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, January 16, 2017


In celebration of Martin Luther King Day, I am trying to think positive thoughts about the state of the world, and am taking time to do the easiest blog post possible, another drawing for a bottle of perfume and a group of miscellaneous samples. The bottle is one by a small artisan brand that I shall not name here. It's one that you probably won't find very readily, so if you win, you'll have a "collector's item".

The main prize is in a small "full" spray bottle, but a recent post by Gail on Cafleurebon (along with the odd mixture of evoked comments) made me curious about what sorts of samples people in 2017 like and dislike. I imagine we all agree that none of us like unlabeled sample vials, but other than that the discussion is wide open.

One thing that seemed to get lost in the discussion was the fact that most small perfume companies cannot afford to give away unlimited free samples in any format up to 10 ml (!) spray bottles, with free shipping worldwide. Making samples by hand is a laborious process, and anyone who does it deserves to be compensated for their time and energy. The vials and bottles cost something, as do the labels, which we hope are put on the containers. Packing and shipping materials cost something. I think most (not all) companies sell samples pretty much at or below cost. I know we do. Although we don't make a profit on samples, I don't want our company to go into debt shipping thousands of free samples to anyone and everyone who wants them, so I do expect people to compensate us for the cost so that we can stay in business. The same goes for any other company. That's my soapbox speech for today.

To enter the drawing, just make a comment about what sort of samples you like best. I plan to announce the winner early next week.


The beginning of winter quarter along with an unprecedented number of orchid plant orders and perfume orders has slowed me down, but finally here is the winner of the first in a series of perfume collection clearing-out drawings:

The winner is BECKY!

Please contact me with your shipping address within the next 10 days or the goodies will go back to enrich the jackpot.

[We have been having excessively cold weather ever since the end of December, so I'm on a ski-area webcam photo kick. That's what this photo is.]

Monday, January 2, 2017


I have way more perfumes than I can ever wear, and probably more than I can ever even test. Many items are ones that I acquired back in my swapping days, things that were given to me as gifts, freebies that I received along with something else, or stuff that was ridiculously cheap and tempting even though I didn’t really want or need it. Sound familiar?

In an attempt to slowly reduce the clutter, what I’ll be doing this year is having a giveaway every Monday until further notice. The plan is that there will be some sort of question or prompt that you can write a comment on, and then a drawing to determine the winner of the goods.

This week’s question is what you were most disappointed by in 2016 and what you most look forward to in 2017. It doesn’t have to be about perfume, it’s just a chance to vent a little about anything last year and fantasize about something you’d like to see this coming year.

The prize this week is a small spray bottle of NauticaBermuda Blue (unused, no box) along with some random samples. Comment away!

The drawing will be on Tuesday of next week, January 10.

[Top photo is from Wikimedia, not my much more cluttered collection. Bottom photo is from Fragrantica]

Sunday, January 1, 2017


Throughout the continuous march of days and months, there are multiple opportunities to pause and think about how best to take care of old obligations and move forward in the most positive way. The New Years transition from 2016 to 2017 is one of those times.

I’m always a little behind on everything, so there are a lot of old obligations I need to deal with, and my goal is to take care of them all before incurring any new ones. Ha! I hope I even come close to doing this.

Here are a few perfume-related things I hope to do in the coming year:

- Upgrade and update my websites so that they look better, are more user-friendly and incorporate some special features.

- Finish several perfumes that I’m working on and release them.

- Post more regularly on this blog, Instagram, Facebook and other social media, and send out a newsletter once a month.

- Get my studio cleaned and organized. This is actually a big project given how cluttered it is.

If I accomplish all of these things, it will be a good year, at least locally. In the meantime, best wishes to everyone for a happy and successful year 2017!

[Last night we had a storm that dropped a lot of graupel, which is sort of a hybrid between sleet, snow, and hail. However, I did manage to get out on the icy streets and walk around the neighborhood today, enjoying the little bit of sun that was beaming in from low on the horizon. I thought these ski-area pics were a nice depiction of the winter atmosphere and the feeling of hope that the sun brings.]

Wednesday, December 21, 2016


I don’t even know how to begin this. I can’t remember when I last wrote a blog post. I think it was last summer sometime, and now it’s the winter solstice. First things first, here’s wishing you a happy lengthening of the days! I know I and the orchids are looking forward to gradually seeing more light over the next few months.

Fall quarter went by in a blur as I frantically tried to balance my life at the university with running two businesses. It’s been a continuous mad scramble to keep up with everything, so much so that I haven’t had time to release any new fragrances this past year, nor the time to update websites, keep up with making stock and ordering supplies, and all of the other things that I’m now trying to catch up on in between the demands of people who say, “oh, you have this nice long vacation, so let’s …. ”. I love socializing, don’t get me wrong, but it can quickly become a time sink. This is especially true when the first week of my “vacation” is spent cleaning up teaching and administrative stuff from fall quarter and the rest of the time is spent preparing for winter quarter.

I don’t want to make this a depressing post (the political scene notwithstanding), so want to observe that day before yesterday I looked out my work area window and saw a brightly colored full rainbow in the west, an unusual occurrence because they’re usually on the east side as rain showers move away.

Yesterday the sun was shining, temperatures were moderate for this time of year, and I made time to go on a run. Exercising always feels great. Then I finally planted the spring bulbs that have been sitting on our front porch since September. They were alive and well, with the crocuses sprouting significantly. I realized that this is a good time to plant bulbs because the old ones are starting to poke up through the ground and I can see where I need to fill in.

I’m working on my own (non-science) writing projects again, plays and blog posts, and I’m going to start working intensively on all of my new perfumes this week and next, which makes me extremely happy.

Look for a post here from time to time as we move forward into “winter”, which I see as the beginning of spring!

[All photos are adapted from webcam shots from our local ski area, which I hope to get to at least once this year]

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.]