Boy do I have a treat for you all today.
Even before we started AustralianPerfumewJunkies I was awed by the amazing Ellen Covey of Olympic Orchids Artisan Perfumes. I had ordered a sample set and then a deluxe sample set. Doc Elly, as Ellen Covey is known, and her fragrances were one of our early reviews and she was the first perfumer to give our site her blessing. There was a lot of Woo Whoo-ing and high five-ing that day. It was like we had arrived and been given Benediction. I have a FB of Bay Rum and my next purchase will be Ballet Rouges, but I love Little Stars, Gujarat and Golden Cattleya too. The one thing I find so interesting is that Olympic Orchids artisan Perfumes are so affordable while being filled with the good stuff.
I have given Doc Elly our APJ set of standard questions just tweaked a little and she has bared her soul for us. You’ve got to love her direct honest answers, one day I’ll be lucky enough to meet her.
Tell us about young Ellen please, where you came from, family, siblings, poignant or helped create who you are moments?
I was born in Chicago, where my father owned a successful business. My mother had grown up on the Florida East Coast, where her family owned a hotel, but she moved to Chicago to study art at the Art Institute. She hated the cold winters, so when I was a preschooler she convinced my father to move to Virginia, where he re-established his business. My family included my parents, my grandmother, who lived with us, my younger brother, and two dogs.
About the time I started high school my father sold his business, invested the money, and the whole family, including the dogs, went on a long adventure trip through Europe, with the vague goal of ending up in Israel after exploring everything on the way. We lived in Switzerland, France, Germany, and Italy, where I attended local schools. Whenever we moved to a new country and a new language, I was the family member delegated to make phone calls looking for housing. Having to cruise the streets of an unfamiliar city taking down phone numbers from signs and then talking to potential landlords on a pay phone in a language I’d not yet learned was stressful, especially when I had to explain about the dogs, but if nothing else it made me resourceful.
There were poignant moments every time we kids were uprooted to go to a new country, leaving dear friends, but the experiences along the way were unique, and shaped who I am now as a perfumer. I’ll never forget the smell of blooming mimosa in Provence, the smell of the polluted Rhine in Germany, or the smell of peeling a tangerine on a bitterly cold winter day in Rome.
Later in life, I have lived in Texas, India, North Carolina, New Jersey, Germany (again), Spain, and now Seattle, in the US Pacific Northwest, and all of these places have contributed to my perfume landscape.
What were you doing before you became a perfumer?
So many things! I started out studying stage design in Rome, then studied biology and neurobiology in the US, eventually earning a PhD in chemosensory neuroscience. Most of my career has been teaching and research in academia, and I continue to do that in parallel with being a perfumer. Other parallel lives include growing orchid plants commercially, and working in local theatre in all capacities from acting to directing, writing, and producing. It’s hard juggling it all, but each separate life informs the others in some respect.
How did you become interested in fragrance?
I’ve always been intensely aware of smells and fragrance, for as long as I can remember. One of my earliest memories is standing in my bedroom smelling the windowsill. It was a really comforting, musky smell of old wood and all of the humans who had lived there. I’ve always stopped to smell every flower I passed. I love the smells of good cooking. I used to spend a lot of time smelling my mother’s perfumes, and started buying commercial perfume mini bottles as soon as I had money of my own. At about the same time I started buying essential oils, and eventually the inevitable happened.
What qualifications do you have as a perfumer?
A good nose and an active imagination! I’m self-taught when it comes to perfumery. I have an extensive background in chemistry, which certainly helps with the practical aspects of setting up a safe and efficient lab environment with all the proper tools and the basics of formulation, but is of very little help with the aesthetics, which are purely intuitive. Over the years I’ve spent a huge amount of time sampling perfumes from both an aesthetic and analytic point of view, sampling and testing perfume raw materials, reading about perfume materials and formulation, and experimenting with everything I can.
Who were and are your mentors and inspirations?
My mentors were and are all of the many people who, over the years, have written about perfume-making in all of its aspects, whose work I have read. They are the people in various discussion groups on the internet who provide useful bits of information. They are the perfumers, both famous and anonymous, who make all of the perfumes that I smell, testing something new every day. My biggest sources of inspiration come from nature and every human environment in which I find myself. Odors are everywhere, and sometimes I’m jolted by a novel juxtaposition of scents on a city street, emotionally assaulted by a natural scent carried on the wind, or even surprised by how a raw material that I’m testing combines with a scent that’s present in the environment. Perfumery is a learning experience that never ends, and inspiration is everywhere.
Do you still wear mass market fragrances, if yes which and why?
Interesting question. I’ve never “worn” any type of fragrance in the usual sense, preferring instead to collect them, compare them, analyze them, and enjoy them in an idiosyncratic and very private way that has nothing to do with “smelling good”. It’s almost like a child playing with toys. Regarding mass market fragrances, I still have my original large collection of mass market minis, and love every one of them. If I “wore” perfume, yes, I would wear them, and I do still occasionally put one on and contemplate it. I really don’t distinguish between mass market, niche, indie, and any other classification because I believe that there’s no monopoly on what smells good or appeals to one’s emotions on a deeper level. There are certain fragrances in each category that move me, and many that don’t. In any case, there’s a continuum that runs all the way from blatantly mass market to crafts-fair-indie, and the lines seem to be becoming increasingly blurred. Those who started as indie perfumers formulate for the mass market companies. Mass market companies launch their own “niche” lines. Niche and indie brands farm out manufacturing to third parties. Some of the bottom-tier “indies” repackage and sell mass-market fragrance oils, coming full circle, if you will. I like what I like regardless of whether it was made by hand or by machine in a factory vat. If it’s good, it’s good.
Who is your favourite independent perfumer, other than yourself, and why?
As a working perfumer, I’ve gotten myself into trouble by commenting on the perfumes of others, so I’ll refrain from saying anything here. In any case, I really have no “favourite” anything, whether it be colour, food, music, film, or perfume. I’m much too fickle for that, and it all depends on context and what I feel like at the moment.
Having said that, in general, I like perfumes that are strong and complex. For my own use, I prefer woody and resinous notes, aromatic herbal notes, leather, smoky notes, and a minimum of floral components. I actively dislike overtly aquatic notes.
Synthetic, natural or mixture, why?
All of the above, just because they all have their place in perfumery. Naturals are great to work with because each one is a perfume in and of itself, with a complexity that can’t be matched by most synthetics. Contrary to popular belief, all-natural fragrances don’t have to be short-lived, since there are natural base notes with excellent longevity. My Kyphi is an all-natural fragrance, and I’m currently working on a new series of all-natural fragrances that will have good longevity. All-synthetic fragrances tend to smell sparse and … synthetic. Fleurs de Glace was my only attempt to create an all-synthetic formula, and it ended with my adding a big dose of galbanum to round it out. Most of my fragrances are a mixture of natural and synthetic, mostly natural, but with synthetic notes as accents or to improve sillage, longevity, or other characteristics of the blend.
To me, naturals are a bit like acoustic instruments and vocals in music, providing warmth, depth, and the idiosyncratic human touch. Synthetics perform a function that’s analogous to amplification, mixing, and effects. Moreover, synthetics can provide completely new “voices’, much as electronic sounds can do for music. Go too far to either extreme and you have the thin sound of the coffee house folk singer with no amplification or the annoying drum machine combined with a repetitive twanging, mechanical-sounding treble loop blasting your ears. Both have their place, but it’s limited.
What constitutes an Olympic Orchid Artisan Perfumes customer?
I wish I knew! I think in general they are people who appreciate truly high quality, original fragrances without a lot of pretentiousness and overblown prices. My guess is that they’re people who are confident enough to try things outside the mainstream, and who have enough imagination to let perfumes take them somewhere unique in their own mind without needing a whole prefabricated cheesy story line or celebrity image to go with the scent.
How has your online business developed?
I have always made perfumes to please myself, then I put some of them out there, and a customer base has slowly developed. I consider myself incredibly lucky to have had good reviews early on, with word spreading through the magic of the internet. My business continues to grow and develop as I add new fragrances and increase production.
Do you wish someday to work for the big end of perfumery, why?
No, absolutely not. I’m much too independent-minded to work for someone else. I want and need to be in charge, free to go wherever my fancy takes me. I prefer to be an artist rather than an employee.
What fragrance, that you have made, do you always refer to in your mind as success, why?
I think my two most commercially successful fragrances to date are Golden Cattleya and Ballets Rouges. Both are very good mixed-media formulas with broad appeal. Olympic Amber is also a very good one, with broad appeal. Hell, get me going and I’ll say that every one was a success in some way. Otherwise, I wouldn’t still be selling them.
What are the 5 most important things you have learned so far that could help budding perfumistas/perfumers?
1. Smell, smell, smell. The more things you smell and really pay attention to, the better developed your nose will become. This is the most important thing you can do.
2. Trust your own instincts. If you like it, it’s good. If you don’t like it, its not. If it smells like patchouli, or roses, or corn flakes to you, that’s what it smells like. If it smells like doggie doo, or laundry detergent, or a sweaty soccer player to you, that’s what it smells like. Never mind what someone else says. Never mind who likes it or doesn’t like it. Don’t let yourself be influenced, intimidated or shamed by self-appointed critics or “experts”.
3. Read, read, read. If you want to make perfume, it’s essential that you learn the basic principles of how to do so. If you want to enjoy perfume, it’s nice to know something about how it’s made, its history, and other people’s opinions. Once you’ve adopted strategy #2, you can take everything you read with a grain of salt, so reading won’t harm you in any way.
4. Be open to new experiences. That aroma chemical you didn’t like may be just the touch that will perfect your new blend. That perfume you thought you didn’t like may delight you six months from now. You may hate teak, but find that you love it in a particular context.
5. Have fun. Fragrance is meant to bring pleasure, not stress and anxiety. Please yourself, spend within your means, and enjoy the experience to the fullest.
What do you have in development that you’d like to share with our AustralianPerfumeJunkies?
I’ve always got a roaring avalanche of ideas, more than I can ever bring to completion. Right now the closest things to release are a series of five fragrances made for the Devil Scent Project, based on Sheila Eggenberger’s novel, Quantum Demonology. I’ll be launching them at the Artisan Fragrance Salon in San Francisco in July. I’m working on a line of all-natural fragrances, one new orchid scent, and a couple of bespoke perfumes that I need to finish up. At least some of these will be released late this year or early next year.
Where do you see Olympic Orchid Artisan Perfumes in 5 years?
I take things one day at a time, but hope that in five years Olympic Orchids Artisan Perfumes will still be motivated by artistic rather than commercial factors, that my fragrances will still be intellectually, emotionally, and aesthetically honest, and that I can keep them affordable by just about anyone, anywhere. Realistically, as the business grows I will need to hire someone to do the routine tasks like preparing samples, packaging and shipping so that I can have more time for networking and creation of new fragrances, but I will still want to be intimately involved with every aspect of the business.
HOW TO FIND THESE GEMS?
This jump will take you to Olympic Orchid Artisan Perfumes fragrance page. You have 19 fragrances to choose from. There is an exciting new samples choice; 5 x 3ml spray sample set of three different fragrance groups and at $20 with free continental US shipping or only $5 for international. SO DAMN CHEAP!!! I have ordered the Perfumers Spray Sample Set just now. He he.
As a special deal, Ellen Covey has offered $5 off all international orders for postage and handling or $5 off product in the continental USA!! Please enter the word PERFUMEJUNKIE into the coupon code box at checkout. The offer will last through Monday, June 25. AWESOME!!
I am so proud we could bring you this amazing perfumer & person.
Please go see the Olympic Orchids Artisans Perfumes website.
Thanks for dropping in,