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.

Monday, August 22, 2016


Today's post by Donna Hathaway concludes her interview as she talks about why many perfume bloggers choose to remain anonymous, the effect of free samples, and other questions. Next week will begin a new interview. 

 Do you think perfume reviewers should reveal their identity or should they remain anonymous?

Good question! Either way is fine, but using one’s real identity always carries the risk of being harassed online and having your privacy invaded. Sites like Facebook make it really hard for anyone to stay anonymous, but at least you can chose who sees what you publish there.  So far I have been lucky, but for my own new venture I will be using a pseudonym, as most bloggers do.

How do you think perfume reviews/reviewers compare to reviews/reviewers of other media (e.g., visual art, films, food, music, books, etc?

Perfume writers are not understood by the general public much of the time, but then who understands a music critic who dissects an obscure piece of classical music no one has ever heard, or a film reviewer who only likes French avant-garde cinema? You have to know who your audience is, and if you want to expand it, you must make your case in terms everyone can understand. The biggest difference is that with a very few notable exceptions, no one is paying us to write about our subject.

Is it more or less difficult to review perfume than to review work in other media? If so, why? If not, why not?

It’s not any more difficult, as there is no lack of subject material. The hardest part is deciding what to write about based on too many choices, and making one’s voice heard among the many.

Do you read other people’s perfume reviews? If so, what do you like/dislike in a review?

I do, but I stay away from reviews that are about fragrances that I am planning to write about so I don’t unconsciously pick up on something that might influence me. After I publish my own take on something, it’s fun to read the other reviews.

I enjoy fragrance writers whose style stands out from the crowd, whether it’s daring, humorous, quirky, or simply better. There are some whose work I read and then I want to go crawl under a rock because they are so much more talented than I am, but in the end I am inspired by them, and I soldier on. I am trying to be more fearless; it’s tough to give yourself permission to shut down the censor in your own head.

Do you approach perfumes sent to you gratis differently from those that you buy? If so, how does your approach differ?

I do my best to treat them all the same. I don’t know if anyone can say that they have no bias at all, but I try. (Of course if I am reviewing a vintage perfume, I don’t have to worry about hurting anyone’s feelings!) The bulk of fragrances I receive from perfumers for review is in the form of samples, so it’s not like I am amassing a hoard of bottles. Well, I am, actually, but it’s mainly my own collection of vintage perfumes, acquired over many years of bargain hunting.

It is very unlikely that honest reviews would agree. Do you feel any hesitation in disagreeing with prominent reviewers or great masses of opinion of the forums?

No, I don’t – I have taken some flak in the past for expressing my opinion, but as a writer to whom people look for honesty (I hope!) I will gladly point out that the Emperor has no clothes, or offer my opposing view on something. However, personal attacks on individuals are strictly off limits, regardless of my private opinion.

Thank you for inviting me to participate in your interview series! It is truly an honor. One of my favorite things about being a perfume writer is being able to call attention to the small artisan, indie and niche brands and all the talented perfumers whose work is a labor of love. The world of perfumery has so much to hold my interest: beauty that anyone can enjoy, an indivisible relationship with the natural world of flowers and other aromatic materials, a highly romantic and sexy subject, Byzantine levels of intrigue and mystery, a fascinating history that stretches back to the dawn of civilization, a strong connection to the world of fashion, which I also love,  and a vibrant community of perfumers, consumers, writers, creative directors, boutique owners, and tastemakers. I can never run out of things to write about!
And thank you, Donna!

[Images from Wikimedia, lady removing mask anon. 1750s, woman with perfume bottle Fujishima Takeji 1915, Japanese actors in fight scene anon 1860s]

Sunday, August 21, 2016


It is always gratifying to come home from a trip and see orchids that are not only alive, but blooming. The ones that greeted me after this summer’s vacation were Cattleya bicolor, Cattleya jenmannii, and a new one, Ansellia africana This plant has been sitting in the greenhouse for several years doing nothing, so it was a surprise to see it burst out into a big spray of bright yellow flowers with a lot of dark brown spots – a semi-abstract leopard print.

The flowers are lightly fragrant, somewhat like a combination of woody phenol and vanilla! I’m not sure this would make a very good perfume, but it’s an interesting scent.

This species is native to a good part of tropical Africa. The plant is reasonably attractive, looking sort of like a dendrobium, with tall, upright, succulent canes and broad, elongate leaves. It seems to take a lot of abuse - heat, cold, drought, and general neglect.

According to the IOSPE (Internet Orchid Species Photo Encyclopedia), the pseudobulbs have traditionally been used for medicinal purposes, as an emetic, cough remedy, and to “cure madness”. Zulu lore has it that wearing the pseudobulbs can prevent an ex-lover from having children. Regardless of any therapeutic value, it’s a beautiful plant.

[Photos are mine. If you look closely, you can see seed pods starting to grow.]

Friday, August 19, 2016


We returned to Seattle from the Bahamas last weekend, but it’s taken me until now to get around to actually downloading my photos and starting back with the blog posts. Both of my assistants have been away, one on vacation herself, and one out of town dealing with family issues. That means that I’ve been packing and shipping furiously on my own, and am just now getting caught up.

I thought it would be fun to kick off this new cycle of blogging with a list of a few things I learned while I was on vacation.

1. I really enjoy being in a tropical place. I like the heat and humidity. It’s liberating not to have to worry about dressing in layers or carrying a jacket around all the time, although it seems that some places in the Bahamas have adopted the US custom of using air conditioning to freeze their clientele. Fortunately, most have outdoor seating areas for those who didn’t bring a down jacket. If it’s 95 degrees outside, I can see cooling it down to 85 or even 80, but not 55! I will never understand why so many people seem to think they need to spend their lives refrigerated. I don’t think it will make them last longer. People are not picked vegetables.

2. I can drink coffee without sugar! I discovered this when I made coffee the first day and found that there was no sugar in the sugar bowl or anywhere else in the place. After a couple of days, it was OK.

3. I can run on a treadmill! I had been planning to run on the beach, but the beach was miles away and fairly inaccessible. I had forgotten to bring my running shoes, and it really wasn’t a good idea to run barefoot on roads with no sidewalk, possibly stepping on all manner of unpleasant things. There was a community workout room nearby with a treadmill, so I tried running barefoot on that. It wasn’t nearly as bad as I had expected, and I got a good workout in every day I was there, ending up running two 5Ks at target race pace on the last 2 days. That’s much better than I can do at home, but it has inspired me to join the local community recreation center so that I can use their equipment a couple of times a week and probably more when the weather gets cold and stormy and the days ridiculously short in winter.

4. I can go for almost 2 weeks without obsessively checking my e-mail, texts, and news reports throughout the day. I got by with just checking my business e-mail once a day on my phone (when the wi-fi was working) and dealing with any pressing issues. Since I’ve been back, I’ve fallen into old habits, but have resolved to cut down on the number of times I check everything. It’s amazing what a time sink it is.

Stay tuned for the regular features to return, as well as the usual random things that I write about. 

[All photos are mine. Another thing I learned is that I can take decent photos with my phone and don't need to bring a camera when I travel.]