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An extraordinary creature

 – a review of Olympic Orchids’ Night Flyer

These past far too many months, I have been wearing perfume with a non-analytical mindset. I have been wearing only what I loved, and what I loved, I didn’t think about so much as simply enjoy, for no other reason than I had plenty else to think about; graduation, future employment, a new future and vastly improved life. 

Yet as time went on, I grappled with/wrestled my perfume-minded brain. What could I write about? How would I write it? And the Really Big Question: Could I even write about it in a way that did the perfume justice? 

I’d begin a review, only to stop as if by supernatural dictate. I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to even commit to the idea, when I had plenty of other and more dangerous ones. Literature, for one. 

Most perfumes these days, and perhaps feminine perfumes in particular – at least the commercially successful ones – have been made to an overriding idea: To smell good. To appeal to a millennial/Gen Z demographic. To be Instagrammable,  Snapchat-friendly, with TikTok appeal, to be pretty, to be lighter-than-air and glow transparent for an instant, and be gone, as ephemeral as a daydream and as fleeting as a mote of dust dancing in a sunbeam. 

That’s all, folks! 

Those of us who remember other times and stranger places in the Cretaceous era of 30+ years ago, those of us who remember the allure of experiential perfumes, the ones that took us places and mainly the ones that took us by surprise to places we didn’t know we wanted to visit, are left in the dust and far behind. Craving adventure still but finding not very much besides insipidity. 

Enter an extraordinary human, who knows a thing or two about adventure – Ellen Covey of Olympic Orchids Perfumes. 

Ellen and I go back over ten years by now. Her creations have to a large extent made me the writer I am. A draw for a sample set led to my first ‘real’ perfume review, to many more reviews, to a perfume project, to publication of my first novel, to, in short, a great many things I am today, and more than anything, a bigger, better person and a vastly improved writer because her work as a perfumer inspired me … that much. 

By day, Ellen is a neuroscientist and full professor at the University of Washington in Seattle, and after hours an orchid grower and perfumer with a spectacular ability to capture in essence and liquid place, mood and atmosphere. I can still recall presenting her Olympic Rainforest to my former husband, who had gone to college at Evergreen State College in Olympia, and his immediate response: “Yupp. That’s exactly what it smells like.”

So when I ordered the hotly coveted Blackbird and a refill of Dev no. 4 from her website this past spring because graduation was approaching and I wanted/needed them after these past eighteen months of global disasters, pandemic, lockdowns, cancelled Christmas, lesson plans, Zoom classes, pending final exams and a mammoth bachelor thesis, I found a surprise when it arrived. It was Night Flyer

You know how you can say: ‘there’s nothing like it’? Take my word for it. There’s nothing, and I do mean  nothing, like Night Flyer  anywhere  on Planet Perfume.

Night Flyer  originated as Bat for Zoologist Perfumes, before it was discontinued at Zoologist and some time later, resurrected as Night Flyer at Olympic Orchids. I have yet to try a single Zoologist, so I’ll refrain from making comparisons of the before and after variety. 

Come with me now on a magic carpet ride across the oceans west and south and west, and south and west again, across the turquoise waters of the Caribbean to Jamaica, away from all the tourist traps of the northern coast. Inland to an emerald jungle steaming in the sun over the Blue Mountains on the horizon, a jungle that like all jungles truly comes alive after sunset. 

Here, nestled deep within a dark cave among its fellows, you’ll find an extraordinary creature, Artibeus Jamaicensis, the Jamaican Fruit-Eating Bat. These tiny mammals live in small communities in the caves, and come out to gorge themselves after sundown on bananas, figs and other tropical fruits of the very ripe variety. These is not your average supermarket bananas, certainly not any fruits available in my temperate corner of Europe, but full-bodied, luscious fruit, unapologetically tropical, the very apotheosis of what bananas, figs and fruit can be. 

The bats are at the heartbeat of Night Flyer, with their musky, fruity-scented fur, cuddling with their family in those dark, humid caves by day, and flying free through the darkly verdant vetiver jungle, in search of those mythical, sensuous fruits at night. And through all of Night Flyer, top to bottom and start to finish, a thick ribbon of geosmin, of petrichor, of damp, scented, fertile earth so amazing it’s a marvel it isn’t used more often as a note, since by Golly and the grace of a virtuoso master perfumer, you are there  by the cave in the jungle, as the bats come out to feed. 

Take away that geosmin note, and you have a most unusual green perfume. But add it back in, and you are left soaring through the jungle guided by your sonar towards the fruit that glows fragrant in the dark and perfumes your very soul. When dawn gilds the mountain tops, you’re back among your family nestled together in a deep, pitch-black cave, waiting to fly out into the jungle night and to prove to all who can experience your flight, that you are a most extraordinary creature. 

Notes (from the Olympic Orchids website): Sandalwood, olibanum, vetiver, furry musk accord, wet earth, damp air, mineral notes, resins, leather, figs, banana, soft tropical fruits

Olympic Orchids Night Flyer is available as an extrait in 1, 5, 30 and 100 ml spray directly from the Olympic Orchids website

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