Olympic Orchids

Interview with

Ellen Covey

"Olympic Orchids Perfumes was established in 2010 as a line of handcrafted fragrances inspired by the incredible variety of scents produced by orchid flowers and created by Ellen Covey, owner of Olympic Orchids orchid nursery in Seattle. The Olympic Orchids signature line was inspired by different species of orchids, but our offerings have expanded to include a variety of luxury perfumes that range from classical in style to highly experimental. These regular lines are joined by several Special Editions and 100% natural perfumes."-OOP

  • Do you have any profound scent memories from growing up?

My earliest clear scent memory is from a time when I was about 2 years old and we were preparing to move from one house to another. I was standing on the bed, sniffing the windowsill, thinking that the new house would smell different and how much I would miss the smell of this one. 
When I was older, at one point we had a garden with a lot of flowers, trees, and shrubs and I distinctly remember the fragrance of each one. I also remember my mother’s perfumes, some of which I liked and others of which I did not. 

  • You have had an interesting life and background; can you tell us about your history and work before starting the brand?

I lived many different places growing up, including several different European countries. Before coming to the US, I spent a couple of years studying stage design in Rome. However, most of my career has been spent as a professor and researcher in neuroscience, and I still continue that career in parallel with my work as a perfumer. This is why I often take a long time to get around to doing things like answering interview questions! I originally started out studying the chemical senses, so that background in chemistry and sensory processing definitely informs and influences my work as a perfumer. About 10 years ago I also started an orchid growing business, Olympic Orchids, and the perfume business grew out of that. I became fascinated with all of the wonderful fragrances of orchid flowers and tried to reconstruct some of them, or at least make perfumes that were inspired by them. 
What were you doing before you became involved with scent and the perfume world?
As I said in the answer to the last question, I have worked for many years at a major university as a professor and researcher, have grown orchids commercially, managed and participated in a small theater group, and continue to do all of those activities at some level. 

  • Can you remember the moment you decided to commit to becoming a perfumer?

I did not suddenly decide one day to become a perfumer, nor was it some sort of lifelong dream. It just happened as a slow evolutionary process, almost by accident. I’ve always been fascinated by scents and for as long as I can remember have collected perfumes and essential oils. At some point I started tinkering around with the oils and quickly realized that there was much more to perfumery than mixing some essential oils together. I decided to learn about how to do it right, and have gradually taught myself what I need to know through reading and experimentation. I am still learning. When I started out I had no idea that it would become an important part of my life, but I’m glad it is!

  • What inspired you to create the brand?

The brand name existed already as the name of my orchid nursery, Olympic Orchids. When I was debating what to call the nursery, I looked out the window and saw the Olympic Mountains, and decided to use that name. 
Where are your perfumes sold?
My perfumes are mostly sold online through my two websites (olympicorchidsperfumes.com and orchidscents.com). They are also sold in small brick-and-mortar shops in a few places. 

  • How would you like your work to affect the person who wears it?

When I make perfumes, I make them to please myself, not some mythical consumer demographic. If other people like them, it makes me happy, but if they don’t, it doesn’t bother me because I know that everyone’s taste and ways of smelling are unique. I think one thing that characterizes my brand is the unusually wide range of genres and styles, so I doubt that anyone loves or hates all of my perfumes. The slogan that I use is, “Extraordinary perfumes for extraordinary people”, and I think it expresses my intention quite accurately. I don’t just want my perfumes to “smell nice”, I want them to evoke feelings, thoughts, memories, fantasies, flights of imagination, reactions of surprise or delight, and provide a memorable experience for the wearer. 

  • What can you say about finding ones passion?

A basic rule of life seems to be that if you go looking for something specific like love, success, your “passion”, or even the right shoes for a special occasion, the probability of finding whatever it is decreases dramatically.  My take on this question is that if you are patient, open to everything the world has to offer, and opportunistic, your “passion” will find you. If you’re like me, you may find that you have multiple “passions”, so the question then is how to prioritize them. 

  • What is your view on finding a scent that fits?

My view is that finding a scent that “fits” is a moving set of many unpredictable targets. “Fit” depends on personal tastes, circumstances, mood, the weather, the environment you’re in, your budget, and a host of other factors. To me, there is no one “fit”. My best fit is a huge variety. My advice to anyone would be to wear whatever you enjoy, but don’t get stuck in a rut with just one perfume. You will build up a tolerance to it and require doses that asphyxiate everyone around you. If I’m working in my perfume lab, I can’t wear any perfume, but if I’m not I wear something different every time. 

  • Lastly where do you see the scent world headed in the next few years?

That’s a very good, but unanswerable question. What I envision happening is that the proliferation of new perfume houses and new releases by all perfume companies will decrease somewhat because right now it seems unsustainable. Who wants to keep up with it all? Who wants to buy yet another flanker of a flanker?  I know all of this proliferation of perfumes is driven by the need to constantly stay in the spotlight with new releases, but after a while it’s going to be counter-productive if it isn’t already. 
On the other hand, maybe you could think of perfume production as being like the plant that produces billions of seeds so that three or four of them can germinate and survive. What I think I have seen the beginning of is large mass-market companies copying what we artisan and indie perfumers have been doing, or gobbling up the small companies like whales sucking in krill. Whether that’s a good thing or not depends on your point of view, but there’s certainly plenty of cross-pollination going on among the different layers of the perfume world. 
Another trend that I think may develop is a move away from Eurocentric perfume styles toward more cross-cultural styles. I know that Arabian-style perfume has become more popular in the US and elsewhere, and I hope that still other non-European styles will emerge on the market. 

  • Please share anything you like to say..

What I can say is that my venture into perfumery has been a thrilling journey at every stage, and one that I hope to continue for a long time. I am immensely thankful to my customers, my colleagues, and all of the bloggers and forums that have helped build my company from nothing to a real player in the world of artisan/indie/niche perfume.