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.

Saturday, May 21, 2011


Although there’s the occasional surprise, I’ve gotten pretty good at predicting how long a given perfume will last once it’s applied. The intuitive rule of thumb is that the less I like it, the longer it will stick around, but there are some exceptions, just as there are some semi-scientific principles at work, too. All-natural perfumes at low concentrations are almost guaranteed to give up the ghost within a couple of hours regardless of how much I like or dislike them. The cheapest, all-synthetic perfumes are almost guaranteed to sink into my skin like the sucker of a hungry leech and never let go, even if they’re supposedly EdCs or EdTs. However, there are a few leeches that I can’t get enough of, and am perfectly happy to let live out their entire parasitic life cycle on my skin.

When I test perfumes now, I choose according to how much time I want to devote to one scent. Fragrances that I think will be loud and persistent, I put on in the morning when I know I don’t have to face people at work, and when I know I can do an emergency scrub to abort the mission if necessary. Ones that are gentle and natural, I’ll put on in the evening or at a time when I’m going out and don’t want to offend anyone with second-hand Angel, Broadway Nite or other sillage monsters. I’ve come to appreciate both extremes, the fleeting, transparent soap bubbles and ephemeral mayflies as well as the noisy guests that simply don’t know when to pack up and leave. I also appreciate all of the nuances in between.

If I had to commit, I would say that I like perfumes to fall somewhere in the middle, strong and tenacious enough to really smell, and present for long enough for me to truly enjoy their evolution. If it’s a perfume that I wear to work, I’d like for it to last all day, at least as a skin scent that I can distract myself with. In general, I don’t like overly strong perfumes that blast my nose for a full day and then stay on my clothes through multiple washings. Having said that, however, there’s something magical about detecting the residue of a perfume on clothing or on a towel, days or even weeks after I wore it. A few weeks ago, I was surprised to smell a gorgeous musky scent of one of my sweaters that I’d thrown on a chair and left there for more time than I’d like to admit. My cat had slept on it, I’d piled more clothes on top of it, and the cat had then slept on the ever-growing pile of clothing like the princess on the pea. I couldn’t remember which perfume I’d been wearing along with the sweater, but I longed for more of it! I think it may have been Black Cashmere, or Musc Ravageur, or both in succession, but I still haven’t figured it out. Maybe the weight of the sleeping cat was a catalyst that turned the perfume residue into something wonderful, just as the weight of the earth turns coal into diamonds.

Another experience with longevity was the other day when I smelled a wonderful scent on the towel I was using. I easily identified it as ambroxan, and I think it got on there when I had been mixing up or bottling some ambroxan and wiped my hands on the towel. I’m pretty sure the towel had been through several washings since the incident with the ambroxan, and I think the washing significantly improved the scent.

The third incident is probably the most amazing of all. Almost a year ago when I was in the duty-free shop during one of my trips (the duty-free perfume section is a stop I never fail to make if there’s time), I sprayed some of the new Samsara on my wrist because I was curious how it compared with the old version. Days later, I realized that I could not only still smell the sandalwood base on the plastic band of the watch I was wearing, it was even dispensing a large aura of sillage. Samsara has become the signature scent of my watch, without my ever having to reapply it. That one spritz over a year ago is still detectable on the watch band, every time I put it on. When I’m in a meeting and bored, I sniff my watch band. The bonding of that scent to the plastic was nothing short of incredible.

How do you feel about longevity in perfume? Do you like each perfume to fade away quickly so that you can move on to the next one? Do you like them to fade quickly so that you can re-spray with the same scent and keep the top notes going? Do you like your perfumes to last all day and into the night? Do you like them linear? Do you like them to shape-shift? Are you thrilled when you unexpectedly catch a whiff of a perfume from days, weeks, or months ago on some article of clothing?

[Bubble, mayfly and leech photos adapted from Wikimedia]


  1. Basically, yes to everything you asked. :) I like the fact perfumes are diverse but I would prefer for some of them to last a bit longer than they do (that's also why I never wear naturals to work, I don't like re-applying perfume when at work).
    I do prefer shape-shifters but linear is also what I sometimes crave, no fuss, just a lovely scent to relax with.

  2. Longevity isn't too important to me. I don't want a fragrance to disappear in an hour, but I don't want it hanging about all night either.

    I'm rather moody - that's why I like fragrances that only stay a few hours. I can either reapply, or move on to something new!

    JoanElaine (I cannot comment using Blogger today)

  3. I like about one day's duration. But I want to be able to disconnect the fragrance if I walk into a crowded meeting or an orchid show. My solution is to spritz a little of whatever interests me today onto a clean white handkerchief, then fold it into my shirt pocket. Scents evaporate much more slowly from the handkerchief than form my skin, so almost everything lasts all day. I've never gotten comments on anything I "wore" this way, so maybe the slow evaporation keeps most things near my skin.

    Tonight I toss the handkerchief into the laundry hamper and use a different one tomorrow. If I don't want to smell it for awhile, or don't want to risk bothering others, I just move the handkerchief to my pants pocket.

    The only 'fume so far that I won't do this with is Chergui. I'm afraid that the purple color wouldn't wash out.

  4. Ines, I'm with you on not re-applying perfume at work. It's interesting that so many all-natural perfumes have such poor longevity. I think it's because many of them have almost nothing in the way of base notes.

    JoanElaine, I also understand the attraction of being able to change perfume a few times a day, depending on mood.

    EdC, Interesting strategy you have with the handkerchief. Maybe for the Chergui you need a purple handkerchief :)? Sounds like you're an orchid enthusiast!