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.

Sunday, February 16, 2014


Kafkaesque’s blog recently featured an extremely thoughtful and thorough discussion about the perennial issue of increasingly stringent EU regulations being proposed for the perfume industry. The latest version of the EU regulations would essentially ban a large number of traditionally used natural materials, thereby severely limiting the palettes of European perfumers and wreaking havoc on Grasse and other regions that produce essential oils and absolutes for the perfume industry. 

The ostensible argument for these regulations is that a very small percentage of the population might be allergic to the materials in question. Whether “allergic” is the right term to use is questionable, but that was the topic of a previous post a long time ago. Even if it were correct, the obvious approach would be to have perfume manufacturers list all of the potential allergens (or irritants) on the label and let people make up their own minds whether or not to use the product. This is what is currently done with foods “that may contain peanuts” and other materials that could cause an allergic reaction far worse than anything that could potentially result from a little bit of dilute oakmoss or bergamot on the skin.

By the EU’s reasoning, practically all food should be banned, and it appears that this process is already underway with the restriction of cinnamon in Danish pastries. Soon to follow will be all spices, nuts, dairy products, wheat products, meat products, fruits and vegetables. If allergies are a problem, then the EU should ban all pollen-producing plants, trees, and grass. Ever heard of “hay fever”? That’s a real allergy, but as far as I know, no one wants to get rid of forests, food crops, green lawns and pastures except the developers who put up ugly housing projects, strip malls, and parking lots.

Given that the reasoning behind the current and proposed regulations makes no sense at all from a logical point of view, the question of "why?" remains unanswered. No one is going to clearly benefit financially, and probably the regulations will harm many EU industries large and small.

Cynic that I am, my guess about the motives underlying this type of micromanagement by the EU is that it is mega-bureaucracy's way of instilling a feeling of learned helplessness in their subjects. I see this tactic used all the time by the administration of the university where I work, by the local, state, and federal governments, by religious organizations throughout history, and by corporations that do not want to provide any sort of service to their customers. 

Teach people not to ask why they are instructed to do or not to do something; teach them not to question “authority”; teach them not to ask to talk to a human being who takes responsibility for having made the rules; teach them that if they ask questions or complain they will get no response or at best a dismissive response; shame or penalize them if they have a reasonable reaction to an unreasonable rule. Eventually people will realize their powerlessness in the face of the mega-bureaucracy and obediently behave as the bureaucracy asks them to. 

A populace trained in learned helplessness will eventually swallow any bullshit piled upon them. Too many times history has seen oppression start with the ridiculous and end up as harm to the oppressed themselves, or as harm inflicted by the oppressed on those who have been designated by the authorities as inferiors or enemies. Often it begins with arbitrary, but seemingly harmless, rules. 

[Lavender, peanut butter and cinnamon roll photos from Wikimedia; last photo is from Orson Welles film of Kafka's "The Trial".]


  1. Beautifully put. My mother (HIGHLY allergic to avocados) and I (mildly allergic to dairy and quite allergic to most molds and to shrimp) have found the idea of banning fragrance ingredients outrageous. I can't believe this is coming to pass. There are certain scents that make me cough and my mother-in-law reach for her inhaler and both of us wear perfume regularly. I always double check that mom's food is avocado free when going out to eat so we don't have to make an ER trip and we read cosmetics labels thoroughly so she doesn't become a giant rash. My cousin is terribly allergic to celery, shall we ban that? Why isn't everyone outraged about this? Really frightening.

    1. Liz, there are so many things we ought to be outraged about that it's hard to know where to begin! The other problem is that we don't really know who we ought to be enraged at. The people responsible (and there are real people at some level) hide behind a faceless screen of bureaucracy and take no responsibility.

  2. Is there a single reason why any sane person would listen to the EU (especially after the bent banana incident). Why not just grow our own, make our own and sell our own? It really is possible and can be a lot of fun. Why not just marginalize the EU and continue as if they did not exist? We can, at least for now, because we live in the US. While we are fast approaching "idoicarcy" we haven't quite reached it yet.

    1. Gail, the only reason why sane people pay attention to insane rules is because of the fear that they might be punished for disregarding them. In many situations, this fear is founded in reality.