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.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013


For those who don’t follow US news closely, the government has just been shut down by the Tea Party Republican faction, who object to anything even remotely resembling a national health care system. I know it makes no sense, but the US political system makes no sense anyway. 

The absurdity of adults acting like children is not the topic of this post, although it could be. What I wanted to rant about when I set out to write this on a stormy Monday morning was the approach of people on all sides of a problem to try to solve it simply by throwing money at it.

Over the past weeks, I’ve been receiving dozens of e-mails in my inbox asking for help in preserving the proposed health care act while at the same time preventing a government shutdown. It should be simple, right? Apparently not, because rather than think logically and get an adult dialogue going, everyone would rather collect money to run emotion-charged ads against the opposing side(s). Today, after the fact, the e-mails focus on contributing money for ads to shame the Republicans for bad behavior, not action to urge both parties to resolve their disagreements. Admittedly, it’s hard to reason with irrational people, but one should at least try.

Every time I open those e-mails, I expect them to say, “please contact your representatives in congress and ask them to … (plug in your favorite request)”. Instead, what I see is a plea for small donations of $3, $5, or …(plug in your favorite amount). I get the impression that the goal is not have a serious discussion and figure out what makes pragmatic sense and is ethically right in dealing with a gray issue, but to determine the winner of a black and white issue on the basis of who can collect the most money and scream loudest to the world about their wealth.

Unfortunately, the strategy of throwing money at symptoms of a problem is easier than trying to find the cause of the problem and deal with it intelligently. Just throwing money at a problem in a shotgun approach, hoping that some of it will hit the symptoms, is even easier. It happens all the time, in every walk of life. There seems to be a belief that the appearance of having lavish stores of money to spend will have a magical, beneficial effect.

As someone who is trying to run a small business, I see similar tendencies even in the perfume industry. Just throw money at high-profile advertising; toss large sums of money to a celebrity to endorse or front your product; run up multi-million dollar bills attending or sponsoring the most expensive events all over the world so that you can be seen flaunting your wealth. There seems to be a belief that the more money that appears to be spent on things not directly related to the product itself, the more attractive the product will be to the public. 

Don’t get me wrong. I have no problem with advertising on a modest scale or attending appropriate trade shows. I have no problem with flaunting the quality of the materials I use in my fragrances, even if they're expensive. Fans of my work are, in my mind, a better endorsement than any paid celebrity would be. What I do have a problem with is the belief that virtue, quality, desirability, and other positive attributes are all directly proportional to how much money is thrown into the purchase of gratuitous, superficial status symbols.

As my business grows, I am constantly reminded of the need to carefully weigh the costs versus benefits of any expenditure not directly related to making a better product and getting it to all potential customers who might enjoy it. No mad hatter's tea parties for me!

[Mad Hatter and Mardi Gras images adapted from Wikimedia; extravagant perfume launch image from the linked news article] 


  1. Hi Ellen,

    "It's more expensive so it has to be good" has been around for a long time but the idea that money can solve any problem seems relatively new. I can think of at one problem that money has not solved and won't solve any time soon.

    The issue has to do with the below average academic performance of some minority students. All kinds of money and crazy strategies have been used trying to increase the test scores of these students. What public school administration just doesn't get is that many of these kids really hate the mainstream culture (including our crazy attitude toward money and status) and the last thing they want to do is to work extra hard to be a part of it! I can imagine some misguided techie thinking that if we just paid to give all these kids computers and smart phones the students' problems (and our problems with them) would be solved. Ha!

    I will stop here. I am trespassing on your rant!


  2. Gail, you are not trespassing on my rant. You just did me a favor by essentially replacing the paragraph that I deleted in order to shorten it!

    1. Two minds and a single blistering rant! Perhaps it is a rant duet? Add Brad and Michael for an ensemble of rant! By the way, Brad is feeling much better. When you guys have time we are up for persian, korean, potatoes, oud or any of these in combination.