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.
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
Best of 2019 – Colognoisseur.com
Best of 2019 – ÇaFleureBon.com
Honey is notorious for its refractory nature and narrow band where it finds some joy as part of a fragrance. One of the smart things Sig. Canali (perfumer of Bee) does is to use beeswax as a surrogate for honey. It allows for there to be less of the actual material. It also allows for him to pick up on the animalic worker bee hum underneath the waxy sweetness. By weaving in a selection of florals, resins, musks and sandalwood he once again builds a multi-layered ode to creative perfumery.
Have you ever been walking along the street and suddenly feel so good that you burst into a run? Zoologist Bee is that for me – a burst of positivity that settles on you like a blessing you don’t remember asking for. The perfume doesn’t seem to be particularly complicated, but the trick it performs is by no means simple; effortlessness, or at least the impression of it, always requires an invisible-to-the-naked-nose system of levers and pulleys operating under the surface.
I raise my wrist a third time and inhale. There’s a familiarity in this scent, but for the longest time I am not sure what it is. By the dry-down, which brings counterbalancing woody notes and a specific time and place that now echoes back quietly. Smelling Bee again, I see the route above the fields along the River Cam as it was decades ago. The air hangs quiet and sleepy with late spring flowers, myriad insects hum busily about the grasses on the bankside. Approaching the Old Vicarage, teacups clink and the smell of bitter orange beckons ever so slightly as Earl Grey is poured. This is Zoologist Bee. A barely perceptible tendril of incense seeps from the nearby churchyard. I am in Grantchester again.
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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!
Squid opens on a top accord of incense and salicylates tuned by baie rose. It reminded me of the scent of the seaweed lines at the edge of the Gulf Stream. It is a green-tinted top accord which leads to that combination of “black ink” and “salty” accords. This is when Squid dives deep beneath the waves. It finds a weight to the typical aquatic style that is compelling. I could drift here for days in a salty pool of ink. Squid moves on with the most classic ocean perfume ingredient there is; ambergris. It provides the more typical style of brininess.
We have some very sad news: Zoologist Bat, designed by Ellen Covey, is now discontinued.
If you have always wanted to purchase Bat, or you need to get a backup bottle, we suggest you purchase one from our stockists as soon as possible.
"Bat" is important to us, and we have planned to create a new Bat, but by a different perfumer. We hope to achieve the same greatness of the original Bat with the new one. Thank you for your support and forgiveness.
By Rachel Syme
June 18, 2019
The plant that animates this fragrance, which is inspired by the extinct birds of Mauritius Island, is the fiddlehead fern. “Dodo embodies the green and herbaceous elements of a traditional fougère, but mixed with something strange and unexpected,” said the Zoologist founder Victor Wong.
The scent also has a fatty underbelly of synthetic ambergris (an unctuous mineral material derived, glamorously, from whale vomit), which gives it something of an ancient, wet cement feel. This is a green that is sprouting up from the pavement.
BEESTIG LEKKER Zoologist Perfumes laat zich voor zijn niche- geuren inspireren door het dierenrijk. Als je je daarbij speelse, kinderlij- ke flacons inbeeldt: think again. Alle parfumflesjes hebben hetzelfde tijdloze en luxueuze design en zijn bedrukt met een zwartwitfoto van hun muze. Zo is er bijvoor- beeld Panda, een bloemi- ge geur op basis van bamboe, of Elephant, een exotische ‘groene’ geur met kokos en cacao. De omschrijvingen van de geuren (die je kan lezen op de website) zijn trou- wens stuk voor stuk lite- raire hoogstandjes.
English Translation (by Google)
BEAUTIFUL DELICIOUS Zoologist Perfumes is inspired by the animal kingdom for its niche scents. If you imagine playful, child-like bottles: think again. All perfume bottles have the same timeless and luxurious design and are printed with a black and white photo of their muse. For example, there is Panda, a floral fragrance based on bamboo, or Elephant, an exotic "green" fragrance with coconut and cocoa. The descriptions of the scents (which you can read on the website) are literally all of the best.
Touches of violet and pepper bridge wonderfully into the base of Chameleon but a subtle use of saffron adds a spiciness to this tropical-esque scent. The development of the fragrance sees the perfect combination of vetiver and patchouli washed over by a smooth sandalwood, although the support from the musk cannot be overlooked.
Ylang-ylang gives this perfume its heady floral scent, that is beautifully complemented by the note of mango, which make the opening of Chameleon a little bit sweet and so delightful.
"Chameleon opens with a bouquet of fruity notes representing a tropical style. Threads of aquatic breezes blow through. The ylang-ylang rises to meet the fruits. In the first moments it smells like many ylang-ylang centric fruity florals. Rather quickly it drops into a lower harmonic as that quality I enjoy in ylang-ylang begins to be noticeable. I have enjoyed this because it was the basis of so many vintage perfumes where it would be paired with animalic ingredients for an incredible sensuality."
"Brilliant citrus, juicy mango and tart starfruit coalesce into this bright, fruity accord balanced with the sparkle of pink peppercorns. Lush violet leaves weave a backdrop of jungle foliage thick and verdant. Warm frangipani rises to join buttery ylang-ylang as they are woven together deftly with threads of saffron and vines of young creamy jasmine by perfumer Dan Pescio into what wafts like a true island lei."
"An amazingly well-balanced heart opens with dry spicy geraniums side-by-side with plush roses, both misted in a sour, salty ambergris spray from the coast that blends so perfectly with the rich balsamic tones of fir wafting from the mountain forest high above."
Dodo opens in a tropical jungle redolent of green foliage and exotic fruits of lychee, lime, and raspberry. …transitions into a floral heart accord of rose over ambergris and fir. The fir deepens the foliage effect from the top accord into something more pine-like. This is where Dodo becomes most like an attar. Rose is a classic attar ingredient and the one used here has all the rich quality of an attar rose."
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!
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