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, 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.]

Thursday, October 22, 2015


A couple of days ago I read in our local newspaper that the Seattle Macy’s is downsizing by selling off the top floors of the store. Moreover, they’re selling off entire stores elsewhere. Thinking about that bit of news, I realized that I was not surprised because it’s been years since I set foot in a traditional department store. I think the last time I was in one was in San Francisco when I went to Barney’s to visit someone I knew who worked in the perfume department. That was a nice downtown department store not a mall store, and I didn’t go anywhere except one counter in the perfume department,  so it was a pleasant experience. I can’t say as much for the typical US department store.

Urban department stores a century or more ago were built to be beautiful temples to the gods of consumerism, but somewhere along the line aesthetics and the human-friendly touch got left behind in the rush to achieve infinite growth of sales and profits. There’s something profoundly depressing about suburban shopping malls in general, and their cornerstone department stores are especially depressing. I have not been to a typical shopping mall for at least a decade except to visit the Apple store when my laptop needed repairs. The Apple stores in both locations I go to are outside, so there’s no need to enter the mall itself. 

I suspect I’m not the only one who hates going to a mall or a big free-standing department store surrounded by acres of parking lots. It’s easier and less stressful to shop online if you’re looking for non-perishable things that don’t have to fit, it’s more fun to go to a small specialty shop in an urban area, and it’s almost always a successful and cheap exercise in opportunistic shopping to go foraging at one of the local second-hand stores.

The problem with department stores at all levels is that they have more or less generic merchandise, often cheaply made, at inflated prices. After all, they want to appeal to some mythical “average” consumer and they have high overhead. I think the same principle applies to their perfume counters – generic merchandise at full manufacturer’s suggested retail price.  Given online and specialty shop competition, I wonder how long the department store perfume counter will be a sustainable form of retailing.

To satisfy my curiosity, I’m going to ask how many of you readers regularly go to shopping malls and/or department stores? Do you enjoy going there? If so, what makes them appealing to you? If you do go to department stores, how likely are you to buy perfume there?

Because this post deals with the real and future prospect of ghost-town malls and big department stores and because Halloween is coming soon, when you leave a comment answering these questions you will be entered in a very special drawing for a hard-cover copy of Sheila Eggenberger’s book, Quantum Demonology, the story that was the inspiration for my Devil Scent series. Shipping is worldwide, with the drawing to be held on Halloween, October 31.

[I downloaded these photos a while back, but I think they were all from Wikimedia.]

Monday, October 19, 2015


Here is Azar's Mass-Market Monday post. Enjoy!
Headaches, insomnia, stress - aargh!  What to do? After years of suffering, relief finally arrived at my local drugstore in the form of mass-marketed aromatherapy by the W.S. Badger Company, Inc., New Hampshire, USA.  Badger Balm aromatherapy salves and balms really do work for me. The most dramatically effective product I've tried from their line (mind you, my results are totally personal and anecdotal) is their Headache Soother scented with lavender, menthol, peppermint, eucalyptus, mandarin peel and sandalwood (Santalum album!) compounded in a salve of olive oil, beeswax, castor oil, sunflower oil and rosehip extract.

When I feel a migraine or a sinus headache coming on I whip out my little tube of this miracle balm and dab some on my face, head and the back of my neck.  While Headache Soother does not totally get rid of a headache it really does soothe and relax the pain away.  Another great product from the same company is Badger Sleep Balm made with essential oils of bergamot, lavender, rosemary, ginger and balsam fir.  This stuff has helped me conquer my chronic insomnia.

All of the Badger Balm products use organic ingredients.  Many of their formulas are 100% natural (botanical?) and, as far as I know, all are certified organic.  The scents of their aromatherapy salves are very discreet and will barely be noticed even by those invading your most personal space. I apply the Headache Soother as needed and a single application of the Sleep Balm is enough to send me to dreamland.

Not only do these products work for me but I find the packaging well done and extremely charming.  In addition to aromatherapy balms W.S Badger also sells body and facial moisturizers, massage oils, lip tints and balms, soaps, pomades, muscle and joint salves, hair and beard oils and an array of attractive gift items.

For a history of W.S. Badger Company and to shop the full product line check out their website or swing by your local drugstore, health store or organic food market.

Today's Mass Market Monday Question:  Have you tried mass marketed aromatherapy products or medicinal salves (other than Tiger balm and Vicks Vapo Rub)?  Have you found any that work for you? 

Azar xx
Ellen's note: Badger Balm has certainly managed to exploit the badger by anthropomorphizing it and making it look cute. However, I suspect the real "badger" in its many genera and species throughout the world is a pretty unsavory character that raids garbage cans at night, much like an opossum. How about Possum Perfumes? I couldn't resist adding the photo of an American opossum living in a grand piano for Azar (a pianist in her other life) to enjoy!

[All images are from commercial websites or Wikimedia. If you wonder what the badger is sniffing in the photo, it is mashed potatoes. Don't ask me why they are on the sidewalk!]

Wednesday, October 7, 2015


Being an orchid grower and a perfumer sometimes leads to strange experiences and gives me new names to describe what I smell in the greenhouse and the lab using crossover terminology from each area. I recently had the experience of encountering a familiar smell in an unexpected context.

I think I’ll start the story on the perfumery end with a material called Fructalate, also known as raspberry dicarboxylate or diethyl cyclohexane-1,4-dicarboxylate. It’s a common aroma chemical, manufactured by a number of different companies. The official description is, “fruity, raspberry, apple, ethereal … a long-lasting fruity, berry note which is powerful, affordable, and stable”. To me it doesn’t smell like raspberries, but it certainly is long-lasting, powerful and “affordable”, which is a euphemism for cheap.

A couple of years ago I bought a few kilos of the stuff as a favor to an overseas colleague who couldn’t get it locally. I split it with a few others and kept a little for myself “just in case”. In the process of pouring it from the big container into smaller ones for shipping, a little bit spilled on the bare wooden table where I do this sort of work and where I pack plants to ship. For the first year the smell on the table was quite noticeable all the time. Even now it still hangs around, being especially strong if it’s very warm or if the table gets damp. “Stable” is an understatement.

Last weekend when I walked into the greenhouse, I could have sworn that I smelled fructalate. It was exactly that same smell of over-ripe tropical fruit combined with an organic chemistry lab or petroleum refinery. I thought I must be hallucinating, because there had never been any fructalate anywhere near the greenhouse. I dismissed it and went about my work, but I kept smelling it. It was the strangest thing. Just as I was leaving the greenhouse I noticed a plant blooming with a long, thick tail of tiny yellow-orange flowers. It was Bulbophyllum dixonii, also called Bulbophyllum morphologlorum, and when I smelled it – bingo! It was a dead-ringer for fructalate. It must manufacture a scent molecule that’s identical or very similar to fructalate, presumably to attract pollinators that like to eat or lay eggs in rotting fruit. The long spray of tiny flowers even looks like a cross between a pineapple and a lumpy banana. 

It never ceases to amaze me that an orchid species and a man-made aroma chemical can share almost the same smell. Have you ever done a double-take smelling what you thought was a synthetic perfume note in nature?  

[fruit and refinery photos from Wikimedia; flower photo is mine]