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 22, 2014


I've been so busy with my multiple other lives that it's been near-impossible to post regularly this spring. However, today I'm featuring a guest post by my friend Gail, who blogs throughout the perfume world under the name AZAR. Here's what she has to say:
Oscar de la Renta's series of fragrances entitled the "Essential Luxuries Collection" is available exclusively at Macy's.  I have sampled the entire line, found them all rather pleasant, and promptly forgotten what they smell like. But the name of the series keeps returning to my mind.  There is something disturbing about the slogan and the faux exclusivity that goes beyond the simple-minded dichotomy of the advertising message, reflecting social values and conjuring up images of starving French peasants and aristocratic parasites stuffing themselves with cake. The idea of "Essential Luxuries" has prompted me to reflect on my own obsession with fragrance, the nature of what society perceives as luxury and with issues of morality, economics and social justice.

Pondering "Essential Luxuries" led me to the new perfumes from "Nomad". Their website "NomadTwoWorlds" proclaims that they have discovered "Meaningful Luxury" and are proud to announce that "We partner with indigenous and marginalized artists and communities around the world to bring you culturally inspired products and art” WOW!  A gold mine! A politically correct and at the same time sustainable form of exploitation!

Nomad Two Worlds is pulling out all the stops for this venture, contracting the nose of world renowned perfumer Harry Fremont, the power of the Clinton Global Initiative, and every bit of market research they can muster "to assist in the commercialization of novel ingredients and to champion and showcase these ingredients to our consumer market…" no doubt with the helping hand and bankroll of Firminich, their proclaimed partner.  Is this the kind of green luxury that has a purpose (other than making money) or luxury that I can feel good about?  Nomad's marketing not only packs the insider/outsider - I am better that you are - punch but also brings in the perceived value of precious obscurity utilizing current trends in green product marketing.  How can I possibly trust Nomad's intentions when all they appear to be doing is resurrecting a business model from the days of empire? [see Ellen's footnote]

Vladas Griskevicius of the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management has this to say: "Green purchases are often motivated by status…Many green purchases are rooted in the evolutionary idea of competitive altruism, the notion that people compete for status by trying to appear more altruistic." Unfortunately this competitive altruism in the purchase of "Meaningful Luxury" seems no more than a ploy to use our own insecurities against the very people we mean to support.

So why does the advertising slogan "Essential Luxuries" in reference to perfume bother me so much? Is there some residual guilt about owning something as "useless" as a lovely scent?  Is it that I see relatively expensive fragrances giving some consumers the illusion that their noses are more refined than the snouts of the rabble who buy and use celebrity frags? Does over-priced perfume work like an invisible shield keeping inferior noses (now which noses are those?) at an intellectual distance and, like the understated logo on a $3000.00 handbag, help the beautiful people recognize one other?

Ranting usually helps me clarify my thoughts.  I know that I don't buy many of the so-called luxury items simply because I can't afford their embarrassing prices and because I don't need these possessions as a logo, a shield or a validation of my humanity.  Expensive clutter and overpriced experiences are not essential to a beautiful life.  I am old and I see the real essential luxury as simply the time to enjoy my life, comfortably, without excess, free from worry about money, status, power, style, schedules, timelines and manufactured responsibilities.
[Ellen’s Footnote: Besides the issues mentioned by Azar, I find that a big turn-off with Nomad’s PR approach is their use of a Scandinavian-looking model in various conditions of semi-nudity and being smeared with dirt, apparently suggesting that the people they are helping are naked, dirty savages, but that hiring a blonde, blue-eyed model to play their role somehow helps those with the money relate to them. Nomad is by no means the first company to play the “feel-good and help the noble savage” card, a rationalization that has been used for all manner of purposes throughout the history of colonialism. A few years ago DKNY boasted that their “Pure” perfume contained “one drop of vanilla” sourced from poor farmers in Uganda. The significance of a single drop was hard to figure out, but it probably was truth in advertising masquerading as extreme rarity and exoticism, while at the same time promoting feelings of superiority and altruism and, of course making money for DKNY. At least the Oscar de la Renta campaign is bland and inoffensive, and doesn't make any pretense of being a charity operation.]

[Photos taken from various commercial websites] 

Friday, May 16, 2014


This report is very late, but that’s what happens when you try to juggle four or five jobs at once.

The day of the Second Annual Seattle Artisan Fragrance Salon on May 4 wasn’t especially promising as everyone braved the cold and pouring rain to load in their exhibits. Once inside, though, the perfumers had a cozy spot in the space that everyone had to walk through on their way to and from the chocolate salon, which was concurrent with the fragrance salon, making for a lively day.

Traffic was nearly constant from opening to closing, with a mix of familiar and new faces from the perfumista community, familiar customers that I had an opportunity to meet in person for the first time, and many chocolate fans, most of whom were open to experiencing and learning about perfume. Just as I expected, Sakura was a hands-down favorite among the entry-level crowd, so I sold out before the day was over.

Stacey Gilbert provided expert help at my table, so I actually got to take a few minutes and check out some of the other exhibitors and trade samples with them. Here are a few photos I managed to snap on my phone.

Jen Siems of Sweet Tea Apothecary.

Karyn Gold-Reineke of Pirouette 

Kenneth Cory of On the Nose Fragrances

The fact that we now have an annual fragrance event in Seattle underscores the emergence of the Pacific Northwest as a center for innovation in perfume.  I look forward to many more such events in future.

[All photos are mine except for the beautiful photo of Sakura, which was taken by Virginia Blanco for her blog Té de Violetas].