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, February 7, 2011


A big part of every artist’s education is observing and analyzing the art of others. Just as musicians listen to a lot of music, perfumers smell a lot of perfumes. In both cases, the pool of creations available to experience is almost inexhaustible. I have an uncountable number of perfume samples, some of which I like a lot better than others, but I learn something from every one that I test.

Today I don’t want to talk about the perfumes themselves, but about the presentation of the samples. I’m in the process of reorganizing my samples in a beautifully efficient filing system, but problems arise when samples are oddly packaged. I’ve become something of a connoisseur of samples, so have come to appreciate well-presented ones. Here are some of the types of samples I have had to deal with along with their pros and cons, in no particular order:

Pop-top vials. These are the most common, and generally a good option. Decanted samples and a lot of manufacturer’s samples come in the 1-ml size, and quite a few carded samples come in larger sizes, 1.5 ml or 2 ml. It doesn’t matter to me whether they have a wand or not, as long as the stopper is secure enough to prevent leaking, but still fairly easy to remove and reinsert repeatedly. Some vials have stoppers that are near-impossible to remove; I have broken a couple of the poorly designed Bond sample vials trying to get the rigid stopper out. Vials with tiny, pinched-in necks always seem to have flimsy stoppers that are not only hard to remove, but tend to split when trying to stick them back in. These aren’t very common except among individuals who swap samples.

Microscopically small samples. It doesn’t matter what sort of container these come in, it always irks me that someone thinks their (or someone else’s) perfume is so extraordinarily valuable that they can’t part with at least 1 ml of it. A 1 ml vial that’s only one-fourth or one-half full but sold at the usual sample price (or more!) is not the way to win happy customers. I won’t knowingly buy these any more.

Unlabeled containers. I am always annoyed when I receive unlabeled sample vials attached to a card with the name printed on it, especially if the card is large and unwieldy. I don’t mind it quite as much if the sample vial comes in a little plastic baggie with the name written on it, but it’s still not ideal. One thing I want to avoid is having a lot of unknown samples sitting around. How hard is it to print or even hand-write a label and stick it on the vial?

Spray vials. Many of the carded samples come in spray vials, as do some of the larger decanted samples. I’m probably in the minority, but I prefer to dab perfume rather than spray it. Sprayers, especially the small, cheap ones, are not always predictable or reliable. The DIY ones in which the sprayer screws or is crammed onto the vial often leak, so almost always arrive with a piece of electrical tape wrapped around the area where the sprayer joins the vial. All too often the tape is not enough to prevent leakage. Even if it does, the adhesive eventually makes a sticky mess, so I’ve learned to remove it as soon as the package arrives. The manufacturers’ vials that come on carded samples don’t leak, but the spray mechanism sometimes dribbles instead of spraying, and sometimes it doesn’t work at all.

Squatty mini-tubs. These seem to be used only by the “natural perfume” people, I’m not sure why. I’ve only had one of them leak in transit, but they’re a pain to store, and they won’t fit in my file system. I don’t like them.

Non-samples. Don’t even talk to me about peel-back papers, wax plates, wet towels, or anything that’s not actual perfume. These are not samples, they’re insults.

Screw-top vials. I haven’t seen many of these, but they do exist. I’ve received a few samples in screw-top vials, and like them a lot. I found some really nice 2-ml vials (really more like mini bottles) that I use for the larger samples of my perfumes. I haven’t seen any evidence of them leaking, they can be easily opened and closed, and they’re easy to store along with conventional sample vials. Best of all, they don’t make my protectively calloused thumb go numb from pressing stoppers into vials.

Odd-shaped containers. Occasionally samples will come in extra tall and thin vials, vials with rounded bottoms, or some other awkward configuration. These are generally hard to deal with.

What kinds of sample packaging do you like? What do you dislike? Leave a comment and you’ll be entered in a drawing to receive a sample of Guerlain Vetiver in a 2 ml screw-top vial. Why Guerlain Vetiver? Just because I have a large bottle of it that was sent to me as a gift. It’s more than I can ever use, so I'd like to share it.

The winners of the Guerlain Vetiver samples are Ines and JoanElaine. I will try to contact each of you regarding shipping.


  1. Your classification is so true. :) I particularly like the non-samples part as I've been wondering about the practical use of those.
    I was very pleasantly surprised by your samples - they are not only the most generous size but also very easy to use.
    The ones I hate the most as so far I haven't been able to smell a single one, are the ones in vials that have some kind of a protrusion on top you're supposed to do sth with and I still haven't figured out what exactly - it breaks each time I try to open such a vial.

  2. Ines, Thankfully I haven't seen any of the vials with protrusion yet. They sound horrible.

    I'm glad you like my samples. I try to use a form of packaging that I would like to receive.

  3. I have been reading excellent reviews of your fragrances, so I thought I would stop by.

    I have only received one sample that leaked. It was a 1 ml vial with the pop-top. The other vials in the same package did not leak. Perhaps the top wasn't on tight enough?

    I used to prefer dabbing perfume too, but recently I have become a spray convert. I keep some small spray bottles for myself to put vial perfume samples in when they are not avilable from the source.

    I have never seen a screw top vial before, but I like the idea. What would be even better is an optional spray top you could screw on...I'm dreaming, I know.

  4. I like those chubby containers (mini tubs) :) it is very easy to close them and label can fit nicely :)

  5. The mini tubs are really growing on me. They don't work with my old sample filing system, but I like them much better than most other options and they are relatively easy for me to develop a new filing system for (at least compared to many other odd vial types).

    What I've been most annoyed with recently are minuscule samples (that are often sold for ridiculous prices). A 1/4ml sample is enough for maybe two wearings (less if you like/need to apply heavily when you test). I find that it's often not enough for me to make up my mind on a scent. If I had a slightly more generous sample I might have ended up buying a bottle rather than giving up on the scent and moving on. Apologies for the mini-rant; this has been bothering me a lot lately and I was happy to see someone else mention it. :)

  6. I agree with your preference for screw top sample bottles...they please the aesthete and organizer in me. However they do sometimes leak... My absolute preference is for screw-top rollerball bottles (usually 5-10ml), but of course these can be pricey. Although I appreciate the convenience, I object to large perfume houses charging prices out of proportion for the amount of perfume contained in their rollerball 'purse' sized bottles. In general, as we move towards owning a larger variety of perfumes, I'd like to see more of them available in sizes midway between sample and FB amounts, eg 15-20ml.

  7. Hi Ellen, I just read your comment on my blog. That's great news! Thank you for going out of your way to notify me! (Perhaps I should provide some contact information on my blog.)

    I don't want to put my information in the comments, so I will email you at you Olympic Orchids email address. I hope that's okay.

    Thanks again!

  8. Joan Elaine,

    E-mailing me at Olympic Orchids is perfect. I probably need to have a contact button on here, too. I'm glad I found your blog!


  9. Hello! I discovered your blog recently and would simply tell i live very much your vision.
    I like screw-top samples...and wax samples. I was surprised by the fact you think it is an insult. I could understand why but for me it is a tactile pleasure. Is the perfume notes altered by the wax ? Since I do not know much about the trade, it might be ? May I have your point of view please ? Thank you in advance ^_^