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.

Friday, October 19, 2012


Some time ago I was reading an article reprinted from the New York Times about how people are influenced by photos of other people’s houses (real or imaginary) posted on the internet, and feel the need to surround themselves with props that create the illusion of whatever specific lifestyle they aspire to, usually that of the “rich and famous”, whatever that is. According to the article, it involves, among other things, a certain Botero art book that lies eternally unopened on a certain style of coffee table. Having seen some of these interior design photos, I think it also involves a bowl containing flowers or fruit, and/or puzzling objects with no apparent function positioned on the coffee table next to the book or books.

As a generally stripped-down person who thinks the best place for props is in the theatre, where they actually serve a purpose, the article got me to wondering about how much of what people own really does simply serve the function of a prop, and nothing else. To what extent is their environment a theatrical setting for the drama they wish to enact? How successful is the set in bringing about an enactment of the desired script? How does perfume fit into the concept of a set with props?

Of course, Shakespeare was right in observing that the world is, in some sense, a theatre – a shabby old theatre that’s been extensively modified and, more often than not, trashed by all of its previous users to the extent that it threatens to go out of business if we don’t do something to remedy its sorry state. We and our troupe have to share it with other groups that have competing interests. We have to clean out their trash, ask management to replace the burned-out lights and repair the ripped curtains, and try our best to build a little fantasy world that serves the purposes of our own show for the short time we’re here. In the larger sense, we have to work around all of the sets built by others and use whatever prefabricated pieces are lying around in the shop. For better or worse, everything from sets through props and costumes follows a rigid format dictated by the space we have to work in, the prevailing availability of materials, the current selection of design concepts, audience expectations and, not least, our own budget.

So how does perfume serve as a prop? A lot of people seem to be just as infatuated with the visual image of a perfume bottle as they are with what’s inside it – maybe even more so. Displaying perfume bottles in a bedroom, bathroom, or other place seems to be a common practice, regardless of whether the perfume is actually used. The displays seem to range from a whole horde of bottles, which presumably give the impression of wealth and abundance, to a single accent piece, elaborate, offbeat, or minimalistic, depending on the decorating scheme it’s a part of.

Now here’s a question. If you’re into perfume visuals and your favorite perfume comes in what you consider an ugly bottle or a bottle that doesn’t resonate with your set concept, what do you do about it? Do you not buy the perfume because it clashes with your décor or your self-image? Do you buy it and decant it into a bottle that you have chosen and love? Do you live with the unloved bottle and gradually become assimilated into its aesthetic world as it is assimilated into your existing one? Do you put it in a brown paper bag and keep it hidden under your sink, pulling it out only to use it?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not discounting the importance of environment in promoting mood, mindset, and even behavior. It’s a huge factor in how we feel and act. I’m just saying we should think about what aspects of our environment really help optimize the actual lives we live and what aspects are contrived attempts to live in a way that is not natural and comfortable, or convince others that we live a certain way. I was going to talk about perfume itself in this context, but got carried away with the visual stage set idea augmented by perfume bottles. More later.

[Perfume bottle grouping from Wikimedia; living room shots from online interior decoration websites]


  1. Hi Ellen,

    One of the "props" that people often use to show that they have "arrived" is a grand piano. Most of the time these props are never played and are chosen for their visual appeal rather than their actual sound quality and action. Several years ago I was shopping for a second grand for teaching and a salesman showed me a new, totally tweeked at the factory Steinway B. I usually don't like a Steinway B, but this one not only had a lovely tone, action, etc. but a beautiful handcrafted case as well. What an instrument! He said he would give me a special deal (whatever that meant it was still beyond my budget) because a local celebrity had special ordered the piano and then rejected it because it didn't go with her decor. He told me what she eventually purchased and I couldn't believe it!

    As far as my home goes, it has become of repository of my own and my friends arts and crafts phases. (Hoarding?) I haven't been able to throw out any of my paintings or gifts of art and pottery from relatives and friends. As a result the decor at my house is pretty much 20th/21st century hodgepodge augmented with travel souvenirs. A reflection of my mind? I hope not.

    Back to perfume bottles. When I take bottles from cool, dark storage and display them in a sort of "still life" it is usually to remind myself to use the perfume inside the bottles before the fragrance goes bad (or before I'm no longer around to enjoy it). It matters not if the bottles are works of art. If they are, that's a bonus. And yes, fragrance is a prop! The smell of the perfume recreates the individual. I can be a new person every time I change my scent. Gail

    1. Gail, grand pianos seem to be right up there with coffee table books when it comes to decorating props. Did you see the one in the top photo? My decor is pretty much like yours, a 20th/21st century hodgepodge with arts/crafts/travel stuff thrown in. However, between the orchids, the perfume making, the stagecraft, and Michael's music studio, it's pretty much taken on the look of an industrial park throughout.

  2. Excellent question! I do have some perfumes in plain bottles, but as I keep all of them in a dark, cool closet, it doesn't matter to me. Now I have used up several Kenzos that have fantastic bottles, and I use them for display. Being on a sunny shelf or table can't hurt perfume that's no longer there. So I guess I consider the perfume and the bottle as separate entities, and love them both.

    1. Marla, I like nice bottles, too, but have such an extensive collection (admittedly mostly samples) that I couldn't display anything even if I wanted to. It's all in various stashes tucked around the house. In the Pacific Northwest everything is cool and dark most of the time!

  3. I am a sucker for a gorgeous bottle, Shalimar anyone?What about Neela Vermeire, L'Artisan, Dali, Boucheron? But I also love the simple ones, Chanel, Slumberhouse, Malle and Lutens.
    Really, I am madly in love with the juice but I like to have a lovely bottle too, hefty and dark.
    Portia xx

  4. Portia, good to see that you found your way here!!

    I think bottles would be more important to me if I had a limited collection and actually "wore" perfume instead of whatever it is that I do with it. Of course there's always the search for a better bottle for my fragrances, and one of these days I'll find something that fits my search image. For now, though, I'm keeping it simple because that's the least of many possible evils.