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, March 26, 2012


No, this is not another post about “too many perfume blogs”, which I personally think is a non-issue like how many molecules can dance on the head of a pin. It’s a requiem for my own habitual posting of perfume reviews on one of the public fora.

I know this is not primarily a perfume review blog, but I have on occasion posted reviews of perfumes made by others on here, and for the past several years I’ve posted reviews almost every day on Fragrantica. As my perfume business has developed and grown, I’ve wondered from time to time about the issue of perceived conflict of interest, but have ignored that nagging little demon whispering in my ear because reviewing is so much fun. However, the issue of conflict of interest was brought home to me the other day by a colleague who characterized my reviews as “competitive”. That was never the spirit in which they were written, but I’m grateful that my nagging question has been answered loud and clear.

Yes, the whispering demon is right. I will no longer put my naked thoughts out there to be misconstrued. A perfumer has no business reviewing any perfumes other than his or her own. Any negative comment, or even faint praise, can be taken as hostility. Even glowing positive comments can be taken as an attempt to unfairly promote the work of a colleague for some selfish reason. Damned if you praise, and double-damned if you don’t.

Sampling perfumes, trying to analyze them, writing down my impressions, then reading the official notes and reviews that are out in public has long been one of my learning tools. It’s a way of finding out what works and what doesn’t, what people’s perceptions of specific notes are (always mind-boggling), what people can’t smell (also mind-boggling), and what’s already on the market so that I don’t inadvertently duplicate it. As it is, I’ve had a couple of near misses.

In a way, I’m sad to have to put this constraint on myself. I’ve enjoyed sharing my thoughts with the virtual community of perfumistas. But once I had made the decision, I quickly recovered from my grief over this loss of a morning ritual, and gained a new sense of freedom about what to sample(s) to wear, when to wear them, and what to write as notes for my eyes alone.

[Clip from watercolor painting by Carl Larsson, 1906]


  1. Hi Ellen,

    I realize that the question of whether to review or not has become an ethical issue for you, one of conflict of interest, as you say. Unfortunately for me, when I want to purchase a perfume without sampling, I have come to rely on your reviews to help me make up my mind. I have never been disappointed relying on your comments. I can't say that about any of the other reviewers I've consistently read.

    Your retirement as a reviewer coincides with my own embarrassment over the sheer numbers of fragrances in my own collection of new and vintage perfumes, etc. and my decision to put the brakes on any further fragrance purchases excepting, perhaps, the tiniest samples and, of course, Olympic Orchid's offerings. It's time for me to wear and enjoy what I have, limit consumption and get back to my own creative ethic.

    Everything changes, change can be good and its time for a change. Thank you for all the great reviews.


  2. Gail, Comments like this bring back the sadness at having to stop publishing reviews. I've really enjoyed doing it, trying to be as honest as possible without stepping harshly on anyone's toes. I'll miss it.

    Speaking of embarrassment, you haven't seen my sample collection, which undoubtedly numbers in the thousands. Now that's truly embarrassing!

    It's almost time to think about going hiking!

  3. Yes! I am in training for hiking with Fender the dog. Gail

  4. I'm looking forward to it, if it ever stops raining!