This interview originally appeared in Parfumo.net on Oct 20th, 2016, conducted by contributor Chanelle.
First of all, what gave you the idea to launch your own Fragrance Brand “Zoologist”?
Back in 2013, I wasn’t very happy with my career. I felt very insecure and frustrated. I guess that’s what people like to call a “mid-life crisis”. Lots of people playing politics and making decisions that led nowhere. I wanted a project I had full creative control over and to launch some interesting products I could be proud of. Coincidentally, I had just discovered the world of niche perfumes (and was very obsessed with it, as you would have guessed) and wondered if I could create my own brand. I had no insider connections, no entrepreneurial experience, no business strategy and no marketing research. Everything was based on gut feeling. I posted in a Basenotes.net forum asking if there were any perfumers who would help me create some perfumes, and two indie perfumers responded. The rest is history.
Did you ever think about becoming a perfumer yourself? If not, why didn't you?
I had thought about it, but later rejected the idea. I knew that one needs to spend a lot of time practicing perfumery to become good at it, and time is a luxury I don’t have much of. I still have my day job, and when I go home I either spend half the evening fulfilling online orders or developing my next scents and promotional artwork.
How would you describe the process of finding the right perfumer to match the fragrance concept (or was it the other way around)? Did the perfumers choose the animal they would develop a scent concept for?
To me, the most important thing to know before any project starts is the style of a perfumer, and their temperament (which I learn about via online chatting). Once I know his/her style, I can determine what kind of animal is best suited to that perfumer. For example, some perfumers like to make very unconventional and unique fragrances, so I would assign to them an animal that’s unexpected or less widely loved. Some perfumers like to create beautiful, classic perfumes, so for that person I will assign animals that people tend to perceive as elegant or beautiful.
Of course, there are some perfumers who approached me directly and proposed a specific animal that he/she wished to make. (e.g. Ellen Covey’s Bat.) In most cases, I won’t refuse (laugh).
Is there any connection between being a game developer and a perfume aficionado?
Maybe not, but working in a large game studio has inspired me a lot in terms of product development - what sells, what doesn’t, should we take some risks by doing unconventional things, etc. Also, it has taught me the important elements of making and marketing a product, like packaging, marketing copy, social media, etc. My coworkers who specialized in each department all offered valuable opinions, or even helped (for example, by creating the illustrations on the labels).
Are you launching your brand in Germany sometime soon? Lots of people think highly of the concept and the quality of the fragrances, but still they are not well-known over here and some people shy away from ordering overseas.
Right now, I can’t see Zoologist being widely distributed in Germany, or much anywhere else. I won’t be able to make much profit selling to a distributor, because my operation is so small. I mix, bottle and package everything by myself at home, and fulfilling an order of 30 bottles could take me a whole day. My material cost is high because the perfumers sell me their compound concentrate at a markup. I can only make a dollar or two per bottle if I choose the distributor route, but what would be the point? Wholesaling directly to small boutiques is the second-best way for me, and the best way is getting customers to buy directly from my website. But shipping in Canada is horrible, since it’s so expensive … so I guess I just have to take things slowly.
What was your inspiration for a zoology-themed range, and do you plan one in a different direction in the foreseeable future?
I have two branches of thought when it comes to product development. One highlights a particular animalic note, such as castoreum (in, say, Zoologist Beaver), and another inspired by animal habitats (such as Zoologist Bat, which smells like a cave). My new scent, Macaque, is a bit different from the others because it’s about the meditative mood that said animal often elicits in people.
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