April 2, 2011

OLO Perfume

OLO of Portland, Oregon, made by Heather Sielaff, is a tiny fragrance line of gentle, intimate, earthy-fresh, subtle perfumes. My impression is of a youthful sensibility steeped in the air of the Pacific Northwest deep forests, their mosses, loamy earth, mists and soft rains. They are well worn with wool sweaters and cotton dresses, heightening personal skin scent tone into a more complex and poetically allusive version of your lightly musky self. They are abstract and delicate but certain notes arise over the course of wear that allude to archetypal memories and experiences, if you let them.

The abstraction allows for personal projections into each of the perfumes. They each have a strong identity but most do not really fall into the classical styles of incense or oriental or chypre. There are a couple (Dafne and Nationale 6/7) that are definitely florals but quickly move from something descriptive of petals directly to a blended sweetness that is more about energy and liveliness.  The more overtly masculine types (Erastus and Victory Wolf) have a strong smoky tobacco evergreen quality that I would wear regardless, but that's me, I am so drawn to their evergreen darkness.  I most enjoy what I find to be the more abstract ones (Foret, Dark Wave, Pauper, and in its own category, Violet Leather). They are elegantly understated, open ended, modern and natural enough to remind me and connect me to so many pleasant things.

I get the impression of past and present mixed together. Like the memory of my earliest reading of the Victorian classics suddenly arising during a typical modern-life work day, or talking the long way home through busy streets with scents arising on the evening breeze, or entering a modern house furnished with antiques. If you like the softly astringent beauty of strong black coffee, brisk walks in the cool damp air at night, the soft light of candle flame, leather and wood-smoke, standing on a porch breathing in the quiet morning air, this is a line to try.

Women and men could wear all of them and be perhaps even more intriguing to the opposite sex wearing one that would usually be in the other gender’s territory. This scent style bonds with nature of the wild, un-cultivated, kind.

I love perfumes that create a  personal ambiance that is non gender specific and not like what is usually thought of as “perfume-y”, but more an allusive aromatic experience that both enhances the skin’s own scent and builds an appealing personal ambiance, like a stylish cloak of scented air.  These do.  They stay closer in to the skin, so they are decorative of personal intimacy, and also won't get on the nerves of those who dislike a big sillage at work or social situations.

The perfumer takes inspiration from various life situations and personality types she has experienced. She makes the perfumes up individually in small editions, and develops them based on the reactions and comments she gets from wearing them herself.

The packaging is elegantly low key.  Embossed white paper labels with the name almost invisibly shadowing itself on the vials, with calligraphic font titles beneath. There are also exquisite hand blown flacons that look like elongated crystal rippled droplets made by a local artisan (Andy Paiko, fascinating work). They are sold filled with any perfume of the line you most prefer. 

The site is beautifully done, and there is a sample program, and gradated sizes as to price, making them affordable.  The special flacon is exquisite, hand-made in limited edition, and quite a bit more ($275) but comes with 9ml of the fragrance.  The perfumes are available online and also at certain special boutiques, such as Bird in Brooklyn, where I first encountered them. Here are some impressions on the line, with the predominant notes listed as on the site: 
Pine, juniper, cedar vetivert. Rubbed into the skin of my arms it blends with the skin scent, then the upper tang of the juniper and cedar and pine step forward to blend into their own herbal mint/freshness. It’s like a forest liquor or cognac made of evergreen substances, held close to the ground by the earthiness of the vetivert. I find blends well with my own skin scent so it shines through as part of the composition.

Cedar, tobacco, oakmoss, silver needle. Immediately deep and dense, has a salty edge to the tobacco, which has been smoked, standing out in the open mossy evergreen air. 

Victory Wolf
Incredibly outdoorsy, a total bonfire experience, smoke, wood, tobacco, a camping trip in the forest. 


Orange, ylang ylang, sampaguita (a type of jasmine). The high toned sweetness of a true floral modified by the brisk clarity of orange. Daphne flowers are the distinctive note of Spring in Portland, Oregon. I am not familiar with the plant in bloom but this is meant to bring the Northwest Spring season to everyone everywhere.

Nationale 6/7 

Lemon, rose, sandalwood, musk. In collaboration with a local vintage gallery/shop, the Victorian triumverate of rose, sandalwood and musk is sharpened up by the lemon which takes the lead and ushers it into modernity.

Violet Leather 

Violet, leather, rosewood. Scented soft fine leather gloves, drawn off the hands of a person who is just in from a brisk walk in the rain, so the leather got a little wet from brushing against the leaves while picking some greens. It’s more the breath than the full sweetness of violets; more the shrinking violet as an essential dark floral holding itself near the earth amid green camouflage. I love the inspiration: “Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.” -Mark Twain

Lightning Paw
Bergamot, vanilla, jasmine, patchouli, wood.  The jasmine and vanilla impart a soft comfort to a scenic landscape, a distant perspective created by the rest of the composition. More abstract than you would expect from this note list, they are so tightly bound as to turn into an entity that speaks through the filter of a citrus voice.

Dark Wave   
Notes are not listed, but I get cedar, smoke, mint, and a gentle herbaceous tang. This one is temporarily off the site but will be back soon, it was created for a special event but will soon be brought back by popular demand. I imagine a lot of lovely young people in a room together in the evening with the open windows bringing in the scent of moist leaves, tree created oxygen, and body heat generated by the press of the crowd.  
Inspired by Old Spice aftershave, warm and spicey, but this interpretation is far more subtle in effect, as if some got onto a flannel shirt kept in a cedar closet. I think the name may be a reference to Richie Valens, who died young in a plane crash, one of the early rockers who brought Latin sensibilities into American pop culture. A simple air of soft glow and warmth.

An interesting collaboration fragrance, inspired by those, like many artists out there, with exquisite tastes and no money to indulge them. Getting a quiet and clean scent of the forest, against the backdrop of a high note, representing perhaps the intoxication of beauty, and a sense of longing. Absinthe drinking, watching the light fall through the branches, wearing silk. 

I like perfumes that aim to approximate ambivalent states of mind and feeling. It brings out the personality of the wearer. All those projections and imaginative musings.  That's why I think people should try the sample program, I know my impressions are very personal ones and everyone will have their own very personal reactions too.  It's not the kind of perfume that art directs your persona, but rather more a poetic suggestion and a sense of style; you make of it what you will.

 Coming soon - Leisure Nomad. Sounds like the distillation of the life I want to live.

As a friend of mine keeps saying, about all the new perfumers coming out, "There's so much creativity!"  Yes, and we're finally getting to see more than the tip of the iceberg; the internet has been a great thing for new perfumers.  It's wonderful to discover and try these beautiful things coming out from all over the country these days.  I feel so lucky to be witnessing all this creativity blossoming in American perfume.

Above photo Eastmoreland Lake by Monner from a historic photo archive of Portland. 
Remaining images from the OLO site, and the perfumer's blog gives more insight into her creative process, too.


nuages said...

Fascinating line. Your descriptions of Dark Wave & Pauper are truly evocative.

Lucy said...

There are interesting motivations in terms of perfume here.

chanstand said...

such a lovely write up about OLO... i have tried sample pack #1... and i am most attracted to Pauper and Violet and Leather. they are all brilliant. I can't wait to 'venture off to Portland to discover these inspirations of her line myself.

Lucy said...

Chanstand/Courtney, Pauper and V&L are two very endearing ones. I think you will enjoy many of the rest...

Scent Hive said...

Living in Portland, these folks have been on my radar, but now I am completely obsessed! Your review is fabulous Lucy. Any idea about ratios of naturals they use?

Thanks so much,

Lucy said...


I do not know, but I suspect rather high, they behave like naturals, hold close to the skin, etc. I am sure if you contact Heather she will be most helpful. Seems to be lots of good things going on in your neck of the woods!

perfumes online australia said...

This looks quite nice, I really want to try it. Thanks for sharing.

chordtocolor said...

I own the sadly discontinued 'Palace' by OlO. This line is truly incredible, I hope it is around forever! The dark wave description sounds so exciting.

olofragrance@gmail.com said...

Heather from OLO here. Thanks for all the sweet comments about my perfume.

I do use mostly naturals but I will throw a synthetic in the mix if I feel I need it to get the scent I'm after. Leisure Nomad will be 100% natural unless I tweak it again between now and the release!

You can always email me if your favorite perfume is discontinued. I may be able to blend one up for you. I will sometimes drop a perfume if the essential oils I'm getting start to change. I'm still purchasing small quantity so consistency can be an issue. I still have Palace though!


Lucy said...

Perfumes online australia, thanks for stopping by

Lucy said...

ChordtoColor -- Palace sounds super intriguing, glad to hear it's back

Lucy said...


Thanks for stopping by! Looking forward to your new things, and trying more of your old things, as they become available again. It's nice to have an edited list, and work from that, and go back and forth developing the initial ideas as time goes on. I think you well describe the perfumes yourself in a few accurate intriguing words.

JoanElaine said...

The OLO line sounds great! I've heard good things about Violet Leather, but these are the first reviews I've seen for the reast of the line.

Thank you! I'll be looking into OLO.

Lucy said...

JE, try the sample program if you are not near any of the retail places...
like the concepts for creating fragrances a lot

john petter said...

I am so happy with this.. 50 Cent