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, August 31, 2015


For me, a long layover in an intrinsically unpleasant airport is always rendered more tolerable if there is a good duty-free shop where I can go and sniff around. Granted, most of what’s there is just the usual lineup of the old familiar Chanels and Guerlains, the upscale celebrity fragrances, and the “classics” that everyone has vaguely heard of and therefore must want.

I have to say that the sprawling duty-free shop in the Heathrow airport in London is an exceptionally fun playground for a perfumista or perfumer. They not only have the usual suspects, they have some things that are new and a little different. Granted, they are mass-market, but the sheer volume of offerings increases the chances that there will be something interesting on the shelves.

After dodging the SAs who spray everyone with whatever generic scent it is that they always spray, I wandered through the aisles, probably killing a good hour sniffing without spraying. After a short while, everything smells pretty much alike. And then, bingo – something different. I came to a counter with an array of bottles from Elie Saab’s “Collection des Essences”. According to Fragrantica, the collection was created last year in collaboration with Francis Kurdjian. The first bottle I opened was No. 3 Ambre, and all of my perfumer alerts went off: “This smells like something I would make!”

And indeed it did. It was for all the world like a cross between my Olympic Amber and Madini Ambre, with a big price tag. There were other “Essences”, too, seven in all, including oud, vetiver, gardenia, and other flowers. I didn’t try them all, being so enamored with the Ambre that I sprayed it all over one arm. On the other arm I sprayed the No. 4 Oud, just because I had to try it. The Oud is OK, a little bit blunt and drab smelling compared to the real thing, but it does have that artisan vibe to it. It is definitely not a fruity-floral celebrity scent or an aldehydic floral chypre.  If I had not tried the Ambre, I would probably have been more favorably disposed toward the Oud.

Elie Saab’s Ambre is rich and warm, with lots of vanilla and resins, but it also has a strong woody component, more like oak than evergreen, that I find extremely appealing. It’s exactly the same woody scent that I love in Madini Ambre. Sillage is strong without being overpowering, and longevity is excellent. It’s one of the best mass-market ambers out there.

I would like to try all of the scents from this collection at leisure, so looked for samples, but don’t see them for sale in the US. The collection was launched in 2014, so maybe they haven’t yet made it to the usual online purveyors of upscale samples.

In the meantime, I can experiment with layering my amber and Madini’s.

Have you seen evidence of mass-market brands trying to “go artisan”, mimicking and competing with the little guys? What do you think about this trend?

[Bottle photos from Fragrantica; duty-free shop photo is mine from a pervious trip; Madini perfume bottles photo is mine.]

Sunday, August 23, 2015


Wherever we went in Ireland, everything seemed washed clean by the ubiquitous low clouds and rain. There were sun breaks, and when those occurred the sky was as clear and blue as anywhere, but it never really warmed up. Most telling was Michael’s comment one day that “it would be nice to come back here in the summer”. I had to point out to him that it was summer.

After a surreal return flight that took a total of about 20 hours because of British Airways re-booking our flight on an itinerary that involved an excruciatingly long layover in Heathrow, it was with some relief that I was able to shed the multiple layers of clothing that I’d been wearing and enjoy what’s left of our summer. There’s not a cloud in the sky, but it’s not the bright blue sky that I was expecting.

Since we’ve been back, the sky has been an ugly yellow-brown color due to the big wildfires that are burning east of here. Yesterday the map showed at least a dozen fires, and today there are more. When I go outside this morning, there’s a strong smell of smoke, the intensity of which has increased since last night.  Houses and buildings have burned, and several firefighters have died.

It’s not unusual to have wildfires in the late summer, but the magnitude of the fires this year is unusual due to the drought. The new smell of summer in Seattle seems to be smoke.

[Photos from various news sources. I would take some photos, but can’t download them from my camera or phone until my laptop undergoes some more treatments for what ails it.]

Saturday, August 8, 2015


Every fall when I teach a class of college freshmen, I have them do an exercise in which they spend a 24-hour period without their electronic devices. No phones, no tablets, no laptops, no cheating by going to the library and using a desktop dinosaur. About 10% of them typically report that they enjoyed the freedom of not having to deal with their devices and never realized how much time they had when they weren’t constantly checking social media and texting. The other 90% felt emotions that ranged from lonely to panicked – they all felt like something was missing, as if a part of them had been amputated.  I understand.

Now I’m in the same situation, but for a longer time. Husband Michael and I will be traveling in Ireland, no particular plans, just a basic 2-person walkabout. My US phone won’t work there, at least not without egregious roaming charges, so forget the phone. My laptop is clunky and I just spent almost 9 hours in the Apple store yesterday while it was being rescued from a near-death experience caused by some mishap that occurred during the simple replacement of a bad track pad. It has a new, updated operating system (the old one was destroyed), so some things work and some don’t. I think I’ll leave it at home while I’m gone, continuing the restoration activities once I get back to Seattle. I tend to travel as light as possible, so not taking a laptop or phone with me is pretty much typical anyway. 

I don’t mind missing my university e-mails - after all, it's summer - but my business e-mails are another matter. I don’t like to leave customers hanging for two weeks without a response. In preparation, I have put “vacation” messages on all of my e-mail accounts. I’ve also put discounts for free shipping (or partially free shipping for international packages) on the orchid website and the original boutique perfume website to help compensate for delayed processing of orders. I can’t implement this sort of discount on my Shopify website, which looks nice superficially but lacks a lot of the functionality of my cheap iHost ones. That’s a problem that I’ll deal with eventually, when I get back.

I won’t be posting anything on the blog until after the 20th, when I return to Seattle, but look forward to getting back to regular posting by the last week of August. In the meantime, here’s wishing a happy rest of the summer to everyone!

[All photos of landscapes in the west of Ireland (where we'll be) are from Wikimedia. I won't have any photos of my own until I get home again and replace the utility that I use to download photos from my phone and camera, which isn't working after the repair disaster.]

Thursday, August 6, 2015


Cattleya orchids with flowers in the white-to-green range often have a citrusy scent that’s heavy on lemon notes, so one of my latest challenges has been trying to recreate the scent of a white hybrid cattleya orchid. I’m getting there, but on the way I’ve struggled with the difficulties of using lemon as a perfume note. Unfortunately lemon has been ruined by its gross overuse in functional fragrances for cleaning supplies, almost to the extent that it evokes a conditioned knee-jerk response of “cleaning product” even if it’s in a context that has nothing to do with cleaning, like lemonade, lemon desserts, lemon candies, or lemony colognes. In fact, there are commercial “lemonade” drinks that taste like they’re flavored with the same aroma chemicals that are used in cleaning supplies, further blurring the lines between fruit, food, beverages, detergents, and perfume.

Instead of the standard lemon rind essential oil, I started with an essential oil made from the whole fruit, which has a gentler and sweeter scent, along with a little citron. Natural lemon on its own is a top note, so I added some other materials like lemonile that enhance it and make it last well into the middle section of the scent, if not the end. The goal is for it so smell something like an orchid, so there’s plenty of vanilla in the base. After looking at published analyses of orchid flower fragrances, which are all over the place even for cattleyas, I chose a few materials that are in a lot of flowers’ fragrances, like citronellol, linalool, nerolidol and others. Citronellol and phenylethyl alcohol in particular helped “floralize” the lemon, so the heart of the perfume is not all that lemony, but includes other fruity-floral orchid-type notes. The base also contains some light, high-end musks. Combining lemon with common “laundry musk” would automatically evoke the image of detergent, so the musk component  had to be done some other way, using materials like cosmone, velvione, muscenone, and others of their type.

In analyses of orchid flower headspaces, one commonly encountered substance is beta-ocimene, a simple terpene-type molecule that until now hasn’t been commercially available, at least not to small-scale perfumers. I finally managed to get some, and added it to the white cattleya. It gives the whole composition a very natural, fresh feeling, adding the same kind of sparkle that aldehydes are known for. I’m still working on the formula, but when I return to Seattle on August 20, I’ll send out samples to my testers so that I can get feedback. It’s not quite finished, but it’s getting there. 

[Lemons and Rhyncholaelia digbyana photos from Wikimedia; white hybrid cattleya photo is mine.]