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.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018


OK, it's a day late, but at least here it is - the periodic giveaway.

I’m not only a perfume sample junkie, I’m also a cosmetics sample junkie. I love those little packets, tubes, and bottles, and will buy full sized things, usually things that I actually want, to get more of them even though I have enough. My cosmetics collection rivals my perfume collection, and I actually use both of these collections so little that it doesn’t make a lot of sense to keep them at their current size. I would like, at the very least, to create some sort of homeostasis so that things move out at the same rate they move in. 

This week’s exercise in elimination will include the usual 100 g of assorted fragrance samples, but it will also include a variety of mint-condition skin-care and skin-enhancement samples. I’m pretty particular (and lazy) about what I put on my face. I don’t use any sort of sunscreen product, and I never use any sort of foundation unless I’m going to engage in a major photo shoot. I won’t use lotions, moisturizers, serums, and other such things if I don’t like the smell, or if they’re strongly perfumed, even if it’s a scent that I might like in another context. I don’t use face primers, highlighters, contourers (is that a word?), or face powders. Nevertheless, I’m always receiving unsolicited samples of these things, and they just sit gathering dust. If you like face products, you’re in luck this week because the giveaway includes a goodie bag full of these things.

To enter the drawing, leave a comment about whether you use face products of any sort and, if so, what you like and/or dislike.

[Upper photo is mine, from our December trip to Vancouver Island. Lower photo is modified from a vendor's image]

Friday, January 26, 2018


There are so many frustrating features of life in the 21st century that I have a seemingly endless source of rant material. One of the innovations that drives me crazy is the proliferation of robotic voices and other algorithms that are sadly lacking in the capacity to deal with real people who have real issues. Ever since the advent of these Siri-clone robotic voices on the phone, pseudo-humans in “help” chat windows, some of whom are even given “human” names and faces, and algorithms popping up elsewhere, I’ve wondered if dealing with these robots is a big contributor to incivility in everyday human-to-human interactions – maybe the biggest contributor. I also wonder whether the level of frustration it creates contributes to violent behavior, suicide, depression, apathy, and other serious problems.

I wish I had kept the original maddening exchange that I had with a “chat person” on the FedEx website, but this morning it was easy to re-create something almost identical to it, albeit shorter and less redundant to spare you, the reader. Please note that I’m relatively polite in my responses, which is a departure from the original, real, “conversation” in which I unleashed a stream of curses on the robot, leaving it oblivious to my words and persevering in its useless responses. Here goes:

FedEx: Hello, I’m the FedEx Virtual Assistant. I’m here to help you with your questions regarding FedEx services.

Me: I’m having a problem with package delivery.

FedEx: I need more information. Would you please repeat your question in a different way?

Me: My package was not delivered because it required a signature. We were at home, but the delivery person just le … [that was all that the very limited window would accept!]

FedEx: If you missed your delivery, FedEx will make 2 more attempts to deliver your package (for a total of 3 attempts). [It then goes on with a lot of irrelevant copy-and-paste information from a web page about holding the package, door tags, etc.]

Me: I did not “miss my delivery”. The delivery person failed to knock on the door.

FedEx: I’m about to give you an answer that I have already given you. Would you like to see it again?

Me: No. [curses] Why does FedEx use robots to deal with customers?  

FedEx: You do not have to use FedEx branded packaging to ship with FedEx, but you can obtain FedEx packaging at FedEx Office locations …[It then goes on with a lot of irrelevant copy-and-paste information on packaging directly from a webpage.]

Me: [more curses] This response is completely irrelevant.

FedEx: I need more information. Would you please repeat your question in a different way?

So now we come full circle as the robot exhausts its astoundingly impoverished repertoire of answers.

My original exchange was longer, but contained all of the same “responses” repeated multiple times, plus one that told me that the sentence I typed was too long.

Given my phone exchanges with what I assume are real people (outsourced, of course) reading from a menu of 6 answers on a script card (“It’s your browser”, “It’s your browser”, “It’s your browser”, ”I cannot help you with this. Please go to the FAQ page on our website”, … etc), I have to wonder if real people’s behavior is being shaped by dealing with robots so that ultimately the entire population will end up unable to extricate themselves from the endless loop of time- and soul-sucking inanity. Has our humanity been outsourced? 

[In case you're skeptical, I did not make this up. It is verbatim, except that the copy-and-paste pseudo-"screenshots" have been expurgated to make the exchange readable. You could go on the FedEx chat window and recreate the same responses yourself, if you want to laugh at a scenario that would be tragic if it weren't so funny.] 

Wednesday, January 24, 2018


I’m not sure that everyone who enjoys perfume is clear about the difference between an essential oil and an absolute, partly because the distinction often gets lost in the listing of notes, the hype, and the fact that there are vendors who sell “essential oils” purported to be from materials that do not lend themselves to the distillation of oils. If the price you see for “frangipani absolute” is absurdly cheap, what you would be buying is neither an essential oil nor an absolute. Re-sellers may not even be aware of this issue, perpetuating it among the users of materials for perfume and aromatherapy. There’s nothing wrong with a synthetic fragrance oil meant to smell like frangipani, in fact, it might smell more realistic than the natural extractions, but if that’s what it is, it should be labeled as such.

Essential oils are steam-distilled or cold-pressed. Any material that contains a lot of oil, like citrus peels, can be cold-pressed. You’ve probably done this accidentally while peeling an orange and getting the oil on your hands. You could even do cold-pressing at home as a demonstration or experiment if you have enough citrus peels and a separatory funnel to remove the water-based layer or are willing to skim the oil off the top. For materials that contain a smaller ratio of oil to other materials, steam distillation heats the plant material, and the distillate is condensed and collected. Generally the oils are more volatile than the water, but both will come out of the condenser during the course of distillation. In this method, too, there is an oil layer and an aqueous layer, which must be separated. The aqueous layer is sometimes sold as a “hydrosol”. It generally contains a small quantity of aromatic molecules, so can be used in various cosmetic applications.

As I mentioned in my last Wednesday post, some materials do not lend themselves to steam distillation. These include many types of flowers. Other materials, like lavender, can be steam-distilled to produce an essential oil or extracted to produce an absolute. Generally, the essential oil will smell different from the absolute because a different subset of molecules is extracted by each method. In many cases the absolute (or other type of extract) will smell more like the natural material. The choice of which to use in perfumery depends on the desired scent properties, price, availability, and so on. Absolutes are almost always more expensive than essential oils, assuming both are available, but the extra expense may be worth it if the material is featured in the composition and a naturalistic scent is desired. And sometimes a synthetic reconstruction does the trick.

[Top and bottom photos are3 mine, orange peel photo from a commercial website]