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.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013


Years ago, when I was working in Germany, I had a colleague who liked to quote folksy sayings. One of them could be loosely translated to say, “if you eat old bread, you will never eat anything but old bread”. Maybe this isn’t obviously applicable to modern life in the US, where bread often comes packed with preservatives and can be stored for weeks, months, or years in the refrigerator or freezer, but think about living in a time and place where everyone goes to a good bakery on a daily basis to buy fresh rolls, baguettes, or other forms of freshly baked bread. This sort of natural, unpackaged bread has a shelf life of only a few days at most, and is best when bought fresh every day in quantities small enough to be fully consumed right away. 

A different German colleague was in the habit of eating old bread every day at lunch. His wife would buy new bread for the household every day or two, but he felt compelled to finish up all of the old bread so that it wouldn’t go to waste. I remember him laboriously sawing away at a desiccated loaf of heavy, sour rye bread that looked as if it were petrified, eventually cutting off a slice that he would spread with butter and top with a slice of old, dried-out ham. In all of the years that I knew him, he never ate anything but old bread, old butter, and old ham. The poor guy died a few years ago, never having eaten anything but that stereotyped lunch of foods that were well beyond their prime.

I’m certainly not in favor of wasting anything, whether it be food, paper, perfume, or other goods. On the other hand, I’m puzzled by the old bread eaters who apparently feel that they have to save everything good for the future, so by the time the future comes, if it ever does, the items have gone bad. The good bread they were saving for the next meal has molded, the good dishes they were saving for their daughter’s wedding have cracked, the good cashmere sweater they were saving for a special occasion has been eaten by moths, the good perfume they were saving has all evaporated, and in the meantime all of these things just took up space until the person died without ever having enjoyed them.

By now you may be wondering what any of this has to do with mascara, but there really is a connection. Mascara is a very simple cosmetic, meant to do one thing, which is make one’s eyelashes look longer, thicker, and darker. That’s it. There’s only one way to use it – apply it to eyelashes. However, given the plethora of mascara variations on the market, one would think that it can serve an infinite number of functions, and be applied in an infinite number of ways. No mascara is perfect, so we who use it are always searching for the holy grail. I nearly found mine years ago when I was traveling and stopped in the duty-free shop to spray myself with perfumes and apply some minimal cosmetics after a night sleeping on a plane. The best mascara I’ve ever found is one made by Dior, which is what I tried in that duty-free shop. It’s pricey, it’s not 100% perfect, but it works effectively, and it keeps working until it’s used up, which is more than I can say for most other brands.

Every time I go to the store and survey the cosmetics section, there’s something new. There’s the mascara with the spherical brush. It doesn’t work. There’s the one with the vibrating brush. Come on, you really think I’m going to buy batteries for my mascara? The three that I’ve been testing recently just don’t measure up to my exacting standards.

Megalash Clinical Mascara, made in China for Markwins Cosmetics (left in photo), is supposed to make your eyelashes grow longer and fuller. It doesn’t do anything except function minimally in the way mascara was intended to. The flattened brush makes application a little awkward, but it’s not bad. Like most other mascaras, it gets clumpy after the first few applications, so the brush has to be repeatedly wiped to remove clots of black, gunky stuff. It’s cheap, it’s reasonably functional, but it doesn’t grow bigger, longer, or better eyelashes. Why would that surprise anyone?

Photoready 3-D Volume by Revlon, made in USA (right in photo), is another disappointment. What is meant by “3-D volume”, anyway? Aren’t eyelashes, by definition, 3-dimensional? The mascara itself is thin, but it functions minimally in the way intended. The brush is all slick plastic, including the short bristles, so that very little fluid product sticks to it, just the clumps. It’s also quite inefficient at transferring the mascara to eyelashes. This is another one that works minimally, but doesn’t deliver as promised. The slick rubbery brush was a bad idea, so maybe with a conventional, porous-bristle brush it would have worked better. Different is not always better. 

Voluminous False Fiber Lashes Black Lacquer by L’Oreal (center in photo) is another mascara that promises the world and delivers very little except the basics. The product itself is thin, a far cry from the “false lashes” look that is implied by the name. Come to think of it, there's no mention of false lashes, it's "false fibers", an ambiguous term if ever there was one. There’s considerable clumping right from the start, but the worst feature is the brush. The tube itself has sort of a twisted design, which is gratuitous but harmless. Some designer apparently thought it would be a novel and artistic idea to repeat the twisted design in the brush, but this wonderful example of design for its own sake interferes with function. The twisted brush makes application extremely difficult, uneven, and unpredictable. Combine random twists with clumps, and you have an eye-makeup accident waiting to happen. This is probably the worst of the three in terms of functionality.

Having tried these three, I feel no need to use them up. Instead, I will abandon the bad mascara for the next great novelty on the shelf, which may be just as bad, but the manufacturers always keep us hoping with new gimmicks. Ultimately, I may just haul out that nice tube of Dior that I recently purchased, on the premise that life is too short to wear bad mascara. It's also too short to save your favorite perfumes in the back of a closet, so spritz away! And you could also try some really fresh bread from your local bakery, if you have one. 

[All photos except the mascara products taken from Wikimedia. The mascaras were photographed on their final trip to the bad cosmetic depository.] 


  1. I remember that bread! It's actually pretty good even when it's old, but fresh is so much better. As for mascara, my eyes are too sensitive to wear it much, which is too bad, I love the effect it gives. And I agree about product line burnout. I get a migraine just looking at all the minutely different varieties of laundry detergent at the grocery store! I get especially grumpy when they change the displays, as I can't find the type I've been buying anymore, and have to go through the whole mess of products again, trying to find the right one!

    1. Marla, changing products is another whole topic. It seems that as soon as a company produces a good product they stop making it or change it so that it's not as good any more. I suppose this is the result of having to chase after the customers who are perpetually looking for novelty, but who cares about novelty when it comes to laundry detergent or toilet paper or cat food? Just give me a good, functional, product at a reasonable price, and I'll buy it as needed, forever, without extra gimmicks or changes. I don't want to have to think, analyze, and make new decisions every time I buy basic household products.

    2. Yes! It seems a given that good quality products at reasonable prices will be discontinued. I postpone the search for new products by stockpiling (hoarding?) the basics I use that have long shelf lives. Eventually, if I live long enough, my cache will be used up and I will once again waste time and money looking for decent replacements. Buying in quantity online has the added advantage of keeping me out of the stores. I usually hate shopping in crowded malls, "costcos", etc.

      Regarding the perishables, like perfume: I have so many full bottles that I have to make an effort to change my scent ever few days or give away what I'm not using. My daughter was just in town. She was happy to take home at least ten bottles. Much happier than I was to be dragged on her excursion to the mall I've carefully avoided for the past five years.

  2. Heya,
    As a worker in theatre I use mascara at least 5 nights a week and find them all to be equally OK. I just want black lashes before adding the falsies. I like the next morning when it hasn't quite all come off and my lashes are dark to the ends, even if the rest of me is wan.
    As to spritzing? I could spritz 50 times a day, live till 200 and give half my perfume collection away, still there would be a lifetimes perfume for 10 normal people left.
    Yes, grossly and disgustingly greedy.
    Portia xx

  3. Hi there,

    I tried many mascara as you do, but not tried yet the Dior, all I know is that all mascara goes clumpy and flaky.

    Since we are talking about mascara I've got some simple tips, it takes time though.