In 2013 video game artist Victor Wong decided it was time for a change. Unhappy with the direction his career was taking him, he decided to create a perfume range inspired by animals. His previous knowledge on perfume creation: little to none. Still, through trial and error he went on to capture the attention and hearts of niche fragrance fans around the world in just a few years. Best of all, he hails from right here in Toronto, Canada.
Zoologist, as the line was to be called, took off. In three years the brand has expanded to a retail presence at home, in the States, Poland and even the United Arab Emirates. Their appeal is not wholly global, however. “People who are new to niche perfumes, and have an open mind and a broader palette for uncommon scents, will really find Zoologist exciting and fun,” Victor tells The Whale & The Rose. That’s to say, it’s not for everyone; most Zoologist fragrances are more like pieces of olfactory art than commercially appealing classics. In reference to his acclaimed Bat fragrance, Wong says people might enjoy it if they “have more than 10 perfumes in their collection and don’t have to worry if it’s suitable for a job interview.” He’s right.
Victor was kind enough to send me samples of his entire line, seven scents in all (not counting Beaver‘s original formula, which has since been replaced). I’d like to emphasize that I am not reviewing any of the scents objectively. If you’re looking for a note-by-note breakdown and what it might be best suited for, I’m the wrong guy. I wanted to approach this with a purely subjective view to properly appreciate the artistic value of these perfumes as I so rarely get to do with more commercial brands.
Panda: Pk Perfumes’ Paul Kiler is the man behind Panda from 2014. It is inspired by the southwestern Chinese province of Sichuan, known for its spicy dishes and world-renowned giant panda sanctuaries. It is, as I’ll discover, one of the more palatable Zoologist scents. The main components that stand out to me are the musk and the green notes, which combine with vetiver to form the impression of a bamboo forest, leafy and damp. There is a little bit of lily in the mix giving it a soapy floral hint, as well as a green tea vibe that reminds me of chai. It is a very inspired blend that evokes the rural orient, still I worry that it would smell “dirty” on the skin without any “pretty” notes to round its edges. There is meant to be a generous dosage of pepper in there, but I didn’t get that.
Rhinoceros: Victor enlists Paul again for Rhinoceros, which is inspired equally by the majestic surroundings of the animal. Upon first spray I was immediately taken back to Xyrena’s Dark Ride, a synthetic chlorine reminiscent of theatrical fog. When the initial notes clear the main body becomes evident; smoky leather, sweet rum, and again a noticeable floral note (geranium this time). It begs to be a sweet leather beast that’s still quite wearable, but that floral note ruins it for me with a type of sharpness that doesn’t appeal to the senses. It does conjure an image of a large, sun-beaten leathery herbivore, so the connection between inspiration and final product is very good.
Hummingbird: After the last two, you wouldn’t expect Zoologist to come up with something so feminine and delicate as Hummingbird. Shelley Waddington from En Voyage Perfumes is the nose, and she created a juice that’s probably aimed at those who are interested in the concept of animal perfumes, but not in its reality. Notes of honeysuckle, honey, lilac and fluffy-sweet whipped cream dominate the composition, which is really rather subtle as a whole. Like the bird it is named after, it is airy and quick. It is attracted to the sweet side of flowers, and you must be close and perfectly still to appreciate it. I’ll be picking up a travel spray of this little guy in the spring.
Bat: You’ll recognize Ellen Covey, the creator of Bat, from my review of her own brand called Olympic Orchids Artisan Perfumes. This composition won her an Individual prize in the 2016 Art and Olfaction Awards, but do not be fooled; this is hardly the perfume for seekers of the “popular.” Imagine mashed up tropical fruits, such as ripe bananas and fig, mixed with myrrh and earthy soil. If you have the smell of a pile of compost in your mind, you’re not too far off. It is so challenging, because the first impulse is to block your nose and wash it off. If you can overcome this, it is a really interesting exploration of the bat’s natural habitat of the cave. As Victor explains it, the best way to enjoy Bat is to hang upside down and let the scent wash over you… along with Demeter’s Pizza, I feel this is a novelty perfume for collectors more than practical wearers. I will say that the odd sweetness grows on me the longer I wear it!
Nightingale: Another little birdie, this time by Japanese fragrance critic Tomoo Inaba. This is his debut commercial scent, taken to market by Zoologist from his private collection of blends. Inspired by a poem from the ninth century, Nightingale is built to evoke strong feelings in the wearer. Tragedy comes to mind in the somber powdery notes that explode from the bottle (think Aromatics Elixir), like ink that spreads in a glass of clear water. The delicately sweet-soapy plum blossom petals dance in the wind with clean oud, a splash of lime, ambergris, violet and other precious ingredients. You can almost hear a sad song playing when you smell it on the skin, but it makes you want to stop and listen to your innermost emotions. This is the type of scent I imagine Rihanna wore when she stole the show at the 2015 Met Gala, climbing the red velvet stairs slowly on her own and leaving everyone speechless in her wake. A MUST! I can’t wait to see what Tomoo comes up with in the future.
Macaque: 4160 Tuesday’s Sarah McCartney created this mischievous scent for Zoologist. It takes the traditional perfume pyramid and flips it on its head – literally. We open with tons of heavy woodsy notes, a shining sweet red apple dripping in golden honey, and a sort of green bitterness from galbanum. The scent is meant to be meditative in nature, as the wise monkeys learn from each other. To me it’s just plain odd, as it settles into oud, tea and frankincense. Not my kind of thing at all!
Beaver: We finish with the one that started it all. Three years after its release, Beaver got an olfactory makeover by Pell Wall’s Chris Bartlett to make it more approachable. If you are a fan of Clean’s fragrance line, or perhaps Derek Lam’s Silent Street, you will love Beaver. It is a very fresh, clean aquatic musk, reminiscent of a northern summer breeze or the scent wafting from drying laundry. Described as a tranquil river gliding through lush trees, ending in a cozy lodge, Beaver attempts to capture Canada’s national animal in an idealistic sort of setting. If you examine it at length you’ll find underlying currents of vanilla and leather, but they are so subtle you’d be hard pressed to find them at any distance. I would describe it as smooth and masculine, outdoorsy and young. Strap on your hiking boots and pick one up!
Zoologist fragrances retail for $150 CAD/60ml at the time of writing, or $27 US/11ml and $6 US/3ml. Thanks again to Victor for arranging this review!
*Prices true at time of writing.
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