February 18, 2020
Original interview by "The Plum Girl" (Elena Cvjetkovic) can be found here. Published date: 18/2/2020.
From eager Beaver to Sloth… seven years have passed quickly for Victor Wong, founder and creative director of the independent niche perfumes brand Zoologist Perfumes from Toronto, Canada!
I talked with Victor about the past, present, future of his brand, new releases, and asked him if he were to wake up as an animal – what would he be.
It all started as a hobby. Victor is “one of us”, a perfume lover, present and active in a few Facebook groups and on various social media platforms. It is already known that one stay at a hotel with fine toiletries pushed him down the rabbit hole and into the world of niche perfumes. All the way. He started a brand, juggled a regular job and this “hobby” at first, but slowly and inevitably perfumes took over. He still does pretty much of everything by himself (I hope he does find time to clean his aquarium regularly), and he still finds time to chit-chat with perfume lovers or post funny photos of his cat on Facebook.
Animal faces with human features illustrated with great detail, cooperation with many famous indie perfumers, a brand bursting with creativity – all that is so Zoologist-like. I’ve seen users’ comments ranging from “completely unwearable” to “love, love, the utmost quality in terms of materials, construction, and performance”. Yet, Zoologist undeniably offers a choice of great fragrances made by great perfumers, and a variety of perfumes in the collection: I’m certain that among all the fragrances available you can find at least one piece of work of a carefully chosen, talented indie perfumer that you’ll absolutely fall in love with.
In an interview for Fragrantica published a while ago, Sergei Borisov said that when he looked at the names of perfumers, his first association was that Victor Wong is for indie perfumers what Frederic Malle is for master perfumers. I couldn’t agree more, just looking at the list of perfumers he worked with: Chris Bartlett, Cristiano Canali, Christian Carbonnel, Daniel Pescio, Shelley Waddington, Joseph DeLapp, Juan Perez, Sven Pritzkoleit, Sarah McCartney, Ellen Covey, Tomoo Inaba, Paul Kiler, Celine Barel, Antonio Gardoni, and Prin Lomros!
I’ve been testing and sniffing what samples I have of Zoologist’s collection for some time now (for almost one whole year, to be precise): I know that I might be a little late to the party, but my reviews will now certainly follow. I wanted to make a proper introduction first, and let you know more about Victor and his brand.
You have now 21 fragrances in Zoologist’s Collection. Bee was launched most recently, and Sloth will join it soon! You are definitely not a Sloth: 22 fragrances in seven years! How far ahead do you plan new releases? How many releases are planned for 2020, and how many fragrances are you currently working on?
If you are counting the discontinued version one of Bat (2015), Beaver (2014), and Panda (2014), Zoologist has so far released 21 fragrances. I have nine perfumes already finalized, and three still in the works. Many of them were finalized at least one year ago, but you see, I could only manage to release three a year, so it will take a few years to get them all published. I used to have only two or three perfumes in the works, but as my social network broadened I met more perfumers; some of them wanted to develop a scent for Zoologist, some I asked to design one for me, because I didn’t want to miss the opportunity. Basically, I got greedy asking perfumers to design scents for me and didn’t say no to most perfumers’ requests. I’ve stopped developing new scents now. I don’t want any perfumers to wait for years until their work sees the light.
You’ve come a long way in 7 years’ time. What were your most important milestones, planned or unplanned? Top three and funniest three moments in overall brand development? Did you ever think of letting everything go and returning to the video-game business?
There are a quite few “milestones”, and most of them were unplanned for and very personal. For example, Bat winning the Arts and Olfaction awards in 2016; quitting my day job to work on perfumes full time; Lucky Scent started carrying my brand; the New York Times published an article on animalic scents and Zoologist was discussed (and the journalist won an award for that piece); renting storage space to store inventory, for my basement couldn’t get more bottles in; IFF contacted me to see if I would be interested in collaboration … they may seem very trivial, but they’re all significant to me.
I actually don’t recall many funny moments… this perfume business is giving me a lot of stress and anxiety attacks, despite all the pride and joy. I remember laughing out loud when I first smelled one of the prototypes of Bat – all I got was an empty cave, it was both eerie and surreal. I remember receiving a surprise package from Prin Lomros two years ago. Not very sure how he got my address. In it I found around 15 different perfume prototypes, they were all animal suggestions. Most of them hit the nail on the head and I was very impressed. He really wanted to create a perfume for Zoologist, and I was so moved. I hope he will win an Arts and Olfaction Award someday; he was nominated a few times.
No, I don’t think I will ever return to the video game business. I will leave it to the young and creative artists. I still play video games occasionally, and the graphics keep getting more and more amazing, and I feel that the gap between my skill and what the industry wants is getting wider and wider.
You’ve worked with so many great indie and artisan perfumers. If you could ask one past or present Master Perfumer to create a fragrance for you, who would it be and why?
If I have the chance, I would like Maurice Roucel to design an animalic scent for me. I love his “Musc Ravageur” and “Dans Tes Bras” for Frederic Malle, and it would be amazing if he could make one for Zoologist. If he doesn’t want to design a musky scent, a floral would also be great. I can keep dreaming, can’t I?
I haven’t tried Sloth yet. Tell us more about your idea, inspiration, character of the fragrance, the perfumer, and the fragrance itself. What does Sloth smells like? When do you plan to launch it officially?
You know, many perfumes are marketed to say they will keep you fresh and energized all day, or they will brighten your day and make you smell sexy. I wonder if there’s a perfume that helps you relax and slow down? We all have been busy enough, haven’t we? At night, I often drink a cup of chamomile tea and burn vanilla lavender-scented candles to relax, so I thought: could we make a scent with different herbal aromatherapy ingredients? One day I watched a documentary on sloths living in a rainforest and learned that they were so slow-moving that moss grew on their fur. I thought a mossy, herbal “rainforest” scent could be something very interesting and it might never have been done before. That’s how the perfume concept of Sloth was born. Interestingly, whenever I wore Sloth, people told me I smelled like a well-dressed executive. I guess you could also consider Sloth a fougère.
Sloth, together with Bat (2020), will be released in late April, 2020. They are both designed by the Thai perfumer Prin Lomros.
Looking back, what is one thing you would have done differently, and how would it have changed where your brand is today?
I wouldn’t change a thing. Every mistake is a great lesson learned. Some were more punishing, though. (You can tell I’ve made a lot mistakes.) Although I wish that when I started I’d known more people in the industry I could turn to for good advice and references.
What is your optimum number of new releases per year? Which fragrance has been your all-star bestseller over the past seven years?
There are so many things to consider when it comes to the number of new releases per year. I think for a mid-size niche or indie perfume company, one or two releases per year is good. It gives time for consumers to digest them, and time for the company to manage their inventory and logistics. It takes time and effort to market, manufacture, and ship perfumes to retailers. But for smaller perfume company like mine, which often releases not-so-mass-appealing scents, three scents a year might not be a bad idea. If the current release is a miss, I hope the next one released in a few months will succeed and keep the company going.
The bestseller is actually Panda. And the Middle Eastern market loves it the most. Tyrannosaurus Rex and Bee are also very popular. Maybe in the long run they’ll outsell Panda.
If you were to wake up one day as an animal, which one would you be?
I have been thinking a lot about salmon. They are born in a freshwater river and travel to the sea to live for most of their lives, “see the bigger world”, and eventually they involuntarily swim back to their river where they were born to breed and die. There’s no escape from this “biological fate.” I wonder if humans have a biological fate that we are not aware of? It’s quite cruel, to be honest. (By the way, there will not be a Zoologist Salmon perfume.) Maybe a macaw flying in a forest and feeding on exotic fruits all day is a better idea.
If you were to create a new perfume by yourself, which three notes couldn’t you do without?
I like musks, resins, and indolic white florals. But that combination sounds like a perfume that has been done a million times. I’d better not be a perfumer, or I will hate myself for making uncreative perfumes.
A fougère or a gourmand for you personally?
To be honest, I like orientals most. I still don’t understand modern fougères (modern vs. vintage – they smell so different). Gourmand is easy to like and understand. So I would choose a fougère.
Are you considering any mythical animals? Unicorns, werewolves, sphinxes, etc.?
Definitely no for Zoologist. But if I have a separate brand, say, Mythologist, I would.
What is the single most valuable piece of advice you would give to anyone thinking about starting their own niche brand?
Don’t design your logo and bottle label if you’re not a designer. People always judge the book cover first.
Dear readers, I hope you enjoyed reading this interview, and dear Victor – thank you so much for your time! (When I’d sent him my questions, he had just received a giant box containing a new order of 10 kg of Bee compound, was preparing for the launch of Sloth, and the topmost glass panel of his perfume shelf suddenly caved in and “exploded” resulting in one RIP Roja Diaghilev and many scattered bottles.)
I’m looking forward to meeting Victor at Esxence in April, and I will report to you from there!
The Plum Girl
Photos: Elena Cvjetkovic, Zoologist Perfumes, Victor Wong FB