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, May 30, 2013


Sometimes trying new things is a good idea and sometimes it turns out not to be so good. This has certainly been the case when it comes to perfume bottles. It’s really hard to find interesting and fully functional bottles off the rack. All of the really unique and/or attractive ones that you see in stores are custom designed and manufactured, with minimum orders far beyond anything a small-scale indie perfumer could afford or use. Unusual-looking bottles are also available ready-made, on a wholesale basis, from manufacturers in China, but they’re generally ugly and cheap-looking and reportedly tend to malfunction in every conceivable way. I haven’t been tempted to try them.

What I was tempted to do was to buy a bunch of 5-ml spray bottles with metallic gold and silver cases (above photo) from a US supplier I hadn’t used before. They cost less than the sturdy shiny black or red ones I’d been using, and supposedly held more juice, 7.5 ml to be exact. Once I started using them, though, I discovered that they might be able to hold 7 ml or so if one were able to fill the glass interior bottle all the way to the brim, but that if one left enough space to accommodate the rather bulky spray mechanism and screw it on, the available space was back down to about 5 ml. Something ventured, nothing gained.

The other thing I didn’t like about these bottles was the fact that the outside casing was designed to make them look like they hold more than they actually do. Like a lot of packaging, they feature a big exterior box with a small interior container, and take up more packing space than they need to. A couple of the sprayers on the testers didn’t work properly, and there was no way to test the unsprayed ones before shipping. I didn’t get any complaints about malfunctioning sprayers, and I hope no one got one, but I’d like to minimize that possibility in future.

I’ve gone back to the old model 5-ml sprays with a sturdy glass bottle, a shiny black casing, and a better quality sprayer. I’m holding a special sale to sell off all of the old model sprays, including testers, so that I can completely transition to the new bottles.

The other mistake I made was ordering a lot of 30-ml spray bottles from the new supplier as well. They’re basically functional and attractive, but the sprayers seem lower quality than those from my old supplier. The cost is about the same. I just used up the last of the “new” 30-ml bottles and have transitioned back to the better ones. The difference probably isn’t immediately obvious to the consumer, but I hope the sprayer will be more reliable with long-term use.

Over the next year or two, I have plans to change my labeling from the stick-on labels that I currently use to labels printed directly on the bottles. These will look nicer, be more resistant to damage, and make my life easier since I will no longer have to print, cut and apply labels. Getting them all done is a far away dream, but I’ll be starting in July with the special edition that I’m making for Blackbird, a Seattle boutique specializing in men’s clothing and fragrance and will make the transition one fragrance at a time.  

Upgrading my packaging has been a continuously ongoing, trial-and-error process over the entire three years that I’ve been in business.  A major makeover is one of the goals, and I’m sure that, even if it doesn’t all get completed, at least some headway will be made on this project over the coming year. I know that quality packaging is an important aspect of perfume, and will be doing what I can, as I can, to make sure that the packaging better reflects the quality of what’s inside. 
[Fountain of Youth painting by Lucas Cranach, 1546] 


  1. I've always been a sucker for beautiful packaging. As I continue my search for "vintage perfumes" I've found that a number of scents from the 40's and 50's were bottled in glass bottles similar to your 15 ml perfumes. While not the most glamourous, these bottles are cute and user friendly.

    The most ergonomic (for a small hand) and at the same time interesting bottle I've found so far is the 15ml trial size of Nicole Miller's Frenzy. While not a glass masterpiece, this flat,"wing shaped" spray bottle doesn't tip over and fits perfectly in my hand. I realize that this bottle was most likely a custom run created for a large production of this designer perfume but I just love the feel of it. Even though I am not a perfumer I have been keeping my eye out for bottles that are at once beautiful, functional and available. Even though we all should be more concerned with what is on the inside, the packaging can't help but influence the perception (and the purchase) of the fragrance. I'm looking forward to the innovations from your Art Department!

    1. Gail, I think I like those little 15 ml bottles because of their vintage look, but also because no one else uses them. You're right that packaging has a big influence on perception of what's inside, so working on packaging is a priority now.

  2. Hi Ellen,
    I like your 5ml black travel sprays - perfect size, leak-proof, and smart. It's interesting to read about your experiences with packaging - this must be a challenge for many niche perfumers.

    I've been looking online lately a vials for making sample kits for friends. In the end glass spray vials / glass vials with screw-top lids look the sturdiest and nicest, but what gets me is the cost of postage (to Canada)...it's more than the cost of the product.

    1. Axum, packaging is indeed a challenge as is international shipping, which has become exorbitant in cost. I suppose high shipping costs function as a semi-covert form of protectionism to deter people from buying and selling internationally, especially small businesses, leaving the field open to those big corporations that can ship by the industrial container-load.