The first Ellen Covey scent I ever tried was Red Cattelya. I was probably taking the premise of Olympic Orchids literally, which you should never do. Orchids have fragrances- many of them- but when you try and track down the plurality you are often stopped by the first in a long file: vanilla.
Perfume nuts know that vanilla is an orchid. I’m not sure how much of the general public does, but for us the vanilla orchid is one of the major sources of scent, almost as important as jasmine. So to start with at Olympic Orchids I chose Red Cattelya and was surprised.
RC was not a straight up vanilla scent at all. Red Cattelya was a fruity bouquet with a distinctly floral tone . The notes include melon, apricot, and some citrus, with mostly floral heart notes of gardenia and hyacinth over a base that does contain a good dose of vanilla, and I thought I caught heliotrope. The result is a lighthearted fragrance that pleased my thirteen year old daughter. “This is nice,” she said, “It’s got vanilla in it.” (If this sounds like faint praise, the reader should know that for the most part perfumes I’m trying get a dismissive, “Oh that smells like perfume.” She rarely likes anything.) So, I thought, Olympic Orchids must skew young.
Then I smelled Blackbird. Now Blackbird is completely different. Strong, dark, actually a black juice, a full on oriental with Arabian Peninsular references, some oud, some fruit, potent. Afterwards Dev NO 1 Foreplay, from the Devilscent series, both green and woody, rather like a walk in the woods on a winter’s day.
Ellen Covey’s Amber threw me off track again, by being a classic amber. Wearable, wrapped up against the cold with labadanum, vanilla and some incense, this was as pleasant as I Profumi di Firenze’s Ambra del Nepal. Well, OK she does resins and woods well was my conclusion.
Olympic Rainforest was next, and baffled me, until I realized that the scent was an authentic reconstruction of the Northwoods mists. Rainforest reminded me of a specialist nursery I used to frequent in Vermont that sold every kind of dwarf conifer. Rainforest was a walk through the miniature coniferous woods, on a rainy day. You can practically smell the raindrops falling off the fir needles in this scent and soaking into the cedar wood mulch as they fall.
So, perhaps Olympic Orchids does evocative place specific scents- I thought to myself. Wrong again. Next up was Ballets Rouges, Ellen’s rose chypre. The rose in Ballets comes off as pale and spare, the sort of rose with long limbs and compact muscles, constantly honed and stretched at the barre. This was a slender rose, who bundled her hair on the back of her head, and sat cross legged on the studio floor to sew elastic on her slippers.
The chypre elements in Ballets Rouges are so understated that the perfume emerges as a delicate pallid portrait of a young girl in ballet pink, strangely touching as such young girls often are. I couldn’t help wondering if Ms. Covey herself had ever studied ballet? Also was this the same perfumer who had concocted the bold Blackbird?
The surprising thing about Olympic Orchids therefore is the range. Despite not getting as much press as foreign niche houses, Olympic Orchids is a good choice for lovers of Amouages, or Tauers, some of the fragrances rival Tauers for strength and subtlety, with an increasing sophistication in its offerings, remarkable for orientals and floral fragrances, which to me, are Ellen’s strengths.
Bottom line: Blackbird is the current bestseller, though over the winter it was Olympic Amber, and although Ellen is democratic and has no personal favorite among her scents, I do and that’s the lovely Ballets Rouges.
Of course the artwork is Jackson Pollack’s, whose bold modernity reminds me of Ellen Covey’s.