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.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


I like to see my perfume. I don’t mean see the bottle, I mean see the liquid itself. I recently started thinking about the appearance of perfume when my husband complained to me that the bay rum that he had purchased from a mail order company (not mine!) “had changed its smell”. I took a look at the brown-tinted bottle, and holding it up to the light could see lots of “growies” floating around in the bottom. The stuff is, after all, only 55% alcohol, not strong enough to preserve anything.

I also recently got a new batch of hay absolute, which I use in a couple of my perfumes, Carolina, and a new one that I’m developing, Salamanca. When I dissolved some of the new batch I was shocked to discover that it’s darker in color than the old one, almost black instead of brown. It smells about the same, so that’s not an issue, but as a result of changing batches of hay, the perfumes will be a little darker in color than before. This variation in color is one of the complications of using natural materials. Color may vary from one batch to another, so the same perfume that was light yellow one month may be a darker yellow the next.

These experiences made me wonder about all of those perfumes that are sold in opaque bottles. What do they really look like? Are they full of growies? Do they have issues with odd color or cloudiness? Are they clear like water? Are they a beautiful gold color? One would never know without decanting them into a transparent bottle.

When I was first thinking about packaging for my fragrances, I considered the possibility of using opaque or frosted containers but decided against it just because I prefer to have an unobstructed view of what’s in the bottle and assumed that other people do, too. This decision means that I have to carefully filter and fine everything that I sell, to make sure that it’s clear. It’s pretty similar to the process that’s used to remove sediment from wine. Again, this is one of the down sides of using natural materials. Absolutes especially have a tendency to cloud the mixture or eventually form some sort of precipitate. We’re all so used to seeing crystal-clear synthetic perfume that we expect natural perfume to come up to the same standard.

For my materials, I prefer clear bottles to colored ones or those aluminum containers that look like thermos flasks. For working, I usually decant a smaller amount, an ounce or two, from the aluminum flask into a clear bottle so that I can look at it, check the color, and make sure nothing bad is happening. My workspace has no windows, it’s dark except when I’m in there, and I store a lot of my materials in closed drawers, so I really don’t have to worry about light causing deterioration.

To me, color provides clues about the composition of a perfume, and sets up expectations for what it should smell like. I like to think that most perfumes are left their natural color, but I’m sure some have artificial color added. Serge Lutens’ Sarassins dark purple color surely couldn’t come from any of the materials suggested by the published list of notes. Quite a few commercial perfumes are pink or light blue, again almost certainly due to artificial color.

I enjoy using highly colored materials. Cistus oil is bright orange, benzoin is chestnut brown, blood cedar is red, blue chamomile is bright blue, and seaweed tincture is emerald green. The majority of essential oils are some shade of yellow, and so are some aroma chemicals.

Do you enjoy seeing your perfume or would you rather not have to know what it looks like? What are your thoughts about the color of the perfume?


  1. I decant some of my favorite perfumes, the ones I know I will use in a relatively short period of time, into opaque art glass perfume bottles, bottles chosen for colors and shapes that work with these perfumes. That being said I would rather purchase perfumes that I can see. I avoid fragrances that seem to have added coloration.

    Since I am subject to synesthetic responses that relate color to sound and shape it seems only logical that certain colors ARE certain scents and some scents ARE colors. Fortunately for me these scent/color and color/scent equivalents are not something I deal with as often as the real synesthetic responses I am subject to. I don't believe that the color/scent experiences can truly be labeled synesthesia. I suspect that most people smell a scent they have been trained to expect when they see a certain color. For example, when I see the picture of the Golden Cattleya bottle above I smell the top notes of the fragrance quite clearly, just as if I had applied it to my skin. This effect, which I believe to be simply a matter of familiarity and training, is no doubt very important when it comes to packaging and marketing. It makes me wonder why Serge Lutens' Sarassins is purple. There must be a really good psychological, historical or literary reason for the color choice but I don't smell it. Gail

  2. oh I definitely care about how my perfume looks . If I am shopping for vintage , I pick the darkest jus I can find . Darker is always better , seemingly more complex . Clear = water...
    Not always true of course !