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.]


  1. Hi Ellen,

    Yes! I think the big guys are tending to copy the little guys (and the little guys are coping the little guys). After awhile the market will, no doubt, become saturated with pseudo-indie scents. At that point the artisans will again find new fragrance ground to break and the cycle will begin again. In the meantime (until the mass market copies hit the clearance bins) the artisan perfumes (most anyway) are the "real" and the better deals.

    "Inspiration" works the other way round too! Recently I encountered several artisan perfumes that were obviously "inspired" by famous vintage fragrances from the big old houses like Evyan, Caron and Guerlain. I have great fun smelling these "tributes" as they remind me of something I can't quite put my finger on, like a fragment of a tune worked into a jazz improv. I know I have smelled them before..well sort of. I feel like the perfumer is not only giving an indie twist to an old war horse but twisting my nose as well...in a fun sort of way.

    Regarding Madini Ambre: I love the stuff but once I apply it it takes DAYS for it to disappear. It is one of the strongest, most tenacious and overpowering ambers I have ever encountered.


    1. Azar, cross-pollination - it's not just for flowers!