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, July 25, 2016

CELEBRATING PERFUME WRITERS: DONNA HATHAWAY PART 2

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!
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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 Fran├žois 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.] 

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