Not Just Vanilla: Olympic Orchid Perfumes

Jackson Pollock for DevilscentThe 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 Red_Cattleya_for_boutiquerarely 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.

a very young dancer 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.



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6 Responses to Not Just Vanilla: Olympic Orchid Perfumes

  1. Portia says:

    Hey there,
    I’m so glad to see more love for Ellen and Olympic Orchids. Also Olympic Amber and Ballets Rouges are my two favourite from her range. Did you try Yellow Cattelya or any of the soaps?
    Portia xx

  2. Blacknall Allen says:

    Hi Portia,
    No I haven’t tried the Yellow Cattelya, but would like to. I agree with you that her amber is very good, and that rose was great.

    This is one of those niche brands that deserves more mention, especially for those Amouage lovers out there.

  3. mals86 says:

    I love Ballets Rouges, though I really do get Red rose out of it rather than pink (the pink-rose chypres that come to mind at the moment would be the coloratura diva hot pink L’Arte di Gucci and the fresh, gardeny, lighter pink PdE Eau Suave). It’s lovely – glad I bought it.

    I tried most of the other orchid scents and found them far too sweet for me – haven’t tried anything else, but I am still intrigued by the “place” ones.

  4. Blacknall Allen says:

    Those place scents remind me of the Twilight series, just because I’ve never been to Seattle and environs. They have a “foresty”, soil, and rain smell.

    I love Eau Suave myself though I never seem to buy it, you’re right it is a pink rose and not a red one. Ballets Rouges did come through as Ballets Roses to me, though I was sampling through the springtime snuffles.

  5. Ellen Covey says:

    Blacknall, thank you for the lovely reviews! You really nailed everything, including the guess that at one point in my life I did study ballet and modern dance. It’s interesting to note that originally I considered the name “Ballets Roses”, but when I researched it to see if it had been used, I found that it was the name of a series of sex scandals in France in the 1950s involving prominent politicians and underage girls – kind of an unsavory association.

    • Blacknall Allen says:

      Oh dear, not a good choice then. Still, the Ballets Rouges smells rouges to enough of us that it does not matter a bit!

      Interesting to note that you once studied ballet, it affects people permanently I think. By the way I enjoyed Red Cattelya too and so did my daughter.

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