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, February 2, 2018


Given so many distractions, my plan to post giveaways on Mondays and post about materials on Wednesdays has gone awry. Maybe the bright side of this is that I've co-opted my usual Friday complaint about something. 

Frangipani, also called plumeria, is a type of shrubby tree native to Central America, Polynesia,  and parts of South America. It has been introduced to tropical regions all over the world as an ornamental tree. The white flowers are, as would be expected, fragrant at night to attract night-flying pollinators. There are plenty of cultivars that have been bred to have flowers in shades of lavender, yellow, pink, and red. The fragrance of fresh flowers is quintessentially tropical, somewhat like jasmine, gardenia, and other white flowers, but with a character of its own.

The scent of the absolute is not at all like the fragrance of the fresh flowers. I’ve tried frangipani absolute from several sources, and all are similar. The absolute itself is waxy and difficult to work with. It doesn’t really liquefy when heated, as most other absolutes do. It doesn’t readily dissolve in alcohol. The scent is mild, crisp-green like mastic, honeyed-sweet, and cooked-vegetal. For the first few minutes, it has a sharp, almost menthol-like note and a hint of what is commonly called “indolic” in perfume descriptions, but that I would call more “cresolic”. After that it’s mostly green and slightly honey-sweet, like baked acorn squash with brown sugar, becoming less aromatic and more of a waxy-woody dried hay smell as it declines and fades away. Longevity is in the top-note range given that it only lasts about an hour. I think anyone used to commercial perfumes (or just smelling fresh frangipani flowers) might be disappointed by the absolute.

Given that real frangipani absolute is horrendously expensive and not the most tractable material to work with, is it worth using in a perfume? I did use it in Tropic of Capricorn, and I think it contributes to the overall jungle-y-wet feeling; it may also modify some of the other materials. For that reason, I need to keep a supply on hand, but I’m not sure I’d commit to using it again.

Unless a fragrance is credibly guaranteed all-natural, any mention of a frangipani (or plumeria) note refers to a synthetic accord, not the absolute. The synthetics are strong and floral-smelling, with considerable longevity, what most people would associate with frangipani or tropical flowers in general.

Have you ever smelled frangipani absolute? If so, what did you think of it? If not, do you have any favorite perfumes with frangipani/plumeria notes?

[Photos all from Wikimedia]


  1. I have never smelled the absolute. Thank you for sharing your note description and how difficult it is to work with. Did you ever experiment using a synthetic to determine that the natural absolute created a chemical reaction that made your "Tropic of Capricorn" special?

    Thank you for writing about Frangipani (Hawaiian Lei flowers). Last year I had considered buying a few plants online to grow indoors and had forgotten about it.

  2. Martin, I have not tried substituting a synthetic accord for frangipani absolute in Tropic of Capricorn, if that is what you mean.

    I wish we could grow frangipani here.

  3. I have sampled frangipani absolute as well as synthetic plumeria fragrance oil and completely agree with your post. They are different to my nose. I haven't had the opportunity to smell real frangipani flowers but I would imagine that they smell divine. There are so many beautiful natural oils I have bought from Eden Botanticals over the years but they are extraordinarily costly so I can imagine this would be challenging to incorporate them into a perfume.

  4. Brigitte, The challenge of cost is certainly one consideration. However, It's not as much of an issue as one would think because customers are willing to pay extra for an all-natural fragrance.

  5. I have never sampled fragrapini absolute

  6. I haven't smelled the absolute but vacationed in Kawaii last year and our rental house had frangipani bushes which smelled incredible. Interesting that the absolute doesn't smell like the fresh version.

    1. Triniti, most absolutes don't smell like the fresh, live flower. Not too surprising when you think about the process used to obtain them.

  7. There used to be a company that made their own line of perfumes in Key West during the 90’s and Frangipani was one of their best sellers. I loved wearing it because it smelled like a combination of being in Key West and Hawaii at night. I looked for it for years after having moved away ( to no avail) and have been hard pressed to find anything quite like it.