What is the Perfume Project?

This blog is a constantly evolving forum for thoughts on perfume, perfume-making, plants (especially orchids and flora of the Pacific Northwest) and life in general. It started out chronicling the adventures of Olympic Orchids Perfumes, established in July 2010, and has expanded in other directions. A big part of the blog is thinking about the ongoing process of learning and experimentation that leads to new perfumes, the exploration of perfumery materials, the theory and practice of perfume making, the challenges of marketing perfumes and other fragrance products, and random observations on philosophy and society. Spam comments will be marked as such and deleted; any comments that go beyond the boundaries of civil discourse will also be deleted. I am grateful to all of you, the readers, who contribute to the blog by commenting and making this a truly interactive perfume project.

Monday, August 22, 2016


Today's post by Donna Hathaway concludes her interview as she talks about why many perfume bloggers choose to remain anonymous, the effect of free samples, and other questions. Next week will begin a new interview. 

 Do you think perfume reviewers should reveal their identity or should they remain anonymous?

Good question! Either way is fine, but using one’s real identity always carries the risk of being harassed online and having your privacy invaded. Sites like Facebook make it really hard for anyone to stay anonymous, but at least you can chose who sees what you publish there.  So far I have been lucky, but for my own new venture I will be using a pseudonym, as most bloggers do.

How do you think perfume reviews/reviewers compare to reviews/reviewers of other media (e.g., visual art, films, food, music, books, etc?

Perfume writers are not understood by the general public much of the time, but then who understands a music critic who dissects an obscure piece of classical music no one has ever heard, or a film reviewer who only likes French avant-garde cinema? You have to know who your audience is, and if you want to expand it, you must make your case in terms everyone can understand. The biggest difference is that with a very few notable exceptions, no one is paying us to write about our subject.

Is it more or less difficult to review perfume than to review work in other media? If so, why? If not, why not?

It’s not any more difficult, as there is no lack of subject material. The hardest part is deciding what to write about based on too many choices, and making one’s voice heard among the many.

Do you read other people’s perfume reviews? If so, what do you like/dislike in a review?

I do, but I stay away from reviews that are about fragrances that I am planning to write about so I don’t unconsciously pick up on something that might influence me. After I publish my own take on something, it’s fun to read the other reviews.

I enjoy fragrance writers whose style stands out from the crowd, whether it’s daring, humorous, quirky, or simply better. There are some whose work I read and then I want to go crawl under a rock because they are so much more talented than I am, but in the end I am inspired by them, and I soldier on. I am trying to be more fearless; it’s tough to give yourself permission to shut down the censor in your own head.

Do you approach perfumes sent to you gratis differently from those that you buy? If so, how does your approach differ?

I do my best to treat them all the same. I don’t know if anyone can say that they have no bias at all, but I try. (Of course if I am reviewing a vintage perfume, I don’t have to worry about hurting anyone’s feelings!) The bulk of fragrances I receive from perfumers for review is in the form of samples, so it’s not like I am amassing a hoard of bottles. Well, I am, actually, but it’s mainly my own collection of vintage perfumes, acquired over many years of bargain hunting.

It is very unlikely that honest reviews would agree. Do you feel any hesitation in disagreeing with prominent reviewers or great masses of opinion of the forums?

No, I don’t – I have taken some flak in the past for expressing my opinion, but as a writer to whom people look for honesty (I hope!) I will gladly point out that the Emperor has no clothes, or offer my opposing view on something. However, personal attacks on individuals are strictly off limits, regardless of my private opinion.

Thank you for inviting me to participate in your interview series! It is truly an honor. One of my favorite things about being a perfume writer is being able to call attention to the small artisan, indie and niche brands and all the talented perfumers whose work is a labor of love. The world of perfumery has so much to hold my interest: beauty that anyone can enjoy, an indivisible relationship with the natural world of flowers and other aromatic materials, a highly romantic and sexy subject, Byzantine levels of intrigue and mystery, a fascinating history that stretches back to the dawn of civilization, a strong connection to the world of fashion, which I also love,  and a vibrant community of perfumers, consumers, writers, creative directors, boutique owners, and tastemakers. I can never run out of things to write about!
And thank you, Donna!

[Images from Wikimedia, lady removing mask anon. 1750s, woman with perfume bottle Fujishima Takeji 1915, Japanese actors in fight scene anon 1860s]

Sunday, August 21, 2016


It is always gratifying to come home from a trip and see orchids that are not only alive, but blooming. The ones that greeted me after this summer’s vacation were Cattleya bicolor, Cattleya jenmannii, and a new one, Ansellia africana This plant has been sitting in the greenhouse for several years doing nothing, so it was a surprise to see it burst out into a big spray of bright yellow flowers with a lot of dark brown spots – a semi-abstract leopard print.

The flowers are lightly fragrant, somewhat like a combination of woody phenol and vanilla! I’m not sure this would make a very good perfume, but it’s an interesting scent.

This species is native to a good part of tropical Africa. The plant is reasonably attractive, looking sort of like a dendrobium, with tall, upright, succulent canes and broad, elongate leaves. It seems to take a lot of abuse - heat, cold, drought, and general neglect.

According to the IOSPE (Internet Orchid Species Photo Encyclopedia), the pseudobulbs have traditionally been used for medicinal purposes, as an emetic, cough remedy, and to “cure madness”. Zulu lore has it that wearing the pseudobulbs can prevent an ex-lover from having children. Regardless of any therapeutic value, it’s a beautiful plant.

[Photos are mine. If you look closely, you can see seed pods starting to grow.]

Friday, August 19, 2016


We returned to Seattle from the Bahamas last weekend, but it’s taken me until now to get around to actually downloading my photos and starting back with the blog posts. Both of my assistants have been away, one on vacation herself, and one out of town dealing with family issues. That means that I’ve been packing and shipping furiously on my own, and am just now getting caught up.

I thought it would be fun to kick off this new cycle of blogging with a list of a few things I learned while I was on vacation.

1. I really enjoy being in a tropical place. I like the heat and humidity. It’s liberating not to have to worry about dressing in layers or carrying a jacket around all the time, although it seems that some places in the Bahamas have adopted the US custom of using air conditioning to freeze their clientele. Fortunately, most have outdoor seating areas for those who didn’t bring a down jacket. If it’s 95 degrees outside, I can see cooling it down to 85 or even 80, but not 55! I will never understand why so many people seem to think they need to spend their lives refrigerated. I don’t think it will make them last longer. People are not picked vegetables.

2. I can drink coffee without sugar! I discovered this when I made coffee the first day and found that there was no sugar in the sugar bowl or anywhere else in the place. After a couple of days, it was OK.

3. I can run on a treadmill! I had been planning to run on the beach, but the beach was miles away and fairly inaccessible. I had forgotten to bring my running shoes, and it really wasn’t a good idea to run barefoot on roads with no sidewalk, possibly stepping on all manner of unpleasant things. There was a community workout room nearby with a treadmill, so I tried running barefoot on that. It wasn’t nearly as bad as I had expected, and I got a good workout in every day I was there, ending up running two 5Ks at target race pace on the last 2 days. That’s much better than I can do at home, but it has inspired me to join the local community recreation center so that I can use their equipment a couple of times a week and probably more when the weather gets cold and stormy and the days ridiculously short in winter.

4. I can go for almost 2 weeks without obsessively checking my e-mail, texts, and news reports throughout the day. I got by with just checking my business e-mail once a day on my phone (when the wi-fi was working) and dealing with any pressing issues. Since I’ve been back, I’ve fallen into old habits, but have resolved to cut down on the number of times I check everything. It’s amazing what a time sink it is.

Stay tuned for the regular features to return, as well as the usual random things that I write about. 

[All photos are mine. Another thing I learned is that I can take decent photos with my phone and don't need to bring a camera when I travel.]

Sunday, July 31, 2016


For once I have a reasonably good excuse for not posting anything on this blog - we're going on vacation in the Bahamas for 10 days, during which time I won't be using my phone, laptop, or other means of normal communication. That's what a vacation is all about - getting away from everything.

With time to sit and think, write, explore the islands, and take photos, I should be coming back with plenty of new material.

Look for the next post sometime around the middle of August. In the meantime, vive les vacancies!

[Preliminary Bahamas photo from Wikimedia - real ones coming soon!] 

Thursday, July 28, 2016


The drawing has taken place, and the winner of the Frankincense drawing is:


The jackpot includes a 5-ml travel spray of Blackbird, a 5-ml travel spray of the Devil Scent of your choice, and some miscellaneous extras.

To claim your winnings, send an e-mail to olympicorchids at gmail dot com with your correct name,  complete shipping address, and choice of which Devil Scent you would like to try.

Because we will be on vacation, your prize package will ship after August 15. If unclaimed by then, everything will go back into the next jackpot.

[Pineapple guava photo is mine] 

Monday, July 25, 2016


Donna had a lot to say, but it's too interesting and well written to edit, so I'm featuring it as a multi-part series. Here's the next installment!
Do you think your style and content are unique? How so?

I don’t think of my style as being particularly unique. I am by no means a perfume  expert, and I truly admire the writers who have far more knowledge than I do.  What I try to do is communicate my enthusiasm in a way that everyone can relate to; one need not be a perfume “insider” to read and understand most of what I do. I am just spreading the love! I have tried a few more daring ventures, however. While writing for Perfume-Smellin’ Things I have had the chance to participate in some group projects with other writers, which made me aware of the amazing indie and artisan perfume scene, and that really stretched my own concepts of what perfume could be. I had to find new ways to write about them. For one of them, the Devilscent Project, for which you made some wonderful fragrances, I did a series that incorporated perfume descriptions with a complex story that was part mystery, part supernatural, and part old-time adventure serial in the manner of Raiders of the Lost Ark, complete with time travel, sex scenes and nefarious Nazis. It was a total departure for me that could have been a disaster, but I somehow made it work. I am looking forward to trying more of that “working without a net” writing in the future, it was loads of fun.

What is your process in writing a perfume review?

I prefer to write about what I like, or at least find interesting. Sometimes I have to ponder for a while until the right approach comes to me, and after that I know what shape it will take. If I am faced with a mediocre subject, my output will probably be substandard as well. I sometimes come up against a brick wall when it comes to how to deal with a subject, and if I don’t feel the spark, I usually don’t pursue it. Life is too short for bad perfume, or bad writing.

Being honest and true to myself is the only way for me to operate as a fragrance writer. When I review a perfume, I want the reader/consumer to have my true opinion and impression, and I do not write good reviews in order to curry favor from a brand. If I dislike or even hate something I will say so, and I will say why. There are some so-called blogs that are really nothing more than publicity fronts for brands, including some that are part of well-known fashion and beauty magazines, not independent blogs, and that is not what I want to do. It’s fine if they are up front about it, but it’s not my thing.

What do you think about the idea that reviews should only be positive?

I prefer to write positive reviews if only because I don’t want to smell bad perfume. The major brands are legitimate targets when they put out less than good quality products, since they clearly have the resources to do better, so if I do give a bad review, it’s usually for the big players, as a public service. If the great François Coty could see what the company carrying his name is putting out now in the way of cheap-smelling celebrity scents, inferior reformulations of their older classics, and little else, he would be horrified. If you want to make a perfume lover weep, let him or her smell a bottle of vintage Emeraude next to the current version; it’s truly a crying shame. I have a long list of grievances on this subject, don’t get me started!

Do you think it’s useful to have a linear, one-dimensional scale for the “quality” of a perfume (stars, lippies, or such)? If so, why? If not, why?

It can be useful and fun to have such measures, but not necessary. I agree with some of Luca Turin’s five-star ratings, for example, but I am mystified by others, and the same with his one-star failures.  Some fragrances are obviously better than others, but it’s also highly subjective.

How do you judge the “quality” of a perfume, anyway? What are the important factors that you consider?

First-rate materials are very important. I am somewhat old school in that regard, having cut my teeth on the classics, and I am dismayed by a good number of the recent reformulations of my beloved “oldies.” They are virtually never an improvement. I also want to have an emotional response to a great perfume. It has to develop and sustain its quality and structure over time, not fall apart after five minutes. The really good ones smell better the longer they are on the skin, and they have a story to tell, one that you want to “hear” over and over again.

[The mention of "Raiders of the Lost Ark" got me started searching for old publicity posters, which is what most of these are. The star rating graphic is from a retailer's website, and Donna's headshot is one that she provided.]