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, November 15, 2012


A couple of days ago I read an interesting blog post by Undina, entitled, “A Wish List for the Perfume Industry”, a point-by point list of things she'd like to see happen. Although I'm certainly not part of the mass-market "industry", I read it and agree with most of what she wrote, but have my own take on some of her points. 

1. There’s a need for more samples. I agree that every perfume manufacturer should provide samples, but as I mentioned in a previous post, I suspect that most people don't realize how expensive and labor-intensive it is to produce samples by hand. I don't know about mass-producing them by machine, but it probably isn't that much cheaper than mass-producing bottles. Knowing what I know about sample production, I personally don't mind paying for them, and don't expect the cost to be deducted from any bottle purchases I may ultimately make. 

2. There’s a need for more smaller size bottles. I wholeheartedly agree with this, and think most indie perfumers do tend to provide smaller sizes than their mass-market colleagues.  Many also provide a range of sizes, as I do. As a consumer, I would never buy a bottle larger than 30 ml, and prefer to just buy samples or "official" mini sizes of a few ml, provided they're in bottles that don't leak or allow for evaporation, a common problem with mass-market minis.

3. Warnings about reformulation or discontinuation. So far I've not had to reformulate anything, but if I did, I would certainly let people know that the fragrance was going to be reformulated, or that it would simply be discontinued, which is probably a better strategy than reformulation that changes the very nature of the fragrance. Reformulation should be announced before supplies run out, so that customers can stock up on their favorite formula. I did discontinue one fragrance because I wasn’t particularly fond of it, but still keep some on hand for anyone who knows about it and wants to order it.

4. Including the production year on the label. I think this is a good idea, not so much because perfumes have an expiration date like milk, produce, or baked goods do, but because natural materials vary from year to year, just as wine vintages do. For example, it might be that the version of a given fragrance using the 2011 harvest of olibanum resin from Somalia will be better than the version using the 2012 harvest. For most customers, such subtleties probably wouldn’t matter, but for others they might. I think I’ll start doing this in 2013.

5. Reissuing discontinued perfumes as special editions. In theory, this might be a good idea, but the reality is that perfumes are often discontinued because a material is no longer available or is restricted, so it may not always be possible to re-issue them in their original form. It would make no sense to re-issue them in a reformulation. If the only reason for discontinuing the perfume is cost of materials, poor sales, or an arbitrary decision, then this would be a viable strategy if people are willing to pay for the original formula.

6. Too many new releases. The issue of multiple new releases is one that bothers me quite a bit. Too many new mass-market releases are just flankers or more of the same old stuff, for no reason other than to keep the brand in the public eye. We're all caught up in the same new-release-inflation game, just to keep our brand in the spotlight. For an indie perfumer like me, creating new (and better) perfumes is a good part of the fun, and the reason we got into the business in the first place, but I realize that too many new releases can get overwhelming for those who try to follow the perfume industry large and/or small. The issue of new releases is one that seems to have no good solution. I'd be interested to hear from readers how many new releases you like to see per year from any one brand. Do you think that when a new fragrance is released, an old one should be discontinued to keep the number of offerings somewhat constant? 

7. Packaging, or as Undina put it, “wasting a beautiful bottle on a mediocre perfume or undermining a beautiful perfume with an ugly bottle”. This is all very well, except for the fact that what is beautiful or ugly lies mostly in the eye of the beholder. This applies to both visual design and perfume. For my own packaging, I prefer simplicity, choosing to spend money on quality materials rather than fancy packaging, but I know that for some people the appearance of the bottle is very important.

8. Trendy perfume notes. Undina’s main complaint is that she doesn’t like oud, and I'm sure that many people agree with her. However, if those people wait, a new trendy material will come along. Maybe they'll like it better. It’s just the cycles of fashion, and the fact that when new materials become readily available, most perfumers will want to try them and jump on the bandwagon for a while. I actually sometimes wear oud straight (the real thing – guilty pleasure, I know), and enjoy it very much. At the same time that genuine, unadulterated oud oil has practically become extinct, many good synthetic reconstitutions have become available, and these are almost certainly what is used in virtually all perfumes that are in the non-astronomical price range. In my opinion, many of these synthetic ouds are very nice, and can be useful in formulating perfumes, so I don’t hesitate to use them, trendy or not. A large percentage of the perfumes in existence use bergamot, but as far as I know, no one complains about it being overused, so I’m not sure why oud gets such a bad rap. Whether or not you like oud is simply a matter of personal taste, just as whether or not you like citrus top notes, which are much more common than oud bases. 

What would you add to the wish list? Curious perfumers want to know. 


  1. Good points, Elly, and I appreciate your perspective on how time-consuming it is to make samples. Hmmm, I can't think of anything I'd personally add to the list, I think Undina just about covered it.

  2. Between you and Undina, I have nothing to add. I really do like the idea of vintages. Especially with naturals and mostly-naturals, this is good info to have. I know my Indian attars vary like wine does, from year to year. And smaller bottles, yes, please!!

    1. Dionne and Marla, thanks for your comments. I've decided to put vintages on all of my perfumes, starting in 2013. Yes, attars vary just like wine does, and a lot of essential oils and absolutes do, too. The issue with putting a year on natural perfumes is that there may be a switch of vintage on materials within that year, so maybe batches within a year should be labeled, too, something like 2013-1...n.

      I think one rationale behind large bottles is to prevent customers from buying a lot of different perfumes. Why buy 100 ml of something new when you already have 100 ml of ... whatever it is? I hope the indie practice of selling small bottles will eventually put pressure on mass-market companies to sell small bottles, too.

  3. Elly, I've answered to you under your comment so I won't repeat it here. I just want to applaud you on the "vintage" decision.
    And also want to add that that a bottle can be simple but it doesn't make it ugly. Cheap and poorly made bottle for a $80-$100 perfume is ugly (and unacceptable). And, again, I definitely wasn't aiming most (all?) of my points at indie brands.

    1. Undina, I know you were aiming your comments mainly at mass-market brands, but indies need to pay attention to these points, too. I've been thinking about putting the "vintage" on the bottle for a long time, but your post tipped me over the edge into the decision to do so. I hope others will follow suit.

      It's interesting that in many areas of design one has to pay extra for simplicity.