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, December 15, 2011


This week on the forums there have been numerous questions asked along the lines of “Which perfume should I buy for my niece/ mother/ grandmother/ husband/ co-worker/ teenage son/ neighbor/ child’s teacher…etc?” Personally, I don’t think the question is “which perfume to buy”, it’s whether or not to buy perfume for someone else in the first place.

Maybe I’m way off base, to say nothing of not doing myself any favors as a perfumer by writing this, but I don’t think perfume is a good default gift. It seems more like the proverbial fruitcake that no one wants, but that nevertheless keeps getting given and given, and finally re-gifted this time of year. I actually like to eat fruitcake, so wouldn’t mind if somebody gave me one. If there’s a fruitcake circulating the neighborhood like the notorious garbage barge that circumnavigated the globe trying to find a country to take its load, I’m the ideal dumping ground. The more nuts and candied fruits and rum, the better. But perfume? I’ve had some bad experiences with blind perfume gifts. Would you really want to receive a 200 ml bottle of Red Door? A big gift set of some cheap box store synthetic lavender fragrance? I’m sure you can name your own unwanted perfume gifts.

Perfume preference is a highly personal matter, as is the preference for whether to wear perfume at all. In the US, an astoundingly large number of people are perfume-phobic, professing to be “allergic” to perfume. They won’t go near it unless it’s in a utilitarian disguise like laundry detergent, air freshener, cleaning products, or shampoo. Why would you give them a bottle of perfume?

For those of us who would fall in the perfumista category, we have our own ideas about what we would like to receive as a gift, and unless the person giving the gift knows that we would like full bottles of Sonoma Scent Studio Incense Pure, Montale Taj and White Aoud, Neil Morris Gandhara, or Swiss Arabian Kashkha, they’re probably going to give us something we don’t like or already have.

It seems like it would at least be worthwhile to find out if the recipient of perfume likes and wears it, and if so, what some of the items on their wish list are. Otherwise, you might as well give them a fruitcake.

What do you think about perfume as a gift? If you’re reading this, you probably love perfume, so the question is whether you’d appreciate a perfume gift from someone who knew nothing of your collection and tastes. Another related question would be, what are the best and worst blindly chosen perfume gifts you’ve ever received?

[Gift wrapping and Fruitcake photos adapted from Wikimedia; Perfume gifts painting detail by Pieter Brueghel the Elder, 1564]


  1. Hi Ellen,

    I like to give samples of my favorite perfumes tucked in with other gifts. The samples are usually much appreciated and give my friends and family members who use perfume a chance to try something new. They can be honest about how they feel about the fragrance samples. If they really like a sample I might give them a larger size some other time. If they can't stand the perfumes it is not an embarrassment to anyone. I will only give standard size fragrances to my daughter and my mother. We are very familiar with each others tastes in perfume. I also send them samples from time to time.

    There was a period of time in the 1990's when my sons girlfriends always gave me perfume for my birthday. I have to say that I still have some of these bottles and they have become treasured and hard to find scents. The girlfriends are gone but the fragrances remain. There is no best or worst perfume gift for me. Give me anything that is called a fragrance! I always love to receive a gift of perfume. I learn something new from almost every scent, even if, at first whiff, I can't stand it. The other day I took my dog to the groomer and ended up thoroughly enjoying his new odor, "Holly Berry". Much better than"Dirty Dog". Canine perfumes tend to smell like celebrity fragrances (probably composed of many of the same created molecules). For example, I find that Espree's Odor Neutralizing "Rainforest Cologne" (93% natural and 60.5% organic, whatever that means) for dogs has a lot in common with Mary J. Blige "My Life".


  2. I appreciate perfume gifts if the gift shows even a bit that the giver tried to find sth I might like. Those things can be gleaned from the gift.
    I, on the other hand, only give perfumes when I know it is sth the recipient will like (as I know enough of the taste or heard a perfume name mentioned).

  3. Ellen,
    I agree with your general rule. The exception is someone's favorite that has become hard to find. That's where our enthusiasm gives us a chance to realy shine.

  4. I love this post, and I would never buy perfume for someone unless they specifically asked for a specific perfume.

  5. Gail, I love the idea of giving perfume samples along with other gifts to people who you know appreciate perfume! I'm with you in welcoming any fragrance just for the experience, but I think I'm in the minority. My mother was the same way, so I always gave her small bottles of perfume as a gift.

    Ines, Ed and Frida, I think that as perfumistas you all have a great deal more sensitivity about giving perfume than most people do. I think very often people looking for a gift just see something boxed on an end-of-aisle display, pick it up and give it randomly as a gift. This doesn't just apply to perfume, it applies to many other types of merchandise, too.

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