvement until I realized that there were no visible entrances to any of the shops! Further investigation revealed that, indeed, the structures that looked like they might be doors were not. There were no entrances at all from the street side, just fake facades that looked as if there should be entrances. Unless the whole thing is a completely fake fa├žade like the ones that were painted or built in Northern Ireland to hide economically depressed areas before the 2013 G8 summit, all of the entrances to these buildings must be acessed from a strip-mall type parking lot on the other side. Why build a sidewalk and storefronts if they’re not meant to be functional?

The question of why there are no street-side doors is especially relevant because there appears to be a good bit of foot traffic in the area. There’s a bus stop on the corner, and in the few minutes I stood on the other side of the street taking pictures, a bus stopped to load and unload passengers, and a number of pedestrians walked up and down the street. Granted, maybe dentists, stockbroker’s offices, and mobile phone retailers are not prime candidates for drop-in customers and impulse buys, but most of the strip is occupied by restaurants, hairdressers, snack shops, and such. I would be willing to bet that if there were an attractive, inviting entrance from the street, these shops’ business would double.

Architects and planners need to move past the unfortunate 20th-century notion that everything has to be designed for automobile traffic, a notion that has probably resulted in more urban and suburban blight and destruction of the natural environment than anything else in history. It has certainly made much of the US an ugly, depressing and dysfunctional place to live. If as much thought, energy, and resources went into making communities truly human-friendly as goes into creating the appearance of doing so, this would be a better place to live.

[All photos are mine]

Thursday, July 9, 2015


When you live on a quasi-farm as we do, noxious plant control takes on a certain importance and urgency. If you’ve ever read books by Tom Robbins, you may remember his seemingly over-the-top descriptions of blackberries in Seattle. The ugly truth is that everything he writes about blackberries is true. Within a year they can take over an entire one-acre lot and bury any buildings that are in their path. The blackberries are usually surrounded by various sorts of grass and weeds that block access to them, like lines of foot soldiers protecting tanks and heavy artillery. Because of Michael’s injured foot, this summer I am the sole defender of our property against these invaders.

My usual strategy is to use a weedeater to cut down the grass and small blackberry starts to get at the mature ones. The adult blackberries often have trunks up to 5 cm in diameter and tangled canes many meters long. The most insidious thing of all is that in late summer the tips of the canes send out roots and form new plants wherever they touch the ground. This means that a single blackberry plant can spread in giant steps over an enormous area.

For the big blackberries, I have to use heavy-duty pruning clippers to cut them down and chop them up. Some people go to the gym to exercise, but I spend up to an hour a day cutting down invasive weeds and blackberries. I have a problem with weedeaters, which are mostly made for tall men. I can’t use one that’s longer than I am tall, so have been limited to a clunky battery-powered one with adjustable length called a “Grass Hog”, shown in the photo below right. This week the poor little Grass Hog died of exhaustion, overtaxed by the rigors of cutting heavy weeds and brush, so we had to go in search of a replacement.

Apparently they don’t make Grass Hogs any more, nor do any of these devices go by the name of weedeater. I suppose it’s not politically correct to insult a tool by calling it a “hog”, or to imply that weed is being eaten, even though it’s perfectly legal to do so in Seattle. Maybe it’s no longer politically correct to call unwanted forms of vegetation “weeds”. I don’t know. In any case we found a battery-powered “string trimmer”, as they're now called, with adjustable length and a 40-volt rechargeable battery that lasts 2-3 times as long as two of the old Grass Hog's batteries used to do (the new one is in the lead photo for this post). The new battery charges up so quickly that I could go out and weed-eat three times a day if I had nothing else to do. It seems like a strange thing to be happy about, but there’s something perversely satisfying about killing non-native invasive plants, and especially blackberries.

I have to bring perfume into the picture somehow, so will observe that the scent of whacked-down vegetation is very different throughout the year. In the late winter and early spring, the scent is moist and green, with the occasional pungent smell of a shredded tansy mugwort, the weirdly aromatic scent of Geranium robertianum, or the characteristic odor of fresh, juicy blackberry stems and leaves. We haven’t had a drop of rain since May, and the sky is filled with smog from wildfires, so this time of year the smell of cut vegetation is mostly dry and dusty, with the unpleasant odor of concentrated blackberry leaves and stems, accompanied by the occasional scent of a ripe blackberry. If we ever get any rain, I look forward to the scent of water hitting dry ground and pavement, but that may be a few months off given the typical weather patterns. 

[Weedeater photos are from retail websites; blackberry photos are mine]