June 04, 2022
Please tell us about yourself?
The maternal side of my family is Farsi and Indian, whilst my paternal side is primarily from Bangladesh.
My paternal grandparents settled in the U.K. in the 1950s, but they also travelled all over the Middle East visiting the holy Islamic shrines. During these trips, both of them collected many attars and various other memorabilia.
One of my earliest memories is venturing into my grandparents’ room as a toddler and opening their huge antique oak cabinet... and smelling an enchanting, funky perfume. Unfortunately, for them, the tray of attars and mukhallats was on the lowest shelf, and I proceeded to open each one and pour them all over the oak counter, then splat the oily mess over my entire body. To say my grandparents were not pleased is an understatement! I guess that was my first ever chemistry experiment, which led me to having a deep interest in the sciences, especially biology and chemistry.
Later, I studied biochemistry to degree level and then went into retail banking to support my family, as my mother was a single parent at that time. I had to soldier through banking for the next ten years, but was constantly looking for something else to do, especially related to my passion for sciences. To help me cope on a daily basis, I started purchasing small amounts of oils and absolutes with the little money that I had. I would bring them to work and smell them at my till during the very brief respites we cashiers were afforded. Those oils gave me that little sense of serenity and sanity to help me survive the work environment.
During my last years in banking, I became ill and had to take time off work, which, although awful at the time, turned out to be a blessing. I was prescribed lots of antibiotics and immunosuppressants that made me nauseous on a daily basis. After some time, I found out that I had been misdiagnosed, so I stopped the medications and gained a new lease of life. Somehow, my taste and smell seemed enhanced, and I remember smelling my favourite perfume and being able to see, in my mind, how the composition was structured and created. All those times smelling individual oils and isolated molecules at my till had suddenly paid off in volumes! I had unwittingly been amassing knowledge and was now able to recall it at will. From then, in 2012, I started creating my first composition, and the rest is history!
What inspired you to become a perfumer? What are some of your favourite perfumes and genres? Did living in London influence your perfumery journey?
I always wanted to do something biochemistry related but did not know what, and I always enjoyed perfumes, even when I was little, but becoming a perfumer was never in my mind. I always thought that to be a professional perfumer you had to learn French and study perfumery in France, and that it was extremely tough and rather elitist. After my illness, I realised that I needed to follow the subtle directions my life was showing and taking me towards. I was always planning and fighting against the tide that is time… and before I knew it time was over and nothing was achieved. But I was achieving something and each day was a lesson in patience. Eventually, I learnt to relax and go with the flow, instead of going against the tide, and see where it took me… and, fortunately, this is where I’ve ended up!
In terms of favourite perfumes, I love classical perfumes, especially those made by Guerlain and Caron. I’ve been avidly collecting pre-1960s extraits from houses such as Guerlain, Caron, Lucien Lelong, etc. for a very long time. Some people collect stamps, books, watches, cars, etc.; I collect vintage perfumes. For me, each of these cherished bottles is like a precious volume written by a master decades ago, to be studied astutely and to be worn and enjoyed. My favourite perfume has got to be Guerlain’s Djedi. I will never forget the first time I smelt this intoxicating elixir and the effect it had on me.
My favourite genre has to be chypre, as it is so complex and multifaceted.
At which point did you decide to start selling your perfume? What’s so special about them?
I first started creating my compositions in 2013. By early 2014, I realised that there was a rising demand for my work, so I just carried on. At the time, I had a small eBay shop where I used to sell rare compositions from named brands, and when I used to send those to customers I would include small samples of my own work. As a result of this, a lot of the customers enquired about these oils, asking how much they were and if I could sell them some. At first, it was a few U.S. customers, and then a lovely person called Dorje created a thread about my work on Basenotes fragrance forums, and from there it just spread like wildfire! That really gave me a huge boost, psychologically and physically, so I carried on! Eventually, the demand grew so high that I no longer needed to work at the bank, and I dedicated myself to my passion on a full-time basis
It was at that moment, thanks to Basenotes, that I met my best friend Nathan, who has been a great mentor and big brother to me. I learnt a lot about fine art and refinement thanks to him and he has been a huge positive influence in my life. So much so that I believe I wouldn't have achieved as much as a perfumer and above all as a person without his wisdom and kind guidance. I praise God everyday for all the kind, wonderful souls that I have crossed paths with.
Why did you focus on attars?
I focused on attars as I felt that they were the most accurate way to convey my inner psyche. The intensity of the oils matched what was within me and thus allowed me to quieten my soul. I also focused on them out of sheer loyalty to the craft, as it was oils that had changed my life for the better.
Sacred Scarab is an alcohol-based perfume. Is it very different from attars? What were some of the design concerns?
To be honest, I designed Sacred Scarab in the same way I normally design my concentrated perfume oils. At first, I was worried about the dynamics, as the medium is quite different. However, it was just a case of rearranging the proportions of the different materials. At every stage of the design, I was concerned with fine-tuning the message and story, making sure that this was accurately conveyed when sprayed.
Let’s talk about Sacred Scarab, shall we? I remember we discussed about making a perfume inspired by ancient Egyptian perfumery at the beginning.
Yes, if I recall correctly, and we settled on Sacred Scarab as we both realised that so much could be explored with this creature. I have been a fan of Egyptology since I was a kid, avidly reading about mummies and their tombs after learning about the boy king, Pharaoh Tutankhamen. This project provided me with an opportunity to delve in deeper and learn much more about one of my favourite subjects!
During our discussion, we realised that I needed to try to tell a story not only about the insect but also about its connection with ancient Egypt, and somehow create the perfect juxtaposition. The sacred scarab looks like a big, juicy plum, and it sits on top of a dung ball and rolls this into a cosy underground den before laying its eggs inside it. Kyphi was rolled into balls after kneading, reminiscent of the dung but with a much nicer smell! So, our idea was a sacred scarab on top of a kyphi dung ball rolling it into an underground tomb!
How do you describe this scent? Some people say it has a modern opening but the base is ancient.
Modern is a good way to describe the first stage, as blue lotus is such a novel flower to many. Few have had the privilege of experiencing its delicate scent, and fewer still its essence. I would describe Sacred Scarab as a modern floral chypre, but with ancient roots! Ancient because it includes my recreation of kyphi, the ancient Egyptian incense. When I was composing The Sacred Scarab I had the intention of making the composition as regal as possible, something that even Cleopatra would be proud to wear… fit for a Queen.
So what is kyphi? Does kyphi have any common perfumery ingredients? And how does it work in Sacred Scarab?
Kyphi is an ancient Egyptian incense. It was so famed that ancient Greeks and Romans such as Pliny the Elder wrote about it and its various benefits. In Egypt, it was burnt for religious and medical purposes. It was also purportedly used as a chewing gum! It was incredibly popular and there were many ancient Egyptian manufacturers, but each manufacturer had a slightly different formula. However, these were all based around the same ingredients in different proportions: wine, honey, raisins, frankincense, myrrh, galbanum, styrax, cassia, labdanum, benzoin, juniper and cedarwood.
For this most auspicious project, I did a lot of research into the various kyphi formulas through the ages, but focused primarily on those recorded by the ancient Egyptians. I read various literary sources about this mystical substance and also attended seminars given by the renowned Egyptologist, Dora Goldsmith, who, by a stroke of good fortune, just happened to be talking about the ancient Egyptian smellscape and kyphi!
From attending these seminars, studying kyphi balls created by reputable sources, and creating my own kyphi balls, I gained a good understanding of how kyphi smelt. Early on, I realised that although wine was used as a binding agent in kyphi it also provided the sweet fruity note found in the incense. From there, I decided that kyphi must be the base and foundation of the entire composition, and that I had to use the pronounced wine sweetness as the backbone of this composition. I have got to thank my good friend Johanna Venables of NOT Perfumes for helping me source and study some of these kyphi incenses, and also letting me try her own kyphi balls, all of which really helped with the overall research.
In the perfume there is also aldehyde and blue lotus. Can you tell us why you chose these two ingredients?
Aldehydes are used in the composition to convey brightness and sunlight, mirroring the hot climate of our sacred scarab. The citrus materials in the perfume also contain aldehydes, but specific aldehyde molecules were added to synergise with the citrus so that, when first sprayed, the composition appears extremely bright. Alternatively, the sacred scarab was associated with the divine manifestation of the early morning sun, Khepri, who was believed to roll the sun disc over the eastern horizon at daybreak.
The blue lotus was chosen as it was so revered in ancient Egypt. After studying very rare and expensive blue lotus absolutes and essential oils, I realised how absolutely perfect this flower was for this project, as it had the exact wine note that I needed to connect and juxtapose with the wine-like backbone of the kyphi. I have to sincerely thank fellow perfumer Joseph De Lapp for kindly sending me various samples of these super precious blue lotus absolutes and essential oils for free, so I could cross-reference them with the ones I had collected over the years. Knowing how terribly expensive and rare these materials are, I had to accurately recreate a facsimile blue lotus in all its delicate glory.
Once this accord was created and added to the kyphi base, I needed to really bring it alive. This was achieved with an overdose of peach lactone aka Gamma Undecalactone, enhancing the fruity character of the two main accords so there was a rich plum-like aura. To me, the sacred scarab looks like a ripe, purple plum!
Later, I came across a wonderful academic article posted by my friend Olivier Pierre David from the Osmotheque, and he just happened to be talking about scarab beetle pheromones. That was coincidence enough, but there was something even more incredible... it went on to say that Gamma Undecalactone is secreted by scarabs as a sex pheromone! Honestly, I couldn’t believe it! It was like, this composition is an absolutely perfect fit… conceptually and literally.
What is next for you? I believe there is exciting news from you?
Yes, indeed, I am releasing my own collection of spray compositions in September/October. Plus many other exciting projects in the near distant future.
October 12, 2021
Could you tell us something about yourself?
As far as I know, I’m the world’s only Finnish globally active professional perfumer. I grew up in Helsinki and attended Finnish-Russian language school for 12 years. By 18, I was fluent in three languages (Finnish, Russian and English) and somewhat able to use French and Swedish. I was a total bookworm and grew up on old school science fiction and Russian classics. I had also been writing for publication since the age of 9 – so languages seemed to make sense as a career choice. I was going to be an interpreter and I even enrolled on a degree course towards that path, but a gap year turned into a big change - and here I still am, in the UK. I’ve forgotten my Russian now; I’d have to live there for a year or so and it would come flooding back.
I have a 9-month-old Finnish Lapphund called Taisto and I’m married to a Brit with Finnish and Northern Irish heritage. We live in Leighton Buzzard.
It’s easy to look back and think you see a pattern where there wasn’t one, but it did take me a while to realise that not everyone necessarily catalogues their memories with the odours first, memory second. Smelling everything and remembering the exact odours was second nature to me long before I even knew what a perfumer was.
How did you become a perfumer? Did you go to a perfume school?
My route to perfumery is unconventional and filled with side quests. It’s also a bit like When Harry Met Sally, in that perfume was a huge part of my life all along but I didn’t consider it as my one true love until I was in my 30s. The best summary is that while I didn’t attend ISIPCA or an internal perfumery school in a big fragrance house, I have assembled the equivalent of a formal perfumery education from learning on-the-job, academic study, mentorship, and self-study over a period of 12 years. I think the biggest acceleration in my learning came from starting the business with Nick – I was able to get the kind of help that would normally only be available to corporate perfumers. Learning perfumery and becoming more than just competent at it takes more than one human lifetime’s worth of work, so it’s good to have help.
I worked part time after school from age 13 to 20 for a superstore (the kind that stocks everything you can think of and also has distinct departments like cosmetics & fragrance). Over the years I gained a solid foundation of product knowledge in all the brands they stocked. I had also built what nowadays is called a “perfume wardrobe” (and back then in the 80s was considered excessive) – I had a minimum of 20 perfumes in rotation at any one time. Balahe by Leonard, Givenchy III, Paris YSL, Femme Rochas and Fendi were some of my favourites from that time. In the 90s, I wore a lot of Coco. It was my clubbing perfume.
I had always secretly wanted to be an artist, but an unsuccessful art school application in Finland left me thinking I needed to be pragmatic, so I enrolled in London College of Fashion. I graduated in 1996 and went on to work in film, TV, fashion, and theatre as a make-up artist and hair stylist. Our curriculum included cosmetic science and that was my first experience of product formulation. My dream career at the time would have been to work for Jim Henson’s creature workshop – but I had no idea how to achieve that goal.
Instead, I ended up backstage in theatre and fashion shows; magazine shoots and musicals; on a HBO film set in Hollywood creating 1930s hair styles, and creating body painting designs for a fantasy film that was really a thinly disguised soft porn film.
As much as that was fun and exciting, I started to crave some stability. My income had to be supplemented by continuing to work in – guess what? Cosmetics and fragrance. The scheduling of work on set often clashed with my shifts at London department stores (I worked in every single one of them during this time) and sometimes I ended up doing ridiculous workdays that involved an 8-hour shift at Dickins & Jones, then dashing to a theatre to get the actors ready – and finishing at 1am.
I got a job as a regional training manager for a UK cosmetics and fragrance distributor. Their main focus was fragrance, and this was the first time I saw what had been right in front of my nose all along. I started looking into who creates fragrances, where the materials come from and how the industry is set up. All of this was still fiendishly obscure, so it was not easy. The internet was in its infancy and there were no helpful websites like Basenotes and Fragrantica, nor any guidebooks like those edited by NEZ. What I would have given for a place like the Institute of Art and Olfaction back then! The inner workings of actual perfumery seemed like an impenetrable wall.
In the end, I found my way to a cosmetics company that was both known for its fragrances and – crucially - created all its own formulas, including the fragrances, in-house. I had to start from the shop floor and work my way up, but I became a junior perfumer there, through training and participating in all the fragrance activities (buying trips to see raw materials; learning how to quality control; even learning how to compound in bulk on the factory floor – that was such an eye-opener as they were doing everything by hand; your 2% of vanillin in a formula looks really intimidating when it’s a mound of powder you have to solubilise). I also helped train their in-store training team and participated in the launch of their own quirky perfume brand, which involved travelling around the world with their perfume gallery concept. Fell in love with Seoul, New York, and Tokyo.
The products that I worked on as a perfumer were varied, and the raw material palette was a mixture of expensive naturals and basic synthetics. I compounded all my own formulas and trials of course; there were no assistants. This was also very useful training. They funded my study on the ICATS Diploma in Aroma Trades course, on which I won the David Williams prize for best student in my first year.
I moved on after 7 years there, to a small family-run ingredient and fragrance supplier. My role was 80% technical management (fancy term for all incoming and outgoing quality control, plus all regulatory) and 20% perfumery. It was a crash course in the inner workings of the supply side and really educational in many ways; for example, I learned how to properly assess and analyse raw materials and how to detect minute differences in qualities by nose alone. Perfumery was completely different there – very cost conscious, focused on synthetic materials and on functional fragrances. But I did do my first candle fragrances there and realised I enjoyed that medium.
After that, I worked for a colleague from the British Society of Perfumers where I had been a council member for a few years by then; she needed lots of help with the regulatory consultancy and training side of her business and as a reward I also got to help her create fine fragrance accords and keep the lab organised.
Above, clockwise: Olfiction office, Nick Gilbert/Pia Long, Thomas Dunckley, Ezra-Lloyd Jackson/Pia Long/Marianne Martin
Can you tell us more about Olfiction?
One serendipitous bit of timing led to my good friend and sought-after fragrance expert Nick Gilbert becoming available exactly as I was starting to get frustrated at not having enough perfumery to do – and we had a boozy discussion at my dining table about “starting a business one day.”
Three months later, we had a business and our first big account. This was in 2016. We started the business with no outside funding and that’s how things remain to this day; Nick and I co-own it outright.
In the beginning, it was just the two of us, and our business was founded on a combination of our skills and dream projects: olfaction and fiction. Perfumery and storytelling. We shared these twin passions and had experience in both. Two years in, we needed to expand the team and Ezra-Lloyd Jackson joined as a lab assistant, and another good friend Thomas Dunckley (aka The Candy Perfume Boy, six-time Jasmine award winning fragrance writer) started helping us part-time with the storytelling and training side of the business. Soon after that, Marianne Martin, an experienced chemist, perfumer, and perfumery tutor at the London College of Fashion approached me to help her edit the perfumery module for the course she runs – through that collaboration, we clicked and enjoyed working together so much that she joined our team as an independent consultant. She has been instrumental in helping to train Ezra who wants to become a perfumer. One of the best things about our perfumery team is when we get together to smell materials and end up with three perspectives from three generations and backgrounds. It’s so inspiring that I still get goosebumps!
I knew right from the start of Olfiction that this was my opportunity to finally become a full-time perfumer and I did not want to add the bulk compounding, regulatory or filling to our business straight away. It also seemed too much to expect for us to immediately source and stock all the raw materials I wanted. Nick agreed. So, we knew we needed a partner and that’s when Nick suggested we should ask Accords & Parfums, as he had an existing relationship with them through his previous work for L’Artisan Parfumeur and Penhaligon’s.
Above: Garden of Accords et Parfums
Accords & Parfums was founded in 2004 as an extension of Edmond Roudnitska’s Art et Parfums, and they are almost like a publishing house for independent perfumers. They are based on the Roudnitska estate in Cabris, just outside of Grasse. We have an exclusive agreement as the only ones in the UK working through them. It’s such a privilege and it has helped us so much. They source and stock thousands of materials and we can have any we could ever want; currently our lab has around 400. They provide access to formulating software which allows me to do the precise work of the endless calculations required in formulating, reformulating and regulations. They provide stability and safety testing and use the same standard of quality control and precise robotics for manufacturing as the bigger houses. It’s an ideal situation.
Who are your clients? What are some of the perfumes and candles you have created? Which scents/candles you have created so far are special to you?
On the perfumery side: niche & luxury brands, hotels, home fragrance manufacturers (and sometimes unexpected businesses who wish to use perfume in PR or marketing) – on the storytelling and consultancy side: well-known luxury fragrance brands, fragrance industry organisations, larger fragrance houses, distributors and retailers. We also do one off events sometimes, for example with theatres, and provide education for some university courses that include formulation science or marketing. Ezra has been scenting music gigs and giving smell training and perfume making workshops for children. Our aim is to be a positive, enthusiastic force in the world for perfume and smells, and to get to do cool stuff. So far, we’re heading in the right direction.
One of the frustrating aspects of this trade is that there are still many projects under NDA, and also many that take a long time from the very first idea to the final product on the shelf; sometimes years. More and more now, we’ve been named as the perfumers or providers for even some of our bigger projects (like the Mach-Eau we just did for Ford). But this is still the exception.
My favourite smells are quite a contradiction – on one hand I love bright, dewy green scents (and I got to really explore that style in the recent collection I did for Designers Guild as well as in the Succulent candle for our own brand Boujee Bougies), and on the other hand, I love leather aromas so much it’s bordering on a fetish, so of course I had such a good time creating Terror & Magnificence for Beaufort and the Cuir Culture leather candle for Boujee Bougies. In the last few years, I’ve also created for Ghost, Mercedes Benz and Browns Fashion.
The pace of launches slowed right down in the last two years (and we all sadly know why), but conversely, this means there are so many to come in the next 18 months that it seems a bit silly! The first of the “next” list of launches just happened; two candle fragrances for La Montaña (Mistela and August Sunset), and in 2022, Boujee Bougies will see the launch of two new candle fragrances and four perfumes.
Of the recent work, I have adored working on Chipmunk (am I allowed to say that here? It’s true!) because I was able to draw on so many vivid scent memories and add such a twinkle in the eye of that perfume as well.
There are also two perfumes coming out in 2022 that are special to me. I created each with two separate friends in mind; I can’t wait for those to become real. One of those is part of a collection of seven perfumes for a new luxury niche brand, founded by a Mayfair jeweller.
How do you describe your perfumery style? What and who inspire you? What are some of your favourite perfumes?
Magic realism is the best way I can describe my signature style. I first aim for hyper-realism, then twist it. I often add little in-jokes or Easter eggs to the creations, regardless of the medium. Either word play or something to do with the concept itself. Of course sometimes the inspiration is completely abstract, and that’s when the instinctive feel for cross-modal interpretation is useful. Thinking in textures, colours, emotions, states of mind and translating those into scent, or vice versa. I also love decoding what the client really wants, although Nick is our main client contact and helps a lot with this process.
In a way, I did end up being an interpreter – an interpreter of another person’s imagination into scent.
Inspiration is absolutely everywhere, and always links seemingly disparate concepts or materials in that daisy chain of “what if” that all perfumers are probably familiar with – perfumery to me is a state of mind, a constant way of being, experiencing the world, the sensory input and the sensory imagination and memories in your own head as a continuous sea of inspiration. All I need is a command “think of this idea”, either internally or externally, and the cogs begin to turn, pulling inspiration from materials I may have thought I knew but now want to re-smell through the lens of this new idea, or an evening walk in nature, or the green tea I am sipping; a vegetable I’m chopping for dinner… art I see in a book. Everything. Everything is inspiring. If I have been working too much on output and creations, I sometimes deliberately stop to visit an art gallery or gardens or a forest, just to recharge the creative mind with new input. I am always reading (multiple books in progress at all times), and a lot of thoughts come from there, too.
Favourite perfumes are split into two types – the ones that I can wear without thinking about them (Annick Goutal Mandragore, Le Galion Eau Noble, Guerlain Cuir Beluga) and perfumes which to me are either linked to a special memory or just so beautiful in themselves that I need them in my collection even if I don’t get to wear them often – too numerous to list, but for example Ambre Sultan Serge Lutens, Mitsouko Guerlain, L’Artisan Dzongkha.
Let’s talk about Chipmunk! How would you describe Chipmunk? What are some of the ideas and inspirations behind this perfume?
The timing of this was so good. I had just received a sample of a material I hadn’t used before, oak barrel absolute, and I had gone on to create a smell-alike accord to study the olfactive qualities. I had also started working on a hazelnut accord – more like fresh, just shelled, not exactly fully gourmand. I constantly do little studies like this because I am curious. And exactly then, our talks about a Zoologist perfume landed on the Chipmunk and I got very excited.
The oak is the central trunk that I pinned everything else on in the perfume, and the hazelnuts are mixed with acorns, seeds and leaves inside the burrow. All the forests I’d ever visited came to whisper their stories to me and I almost felt like I was creating a scent for a Ghibli film, being the perfumer-Totoro, willing for things to sprout and grow into tall, towering trees through scent. I remembered the smell of still sticky tree sap from conifers from my childhood, and the resins in the perfume echo this.
Did you build it with different accords? How complex is this fragrance? What are some of the naturals used? Are they specials and your favourites?
With fine fragrance, perfume – I tend to work quite methodically. Starting with little accords of individual effects, then blending them in different proportions (even though at this stage they’ll be “messy”, I know what I’m looking for – the unique voice of the perfume). Once I know what to do, I explode the whole formula, tidy it up, do it again, and start to edit, edit, edit.
The key accords that I started with were the realistic oak warmed in the autumn sun, the forest floor and burrow, and the fresh hazelnut. For the burrow, I used an aromachemical called Terranol (a Symrise material that has aspects of fir balsam, moss and patchouli, and I think of it as luxury geosmin; more earthy, less beetroot). As I used natural fir balsam and patchouli, too, they formed a beautiful bond.
The camomile was a whimsical but useful addition - it sweetens the composition without becoming gourmand, it adds earthy notes without dirt, and it adds herbal floralcy without being overtly flowery. Plus, I enjoyed imagining her in a clearing in the forest, nibbling on a flower.
For the magic part of the magic realism, I used expensive, fuzzy synthetic musk for her fur, and added some fantasy woody materials as well as the naturals, for example Javanol which is just lovely. It added a kind of smoothness to the naturals.
There are a couple of hidden qualities that are a nod to her habitat and geographic location; I want people to discover them by themselves rather than to reveal all here.
Do you think Chipmunk is more for women, or is it unisex?
Perfume has no gender in itself – so, the end result can be worn by everyone. Of course, this concept was based on the girl scout chipmunk, so I wanted that combination of hyper-realistic nature and fun artistic interpretation of her to come across. This perfume has cute and fluffy elements and I wanted it to be a scent that should bring childlike joy and a sense of calm to the wearer. I suppose those can be feminine qualities. So, it’s a feminine-leaning creation that can be for anyone who wants to wear it. Having said that, because our individual odour perception is so based on our own receptors, memories, and context, for some people this could read as a masculine because of all the woody aspects and the animalic base notes.
What are some of the projects you are working on? Can you share them with us?
I am currently creating perfumes for a chain of barbershops, working on an oil-based perfume for a potential new offshoot of an existing project, creating a few dozen candle fragrances for various clients and preparing the Boujee perfumes for the stability and safety testing part of the process.
February 24, 2020
Hi Cristiano, could you tell us about yourself?
Hello everybody. My name is Cristiano Canali. I was born in Italy, and I work in the perfumery industry.
You have a Masters degree in Pharmacy, and I imagine it required a lot of hard work and dedication to achieve that academic level. But now you are a perfumer. When did you have a change of mind? Did you find foregoing all the effort and years of study a big struggle and still worth it?
The high schools in Italy do not challenge you to choose the path needed to achieve the job you dream of. Most likely you find yourself after the diploma still building a plan. Following my family heritage and being gifted with scientific subjects, medical studies were the logical way for me. I chose pharmacy, like my grandfather did. The five years of university went well, and I discussed Ayurvedic products (the traditional Hindu system of medicine) in my final thesis, since I have been always attracted by plants’ properties. Thanks to those studies, during a trip to the south of India, I got in contact with some local producers of sandalwood oil who were supplying the perfumery industry. This initiated my curiosity in the art and science behind the scents. This is how, after some years of work, I decided to attend the prestigious ISIPCA school in Versailles to perfect my preparation and push me into the fragrant world of perfumery.
You once told me that you were ‘old’ when you started your perfumery career. I thought that was ridiculous. But why did you think that? Have you changed your perception since then?
More than old – I was already experienced and exposed to working habits, so it was challenging to get back to school, restart from scratch and leave behind a secure career and life. But the urge to express myself was too strong. Also, the connections between pharmacy and perfumery are many: both utilize formulas to find ideal solutions. Chemistry and botanical ingredients are my daily bread. Both involve glassware, pipettes, and balances to produce and fabricate; clients and their satisfaction are key in order to deliver the expected product; and, last but not least, developed sales skills are required in order to be successful. As you can see, there are many parallels. Overall, pharmacy taught me how to cure the body. Perfumery is teaching me how to heal the soul.
You are now working at Argeville. Could you tell us a little about the company and your work there? What is your goal as a perfumer?
It’s been one year since I joined Argeville, a leading company in the south of France. The region is well known for its moderate climate all year, for its beautiful nature all around, and as the womb and historical center of the perfumery industry. Argeville is a dynamic company founded in 1921 and owned since the '80s by the same family. It has a clear goal of global excellence, and to offer solutions in fragrances, flavors, and a well-esteemed natural extracts palette to a wide portfolio of clients. We have different facilities around the globe and a pool of talented individuals that together form the strength of this company. My daily job is to understand clients’ needs and translate them into fragrances, both in a creative and technical way. Our evaluation team supports perfumers to achieve these tasks and is the link between creatives and the sales team that interacts with the clients and deals with the commercial strategy. My goal is to evolve in my role as perfumer, diversify my efforts by becoming more prolific, intensify my presence in the market and, more than everything, bring new creative challenges to a wider pool of aficionados. I love my job because I learn and improve on a daily basis.
Zoologist Bee is the fourth officially credited perfume designed by you. That might not be a lot, but on the Internet I have encountered much praise from fans of your work who say they love your work and style. Are you aware of your own style? Can you describe it?
I take every opportunity to explore synergies and contrasts between ingredients and work them into new olfactive ideas. My creative drive comes from nature itself, which already offers all the answers in a minimalistic complexity. It's for us to just grasp the meaning. I like to invest time in the briefing proposed, to know the designers better, smelling their actual line, and understanding where they want to go. I focus my attention on perceptions and intuitions, silage and intimacy, simplification and faceting. Another benefit comes from supporting Osmotheque, the only museum of liquid perfumes in the world, where I have been exposed to iconic fragrances and forgotten gems of the past that allow me to understand the archetypes and the most unconventional creations in history. On top of that, I am not afraid stepping out from the actual market trends that I constantly analyze. I try to seduce the most exigent noses with unconventional fragrances and satisfy consumers’ expectations. Still, I think it is early to talk about a personal signature: it is more a graphism, or a beginning of calligraphy.
What are some of your favorite perfumes and why? Do you have a favorite perfumer(s)?
Having spent many years working in Paris, where the pulsating heart of the industry beats, I had the privilege to get in contact with the greatest masters as a daily source of knowledge. From them I have learned different creative approaches, aesthetics and signatures. There is no doubt that thanks to them I kept my motivation and passion high during those years. I have great regard for Carlos Benaim, Dominique Ropion, Anne Flipo, Sophie Labe, Bruno Jovanovich, Christopher Sheldrake, Olivier Cresp, Alberto Morillas, Sonia Constant, Marie Salamagne, Pierre Bouron, Michel Almairac, Jerome Epinette, Jean-Louis Sieuzac, Fabrice Pellegrin, Aurelian Guichard, Daniela Andrier, Alienor Massenet, Veronique Nyberg, Nicolas Beaulieu, Julien Rasquinet and some others. Those people are shaping the market and driving us into a new age of perfumery.
My overall most-appreciated fragrances include: Aprée l'Ondee by Guerlain; Tabac Blond by Caron; Femme by Rochas; Opium by YSL; Fumerie Turque by Serge Lutens; and Une Fleur de Cassie by Frederic Malle.
I remember after you showed interest in designing a scent for Zoologist, we spent some time deciding which animal to base the perfume on. Your first suggestion was “Toad”, which I thought was not a very marketable perfume title…
It was a fun process to think of the animal you find the deepest connection with. Out of the various options, my attention was captured by toad. I find them cute, with those big eyes, their funny way to move on land, and their long hibernation time during winters; with their permeable skin, they are an index of environmental status, and when they are in groups they create great symphonies during the summertime. Also, they might have magical powers and hide a prince behind their uncertain look.
Later, I asked you what your favorite perfumery ingredients were, and one of them was beeswax. I thought that was something Zoologist had not explored yet.
Among my favorite natural ingredients, sandalwood has a special place for me: it is a fragrance itself and is my personal link between pharmacy and perfumer. I like to work with floral notes like magnolia, cassie, orange blossoms, tuberose, jasmine and violet for the complexity and sensuality they bring in composition, no matter the gender. I also have a predilection for animal derivates such as castoreum, civet, ambergris and beeswax for their unique odor profile and warmth, even in small traces. Beeswax is uncommonly overdosed in modern fragrances.
Do you know how beeswax is collected and processed as a perfumery ingredient?
The process of harvesting the waxes from beehives is more a ritual than an industrial production. Availability is very low, and not all the companies are capable of processing this royal ingredient. I am lucky it is one of the specialties in the Argeville compendium, and our Director of Ingredients has a special affection to it, being a beekeeper himself.
The process starts with selecting the best apiculturists. We have special partnerships here in France. Then the honey is extruded by centrifuge from the frame during a period in which the bee larvae are not in their hexagon cages. The wax is then treated under solvent extraction to obtain a golden butter, lately purified with ethanol to obtain the precious absolute. The smell is warm, opulent, waxy with flowery notes and tobacco / hay undertones. It is difficult to classify it in one single family, since it has so many facets: gourmand, balsamic, spicy, flowery, nutty, leathery, fruity... pure magic.
I suggested to you that it would be fascinating if Bee could take the wearer on an olfaction journey from a bee’s perspective – from leaving the claustrophobic beehive, to collecting nectar from flowers, and returning to the hive to deposit the goods. Do you think you have succeeded with Bee?
Bees themselves are amazing: they are so efficient, they fly all over, unstoppably searching, they delicately bathe in the flowers, providing pollination and hybridization, and magically they know how to go back to their hive to produce the honey and work as a collective to proliferate and survive in service of their queen. She was my inspiration. Once awakened, somehow she is selected among the others’ larvae. The noise is buzzy, light is low, temperature high; she is fed with royal jelly to promote abnormal growth and miraculous health; once ready to leave the small cell, she is constantly followed and supported by her sisters exploring her castle; after some time she is ready for flight and to explore her flowery and infinite kingdom, ready to start a new colony with a bunch of devoted followers. I find all of this poetic, charming, and nostalgic.
Could you tell us some of the ingredients that you have chosen, and their effects in the perfume? What is the “royal jelly accord” in Bee?
The royal jelly accord is the core of the fragrance. It has been the natural choice as the key ingredient to start developing the fragrance. Beeswax is the main component. This accord is perceivable vertically in the composition, to recreate this disorienting sound of wings flapping reverberating within the comb. I used in top notes an orange concentrated, an in-house specialty that captures the very essence of sweet orange. Also, a ginger syrup accord completes this fizzy citrus short opening. Of course, we wanted to adorn these magical ingredients with the most honey-dripping flowers like broom, an endemic bush typical from Italy, orange blossoms with their inebriating smell, and some other pollen-rich flowers such as Mimosa from France and Heliotrope. The bottom notes go into a comforting musky powdery atmosphere somehow, like when a bee flies over multicolored meadows: sandalwood brings creaminess and texture, benzoin kicks in a subtle smokey note that contrasts with the tenderness of vanilla, and labdanum gives this final warmth.
Many people have wondered if real honey is used in Zoologist Bee. Can real honey be used in a perfume? Why not? And what did you use to create the virtual smell of honey?
Personally, I have never smelled a perfumery-grade honey derivate, but I am sure you can find some small productions. Honey itself exists in so many different qualities like chestnut, acacia, lavender, rosemary, eucalyptus, pine, and others that it would be too much of a restriction. Sincerely, I was not really interested in using this ingredient, but more in recreating an atmosphere that could embrace the circle of life of those incomparable drones. Enchanting this kaleidoscopic beeswax absolute with some of the most precious flower extracts, we recreated a honey atmosphere without being overly sweet or sticky, overly flowery or waxy, but finding a harmony among all these qualities.
What is next for you? Do you want to create another scent for Zoologist? If so, what kind of scent would that be?
I am very glad I had the possibility to work with Zoologist and you Victor. For sure I would love to extend our collaboration, if there might be the occasion. Bee is a very direct and figurative-realistic fragrance, so in the future I would prefer to interpret a more conceptual animal, one that is dominating his environment and has been in the symbology of human legend since the dawn of time.
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
October 10, 2019
Hi Celine, could you tell us about yourself?
I grew up in Grasse, France in the ’80s, when the heart of the city was still beating thanks to the fragrance industry and the entire city’s smell varied according to the distillation of raw materials for seasonal arrivals. No one in my family was related to this industry, and I didn’t go to ISIPCA (perfumery school). Still, as a child, I wanted to be part of this industry one day – on the brand side, though, because in the ’80s and ’90s the ad campaigns and launch events were stupendous! Therefore, I went to business school and interned at Chanel, Dior, Vuitton and Mane, where I discovered the “backstage” world of perfume creation. I LOVED it. From that moment on, my goal was to gain the olfactive knowledge I needed to become a perfumer.
How long have you been a perfumer? Did you always aspired to become one? What is your favourite perfume?
I have been a perfumer, including my time at IFF perfumery school, for 17 years. As a child, I had high interest in perfumes. My nanny’s husband worked in the Roure factory, and when he came back home his clothes were impregnated with the aromas of raw materials. I collected fragrance bottles, really digging for the rare ones, and my grandfather (who loved gardening) used to tell me: “A garden, you have to smell it, look at it, taste it, touch it and hear it.” So I received an education in nature’s beauty and resources. Plus, all the women in my family were either very sophisticated and loved rich perfumes that would leave a huge sillage, or adventurers who would bring back exotic olfactive treasures they’d found in some remote place. That’s why I have a taste for decadent, opulent, and sensual fragrances, mostly in the oriental or amber family. Otherwise, I like big white florals. Alas, my all-time favorite, Versace Blonde, has been discontinued.
How did you become a perfumer at IFF?
It was really after my internship at Mane that I suddenly put all my effort into getting olfactive training to become a perfumer. It was with this mindset that I joined IFF in Milan, Italy, where I studied for two years after work hours, smelling and classifying raw materials and market products with someone who trained at Roure’s school back in the day. I then passed the internal competition to enter the newly re-opened IFF perfumery school program, where I was trained at IFF creative centers in the Netherlands, New York, Paris, and Grasse. So my background is kind of unusual for a perfumer. I’m grateful to IFF for being attracted to an unorthodox profile like mine.
IFF is one of the most renowned big aroma chemical companies in the world. It hires a lot of people, but do they have a lot of perfumers? Is it hard to become an IFF perfumer? What does it take to become one? Do they train and hire new perfumers every year?
At IFF, we have worldwide around 120 creative perfumers across categories, including around 30 in fine fragrances.
Fun fact: there are actually fewer perfumers in the world than Nobel Prize winners!
It is very hard to become a perfumer, first because the opportunities for being trained are very slim. Then there is a lot of competition, and not everyone trained will become a perfumer. It is a very long and slow craft to learn. One needs to have not only artistic talent, but also a strong psychological mindset. About 95% of what we do goes into the garbage, and we interact with people all day long whose job is to criticize our creations.
Hence resilience, patience, combativeness, and being a good listener are key qualities to have, as well as an indestructible faith in yourself and your work. IFF is constantly training a pipeline of young perfumers according to the category and geographical needs of the company. It’s also partnering with ISIPCA on a special program. Each year, some are hired by IFF.
Can you describe a typical day for an IFF perfumer? How many different work-in-progress perfumes do you juggle each day? What is the average number of revisions it takes to finish a perfume?
I usually like to start my day composing new formulae. I let the freshly compounded reworks sit for at least half a day (in the case of rush projects, we usually don’t have much time!). I am very productive in the morning and don’t like to be disturbed. I am always excited to smell my work with evaluators. The most exciting part is when we put the best reworks on skin and pick one or two to present to the brand. During my day I interact mostly with my lab assistant and evaluators, with sales to prepare strategy, with marketing to work on concepts and olfactive stories, and with people responsible for toxicology and consumer insight. One of my other favorite times during the day is when we meet with the brands to present our work. That’s when all the detailed work done backstage takes on life in the proper context. There is constantly this dual dialogue: internal and external. When one of them is missing, it shows in the final product. It’s like something is not aligned.
At IFF, perfumers have to juggle many projects, covering the whole range of the olfactive offerings out there: from specialty to masstige, from prestige to niche. Perfumers need to be agile to work on different segments. Sometimes one perfumer is working on several olfactive propositions for the same project.
There is nothing like an average number of revisions. Each project is different. It may take up to several hundred of revisions to create a blockbuster that will be tested in different markets, with often several perfumers collaborating on the same olfactive direction. This is not the case for less-complex projects. Usually, when a perfumer truly invents an idea that is not inspired from something that already exists, it can take several years of work to develop an edgy accord into a finished product. When I read reviews, it makes me laugh when people think that mainstream projects are easier to win. It is completely the opposite! Because the perfumer usually has to start with a strong and innovative accord with a great story, and then – and this is the difficulty – she or he has to transform it into a well-liked complex fragrance that is highly adopted in worldwide markets known to have very different olfactive preferences.
Above: Celine Barel at Perfumarie New York. Credit: Perfumarie Instagram
To my knowledge, in the perfume industry it is not common to credit the perfumer. Fragrantica’s database lists about 15 fragrances designed by you. That seems to be a small number. Is it safe to guess you have designed many more, but they are not credited? What are your thoughts on that? What are some of the more special perfumes designed by you?
It’s true. A few years ago, it was not a widely adopted trend to name the perfumer, especially if they were younger. Today, some brands still do not want to credit the perfumers, and we oblige them. Among others, I have created for Jo Malone, Tory Burch, Calvin Klein, Hugo Boss, Lancome, Loewe, Oscar de la Renta, Aramis, Dunhill, and Jil Sander.
Lately, thanks to the niche world, with Frederic Malle being the innovator in the matter, perfumers, like designers in fashion, have started to become an acknowledged asset to promote the universe of a fragrance. This has helped to bring back the “art of perfumery”, with this underlying idea there is true craftsmanship and a visible creator behind a perfume creation.
The fragrance industry has changed a lot over the past few decades. There are now many niche perfume brands and self-taught perfumers creating their own indie perfumes. Do you think a professionally trained perfumer has significant advantages and knowledge in terms of perfume composition? On the other hand, do you think indie perfumers are more likely to create more unique, creative or bold scents because they are not bounded by vigorous training?
The fragrance industry has suffered for many years because of the absence of a clear definition of what a “perfumer-creator” is. Therefore, a few years ago, the French Society of Perfumers took the initiative to establish a strict code of what officially defines the skills and competencies of a perfumer-creator.
Receiving academic training has never stopped anyone from breaking the rules, innovating, or being bold. Quite the opposite. It is easy to shock and draw public attention when you pile up odours or/and overdose them through a lack of knowledge; it is another one to translate a vision, an intention, through a composition and find a new “disturbing harmony” where the shock is right, the balance is right.
The ability to create fragrances that are considered unique, creative or bold comes from two main conditions: first, the absence of olfactive tests; second, the opportunity to work directly with the brand founder or artistic director, which allows you to collaborate with the person in full charge of the brand’s vision. Usually that person is a risk-taker who is passionate about fragrance and eager to innovate. Last but not least, we usually work in a niche with a much higher price point and with no filtering layers to please at different stages, whose individual tastes may not be always aligned.
So, independently of being created by professionally trained or self-taught perfumers, the niche/indie market has done an amazing job at reinvigorating the whole world perfumery market in all its segments.
This “renaissance” is due to “riskier” fragrances driven by stronger olfactive statements, ones that are more creative and often more qualitative in terms of raw materials, have great marketing stories and /or packaging, and more selective distribution. Nowadays, people do not want to smell like everybody else, especially the younger generation. They’d rather stay away from the “best testers” to explore more scents off the beaten track.
Let’s talk about the perfume, Squid, shall we?
The collaboration between Zoologist and IFF was perhaps very serendipitous. About a year ago (2018) a perfume shop opened in New York and Zoologist was one of the brands that they carried. Since IFF has an office in New York, they discovered Zoologist when they visited the store. Subsequently, the management of IFF New York contacted me to ask if I was interested in a collaboration. To be honest, I was shocked, because I thought big aromachemcial companies like IFF were only interested in big perfume houses that sell millions of bottles. Of course, I didn’t want to pass up the opportunity, for I had always wondered what it was like to have a perfume designed by “the big one”. The very kind client manager (who was the middle person between me and the perfumers) asked me for some concepts for a perfume that I wanted to make. I gave her three. Those three fragrances were all very challenging to design, and the briefs had been sitting on my computer for a few years. A week later she told me that all of them had been snatched up by three different perfumers! I expected that only one perfume would be chosen. She also told me the names of the three perfumers and who would be designing which animal, and you were doing Squid.
Now, I have to ask, how does a client’s brief usually funnel down to a perfumer? Is it common that a perfumer gets to choose which perfume she wants to design, or does management make the choice?
Regarding high-stakes briefs, there’s a strategy from management to have this or that perfumer work on it. Clients can also request specific perfumers to work on their creations.
As far as Niche’s briefs are concerned, the perfumer’s desire to work on it is key. The customer-perfumer relationship is crucial and usually must be much tighter in order to create a strong olfactive statement.
In my case, I loved your brand. I loved how the animals were portrayed. It speaks to my “Peter Pan” side, a fantasy world where animals are true characters and have an olfactive identity. It reminds me of the Victorian age, one of my favorite historical periods.
And why did you choose Squid?
I absolutely wanted to work on Squid. Some people were saying to me, “Squid? Yuk! No one wants to smell like a fish market!” I cannot understand how people can get so literal!
Immediately, in my mind I was in Jules Verne’s A Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, with a frightening giant squid coming from the deepest part of the ocean. It took me to Japan or China, as supposedly the giant squids live in those waters, so I knew there should be some incense in the accord. Squid bone is the starting point for ambergris: the sperm whale produces a fatty substance to wrap the bone. And coincidently, maybe a month before receiving the Squid brief, while I was swimming in Nikki Beach in Dubai, I hurt my foot walking on a huge squid bone. I smelled it, and it was beautiful, more pungent, sweet and grainy, like Tonka, very salty and rawer than ambergris. I brought the squid bone back and we did a headspace analysis on it.
Therefore, Squid is really based on three pillars: the Living Squid Bone (or headspace) accord in the dry down, the solar saltiness (an airy, salty, ethereal floral impression) in the heart, and mystical frankincense on top. Then you asked me to emphasize the melancholic and inky feeling, as well as the spicy intro. It brought me back again to Jules Verne, who wrote at the height of Romanticism. So I envisioned an olfactive impression that would translate at the same time a calm and stormy mind, going from a deep dark mood to a bright happy place. I was listening to Beethoven a lot to put me in this Romantic mood. And we did it!
I’d also imagined that no one would like to smell like a fish market or a fishy squid. So how did you tackle this project – a perfume named Squid – to make it representative but also wearable?
When I create a fragrance, I always keep in mind that no matter how creative the initial concept is, in the end it will be worn by a person who needs to feel confident about wearing it. A fragrance is like a suit or a dress: it can be creative and edgy, but no one wants to feel uncomfortable wearing it.
Smells have been through centuries, cultures, classes. They are a powerful social marker. It is a matter of being accepted or rejected. Tell me which fragrance you wear, and I’ll tell you which social group you belong to – or, more realistically, which one you’d like to belong to!
What exactly is “Solar Salicylate” (a note used in Squid)?
Salicylates are raw materials naturally present in nature. They give an ethereal and powerful airy effect, ranging from salty to green or floral facets. In Squid, they are massively used to convey the salty effect and carry the formula structure.
How did you design the ink accord? Could you reveal a little bit what goes into that accord?
When you asked me to push the ink accord, I worked with the IFF tool “Scentemotion”, which helps the perfumer determine which raw materials are linked to the colour blue. From my own experience of preparing “nero di sepia” sauce for pasta, it had to smell salty and velvety at the same time. There is a proper density to achieve in the olfactive texture of the ink accord. I used a combination of resins and balsams.
Now that the scent is finished, how do you describe it?
I love how with you we created this new kind of “marine” family, miles away from the typical marine citrusy ozonic accord found in the classics! Squid is a marine amber, fresh and sensual.
Did you surprise yourself with Squid? I was, because when I first learned about the perfumes designed by you, they seemed to be more on the mainstream side. But people who had smelled Squid all told me it was very “niche”. What scents do you enjoy creating more, niche or commercial mainstream?
Working on the American fragrance market, I was asked to focus on the more commercial segments. I rarely worked for niche brands in the past, except for Aesop, Jo Malone, Atkinsons or Diana Vreeland. But I did a lot of artistic collaborations to quench my desire to create edgy fragrances, as I did with D.J. Kid Koala when I did his olfactive opera for the Luminato Festival in Toronto, Canada, or with Robert Wilson on the theme “Voluptuous Panic”. And Serge von Arx, with whom we did two workshops in Norway and in Switzerland on olfactive scenography.
Now I’m working much more on niche brands, and I absolutely love it. Stay tuned!
If you would design any perfume for Zoologist, which animal would you pick?
Aaaaah! I have some in mind with the full olfactive story! One is very, very, edgy! My work on olfactive scenography helps me a lot to give a strong olfactive context linked to the animal. There’s one in particular I would LOVE to execute! It’s about speed.
Thank you so much!
March 01, 2019
Seb Duke is a fine art photographer from Toronto whose body of work focuses on colorful bubbles. We first met in early 2014 through fragrance-related Facebook groups and we quickly became friends. Over the last few years, he has gained widespread recognition for his colorful bubble photography under the name “The Big in the Small”. A collaboration between Zoologist and The Big in the Small had been on the back of my mind for quite some time. With the launch of Chameleon, I just knew his colorful bubbles would be the perfect opportunity to expand upon the world of this animal and fragrance.So, I asked him to create a set of prints in order to bring Chameleon’s world to life in a visual way. Before we get to the interview, here are a couple of his pieces. I promise you, if you’re not familiar with his work, you’ve never seen anything quite like it. And then, read on further to see the four pieces he has created for the launch!
– Victor Wong
Ok, I have to ask. How do you create these bubbles?
Oh, this is definitely the question that people ask the most! Everyone wants to know!
All I can say is that it’s a mix of three ingredients in equal parts: Love, Magic and Secrets!
You see, I like to keep the mystery alive. In today’s world, with YouTube and the likes, you can find a tutorial for almost anything. To me, that takes the magic away from certain things, such as art. There are a few things left in this world that are unexplained, I like to keep it this way.
One of my missions is to spread a sense of wonder through my art, and I feel like sharing the process takes that sense of wonder away.
But, in a nutshell, without saying too much about the process, it involves mixing different liquids together in a way to encapsulate them into bubbles. Then, once I’ve mixed the liquids together, I grab my camera and use a macro lens to shoot these bubbles up close and then turn those pictures into art prints! So, it’s a mix of fluid dynamics and highly technical and precise photography.
Your art is extremely unique, how did you discover this form of photography?
It was a total fluke. Before I got into photography, I used to be really into music. I played music, recorded music, released music and shot music videos.
Two years ago, I wanted to shoot a music video for one of my bands, but I was out of budget for props or actors. I owned a good DSLR camera and a lens that allowed me to shoot macro, and I thought mixing liquids together might create cool and colorful interactions that would look good on video.
So, I looked around the house and the shed for household liquid and started mixing them together. Quickly, I became obsessed. I sold all my music gear and reinvested it all into photography, and that’s been my life ever since!
What do you find so fascinating about liquids?
I’m fascinated that liquids can be used as vectors for many things. Medicine for well-being. Alcohol for pleasure. Fuel for energy.
But, beyond that, I’m really fascinated that it can be a vector for beauty in different ways. And it’s exactly what bridges the gap between my photography work and the olfactory art: liquids here are the vector for beauty. You and I share the same purpose: creating beauty using liquids as a vehicle, we just happen draw on different senses!
What keeps on drawing you back to creating bubbles?
Beyond enjoying working with liquids, I am attracted to spheres as a shape.
It’s been said that they are the perfect shape and I wholeheartedly agree with that. I find them aesthetically pleasing. When you add the colorful whirls, twirls and swirls and all the volutes, marbling and billowing that happens, it complements the spheres in a very unique way.
I’ve been working in my studio creating bubbles every day for the last two years and I still am as fascinated every day as the first day. Maybe now that I’m actually good at it, I enjoy it even more!
You create under the name “The Big in the Small” – What is the meaning of this name?
One of the things I enjoy out of my art is that you lose the sense of scale when you’re looking at it. The bubble you’re looking at could be the size of a grapefruit, a golf ball or a marble, and it’s impossible for you to know that. Sometimes they’re as small as a pearl.
When you take a look at the solar system, it’s very similar to the structure of an atom, with a very dense core (neutron+protons/Sun), and elements gravitating around it (electrons/planets) and a whole lot of emptiness.
That’s what the name “The Big in the Small” encapsulates and celebrates: the intricate details in the infinitely small.
What’s the piece you’re the proudest of?
There are quite a few, but to me they are the ones that come with a meaningful story.
Let me tell you about this piece called “The Truth Emerges”. To me, it has become a wonderful reminder that sometimes, art can be about more than just art. It can take on a very human aspect that I could never have imagined when I first started creating bubbles in my kitchen back in 2016.
A few months ago, a US-based client purchased a large print of this piece called “The Truth Emerges”. I shipped her order, thank you very much… and I thought that would be the end of it.
But, she recently wrote me to tell me her story. See, that client is a child psychologist, and she purchased this piece in order to hang in her office where she treats her patients. I have to admit, I thought that was pretty cool to begin with.
The part that really touched me was this: she noticed that her young patients’ eyes tended to gravitate towards the piece the first time they stepped into her office. Now, more often then not, she now uses this piece to initiate conversations with young kids that go in for a first consult, as an ice-breaker. She uses their sense of wonder as they look at this piece in order to get them to bypass their initial shyness!!!
How amazing is that?
As an artist, I spend a lot of time alone in the studio trying to take the vision in my mind and bring it to life. I know I enjoy creating my art, I know I enjoy looking at it: that’s why I do it. If I didn’t enjoy creating this art, then I wouldn’t do it.
But, knowing other people enjoy it enough to purchase a print and put it up on their wall? That’s extra gravy. And on top of that, knowing that my art helps people, that’s something I never would have expected, and that’s what makes it so much more meaningful for me!
All in all, it’s a beautiful reminder that sometimes, art is more than art!
I’ve seen your work featured in many media outlets, I even remember you being on national TV here in Canada. How have things evolved in the last two years?
It’s been absolutely mind-blowing. I have not spent much time marketing my art; most of my time has been spent creating.
Every opportunity that has arisen out of my photography activities have come out of people approaching me, not me seeking them out. I’ve been extremely fortunate so far with my work being featured on national TV, in many media such as Business Insider.
I pinch myself every day. I mean, I definitely wasn’t the popular kid in high school, so that recognition and attention is a bit alien to me.
When I started doing this in my kitchen, I had no idea it would blow up. I started doing it because I loved it, and to be honest with you, even if I did not have experienced any widespread success, I’d still be doing it. Success has been a byproduct, not a pursuit… But I’m enjoying every moment of it!
When I first approached you with the idea of creating a series of limited prints to portray Chameleon, how did you tackle this project?
Since we’re friends, I’ve had the privilege of being able to observe how you tackle the creation of your fragrances, and how you bring them to life, from inception to execution.
I used a very similar approach: I tried to picture the environment that a chameleon would live in, I watched many documentair studied its traits, its behaviour and recreated this mental image through colorful bubbles.
Oh, and here’s a fun fact that I hadn’t even shared with you until now. Remember how you gave me a bottle of Chameleon for inspiration when we started working on this collaboration? While I did use it for inspiration, every piece in this collaboration was created using a spray of Chameleon in the liquid mixture!
Can you tell us a little more about the set of three prints you created for this collaboration?
All four pieces were designed to represent a specific aspect of a Chameleon’s environment, or life. The intent was to bring a Chameleon’s world to life in an abstract way, through my visual language that is colorful bubbles!
First let’s starting the journey into a Chameleon’s world by exploring the island it inhabits. Madagascar is a unique island, an environment that allowed for so much of diversity in species to occur. Such a fascinating island…
Madagascar is not only famous for its many different species of chameleons, it is also well known for being host to over 1,000 different species of orchids. The queen flowers’ legendary beauty is an integral part of a chameleon’s environment, and I really wanted to portray it by shaping the bubbles into an orchid that stands out within a setting that resembles Madagascar’s flora.
Madagascar is host to two seasons: a cool dry season from May to October also a hot and rainy season from November to April. With heavy rainfalls, it is often the theatre to many beautiful landscapes – including very colorful rainbows. Between a Chameleon’s ability to shift its colors and those heavy rainfalls inducing prismatic rainbows, I really wanted to bring this to life!!!
Camouflage is one of the most mind-blowing defense traits any animal can have; the ability to shift colors to match one’s environment. I wanted to represent this in a subtle manner by creating a green-centric piece with hints of color here and there that allows for the mind to wander through. If you look long enough, you might even be able to see the same Chameleon in there as I do!
We became friends through our common love for fragrance. How did you first get into this passion?
In 2013, I had a major operation which kept me bedridden for a few months. Aside from binge-watching TV shows in bed, I didn’t have much to do.
My then-girlfriend worked at Sephora so she had a decent collection of designer bottles. She happened to keep them next to the bed, so in order to make my time less boring, I started spraying fragrances every day and studied how they evolved over time while I was watching TV shows and movies.
Pretty soon, I became obsessed with it. Within two months, I went from ordering a bottle of Terre d’Hermes to ordering a few Attars by Amouage.
How would you define yourself as a fragrance aficionado?
My approach to fragrance is very singular: I’m obsessed with finding the best fragrance for every note. The best rose, the best incense, the best amber, the best leather… The best everything!
For instance, I don’t need 10 patchouli-based fragrances, Coromandel is enough!
Seb, thank you so much for your time. What if someone wants to keep up with your art?
Well Victor, thank you so much for the opportunity to unite both our artistic worlds.
I really hope Zoologist aficionados will enjoy this collaboration as much as we had fun working on it it!
February 13, 2019
Could you tell us about yourself?
I was born in Brazil, where I graduated in marketing and advertising before moving to France in 1993. In Paris, I did a Master’s in Semiotics, but graduated in with a degree in Cinematography from an art school. After a couple of years working as a set designer for films in France and Brazil, I decided to go for a new challenge in the perfume world.
Have you always been aspired to be a perfumer?
To be honest, I’ve never thought about this profession, even though smells have always been part of my life. You know, in that period, there were fewer perfumers than astronauts in the world. In 2006, at age of 36, I decided to see a coach for a career orientation, and I discovered the perfumer’s world after the many vocational tests she subjected me to. We worked together for three months. In the end, I was preparing my application for ISIPCA, the perfumery school in Versailles. Only 8 persons were accepted that year into the Fine Fragrance course.
Above: ISIPCA, a French school for post-graduate studies in perfume, cosmetics products and food flavor formulation
You went to perfumery school 13 years ago. Could you tell us about the program?
The program was entirely based on fine fragrances – six hours a day of studying ingredients and making perfume accords in a lab. We learned the basics of perfumery, studied and memorized ingredient after ingredient, and the main accords and structure of iconic perfumes such as Lily of the Valley and Diorissimo, Shalimar and many others. Then, the evolution of materials, regulations, the modern version of each accord and the perfumes’ structure. But when you study very old perfumes, you can’t get a precise idea of their smell, because you can get only the modern versions. So I started to buy vintage perfumes so I could have the original compositions and gain a deep understanding of each formula. Also, the perfumer’s style, the materials available at the time, and the social and political context of the year of the creation, because the industry was very influenced by that. Vent Vert was created in 1945 by the genius Germaine Cellier just after World War II, when people needed to be reconnected with nature. In this fragrance, you have nature in your face. It’s a very green, floral, impressive masterpiece with a huge amount of galbanum.
Some of my classmates from the ISIPCA class were Isabelle Michaud, whom you already know – she’s a Canadian perfumer and owner of Mon Sillage; Octavian Coifan, a historian and perfumer; Christian Dullberg, who has a perfume company compound in Germany, and a perfumer from Taiwan.
During our perfume training, we had access to the Osmothèque and private classes with Jean Kerleo and other perfumers. We also had access to the library, where we could do research on old books with formulas and other treasures of perfumery.
After graduation, you didn't become a perfumer…
After graduation, I didn’t work as a perfumer for big companies because the perfume industry in France was/is saturated and they don’t take people older than 30. If they did, they would send them to work abroad. Just before applying to ISIPCA, I called Frédéric Malle to get his opinion about the school. He advised me to do it and to go to Asia or Brazil (which are big markets).
Wait – you knew Frédéric Malle back then?
I just picked up the phone and called their office. He answered the phone, and I spoke to him. I'd been to his Rue de Grenelle store before and he was often there.
The other reason I didn't work as a perfumer for a big company was that I wanted to remain independent. In 2007 it wasn’t easy for me to start my own business, so I decided to work for perfume brands in the commercial, export and training areas to get more experience of the market. I started at Natura Brasil, passing by Dior, Chanel, Tom Ford, Nina Ricci, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Serge Lutens, Guerlain, Cartier, and many others until arriving at Frédéric Malle, where I stayed for five years. It was one of the greatest experiences of my career. The environment, the quality of each fragrance, the perfumers, the DNA of the company based on the sophistication of great French traditional perfumery, his experience, and his vision… As the company was very small, I was engaged for exporting and training, evaluating perfume concentrates with him, smelling a new project from beginning to end, and understanding the changes of each test until the final version. Sometimes, what you prefer is not what it has to be in the market.
A perfume or aromachemical company needs more than just perfumers for sure.
A perfume company needs many perfumers on their team, but not only for fine fragrances. It needs a team of perfumers for house products, cosmetics, toiletries, and olfactive marketing. The chance to get a job in fine fragrance compared to other areas is maybe about 5% or less. The volume of production in all the other areas is bigger and more important, even though it’s not as prestigious as fine fragrance. Another career is the evaluator, who is someone between the perfumer and the marketing team, responsible for translating all the concepts for both parts, perfumers and marketing.
Above: Perfumery Class by Daniel Pescio
You now hold perfumery classes regularly. Can you tell us more about that?
In 2010, I created my own company and started to build my own lab. I was still working for brands, but when I left Frédéric Malle in 2015 I was able to dedicate myself to develop all my abilities as an independent perfumer. I started creating for independent brands and private customers, being a consultant, teaching and organizing perfume workshops and professional courses for adults and children in France, Brazil, Hungary, Switzerland, Belgium, Italy, Austria and UK and all around the world.
I’m a very curious person, and everything related to the sense of smell and taste interests me a lot. Wine, chocolate, teas, incense… all of them are new languages, but linked to each other. Tasting and smelling are completely connected and enrich our perception. At the beginning of learning how to taste or to smell and describe all the sensations, feelings and notes, it is hard. It needs patience, training and perseverance, but quickly you see that you are improving and the world becomes colourful.
Above: Kodo Incense Ceremony
At the moment, I share my time between teaching and creating, but also with my Kōdō practice and research. Koh-Do (the incense ceremony) appeared during the Momoyama period, known as a period of renaissance in Japan. It is considered one of the geido, or refined arts that are supposed to be performed according to certain rules and manners, like the tea ceremony and ikebana. Among aristocrats and high-ranking samurai, it shares popularity with the tea ceremony. In this respect, Japanese incense, or koh, is somewhat different from perfume in western countries. Later, Kōdō branched off into several schools, of which two leading schools survived: the Oie-ryu School and the Shino-ryu School, where I do my learning.
I have to mention how our perfume collaboration came about! In retrospect, I find it fascinating! A few years ago, through a perfume sell/exchange Facebook group, I bought some fragrances that you owned. When I received the package, I found a sample of your own work. When I smelled it, I thought it was excellent, and had to learn more about it from you! My initial reaction was that your work smelled very "French". It's a very abstract feeling. Could you describe your perfume style?
That’s a fantastic way of meeting and then collaborating, because when I sent you the perfumes with the sample, I never imagined you were the owner of Zoologist. I think at this time you had launched just a few scents of your amazing Zoologist collection. And then you told me you were behind this niche brand.
The sample I sent to you was my first creation after leaving Frédéric Malle. Fleur Cannibale was created in 2015, and the following year I participated in a perfume competition organized by the American Society of Perfumers. One hundred perfumers worldwide participated, with only one constraint: to use a minimum of 2% of Australian sandalwood produced by STF. Accordingly, I decided to take make Fleur Cannibale Santal Extrême, with 8% sandalwood oil in the formula. My creation made the semifinal, with 14 others. Fleur Cannibale is a contrasting fragrance, inspired by abstract flowers and orchids from Amazonia, creamy peach, spices, woods, patchouli, amber, musks, vanilla and frankincense.
About my style … it’s hard to define myself. Some people say they can recognize my style in all my perfumes. What’s is important to me is the quality of all the materials (naturals and synthetics), the balance (I’m obsessed with it) and the evolution of the fragrance, because this is the moment when the perfume will tell you a story.
Let's talk about Chameleon! First, I’ll tell you how I came about this concept of Chameleon as a perfume! I've always been fascinated by the fact that the island of Madagascar has the most species of chameleons in the world. And through a documentary on Chanel No. 5 and baking (yes, baking) I learned about the famous Madagascar ylang and vanilla, which are two important export commodities of Madagascar. When I proposed the concept of Chameleon to you, I insisted that it had to include ylang and vanilla. I also proposed that the perfume have a special quality of “colour changing”, which is probably the most notable characteristic of a chameleon. Have you heard of synesthesia – the ability to “see” colour when you smell certain things? I have always wondered if we could create a perfume that “shifts colour” as it develops on our skin.
Chameleon is an amazing project and was a true challenge for me. First, because I wouldn’t have created this perfume based on an ylang-vanilla scent as a main accord. Otherwise, it would be just one more ylang-vanilla perfume on the market. The challenge was to translate this concept to design a fragrance. Also, I was a bit scared by the fruity facets. My first thought was to produce an accord to give the impression of the scent of skin touched by the sun and the salty breeze by the ocean. I chose some "Ylang Ylang Extra" oil from Madagascar, which was already very fruity, and the fruity facets I worked not only with fruity notes, but also with floral notes having fruity facets. That’s the aim of Chameleon. And then you have other flowers, spices, exotic woods, amber, opoponax, vanilla, patchouli, musks…
It’s interesting to talk about synesthesia. I remember during my first class at ISIPCA. We were learning how to describe a scent, because normally we don’t learn to talk about scents. We don’t have a common vocabulary for it. The teacher said, "You can try to link each scent to a specific colour!” Well, I couldn’t do that, but now I do that with children, and it’s amazing! They can say different colours, but often they say them with the same intensity. The synesthesia process is very much used in my Wine, Chocolate and Tea workshops, because you need to use more than one sense to get a full perception of something. For example, when you take a wine, you have to describe the colour, whether it’s bright or opaque, and then you smell and then you taste. For this experience, you use four of your five senses: the view, the smell, the taste and the touch with our tongue, which has taste buds responsible for the perception of temperature and texture. When you are aware of it, the experience is very rich. You can enjoy every single moment of each sensation provided by your senses.
As we developed the scent, I thought the synesthesia concept might be too difficult to realize. (I don't have synesthesia, and the colours people "see" by smelling are very subjective.) However, you had a different idea of what Chameleon could be, and you persuaded me with your unique vision.
Yes, synesthesia and sense of smell are very personal, very subjective. There is no right or wrong, but only personal or technical way to describe a scent. If you say green for patchouli, I would say you can keep it as a personal reference. But the smell is not considered green to professionals.
The chameleon’s skin is a mirror of nature. That was what I tried to translate into a fragrance. The concept of the skin being the mirror of everything you can have on the island of Madagascar. To make this “skin accord”, I put Ylang Ylang Extra Madagascar oil with a lot of Salicylates and Cashmeran. These makes up almost 40% of the fragrance composition.
I worked very carefully with the vanilla accord, with musks and opoponax. I wouldn’t want to produce the same effect that we have in most ylang perfumes. Another challenge for this project was to give an abstract feeling, despite the presence of a huge amount of ylang in the formula.
People might say that Chameleon is a tropical fruity scent, but I think it is quite different from the typical tropical fruit scents I’ve come across before.
Ylang ylang is one of my favourite flowers. It has proper fruity facets, but it is also animalic, different from the indolic found in flowers such as jasmine, Lily of the Valley or orange blossom. Most of the ylang fragrances are very "Monoi", i.e., a vanilla scent with a huge amount of Hedione. And, in some cases, with woody facets of gaiacwood or very fruity and sugary. So, the moment I got the Chameleon brief, I thought of all these aspects and started thinking what I would translate into this creation. It was the beginning of a trip in my mind through Madagascar, feeling everything I could find on this tropical island. Beaches, sun, heat, ocean breeze, skin scent, sensuality, exotic woods, fruits, spices, and the daily life of the chameleon. My approach was to make the ylang ylang into a musky-skin-salty-sunny accord in the centre of the fragrance, like the solar orbit, with green-acidic exotic fruity facets combined with violet leaves and frangipani. Cashmeran and Salicylates are very important in this accord as the abstract feeling I would give to this fragrance, because of the effects of chameleons in nature. Sometimes it’s obvious they are there, but we can’t really see them.
Another point which is important is the evolution of the fragrance into something smooth, calm, with this musk-vanilla-amber feeling. It reminds me of chameleons losing the reflections of nature and becoming white.
What is next for you?
The most important project for this year is going to be in Japan.
In 2017, I started practicing Kōdō in Japan and France, and last year I decided to make an olfactive project related to this Japanese art and presented it to the Villa Kujoyama’s art project competition. The Villa Kujoyama is a French public institution set in the mountains of Kyoto. It’s a multicultural place of interdisciplinary exchange and aims to strengthen intercultural dialogue between France and Japan. Villa Kujoyama is the equivalent of Villa Medicis in Rome.
My project, "Listening the scents or the Art of the invisible", was the winner in the Fashion and Perfume category. I will be in Japan to do research, present the project and organize some perfume workshops from September to the end of December 2019.
Before that, I will be doing some fragrance creations for independent artists and brands, bespoke perfumes, education and training, consulting for brands and private projects, perfume, wine and chocolate workshops, and organizing my project to launch my perfume brand in 2020.
Wow, that’s wonderful! I can’t wait to smell your own brand of perfumes in the future!
Zoologist Chameleon will be released on March 15th, 2019
January 27, 2019
Please tell us about yourself!
First off: hello, everyone! Thanks for tuning in! 😀
Other than liking sunset walks on long, sandy beaches (that’s a joke, actually), I’m a bit of a foodie. Quite curious about learning about other cultures. Love tea. Enjoy coffee, though it makes me crazy jittery. Love to cook. Incense junkie. Live in a 220-year-old log cabin in the woods not too far north of Atlanta. I’m an old soul living in a modern world.
This is starting to sound like a dating profile!
Can you tell us more about your perfume company?
Rising Phoenix officially started back in 2011, while I was still in med school in San Diego, although it was 2014 before we really started launching products.
Many that follow my work know that I work in Chinese medicine. I’m in private practice in Atlanta. I spent some time working in three hospitals in Shanghai. In my earlier years I spent my last year in university in Avignon, and worked in Paris after college. I’ve been fortunate to have traveled extensively.
While in med school we had to memorize quite a bit of information about hundreds and hundreds of medical substances, including the Chinese pinyin, the common English names, and the Latin scientific names.
The Latin names started tugging at something in the back of my mind. It didn’t take me long to figure out that pharmaceuticals, nutraceuticals, cosmetics, fragrance, flavour, and the incense and spice trades were all built on the back of herbs. Herbs I was really diving deep down the rabbit hole on.
In my third year of school, something clicked and I realized, “I could be a physician. Or, I could be a physician, and… !” I wanted to tap into a much larger world that was built on the back of something most never think twice about: herbs. Foundations in a multitude of global modern-day markets.
Since natural oils distilled/extracted from herbs – what we call essential oils, “absolutes”, etc. – are really pharmaceutical-grade herb extracts, fragrance seemed like a natural place to start.
Have you always aspired to become a perfumer?
Ha! No. I have always wanted to help people. That was pretty open-ended.
As a kid, I wanted to be an archeologist. Or a spice trader. (Seriously, I was a weird kid). I worked in film and television before going back to med school.
It wasn’t until years later, when I was working as a physician and focusing on what I call my “golden triangle”– the point of intersection of the medicine, cosmetic/fragrance, and incense trades – that I realized I kinda DID become both an archeologist and a spice trader!
Many don’t realize that, historically, it was physicians and pharmacists that made fragrances. Up until about 100 years ago, if you were going to buy perfume, your local pharmacist was likely making what you were wearing. In the more distant past, fragrance (i.e., perfume and incense) were considered medicine first, as well as something that smelled nice.
Physicians have been behind fragrance since the dawn of fragrant time.
Ever drank a Coca Cola? When I was growing up in Atlanta, many folks know that Coke’s inventor, Pemberton, was a pharmacist. Sodas in the beginning were medical elixirs. What became Coca Cola was originally a treatment for morphine addiction, which was a huge problem in the 1880s, just after the Civil War. Dr. Pemberton was a war vet and an addict.
Who were Johnson & Johnson? Three brothers that sold medical and pharmacy equipment.
Who was Dr. Pepper? The inventor, Charles Alderton, was also a pharmacist in the 1880s. Dr. Pepper was also a medical-elixir-turned-popular-beverage.
Ever used Listerine? Dr. Lister’s work in England in the 1860s inspired Dr. Lawrence in the US to create a surgical antiseptic based on eucalyptus essential oil, menthol (likely distilled camphor at the time or camphor resin), methyl salicylate (better known as white willow bark, now synthesized and used as an over-the-counter painkiller), and thyme essential oil in an alcohol base.
Realizing that a lot of common household name-brand products of today really started from a place that I, myself, somehow found myself working in inspired me to apply my work in medicine to a much broader body of work.
Hence the name: Rising Phoenix. Giving new life to old practices.
So now you juggle between two businesses, acupuncture and perfumery. Do you wish to take your perfumery business to full-time?
In short, yes. It’s been moving that way since I launched. Fortunately, my work all comes from a common root.
I actually was a contributor to a research paper about ambergris, the first of several that will be published.
I am also part of a think-tank company called Botanical Biohacking, a US/Tibet company developing a variety of cutting-edge Chinese medicine pharmaceuticals for the western market.
Fortunately for me, whether I’m “sculpting or painting”, herbs are herbs. Whether I’m making fragrances or treating patients, I am doing the work from a common root. To me, it’s all the same.
To my understanding, your perfumery products at this moment are just attars. Why attars instead of alcohol-based perfumes?
That is mostly true, yes.
I have a larger commercial project that I’m working to put together the capital to launch. Given my unique background, it’s larger than “just fragrance”. I plan to be making some big waves very soon.
I also am involved in distilling some of the key components I’ve become quite well known for, and I’ve also developed some products for some other companies in the Indian and Gulf markets.
But for now, I’m growing my existing line of products organically.
Personally, I prefer naturals to synthetics and cater to a more naturally minded audience. I think naturals really shine in attar form. In alcohol/EdP fragrances, naturals tend to smell a bit flat, sometimes a little murky. But as I make my attars, well, you know. They get nominated for awards. After all, that’s how you and I met.
I’ve become the largest artisan attar maker in the world over the past few years. It seems that, more and more, I run into folks that are into commercial fragrances who are at the very least aware of the work I’m known for in the artisan niche market.
I’ve become quite well known in the artisan sandalwood, oud/agarwood, and incense scene, and currently offer the widest selection of niche aromatic products anywhere on the Internet.
My attars, in addition to my upcoming commercial EdP line, are all a part of my larger plan.
I have observed that there is a rise of attar culture and business in the world of niche/indie perfumes. What can you tell us about your customers and the subculture of attars?
I actually think that a community of artisans that I belong to might at least in part be responsible for that: www.ouddict.com.
Certainly, Amouage’s original attars, especially now that they are no longer making them, have sent folks searching for other attar resources. As have Claire Vukcevic and Kafkaesque, whom both love attars. Their reviews have also brought more attention to the style.
As I mentioned before, I’ve grown to become the largest artisan attar maker, possibly in the world, but at least here in the West. I’m quite well known for my artisan mysore sandalwood oils as well as my artisan oud oils. My attars are big sellers.
I think I’ve played a hand in inspiring many of these other artisans. I know they inspire me. As we are all colleague-competitors, as I call our little community, I’m commonly telling folks that we are stronger together than we are apart. Running a small business is already a practice in isolation. It’s nice to have a collaborative community. These guys are talented, and quite nice folks, as well.
I think our combined work has been helping to bring an old (and still the largest, albeit rather unknown in the West) form of fragrance appreciation to the West – that of attars.
Do you think more people from the Middle East are now wearing spray perfumes rather than attars, but more North Americans are wearing attars?
Yes. In the Gulf markets, “Western fragrances” (i.e. alcohol-based fragrances) are on the rise.
However, wearing pure (natural) oils and concentrated (modern perfumery) attars is still predominantly how much of the Middle and Far East wears their fragrances. This in large part has to do with the large Muslim population in the Gulf and SE Asia, and their tendency to avoid alcohol, even in fragrance form. And, particularly in the Far East, they still have a tendency to like lighter, more natural compositions.
Here in the West, I think there is a growing awareness and appreciation of older forms of perfumery. Alcohol-based perfumery is really French or British-style perfumery. It is not the only form of perfumery, and far from the oldest form.
I don’t want to make any ridiculous claims, but I do think the growing popularity and visibility of my work and that of my colleagues over the past few years has contributed to this growing awareness. Certainly, the artisans of the Ouddict Community are making this rather unknown form of perfumery much more visible in the West.
I’m thinking Dodo might need to be Zoologist’s inaugural attar!
I remember seeing your Facebook photos of oud/agarwood you have acquired from various sources. Can you tell us more about them?
According to the Internet (reliable, right?), ebony is the most expensive wood on the planet. In reality, agarwood is the most expensive. Sandalwood is the second most expensive. Agarwood usually refers to the wood, and oud often refers to the distilled oil obtained from agarwood. It is a regulated material, and I am licensed to both import and export it.
The root of “perfume” is Latin – “per fumum”. Meaning, “through smoke”. In many cultures today, the term “perfume” refers to BOTH incense and what you and I would call perfume or fragrance.
The backbone of both the fragrance and the incense industries is agarwood and sandalwood. Only recently is the West being reintroduced to agarwood, although it has long had a history in Europe and the Catholic church. King Louis XIV of France was known to wash his clothes with and douse his bed in oud hydrosol, for example. The Catholic church has been using agarwood in incense since the inception of the church, and Jews and Muslims alike have made use of “precious aloes” (i.e., aloeswood, a.k.a. agarwood) since their respective beginnings, as well. In the East, it has been well-known and used as both fragrance and medicine dating back long before the written word. Agarwood has close to 10,000 years of recorded trade. It is, by every definition of the term, one of the original global trade commodities.
Rising Phoenix is the premier resource for high-quality agarwood in the US and in the West at large. I definitely offer the most diverse selection of species and origins, as well as a wide diversity of forms through which to enjoy it. Agarwood, as it happens, has a terroir diversity similar to that found more commonly in tea, coffee, chocolate, wine, scotch and whiskey.
Agarwood has captivated the minds of people for millennia for a reason. See, a rose smells like a rose smells like a rose. Certainly, country of origin, species of rose, and extraction method play a role in how a rose oil will smell. But they will all smell of rose. Not too much diversity. Line up 10 different Oud oils and many may guess incorrectly that they aren’t all Oud. Depending on the origin, species, and the vast array of creativity used in distilling it, the oils have an almost limitless number of iterations in how it might smell.
Same can be said of the wood. There are many cultural differences in how it is used. In general, the Arabic tradition is to burn on coal. The Japanese (and as an extension, Chinese and Taiwanese and Asians in general) heat with an indirect heat source (like a coal buried in ash) or, more commonly today, on an electric heater with more gentle heat. Combustion vs. volatilization. There is also the method of “senkoh”, that of the incense stick without a wood core that’s most common in the Japanese tradition. Not to mention, it is used in Bakhoor (Arabic) and the wide range of Asian compounding traditions of incense using agarwood (and sandalwood) as the backbones upon which to build a blend.
The fascinating thing about this wood is the sheer diversity of ways to use and enjoy it, and the resulting vast array of how it may smell. One could spend a lifetime studying agarwood and oud and never exhaust discovering some new scent found within it.
In 2017, you started a Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign to bring your business to a higher level. How did it go? What is your ambition?
The campaign itself wasn’t successful enough to raise the capital to launch what I’ve got planned. However, it’s continued to be useful, as I am actively working on raising the capital for my commercial launch.
I spoke earlier in the interview about my larger ambitions, and folks should know that I never stopped fundraising. I am getting quite close to having the capital to actualize what I’ve been working on these past years.
For the time being, I’ve been growing organically. The publicity from Dodo and my work with Zoologist will also serve as key signposts to the good work I’ve been doing and the growing success of Rising Phoenix as a brand. In other words, stay tuned!
In retrospect, did you think you were too ambitious, compared to much smaller startups that grew their business “organically”?
“Shoot for the stars and you might hit the moon”, right?
I shot a pilot almost 15 years ago for the Food Network as the host of a “Field to Fork” kinda food show with one of Martha Stewart’s former producers. The show didn’t get picked up, but have you seen Netflix food shows lately? I was also contracted a few years back for a show about ambergris being developed for The Discovery Channel. That also didn’t get green-lit. We’ve seen more and more documentaries, and even a show called “Perfume” on Netflix now. I’ve been making attars for years. Attars are now beginning to gain some mainstream appeal in the West. I’ve had a tendency my entire life to be ahead of the curve.
I am also a believer in Divine Timing. Things didn’t quite work out when I was hoping, but things are certainly building up to it. I have had a lot of opportunities thrown at me that I haven’t yet been able to capitalize on. But the time is coming. Of this I am certain.
The scents you wanted to release were actually alcohol-based. How come? Is Dodo your first “alcohol-based” perfume design?
It is not, no. I actually have a line of EdPs I’ve developed for Rising Phoenix that are part of my larger commercial plan. Luca Turin has had a peek at these, and he seemed to like them – ironically, especially the fougère I developed, Phoenix Fougère. You can read more about his thoughts on my brand over on his site, Perfumes I Love. These fragrances are, as of yet, unreleased.
I’ve also developed both EdPs and Attars for a few companies in the Gulf and Indian markets, although Dodo is the first where you’ll likely see my name attached to it.
Dodo is alcohol-based because that it was what you, the Zookeeper, asked for. Although I’m still trying to convince you that Dodo needs to be Zoologist’s inaugural attar release.
How different is it to design an alcohol-based perfume compared to attar? What are the challenges?
Most of my work for Rising Phoenix is natural, and my upcoming commercial line is “naturally minded”. It includes a line that I have planned that is more modern. Different lines will have different target market appeals.
Some of the other work I’ve done for brands overseas has been mixed media, usually with an emphasis on synthetics. I kept the work I did for Zoologist as natural as I could, although it is certainly a modern fragrance. Expect a modern work.
In a fragrance, I would say that synthetics have a much larger footprint than do naturals. So the quantities of synthetics are much more dose-sensitive. Naturals are much more forgiving, although some – like natural oakmoss or cinnamon, or smokey materials like cade – can bomb out a fragrance with a drop too much.
Dodo is attar-like in its density. It’s not a fragrance that will be understood by smelling it from the cap, pleasant though that is. It’s complex. It’s unexpected. It tells a story most aren’t trying to tell.
Let’s talk more about our collaboration, shall we? We’ve known each other on Facebook for a while, but the first time I met you in person was when we were both attending the 2016 Art and Olfaction Awards in Los Angeles. Your beautiful Musk Rose Attar was one of the nominees that year. After the event, we decided to collaborate on a fragrance, and I immediately suggested making a fougère. Zoologist didn’t have a fougère. Luca Turin praised your Phoenix Fougère highly, so I thought you would be the perfect designer for such task.
Fougère means ‘fern’ in French, and strangely, the first animal that came to my mind that was associated with fern was a dodo! Dodos couldn’t fly, and I imagined they ran amok in forests and woods covered with ferns on the island of Mauritius until they were hunted to extinction. I also associated fougères to a genre of scents of the bygone golden era, meaning they smell dated. Dodo seemed like a perfect match for that feeling. Do you agree?
Ironically, Luca Turin said in his piece on my brand that Phoenix Fougère is (and I’m summarizing here) the nicest fougère he’s smelled since their inception in the 1880s. I think once I get around to launching it, it will be quite a success.
I am quite proud of Dodo. As you mentioned earlier, it manages to be both iconic, yet modern. I think you, Victor, might be surprised with what I am hoping will be a commercial smash hit for your brand. I think Dodo might surprise everyone. Maybe it’s wishful thinking!
If you folks would like to smell a natural fougère/chypre, check out Man Musk. It’s already becoming somewhat of a cult hit. Real oakmoss, galore!
How did you approach the design of Dodo? What materials did you use to achieve that feeling?
At its basis, a fougère is formed by the interaction between oakmoss and bergamot. Together, they create an effect that doesn’t happen individually, and it is this interplay that forms the chypre/fougère fragrance family – a scent concept commonly known as “fern” (ferns have no natural fragrance of their own).
The classic fougère is centred on lavender, oakmoss and bergamot. I wanted to break some molds with a fashion-forward new take on an old concept. A Rising Phoenix, so to speak. Classic, yet very modern and fashion-forward, all the while staying true to Zoologist’s brand as a cutting-edge concept house.
The dry down, in particular, pays homage to my Attar style and design. I think you’re going to find it a killer fragrance to wear!
Dodo to me is kind of peculiar. It’s both modern and vintage-smelling. In your opinion, do you think it’s strictly a “fougère”?
By definition, it is a fougère, yes, but minus the lavender.
My goal at Rising Phoenix as a brand is to make old things new by drawing inspiration from the Phoenix: new life coming from the death of the old.
I wanted to apply this same kind of mentality to Dodo by drawing on historical DNA, but fleshing out the beast with new life. I think your impression of it being both modern and vintage is testament to the success of that approach. Dodo will feel both familiar and exotic, all in the same breath.
Dodo is the only perfume where I thought the first take was perfect. In fact, I didn’t want to believe that and asked you to give me one more round of revision, but in the end, I still went for the first version.
This was the source of quite a few laughs for me back when we were designing Dodo.
You handed over the concept to me, and I sent up my take on it. You loved it, and that seemed to bother you. I don’t think you were expecting to like my first go at it, and so you distrusted your own opinion. You had me take a few more goes at it, but in the end you circled back to my first rendition.
I have a tendency to do this with my own work. My first attempt is usually what ends up getting launched. I never really know how something will be received until it’s out there. Fragrances I worry the most about tend to be the biggest hits. Musk Rose Attar and Sicilian Vanilla were two of my first fragrances. It took me years to release them (5 years, to be exact). They've become two of my biggest sellers, and Musk Rose Attar ended up being nominated for an Art and Olfaction Award, providing the opportunity under which we both finally met. Go figure!
Currently, Man Musk is really gaining in popularity. Again, I never thought folks would like it. I was terribly wrong. I liked it so much that I thought no one else would. I held off for ages on releasing it as a result. Another home run.
It’s been three years after its design and your initial worry about how Dodo would be received, and you’ve been getting fantastic feedback on it from those who have smelled it. And only now are you getting around to launching it. I dare say, you sound a lot like me!
Above: Reconstruction of a Dodo, issued at the Natural History Museum in Vienna, Austria. Thilo Parg / Wikimedia Commons. License: CC BY-SA 3.0
The opening of Dodo is fresh and tart, but as it reaches dry down, it becomes very musky, with smell of feathers!
Indeed. Many of the notes used in Dodo aren’t available to me as naturals, and I wanted to take advantage of this as I was composing it.
A lot of commercial fragrances are overly sweet, or overly musky, or overly… well, overly everything.
I like to cook, and the fun thing about cooking is using very dramatic ingredients like salt or vinegar on their own to really brighten up a dish. I made use of some tart ingredients – lime, lychee, and raspberry – like I use vinegar, or sourness. A dash to brighten up a dish and cut through any heaviness.
Ambergris and musk are salty ingredients. They are like umami. They give a dish body, rich mouth feel, and a savoury component.
Just like in food, sour and sweet (from the amber) counterbalance one another, as do sweet (ambergris) and salty (ambergris and musk).
I think we successfully pulled off using some juxtaposing and polarizing ingredients to make a very balanced meal for our noses. As for “feathery musk”… well, Dodo is a bird, after all!
Actually, how do you describe your style? Do you think your fragrances tend to smell more on the “mature” side? Who is the target audience of Dodo, in your opinion?
My style is really inspired by the phoenix. I make old things new.
The core of my style is near and Far Eastern, drawing a lot of inspiration from historical times and places. But I aim to do it in a way that feels both familiar and exotic to everyone who tries my work.
My Gulf Muslim and diverse Asian clients feel familiarity, as Attars are a part of their cultural experiences. But they feel exotic to them, as they aren’t purely Asian- or Arabian-smelling.
On the other hand, to my Western clients, they feel exotic, as these clients are not culturally used to attars. But I draw on cultural and historical themes they are familiar with, and somehow manage to balance both this exotic and familiar selection of scents.
Rising Phoenix aims to fill a gap for more natural products. I tend to target folks that don’t want as many synthetics in their products, but I have a growing appeal among frag-heads, as well. It’s a niche, certainly, but a rapidly growing one.
Dodo, on the other hand, appeals to a wider fragrance market that doesn’t have the expectation for mostly or all-natural fragrances, yet still wants a uniquely wearable artistic scent. I expect Dodo will be well received for its artistic take on scent, but it may surprise folks at just how commercially appealing it wears.
What is next for you?
“What we do every day, Pinky… trying to take over the world!”
~ Pinky and the Brain
Note: Zoologist Dodo will be available in March, 2019
July 28, 2018
Could you tell us about yourself?
That’s the most difficult question! I am an architect and a perfumer. The two professions don’t appear to share any connections, but I think they share a common sensibility – to experience something. Say, the shivers you feel when for the first time you walk in the Michelangelo library entrance in Florence, or the shiver you feel the first time you smell tuberose absolute. They are obviously coming from very different origins, but they are so deeply human – and so beyond what you know, your culture, your skills, your prejudices, your knowledge. It’s the pure power of nature, and here nature expresses itself through matter and space, and through flowers. It's easy to find yourself in a beautiful mood with the right light coming through the tree branches; it’s an experience of a space. It doesn't matter whether if it's designed by humans or by nature.
You are an architect first, perfumer second.
I am an architect first because I've been doing architecture longer. I had been feeling safe for a long time in the architectural world than in the perfume world, because it was something I knew better. Now I feel unsafe in both of them, for they are completely different fields coexisting in my life at the same time. They really have helped me know myself better, and I enjoy both of them. Don’t be bothered so much about what you do “officially”.
Above: Various Architectural and Interior Design Works by Antonio Gardoni
When did you become interested in perfumes and perfumery?
Eight or nine years ago. And I have to say I have never been a “perfume person”, never been that geeky about the perfumes that I wore, or genuinely interested in the subject. I got interested in perfumery because at one point I was a very interested in plants – trees, bushes and flowers. I had a “crush on nature” and tried to understand it. I got into perfumery because I was “experimenting with nature”, like chopping things up, extracting things, playing with raw materials; and eventually I really felt, okay, let’s try to simulate certain aspects of scents that nature delivers with the materials I have on hand. And that's how I started formulating, in order to reproduce an idea of nature, and I quickly moved from it because it was too difficult. For nature does it better. So I started playing with making perfumes in an unexpected way.
For years I had played with naturals, for it was easier for me to connect them with a source visually – if you picture a garden with pines, roses or grasses, etc., you could think of the materials to mix together. There were many private experiments to recreate such mini landscapes, and I called them landscapes because one of the fascinating things about architecture is abstraction. So I have realized that the “garden” I tried to create was not anymore a visual garden, but an ideal garden; furthermore, it's not anymore an ideal garden, it's a landscape, an idea, a concept.
It's very critical for me to understand the results of my private experiments. I had faced a lot of questions while studying them. I was trying to achieve a certain effect for the concept that was in my mind, and sometimes I was unable to do so. So I started studying organic chemistry from super-boring organic chemistry books, and most of the time I could find possible answers to some of my questions. While studying, you think about other ways, too, so you also learn in some non-direct ways. I'm still studying, and it’s continual process.
How long had you been experimenting with scents before you decided you wanted to publish your first perfume?
There were a couple of very early experimental “perfumes” that I had given to my family and friends. But Maai is the first official, “proper” perfume, and it was released about five years ago.
I remember when it first came out, it made a splash in social media, and of course, it was a hit! Did the positive reception surprise you?
The positive reception and reactions I received from people whom I had never heard of were a massive surprise. I really felt people were mad at liking Maai that much at the beginning! I couldn't believe it for it was really one more big experiment in my own little world. And suddenly people from all over the world started sending me e-mails, “Can I have a sample? Can I have a sample?” At the same time, I started reading things about Maai, and they were shocking – in a good way. The comments and reviews from the good ones actually helped me a lot in learning and understanding what I've done, because I wasn't that conscious about my creation process and what that perfume meant.
What is Maai about?
Well, I personally still don't know! I trust a lot of other people’s opinions on Maai. To me, Maai has something to do with the big conflict that I still have with tuberose – it’s a fight between me and tuberose and how Maai could expose certain aspects of certain smells, when they were in an interlocked play of hide-and-seek in a perfume.
When you were building Maai, had you already learned about the classic perfumery structures and used them as a reference, or have you never followed any rules or used any references?
This is a very tricky question, because if I answered “yes”, everything makes sense. If I answer “no”, it might sound like there was no ambition. But the real answer is, I actually don't know, because I didn't know that much about classic perfumes back then. I think it was almost an accident that it happened to smell like an old big chypre from the past. It was very surprising for me to find out that people reference it to perfumes of much older style. I thought I was doing something new! I don't smell that many perfumes, not because I don't want to, it just that it doesn't happen. I am interested in perfumes, but I'm not interested as well. There isn’t something that I am desperate to smell, be it a new perfume or old perfume. I mean, I can live without smelling perfumes.
Above: Bogue Maai and Aeon 001 Perfumes
After Maai, you created AEON 001 for a different perfume company and they intentionally made the perfumer anonymous. (Ironically, this is what most perfume companies had been doing in the past, and in recent years, they are doing the exact opposite by revealing the perfumer's name.) A lot of people guessed correctly that it was your work – in fact, people often say your perfumes have a distinct style. Do you agree? How do you describe your style?
How can I not agree? I believe when people say I have a signature style, I'm not fighting against it. I mean, if you want to call it a style. We are what we are, and we can't fake it. I'm not trying to pretend to be different from what I am, so that probably applies to perfumes as well.
AEON 001 was a fantastic project. The idea of hiding the perfumer was actually mine, because I believe that the perfume itself should be stronger than its creator. I think that in this little world sometimes you are a bit too obsessed about knowing who made it, and that doesn’t help us approach the perfume itself.
And how would you describe your style?
I don't know. The only way I can describe it involves a bit of a technical process – I try to create mini clashes between each ingredient that I use. Each ingredient smells different with its counterpart, so if you use a material together with its “enemy”, and achieve a balance, you get interesting results, kind of like you use the citrus to counterbalance its worst enemy…
What's the worst enemy of the citrus?
Well, it depends. It depends on the battlefield. The worst enemy of a citrus could be a deep animalic note. It could also be a “too-generous flower”, so generous that the flower is pushing to come out, and the citrus tries to kill at the beginning but the citrus dies fast and the flower wins.
People often describe your perfumes having bombastic projection, with very long-lasting quality. What's the trick to it?
Use a lot of materials! (laughs) Essentially a high concentration of perfume! For me, anything below 20 percent is very difficult to make work. I work with a lot of naturals, and somehow they need bigger quantities to deliver a certain effect.
What about synthetic aromachemicals?
I learned a bit how to use aromachemicals, and they are absolutely functional. I love aromachemicals, but I can't say I'm using them 50/50 in any formula. With all naturals, it is like a battlefield from the 17th century – but with aromachemicals, suddenly you take on someone with a laser gun or atomic bomb. So it's really interesting and exciting for me to mix both together.
You also create bespoke perfumes for clients. Can you tell me more? Do you enjoy creating them?
That's probably what I have enjoyed the most for the past four or five years, because it's a very different job from creating and selling your own perfume., When you work with a private client on a bespoke project, you have a very intimate one-to-one relationship, and you try to learn things – first of all, from the person in front of you. And at the same time you try to liberate the person from certain prejudices and certain preconceived ideas. So it's a very challenging process, because the number of time I've been approached by people saying, “Oh, the perfume I want has to have this material, that material,” and they end up with something completely different because through the process they found out that the material or an idea of a certain perfume that they used to hate was actually a fixed idea – but experienced in a different way or challenged in a different way, it could change their mind.
Also, designing a bespoke perfume also provides me a great opportunity to experiment with materials that are too expensive to use in bigger proper productions. And each of my private clients really has given me the possibility to explore notes, materials, process, ways of doing things, and at the end, they received the most diverse perfumes for weddings, for lovers, for very famous people, or completely anonymous people. It’s so challenging, interesting, super fun – and sometimes these bespoke processes gave me inspiration for something for my own perfumes.
Occasionally I see you post photos of your non-perfumery work, such as faucet design and shop interior design on Facebook. It seems to me that you are never short of projects. Do you ever intend to take your perfumery full-time and expand the distribution network?
I think my perfume passion needs architecture to survive, not because of the financial side of things, but it provides some sort of counterbalance. Fragrance is like a piece of cloud – ephemeral and extremely difficult to be bring down and to track. But when you go inside a building that you design, you see pure, physical, heavy concrete steel structures, and that physicality creates a counterbalance.
Above: Retail Space Design and Industrial Design Works by Antoni Gardoni
I don't think I would ever leave architecture behind and make perfumery a full-time job. I don’t not even plan to expand my retail network or increase production, etc. You know, as in a formula, you try to reach a good balance of things. It doesn't mean it has to be a pleasant balance. But it's my own balance.
For me, the distribution network has always been very, very, based on personal relationships. I've been lucky enough to work with some amazing people. And I don't believe in having two or three more doors opened in order just to sell 10, 20, 30 more bottles. I know it takes time and concentration, and focus on good things to establish a good business relationship.
You have been one of the judges for the Arts and Olfaction Awards (A&O) for the past few years. How did that happen?
This happened because of Maai, essentially, again. Maai was involved in a very interesting and fun project about an old 1960’s “smell-o-vision” movie, “Scent of Mystery”. The Institute of Arts and Olfaction, together with producer Tamara Burnstock, were rereleasing it, and they tried to create a new scent for the “scent track” to the movie. In the original movie, the main female character was Elisabeth Taylor, and she wore a perfume called “Scent of Mystery” by Elsa Schiaparelli. They decided to use Maai as her perfume in the movie. And when we got in contact with the institute I met Saskia Wilson-Brown (the director of A&O). That’s how we became friends, I later got involved in the judging process.
Above: At the 2017 Art and Olfaction Award Finalists Annoucement Event at Exsence, Milan Italy
What did you observe? Did you gain any insights from evaluating so many perfumes?
I did gain some experience from some other people's work. But it's an activity I don't do much on my own. Being a judge almost forces you to evaluate and smell things that you will never smell, and that's super interesting. Sometimes I really struggle to understand what I'm smelling, but I rarely smell a perfume that I find wrong. However, it’s very important for me to understand what the creator is trying to say through the perfume – some people are so soft spoken that you can almost not hear what they are saying; some people are too loud, and some people are talking in vulgar words, etc. For the past three years I've been a judge for A&O awards. There’s always something worth listening to in each perfume. So that's what I have learned. I’ve learned to listen by being a judge.
Have you come to a conclusion of what type of perfumes tend to win the award?
No idea! I've seen the most different things winning over the years. I'm so happy with the diversity and peculiarity, and, you know, when Zoologist Bat won the award (in 2016), I thought it was amazing. It was a very important thing for me, because Bat was a perfume not meant to win an award in any way. It was too extreme in certain aspects, too conceptual, too hard to experience, and it demanded a lot of process from we are used to experiencing, and sometimes difficulties are not a good thing when you want to win an award. Sometimes going on an easy way makes life easier, you know? And I think it demonstrates the possibilities of winning an A&O award are very varied. It really challenged the perception of who can win or lose. I think it's a very exciting process, and it really helps people understand new possibilities and new directions.
Let's talk about Tyrannosaurus Rex!
I remember vividly how this project began - I first met you in 2016 during the Arts and Olfaction Award, and we exchanged our perfumes. I gave you a bottle of Bat and you gave me a bottle of Maai! About a year later, I met you again at the Milan perfume exhibition, Esxence. I jokingly told you that if I could rename a vetiver-themed perfume of yours, I would call it T-Rex, because it smelled very primal and dangerous to me. I said maybe you should develop T-Rex for Zoologist, and we both immediately laughed it off. The next day, early in the morning, you messaged me over the phone that you wanted to work on this project because it was stuck in your head. We later sat down in a restaurant and talked for hours about what it should smell like.
Above: Victor Wong and Antonio Gardoni (2017)
My vision of T-Rex was a loud, chaotic, primal, dangerous scent. I wanted the scent to be an olfactive version of a fantastical, colourful illustration one would find in a junior science textbook – fascinating, lots of things happening in the background like volcanic eruptions, forest fires, crazy gigantic flora and fauna, and of course, T-Rex tearing a poor victim's bloody body apart. As you might already know, I'm a very visual person, and I like to send perfumers a "mood board", or photo collage when a project begins. With that, hopefully the perfumer would take on the clues and incorporate the feelings that it evokes into their creation. Then you told me you were not a visual person when it comes to perfumery; to you, perfumes have more of a "sound" quality. Could you elaborate on that? And what does T-Rex "sound" like to you?
It is difficult to talk about perfume, because we don't have the language to properly describe scents. So there is nothing wrong about referring to images or art. To me, sound is the closest reference because it has an ephemeral presence. It starts, explodes, expands, then leaves. Doesn't matter if it is the sound of a car passing by or it's a sound from a Mozart concert. It's more about the way sound manifests itself, how it demonstrates its physicality through the vibration of air. So sometimes for me it's easier to think about the “vibrations” of a perfume in sound than images. Perfumes need a space to work – with no space, there will be no “sound”, and we will not smell anything. So they need architecture in a way, something to reverberate, like you go against the wall and jump back.
So what does T-Rex “sound” like to you?
To me, T-Rex sounds like a very gentle noise. A gentle, continuous, annoying almost, noise. It's like continuous drops of jelly substance coming down from a leaf, or blood coming down from the mouth. The sounds of swallowing, violent sounds of falling water coming down from the river into the lake, different sounds of water from a very faraway distance… it's very visual actually. (laughter)
And which ingredients did you choose to achieve that?
In T-Rex I tried to use some materials that I considered “enemies and friends”. I have used some very earthy materials like patchouli to create a thick ground, or horizontal surface. Right above the horizontal surface is some sort of a balsamic floral layer made out of very different materials like ylang ylang or champaca. It is lighter, aerial, but not light enough to go up in the sky, just light enough to go up and come down in droplets to create some sounds. When the droplets hit the ground, or muddy lake, certain materials such as smoke bounce back and evaporate, while the patchouli gets absorbed. These matters go up and down, creating a scenario of interest to me.
When I did my research on dinosaurs, I read that at their height of their existence (the Cretaceous period), plants started blooming for the very first time. I insisted that T-Rex should have a big floral accord. Did that throw your original vision of T-Rex off? Do you think we have sacrificed the ferocity of the perfume by adding florals to it?
Not at all. I actually found florals absolutely essential in T-Rex. If you think about it, we actually have no real references to use to design a perfume called T-Rex. In fact, originally I wanted to make T-Rex smell of plastic toys, because that’s the first smell we associate dinosaurs with. We rely on the studies published by scientists, but to be honest, we have no idea what flowers smelled like back then. You have no idea of what those big animals smelled like. Actually, not a single smell you can truly refer to, because that world was all gone a million years ago. So it is important to indulge in the stereotyped idea of what things you imagine would smell like, be it gigantic flowers with super-thick petals covered with dripping nectar; forest fire and exploding lava moving down volcanoes and into cracks, animals killing each other and eating gigantic leaves… but what's the smell of that leaf? What’s the smell of those flowers? What's the smell of Earth?
I think T-Rex needed to have all the traditional Chinese elements – metal, wood, water, fire and earth. Not that the perfume smells like Chinese medicine, but those five elements needed to be there. So there is a pungent aspect of metallic notes of blood. Some kind of flowing muddy substance to represent water, smells of smoke and fire for the volcano exploding, earth as in a moving hearth that the blood drips on. And the air during T-Rex’s time fascinates me – there should also be some aspect of the sky in it, because you always think about big trees, big animals, big earth – but can you image the sky in that period of time? It had to be completely mad! We probably had two moons crossing and clouds blocking the sun and strange rains and stones coming from down! Who knows! I mean I don't know, but probably some scientists think they do. So that's why florals didn't affect it badly at all. Actually they helped. I mean, it was obviously easier for me to picture a perfume that was very earthy and very floral in a way, but the way I use florals in T-Rex is not exactly a pleasing easy way. I believe it's showing the generality of a certain idea of the flowers in a vulgar way.
At some point during the development of T-Rex, I suggested toning down the perfume a little bit to make it less avant-garde, but more wearable. Did that compromise your original vision of what T-Rex should smell like?
I think the first version was a very interesting representation of “T-Rex”. As I have already said, this subject can only refer to itself. So how does it compare to something else? Is your face more real in a photo than in the mirror? Or is it more real when after you’ve shaved, or is it more real when someone caresses your face, or when you bang your face against the wall? I think T-Rex is still T-Rex, and it has been T-Rex all the way along. We are just representing the same thing in a different way. You can tell the same story in an hour, in two minutes or with a haiku. I know it's the same story.
I am very proud that this project is going to be the only animal in your collection that is extinct. We're dealing with an animal that is very difficult to relate to… say, you look at an alligator now. Not big enough. Look at an elephant now. Still not enough. To me, it's a very conceptual animal. It's like playing around an animal, but that animal is really just a concept. It's so distant from what we know from experience. So that was really exciting for me, because if you asked me to make a Zebra perfume and said it was interesting, I will say, whatever! You can’t argue that with a T-Rex!
What is next for you?
This summer, I am going to teach some young kids, 6-8 years old, for a couple of days. We will be playing around smells, telling stories with smells. It will be very liberating and amazing because they have no prejudice against smells. You know they can sniff their own poo and feel happy. We will have a very interesting time exploring different materials, mixing them, etc.
The school is a little place up in the mountains, north of Italy, where they do some classes on very different subjects. They asked me if I wanted to do something interesting with them on perfumes. They do classes for adults generally, but they have one week dedicated to kids. It's actually something really challenging to me, for it's not easy preparing the materials because of safety issues.
Thank you so much for your time, Antonio!
Zoologist Tyrannosaurus Rex will be released in Fall 2018.
April 28, 2018
Hi Tomoo, how have you been? Anything new since our last collaboration?
Yes. I have to say thank you for letting me compose Nightingale for Zoologist. It opened the door for me as a perfumer, and led to my second perfume creation, Tuberai, for a new brand called Beau Kwon based in California. Tuberai is one of three fragrances they released this spring.
That’s great! You are very talented, and you definitely should create more perfumes for the world!
Let’s talk about Moth. Shortly after our first collaboration in 2016, you sent me a few perfume prototypes for consideration. One of the them was called “The Night”, if I remember correctly?
It was my original composition, Kagaribi (The Cressets / Watchfire), which was inspired by an old Japanese poem, the same way Nightingale was.
The poem was written by Onakatomi no Yoshinobu Ason (大中臣能宣):
Like the warder's fires
At the Imperial gateway kept,
Burning through the night,
Through the day in ashes dulled,
Is the love aglow in me.
I see burning fire in darkness in this poem. I tried to express this with labdanum, patchouli, rose and a spice accord.
I liked that prototype instantly. It did smell dark, mysterious and a little powdery. And I think the spice accord you built was very novel. It’s strong and unconventional. You suggested calling it “Black Panther” if it was published under Zoologist. However, I had had a hard time picturing that spice accord being called “Black Panther”. I immediately thought about calling it Moth! What was your reaction?
I thought the name “Moth” didn’t sound very cute!
In the original formula, I used many spices from India, which led me to form an impression of a black panther. However, now I think “Moth” is a better fit than “Black Panther”. If it was released as Black Panther, you might have a hard time acquiring the trademark because of the recent release of the movie of the same title, even though the perfume was created a year and a half ago.
I always wanted to create a “smoky and powdery perfume”, and for a very long time I couldn’t come up with an animal whose characteristics had any association with smoke. But with that prototype, I could picture adding a smoky accord to the base to symbolize a moth flying towards flames and killed by them. It’s a bit tragic, but I think it suited the perfume’s overall mood. In Japanese culture, there is a lot of folklore around moths, correct?
In Japan, we have a proverb: “Like a moth flying into the flame”. That image fits perfectly for this perfume composition, for it reminds me of a person burning him/herself in a fire of everlasting love. By the way, I guess many Japanese would associate Moth with the movie, “Mothra vs. Godzilla”!
I want to talk about the three major accords you built for Moth. Let’s talk about the top notes first.
The opening is quite spicy, but I never feel it that much. I just wanted to create an impression of an image of burning fire with crackling sounds, and I thought I needed to use not only some smoky notes, but also spices. As you might know, it is trendy to incorporate cumin in perfumery, but it is never easy to use it effectively. I tried different materials, including natural cumin oil and the aroma chemicals cuminaldehyde (or cumin nitrile) to achieve the result I wanted. Oh, do you remember the early prototype that was overdosed with cumin? You said it smelled like the Chinese dish Beijing Duck!
For the middle notes, you have built a very interesting flower accord. I believe the powderiness of the perfume comes from this accord. I’d like to associate it to the little scales on the wings of a moth.
I used heliotropin and iris to express the scales on a moth’s wings. And I added a red rose accord (the same accord used in Nightingale) for the “passion” with other florals, too. Moth contains a lot of flowers, more than people would imagine. I needed them to make the composition softer in order to unite the notes.
I thought the smoky base accord was fantastic – it’s woody, sweet, additive, and a little “high pitch”. It almost smells like a thin, very focused funnel of smoke shooting high up to the sky. How did you achieve that effect?
Generally, birch tar and cade oil are used in perfumery to express smokiness. But I chose Guaiac wood oil instead, which itself has a spicy and smoky touch. It was a perfect fit for Moth. I also used the earthy-smelling nagarmotha (it’s widely used in oud compounds) and Indian vetiver (called Khus in India) that was matured in copper pots. Together, all those create a unique smell.
I have received some interesting and opposing feedbacks from people who have smelled Moth. Some think it’s feminine, some think it’s unisex, some think it’s very modern and avant-garde, some think it’s retro. How do you describe Moth? Who do you think will wear it well?
It has a feminine side and a unisex side, and also a masculine part! Maybe classical, or maybe modern! As you know, a fragrance has many different aspects, so people can feel anything and never be wrong, meaning all feedback gives perfect answers. I am a fragrance maniac, so I'll be happy to learn that anyone who is bored with mainstream products chooses to wear Moth!
By the way, I must say thank you to the illustrator. I am so grateful for her artwork. Her illustration turned the Moth into something cool and cute!
Thank you very much!
February 15, 2018
Zoologist Hyrax Deluxe Bottles and Travel Spray will be available in mid-June 2018 through this web shop and Luckyscent.com. Samples are available now.
Could you tell us about yourself? When did you become interested in perfumes and perfumery?
I studied pharmacy at the beginning of the ’90s, and was impressed by the novel Das Parfum. I visited Grasse in 1991 for the first time. So I started studying raw materials, reading books about perfume composing. During the 18 years I worked as a pharmacist in the family-owned pharmacy, I was always addicted to scents.
How long have you been studying perfumery? Are you a self-taught perfumer? Did you have any mentors?
I finished studying pharmacy in 1995 and became a pharmacist by profession, but I also started to become a self-taught perfumer, through passion, at the same time. I made contacts with some people in the industry to learn more about special molecules. Dr. Philip Kraft (Givaudan) and Egon Oelkers (Symrise) were the first professionals who ‘reviewed’ my first perfume compositions more than 10 years ago and encouraged me to go my own way. Later, I met Maurice Roucel with my Pink Patchouli on a blotter. He said I should commercialize it, that it would be a perfect niche scent. That was in 2013.
What is the fragrance market like in Germany? Do Germans wear a lot of perfume, and do they have a perfume culture like France’s? Do you know if there is a fragrance-making community in Germany? Are there any notable local indie or niche perfumers to your knowledge?
I think the perfume market in Germany is a copy of the French market. It’s difficult for niche labels, but there are people who are interested in what we do. There are not many self-taught artisan perfumers with their own brand; in Germany I know only of Tanja Bochnig of April Aromatics.
When did you decide to create your own perfume house? Was there a catalyst to making that decision? Were they any perfume brands or successful indie perfumes that inspired you?
In 2012, we sadly closed our pharmacy. There were many reasons for that, but it’s another story. After that, I was burnt out because of some bad things that had happened. But it was still my big dream to give perfume to the people, so I started my adventure by founding SP Parfums in 2016. I started with my “Essential Collection” – five fresh and five woody scents, and also published my book, Duftspuren, in German.
As far as brands that influenced me… I think I was inspired by Comme des Garcons with my interest in new molecules, but also fascinated by brands like Le Labo because of their style and marketing.
What is your book Duftspuren about?
I wrote Duftspuren as a guide for those people who are interested in perfume composing. I wanted to give them some inspiration for their studies by telling them my story. It’s about my way to learn about perfumery and perfume composing.
Can you tell us about SP Parfums? What is its olfactive style and philosophy? Are your perfumes modern or classic? Do you prefer natural ingredients or prefer mixed media?
Some scents from my childhood memories are the main ingredients of my creations. So, you can find my grandfather’s shaving soap in Lignum Vitae Forte, the smell of old pharmacies in Liquorice Vetiver… and wood, wood, wood. And animalics, vintage-style classic perfumery combined with new molecules in a (hopefully) unusual modern interpretation. That’s me, SP PARFUMS.
I first met you in Milan in 2017 at the perfume show, Esxence. You had a booth there. You were introduced to me by Fragrantica editor Miguel Matos from Portugal who spoke very highly of you. He told me I should collaborate with you. In fact, you two just had had a collaboration and you were showcasing the new scents. But first tell me, how did he know about you? What was the collaboration about?
When I presented my ESSENTIAL COLLECTION in Düsseldorf in April 2016, there was that moment when things happen… I met Miguel Matos, who was impressed by my Civette Intense. He was the first to write about my perfumes at Fragrantica. I asked him if he would be interested in creating a kind of ‘private perfume’ with me and writing about the process. Miguel was very interested in that project, and he wanted me to do a perfume with the vintage scent of suntan lotions of the ’70s/’80s and the glam of the beach life on the Algarve at that time. Three months later, Suntanglam was born, and we did two more scents together, Lisbon Blues and Funfair for “SP Private Perfume with Miguel Matos”, both also related to Portugal, Miguel’s home and home to his childhood memories. Miguel and I became friends and ‘scent twins’ while working together. It was an inspiring and exciting time for both of us.
Do you enjoy designing fragrances for someone else? Why?
It’s always a challenge to create with someone. I love to learn about someone’s scent memory. The process is always a gift of love, life and open-minded inspiration.
Above: At the Art and Olfaction Award Show 2017, Berlin. On the left, Victor Wong of Zoologist Perfumes, Andy Tauer and Sven Pritzkoleit of SP Parfums.
We decided to have a collaboration shortly after Esxence, and I met you again a month later at the Arts and Olfaction Award ceremony night, as both of our perfumes had been nominated. (Yours was Liquorice Vetiver and mine was Zoologist Civet.) By that time, you already had some quick prototypes for me! But first, please tell us more about your nominated perfume.
I was surprised about the A&O nomination of Liquorice Vetiver, because it has that kind of medicine smell. But there is that link to my profession as a pharmacist, and I think Liquorice Vetiver fixes that memory of an old pharmacy with herbal tea boxes.
I remember, of the many perfumes samples of your own line, the one that stands out most to me is Civette Intense. I mean, just the name itself gives me both shivers and excitement. It tells me that you have guts and you are not afraid of bold and animalic scents. Can you tell me more about that scent? Did you use real civet in the scent? Did you ever consider people might not wear it in public, and that you designed it purely for the wearer’s own pleasure? Are your other perfumes also very animalic?
I think Civette Intense is one of my signature scents – and a perfume of desire, too. The civet is absolutely in the focus with Himalaja Narde, which brings that green and vegan-animalic contrast. I love to combine animalics and woods. It’s some kind of natural-born instinct, which gives power to our soul. I think Civette Intense is absolutely wearable as a perfume to attract as well as a mood-modifier scent to give power, energy, freedom.
At SP PARFUMS, I use high-quality synthetic reconstitutions of animalic scents, so no animals were harmed for that.
You have smelled Zoologist Civet. What was your reaction? Did you find the civet note too mild?
I like Zoologist Civet. It’s different from Civette Intense, because civet is not in the focus. It’s another style.
I love to have a potent focus as a theme, which is present for hours, and I love to have contrast, like harsh and smooth or sweet and earthy, like I did with Lignum Vitae Forte.
What was your reaction when I told you I wanted to make a perfume called ‘Hyrax’?
It was a challenge to create Hyrax, absolutely!
Hyraxes are little rodent-like mammals that live in African mountains. Their closest relatives are actually elephants! Hyraceum is the petrified and rock-like excrement composed of both the urine and feces excreted by them. It ages and petrifies over hundreds of years, and now it’s a sought-after material for perfumery. In the perfume industry, people like to call it African Stones. Can you tell me what hyraceum tincture smells like?
The smell of the tincture of Hyraceum / African Stone is like a combination of civet and castoreum, plus that urinous smell.
Civet and castoreum are two popular animalic notes in perfumery, but not so much for hyraceum. Can you tell us more about the ‘hyraceum accord’ you initially built?
First, I tried to make my own accord that smells like hyraceum with different materials so I could get it in contact with other raw materials and see how it works in them. Also, authentic hyraceum tincture is not strong enough to have the power of civet/castoreum to last for hours, so I created my own animalic mix.
But in the end you still added some real hyraceum to it. Why?
I used authentic hyraceum not just because I want to have authenticity, but because there are some side effects – like that urinous aspect, and some special tar-woody notes, which are unique.
Zoologist uses only synthetic musks, but in Hyrax we use hyraceum. Apparently, Hyrax is no longer a ‘vegan’ perfume, but can you reassure the wearer that no animals are harmed with the use of real hyraceum?
With using hyraceum tincture, no animals are harmed. Hyraceum is a kind of olfactoral 'fossil', the excrement of hyrax.
Can you tell me what other notes you’ve picked for Hyrax and why? What’s the olfactive theme or effect you want to achieve with this fragrance?
While ‘playing’ with some hyraceum tincture, I got an association of oud from Laos, which has that animalic smell. The idea of an “oudy perfume” with hidden florals was born, and I tried to find some molecules to construct that. In the end, I decided to do an animalic floral oud with a harsh mineralic, peppery, razzle-dazzle start to represent 'Hyrax is coming, look at me!', then soften it with hidden lilac-hyacinth florals, coming up more and more with tonka, woodsy and musks and a slightly soapy touch in a skinny musk dry-down.
I have to say when people look at the notes pyramid and compare it to the actual scent, many might not be able to tell they are in the perfume… as if the notes have all fused together to create a single scent.
A friend of mine, who is really not a big fan of animalic scents, tested Hyrax and he wore it in public without any fear! And he didn’t wear it as an animalic scent.
I think Hyrax is abstract in the sense of being typical animalic – it’s an ‘oudy’ concept with the effect of a real oud attar with a hyraceum focus, but is much more than extended hyraceum. And I tried not to destroy the hyraceum focus with the additional notes.
Yes, it’s a fusion. The structure of Hyrax is not a pyramid – it’s done with a focus and layerings to move it, but not to destroy the main theme. I hope, it will move people, too.
Now I have to mention the cost of the perfume compound based on your perfume formula! When the compounding house gave me the quote, I was shocked! It was so high that I had to ask you to replace some materials with less expensive but similar-smelling ones. In the end, you successfully persuaded me to use the original formula.
Hyrax contains high-quality animalic reconstitutions and natural raw materials like tonka bean and Turkish rose oil, which are expensive. I always use the materials a perfume needs so it will be as unique in smell, volume and quality as I want it to be. You were a bit concerned about the costs and determined to change it. I was really sad to lose that spirit we created. Any changes in the formula would destroy that unique oudy fusion spirit. But in the end, you used the original formula. I was happy, and you felt the same.
Compared to other Zoologist scents, I must say the opening of Hyrax will be very confusing to most perfume wearers, including perfume connoisseurs. Some might be repulsed! What would you say to them? Who’s the target audience, in your opinion?
The opening of Hyrax is a peppery, "razzle dazzle" animalic, a hyrax declaring, 'Here I am, it’s me!' scent. I love that shock! I love perfumes that open with a shock, because I am excited to find out what comes next. In the case of Hyrax, it changes to a smoother floral oudy type on the skin! Take your time. You won't believe it’s the same perfume after the first two minutes.
I don't think there is a special target client. I think every meeting with a perfume is a play of trial and error. It’s the same with people. The same in real life.
What’s next for you?
I just finished a new perfume with Miguel. It has the working title Nowhere Fast, for an exhibition in Lisbon. And now I am working on two new floral perfumes, hopefully to be launched late summer.
Thank you very much!
October 30, 2017
I met Christian in May, 2016 at the Los Angeles Hammer Museum, where the Art and Olfaction Awards hosted their awards night. Christian is a perfumer, but also an “ambassador” for his family-owned company, Carbonnel, in Spain. While we were both competing for the award in the Independent category, Christian approached me (and other perfume houses) to talk about his company and the perfumery services it provides. In the end, it was a double win for Zoologist – Bat won the award, and also a collaboration opportunity with Carbonnel.
Christian works fast and professionally. It took us about three months to complete the Camel perfume project, but I didn’t launch it right away. I asked him if he was interested in redesigning Panda (the original scent artistically pleased a rather small group of people), and he obliged. The project was also completed brilliantly, in a short time.
We met each other again in March 2017 at the annual perfume trade show, Esxence, in Italy. He was there to showcase a few perfumes he’d designed for another brand. I caught up with him briefly for this interview.
Above: Victor Wong and Christian Carbonnel, at the 2016 Art and Olfaction Awards Post-ceremony Party
Your grandfather, Maurice Carbonnel, founded Carbonnel 1925. Can you tell us more about the company?
Yes. Carbonnel is a family business, as you say. My grandfather was a French perfumer who moved to Spain to produce essential oils. In the beginning, we were based in Alicante, but were only there for a few years, from 1921 to 1925. Now our company is located in Barcelona, and the business is in its third generation with me. The fourth is coming.
How big is your company now, and how many perfumers does it employ?
We have 50 people working in the company, and 17 of those are perfumers. We don't need more because we now put our investment focus on equipment, robots and technology. Now our size is more a question of space. As a family business, we want it in one place for quality control; we don't want branches all over the world.
It strikes me that your company is now very modernized. Everything is computerized from start to finish. Was the modernization a gradual process, or did your family decide one day to make a big investment to make it the business more competitive?
We have been adding high-tech equipment for the last 10 years. In fact, yesterday we just purchased a new robot for production. We like to reinvest our income in technology.
What kind of robot is it?
It's a new Roxane, and it's going to be my toy. It can blend 100 ingredients very accurately and efficiently. That is going to help me speed up my projects.
Above: Roxane Filling Robots
What about the material sourcing aspect of the company? There are many essential oil companies in France, how do you make Carbonnel more competitive?
There are many essential oils that come from Spain, but the French say they come from France, because we are supplying them, if you know what I mean. We produce typical Spanish essential oils, and we supply to the world. There are a few ingredients that must be grown in Spain – for example, labdanum, and different grades of lavender and citrus that are endemic to our land. Each essential oil company has its own quality and unique products. We invest in lands in the Far East. We have our oud oils, for example.
In the perfume industry, 5 or 6 aroma chemical giants design and supply most of the designer fragrances to the world. My perception is that they are not interested in dealing with small indie houses, and even if they do, their minimum perfume compound order quantity is set prohibitively high. In my opinion, Carbonnel is a mid-size company that has accounts with some notable designer perfume brands, but also designs and compounds perfumes for smaller indie/niche perfume companies like Zoologist.
One of the main concerns of an indie brand is the problem of growth. You will face challenges if you want to produce your perfumes in larger quantities. But keeping the quality… that’s why you want to find a company like Carbonnel to help and support you. Unlike other bigger aromachemcial suppliers which close the door on you because they see you a small indie house, Carbonnel likes to give them a chance and see what happens. We try to push them and give them the same opportunities, for sure. We treat each customer the same. A small customer can be big one day, so you need to give them the same chance as everybody else. Naturally, it's nice to work with the big ones, but we also love to help or to be part of the small ones that one day could become big. So there is no separation between big or small. We try to give our best to both and help them to grow.
I first met you in 2016 at the Art and Olfaction Awards show, and we were both competing for the same award in the independent category. But before the show we were actually talking about a collaboration! So tell me: what’s your role in Carbonnel, besides being a perfumer?
Besides designing perfumes, I'm doing everything – public relations, I'm the marketing guy, I'm the son of the owner. It's a family business, so I do everything. I even answer the mail. I'm a normal guy.
I find it interesting that when we were developing the perfume, you often had to pause to travel.
Above: Christian and his father
I love to meet people. One thing I learned from my dad is that Carbonnel needs to be in contact with the brands. Visiting customers is a great way to nurture a business relationship; it’s like growing their business together with the people behind them. It's not like Carbonnel is just a brand, and that's all. We like to put the face to the products. So, yes, I like to design perfumes, but I am also the brand ambassador. A customer is more like a partner to us; we are in the same part of the business.
In fact, I design perfumes even when I'm traveling. My staff always ask for my schedule and itinerary, and they send me work-in-progress samples. In fact, with Camel, I was in Thailand. The samples were waiting for me in my hotel. I evaluated those samples, and I refined and formulated them from a distance with my software, and sent the formula back to them. They would then prepare new samples based on the new formulae, and determine where to send them based on how long I would be staying in that location. So that’s how I create perfumes while traveling.
How many perfumes do you usually design every year? Do you get a lot of freedom when it comes to design? Can you tell me some of the perfumes you’ve designed that you’re most proud of so far?
I never count…
Or maybe more. But I don't like to create too many for niche brands, because I don't want to become a mainstream perfumer. If I do, my perfumes will start to smell the same. So from time to time you need to stop for inspiration to come back.
Some brands will come to you with a direction you need to follow. Sometimes I am required to rework a classic, and I will give them some ideas and start playing modeller with them. I will build some of accords and do different combinations; it’s like a puzzle. There are some other projects I can do whatever I want. But typically I get a lot of freedom when it comes to perfume design. I can work with an open formula from customers, I can work with a briefing. With Camel, you had given me a lot of freedom. I presented what I liked, and you picked what you liked. After that, we did a lot of polishing. I'm very flexible, and I think I love all the different ways to design a perfume. In the end, each perfume is like a baby to me.
Are some perfumes you designed more memorable to you?
For sure, some of them are more memorable. I'm not going to mention their names, but I can tell you that they were made initially for my wife and my daughter - in fact, one became worldwide bestseller for that brand. Recently, a brand released my very first fragrance, which I created a long time ago. One day he came to the office and smelled a sample of it, and he loved it so much he decided to launch it for his brand. This year, here at Esxence, he's presenting it. That perfume is like one of my first kids, so I'm proud.
When I go to Fragrantica.com and search for perfumes designed by you, I don’t see many. You mentioned before that you actually use a different name. Why is that? Did your client ask you not to use your own name?
I'm using both at the same time; it depends on the brands. Christian Carbonnel and Chris Maurice are both my real names; Christian Maurice Carbonnel is my full French name. There are some brands who want to use Chris Maurice because they think “a perfume designed by Christian Carbonnel from Carbonnel” is a bit too much. I suggested removing one Carbonnel – but Chris can be anyone, so I included Maurice.
Let’s talk about Camel! What came to your mind when you knew the perfume would be named “Camel”?
I really liked it, because camels are often associated with the Middle East, and I like oriental perfumes. And the way you wanted Camel to smell was really very suitable to, let’s say, my character. It is quite opposite to the technique in most “French Oriental” perfumes, because often it means vanilla. For me, Oriental is Arabic, and Camel is very, very Arabic.
I remember you mentioned that your bigger clients are from the Middle East.
In the ’80s, when we decided to grow, we meant to export Carbonnel products into the Middle East. The people there are religious, and they burn a lot of fragrant materials in their rituals. They love their attars, and we proposed fine fragrance as an alternative. They loved the idea.
As we were doing this interview, Christian’s lab assistants, Blanca and Laurita, walked by to say hello.
Above: Christian and his perfumery assistants, at Esxence 2017
I have been working with my lab assistants for many years, and they provide me with valuable ideas. They prepare my samples based on my written formula, but also give me ideas and feedback. So many of my perfumes are products of a melting pot of ideas. Some perfumers you cannot work with, because they don't want to listen. With me it is very simple. I like to listen to them.
So they suggested which ingredients to use?
No, it's not just a question of ingredients. It's more about the proportions of the ingredients. Boys and girls smell differently, so it's nice to have a different point of view. It’s kind of like a duel.
Do you have a favourite perfume genre?
For me, it must be very woody, with incense. I don't like too much “freshness”. You know, there are some ingredients I really don't like… commercial things. I like heavy notes, because I've been training with my dad. My dad has been doing Oriental fragrances for the Middle East with heavy notes, and those are what I have been smelling since I was a kid.
So you would not wear a cologne or a “freshie”?
Never. I remember when I was small, my mom put a lot of cologne on me, and now on my son. I would say no, no, no, no! I understand it’s a school environment, and you want to put on a normal cologne that is standard to everyone. But I would make my son a heavier cologne that is going to be another style.
How do you usually tackle or start a project? Do you build different accords?
You know, everything has already been invented. I don’t need to build everything from scratch. I don't need to start with a base – I can go directly into the middle accord. Depends on my mood. Some days I arrive at the lab and I put four or five ingredients together, and I have my base. Then I will say, okay, now I have this musky base I want to work with, I will put in this, this, this and this. I list the items. I make a rapid formula. It’s like building the frame of a house. I cannot say all the perfumes I'm making follow the same rule. Some projects I start from scratch, from a to z. Sometimes I just play with accords based on the client’s requests – they often tell me a particular aspect of what they like or don’t like from some existing perfumes, and I will try to understand what is in common. Then I will make a base, and start building the rest.
Above: Frankincense Tree Resin "Tears"
In the ingredient list for Camel you’ve given me – there’s frankincense and incense – how are they different?
They come from two different origins. I'm using frankincense from Oman. We deal with a person in Oman that makes only three kilograms of frankincense a year. He cuts the tears from the trees and distills them for us. Very, very niche. We cannot use this ingredient for mass-marketed products, only in niche perfumes. And I'm using incense from India, so we have two grades of incense in Camel, from two different origins, two different qualities and smell. You could put them in the same family and simply call them “incense”, but I want to stress the difference.
Also, the dates we put in Camel are not “normal” dates…
Oh wait – they are real dates?
Yes, date tinctures, from real dates! They come from a farm and are grown by one of my providers. He's not selling these dates to the market, just for family consumption. I can tell you they are from the plantation area of Al Ain, United Arab Emirates.
Above: Dates Plantation in the Middle East
Camel also contains a little bit of oud, but it is never really strong or “fecal” smelling.
We source our ouds from all the Far East oud-growing countries, and each oud has its own greatness and qualities. We also have our own farm in Laos. It is our site, and we have our standard method of production to ensure the quality remains the same.
Laos oud is very interesting – it is very sweet and long-lasting, and it has a “joker” quality. Normally you bring one or two different ouds and add some Laos oud to it to make the blend more “rounded”.Finally, what are your thoughts about indie perfumes vs perfumes designed by companies like Carbonnel?
Indie perfumes are very interesting, because they are often very creative. You do what you like, and it’s pushing the art of perfumery. Sometimes big perfume companies look from afar and steal the great ideas from the indies.
Zoologist Camel will be released on December 8th, 2017