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 21, 2016
This interview originally appeared in Parfumo.net on Oct 20th, 2016, conducted by contributor Chanelle.
First of all, what gave you the idea to launch your own Fragrance Brand “Zoologist”?
Back in 2013, I wasn’t very happy with my career. I felt very insecure and frustrated. I guess that’s what people like to call a “mid-life crisis”. Lots of people playing politics and making decisions that led nowhere. I wanted a project I had full creative control over and to launch some interesting products I could be proud of. Coincidentally, I had just discovered the world of niche perfumes (and was very obsessed with it, as you would have guessed) and wondered if I could create my own brand. I had no insider connections, no entrepreneurial experience, no business strategy and no marketing research. Everything was based on gut feeling. I posted in a Basenotes.net forum asking if there were any perfumers who would help me create some perfumes, and two indie perfumers responded. The rest is history.
Did you ever think about becoming a perfumer yourself? If not, why didn't you?
I had thought about it, but later rejected the idea. I knew that one needs to spend a lot of time practicing perfumery to become good at it, and time is a luxury I don’t have much of. I still have my day job, and when I go home I either spend half the evening fulfilling online orders or developing my next scents and promotional artwork.
How would you describe the process of finding the right perfumer to match the fragrance concept (or was it the other way around)? Did the perfumers choose the animal they would develop a scent concept for?
To me, the most important thing to know before any project starts is the style of a perfumer, and their temperament (which I learn about via online chatting). Once I know his/her style, I can determine what kind of animal is best suited to that perfumer. For example, some perfumers like to make very unconventional and unique fragrances, so I would assign to them an animal that’s unexpected or less widely loved. Some perfumers like to create beautiful, classic perfumes, so for that person I will assign animals that people tend to perceive as elegant or beautiful.
Of course, there are some perfumers who approached me directly and proposed a specific animal that he/she wished to make. (e.g. Ellen Covey’s Bat.) In most cases, I won’t refuse (laugh).
Is there any connection between being a game developer and a perfume aficionado?
Maybe not, but working in a large game studio has inspired me a lot in terms of product development - what sells, what doesn’t, should we take some risks by doing unconventional things, etc. Also, it has taught me the important elements of making and marketing a product, like packaging, marketing copy, social media, etc. My coworkers who specialized in each department all offered valuable opinions, or even helped (for example, by creating the illustrations on the labels).
Are you launching your brand in Germany sometime soon? Lots of people think highly of the concept and the quality of the fragrances, but still they are not well-known over here and some people shy away from ordering overseas.
Right now, I can’t see Zoologist being widely distributed in Germany, or much anywhere else. I won’t be able to make much profit selling to a distributor, because my operation is so small. I mix, bottle and package everything by myself at home, and fulfilling an order of 30 bottles could take me a whole day. My material cost is high because the perfumers sell me their compound concentrate at a markup. I can only make a dollar or two per bottle if I choose the distributor route, but what would be the point? Wholesaling directly to small boutiques is the second-best way for me, and the best way is getting customers to buy directly from my website. But shipping in Canada is horrible, since it’s so expensive … so I guess I just have to take things slowly.
What was your inspiration for a zoology-themed range, and do you plan one in a different direction in the foreseeable future?
I have two branches of thought when it comes to product development. One highlights a particular animalic note, such as castoreum (in, say, Zoologist Beaver), and another inspired by animal habitats (such as Zoologist Bat, which smells like a cave). My new scent, Macaque, is a bit different from the others because it’s about the meditative mood that said animal often elicits in people.
July 05, 2016
by Miguel Matos
Zoologist is a brand that has received a lot of attention lately, after winning an Art & Olfaction Award for the Independent Perfume category with Bat. Now, Victor Wong decided to relaunch one of the first fragrances from the line, Beaver, now reformulated. Why did he do it? This question and some more are answered in the conversation we had.
Miguel Matos: First of all, let's speak about the recent re-edition of Beaver. You have just reformulated it and I know that you were thinking of reformulating Panda too. I know that this is a hard question, but after the first series of Zoologist, when you launched the brand, before Hummingbird and Bat, did you arrive at a point where you realized that maybe you've made a mistake?
Victor Wong: When I launched my products I thought that I had something special. I would not say that I had something bad. To me those were the perfumes I got after a year of development and I thought I wasn't getting any big progress. I thought that this was something I could launch, something that I could live with. But it was only after talking to perfumers and insiders that I realized some of the shortcomings of the perfumes. I would not dismiss them as a failure.
May 11, 2016
Lions and tigers and bears, oh my. Doug Wallace chats with the olfactory animal keeper, Victor Wong, of Zoologist Perfumes.
I became obsessed with Zoologist perfumes the second I saw them trapped in a display case in Men Essentials on Danforth Avenue in Toronto. What is this? I thought. AND THEN I SMELLED THEM and became both their master and slave. I fell off my chair when I realized they were Canadian, founded by Toronto’s Victor Wong in 2013, a video game artist who landed in the world of niche fragrance on a whim.
Essentially, the Zoologist brand “captures the idiosyncrasies of the animal kingdom and transform[s] them into scents that are unusual, beautiful, fun and even shocking,” according to the website.
They’re not kidding. I mean, when was the last time someone described their perfume as “cavernous”? Yet that is what the Bat Eau de Parfum smells like: fruit, dirt, decay, leather.
There’s also Panda (bamboo, osmanthus, mandarin), Rhinoceros (rum, leather, tobacco), Hummingbird (fruit nectars, trumpet florals, moss) and Beaver (linden blossom, iris, cedar).
The small disclaimer that “Our perfumes do not contain animal products” is hilarious. So, there is no actual beaver in Beaver? Somehow, I don’t feel ripped off.