April 10, 2017
The Hindu, April 8th, 2017
by Surya Praphulla Kumar
In 2012, a burnt-out video game designer at a Toronto-based toy company found his calling in a hotel room, after smelling a musky bottle of Le Labo hand lotion. Wong recalls coming home later to trawl the message boards of popular perfume sites, Basenotes and Fragrantica. “People told me I should learn perfumery and design my own scents, but I knew it would take years of practice to become good at it,” he begins.
So when he decided to launch his own perfume line, Zoologist, he put out an open call. British perfumer, Chris Bartlett, answered it with the idea to capture the essence of a beaver — smelling of wet fur, musk and felled trees. The scent, bottled with a picture of a beaver in Victorian clothing, came out in 2014. And though the perfume blog, CaFleureBon, named it one of the best scents of the year, Wong admits “it was too challenging for many people”. So the duo revisited the formula, adding more “fresh air and river top notes”, and relaunched it successfully late last year.
Today, his menagerie of scents includes Bat, Civet, Panda, Hummingbird, Rhinoceros, Macaque and Nightingale. “Fragrances that are notorious for smelling very animalic get a lot of attention, but I wonder if it’s ‘all talk and no sales’. The challenge for me is whether to bring a strong scent to the market for a small group of people — for the name (and fame) — or something less aggressive for sales,” says Wong, who is working on a scent that will remind the user of walking by a pond.
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Covey, the founder of Olympic Orchid, a US-based brand of handcrafted scents, teamed up with Wong’s Zoologist for Bat, which won the 2016 Art & Olfaction Award (independent). “I didn’t want to make a perfume that literally smells like a bat, but one that represents the cool, earthy, damp limestone cave where they live, the fruit they eat, and the clean, musky smell of their fur,” explains Covey, who trekked through the jungles of Jamaica in search of bat caves.
Though she believes working with animalics isn’t more challenging than any other scent — “it’s all a matter of balance — she believes this niche trend is in the forefront, with the mass market slowly catching up. “The early part of this century was dominated by scents that were ‘clean’ and ‘light’. The resurgence of animalic scents is just the fashion cycle coming back around,” says the perfumer, who is currently working on a scent inspired by a musical composition, which will have animalic notes.