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.

Thursday, October 22, 2015


A couple of days ago I read in our local newspaper that the Seattle Macy’s is downsizing by selling off the top floors of the store. Moreover, they’re selling off entire stores elsewhere. Thinking about that bit of news, I realized that I was not surprised because it’s been years since I set foot in a traditional department store. I think the last time I was in one was in San Francisco when I went to Barney’s to visit someone I knew who worked in the perfume department. That was a nice downtown department store not a mall store, and I didn’t go anywhere except one counter in the perfume department,  so it was a pleasant experience. I can’t say as much for the typical US department store.

Urban department stores a century or more ago were built to be beautiful temples to the gods of consumerism, but somewhere along the line aesthetics and the human-friendly touch got left behind in the rush to achieve infinite growth of sales and profits. There’s something profoundly depressing about suburban shopping malls in general, and their cornerstone department stores are especially depressing. I have not been to a typical shopping mall for at least a decade except to visit the Apple store when my laptop needed repairs. The Apple stores in both locations I go to are outside, so there’s no need to enter the mall itself. 

I suspect I’m not the only one who hates going to a mall or a big free-standing department store surrounded by acres of parking lots. It’s easier and less stressful to shop online if you’re looking for non-perishable things that don’t have to fit, it’s more fun to go to a small specialty shop in an urban area, and it’s almost always a successful and cheap exercise in opportunistic shopping to go foraging at one of the local second-hand stores.

The problem with department stores at all levels is that they have more or less generic merchandise, often cheaply made, at inflated prices. After all, they want to appeal to some mythical “average” consumer and they have high overhead. I think the same principle applies to their perfume counters – generic merchandise at full manufacturer’s suggested retail price.  Given online and specialty shop competition, I wonder how long the department store perfume counter will be a sustainable form of retailing.

To satisfy my curiosity, I’m going to ask how many of you readers regularly go to shopping malls and/or department stores? Do you enjoy going there? If so, what makes them appealing to you? If you do go to department stores, how likely are you to buy perfume there?

Because this post deals with the real and future prospect of ghost-town malls and big department stores and because Halloween is coming soon, when you leave a comment answering these questions you will be entered in a very special drawing for a hard-cover copy of Sheila Eggenberger’s book, Quantum Demonology, the story that was the inspiration for my Devil Scent series. Shipping is worldwide, with the drawing to be held on Halloween, October 31.

[I downloaded these photos a while back, but I think they were all from Wikimedia.]


  1. Hi Ellen,

    No need to enter me. I just wanted to comment.

    We avoid "the mall" at all costs. Like you we had to go once, about a year ago, to deal with apple computer issues. I also remember being dragged to a mall by my grand daughter in 2013. Speaking of Halloween - that mall visit was a truly frightening experience. We ended up at Sephora, yet another purveyor of insipid, over-priced fragrances.

    I'm old enough to remember when department stores were almost magical places, especially during the holidays. The downtown Seattle Frederick and Nelson store was really a treat. In Seattle that whole experience is long gone and I doubt it will ever be revived.

    I loved your photos of ghosts malls - especially the one of mall turned fish pond! Makes me wonder if any of the fish found what they were looking for at that mall!

    Azar xx

    1. Gail, I think the fish have a better chance of finding what they're looking for in the abandoned mall than I do in an active mall!

  2. I'm so glad to find kindred souls when it comes to shopping! I get so glummed-out-gloomy in shopping malls. The only reason I go is to pick up my kids, who love them because they sell apps and games and whatnot. Ghost malls are kinda cool, though, in a Jerry Uelsmann sort of way.

    1. Marla, you're entered in the drawing. Yes, ghost malls are kind of cool in the way any ruins of a defunct human civilization are cool.

  3. fortunately there is almost no shopping mall (the american kind of) where I live and very few in Belgium in general. I admit that always when i visit a place in USA i like to take a look at these giant "things" especially in California, where they seem to compensate for the absence of central (historic)cities in these huge residential suburbs. The only place where people walk in California. Department store is an other story, I love these giant structures from the 19th(early 20th) century. It's also the only place where you can find all the perfumes at hand.

    1. Frederic, you're entered in the drawing. I also love the old department stores from the 19th and early 20th centuries. I suppose the suburban shopping mall is a poorly conceived substitute for a city or town center, but I still dislike them. Anything unfamiliar seems exotic and interesting - where I live flat land seems exotic because so much of the land is hilly or mountainous. If you live in a flat place, mountains seem exotic.