I recently interviewed a wonderful fellow by the name of Victor Wong about an upcoming niche/indie fragrance line called Zoologist that’s very popular in the fragrance community right now.
I wanted to know just how he pulled of such a successful line. In this interview he shared some of his secrets with me.
Aldous: So Victor, what do you do for a living? Is Zoologist your main job, a fulfilled dream, or is it something fun that you do as a passionate hobby?
Victor: Currently I am working full time for a toy company as a video game artist. Zoologist is my mid-life crisis remedial project, to be honest. Ha ha. (I still love video game graphics art though!) Zoologist is my biggest personal and business project I have ever worked on; it is a lot of fun, full of excitement, stress, panic, frustration, satisfaction, sleepless nights, collaboration…everything.
Aldous: How long have you been into the perfume world? I read many of your reviews and they are always hilarious and beautiful. What got you started on this path?
Victor: Well, I only got obsessed with perfumes in late 2012. It’s not too long ago, was it? I stayed at a hotel in Quebec Canada and fell in love with the scent of their toiletries. I investigated further and had discovered the huge and hidden world of niche perfumes. Since then I’ve joined various perfume forums and Facebook fragrance groups and interacted with different people on the Internet. I even started writing some amateurish “perfume reviews” too.
Aldous: Victor, I love you reviews. They are always funny and interesting. You probably write better reviews than me. So, anyways, how did you come up with the concept of Zoologist? It’s truly unique.
Victor: I like to collect little knick knacks and there’s an animal figurine collection series from a UK company called Harmony Kingdom. Their sculptors chose uncommon animals such as cuttlefish, vultures, etc as their subjects and I found them very intriguing and creative. One day I thought wouldn’t it be fun to have a collectible perfume series that features animals? Also, I am very fond of musky perfumes, so I think it’s a perfect match.
Aldous: Why Beaver, Rhinoceros and Panda? Are those your favorite animals?
Victor: Actually they are not my favorite animals. My favorites are otters, rabbits and platypuses, but beavers are also very cute. The main concept of Zoologist is that each perfume in the series should emphasize a particular animalic perfumery ingredient, such as castoreum (beaver musks) and leather (rhinoceros have thick hides). Panda needs to be in the series because almost everyone loves pandas; it’s inevitable, so why not make it now. I picked “fresh and green” as the genre for Panda and I think it’s a wonderful fit because of its natural habitat.
Aldous: There’s a small joke going around now about your Beaver scent! All of us guys love beaver’s! Anyways, so do you ever wear your own scents, or do you wear others more? Of all three of your scents which is your favorite?
Victor: Yes, occasionally I wear my own scents, but I don’t need to. I know them by heart. I don’t even need to wear it. However, it is very interesting to smell them on someone else, such as my co workers.
It is very important to wear as many perfumes as possible to broaden my scope especially when you work in this competitive industry. Are you asking me which child do I love most? Sure, it’s Panda – because it relaxes me after a hard day’s of work. But again, depends on the occasion. If it is a cold and melancholic day, Beaver is my choice. If I am all dressed up, I will pick Rhino.
Aldous: Did you create these scents? Perfumery is so hard!
Victor: Haha you’re right. That’s why I commissioned two perfumers, Chris Barlett from UK and Paul Kiler from California to design my scents. After we all nailed down the concept, we spent almost a year in development. Throughout the project there were a lot of work-in-progress scents and revisions mailing from UK and US to Canada. It was truly a memorable and exciting moment to receive the first draft of each new scent.
Aldous: I love the artwork. Did you do do that?
Victor: No, I commissioned my co worker Daisy Chan to do the illustrations. I thought I could draw, but after seeing her illustrations, no, my art looked like doodles. (Laugh)
Aldous: I can’t draw either! Well, your bottles and packaging. How did you bring all of it together so perfectly? For such an indie perfumer you certainly have found your niche. I’m completely impressed.
Victor: The bottles were extremely hard to source. I have a very limited budget, and most bottle manufacturers won’t show any interests if you are not ordering a minimum 10,000 bottles. I don’t think my basement could fit 2,000 bottles, let alone 10,000. But eventually I found one who would make just 1000 bottles for me (hint: get the perfumes before they run out!).
Out of the many styles that they have, I picked one that fit the art direction best. While the perfumers were working on the scent, I spent the summer working on the packaging, and I am very satisfied with the finished products.
Aldous: 1000 bottles? Does that mean supplies are very limited? Will you do a second run?
Victor: It really depends on the sales. If it takes me the rest of my life to sell all 1000 bottles, I don’t think there’s a second run. But if they sell out in a year or two, you bet.
Aldous: I’m looking at your website now. Beaver is getting alot of love in the fragrance community!
“A river pools in the clearing of a peaceful wood. Wild flowers mingle in the undergrowth. This is where the beavers build their kingdom.
Beaver Eau de Parfum opens with a breath of linden-blossom and fresh air, trailed by a redolent infusion of castoreum and iris. A whisper of vanilla interweaves with earth and smoke. Finally, crisp cedar wood and ash emerge, bathed in warm amber.
Using a base of synthetic beaver musk, also known as castoreum, Zoologist takes a modern approach to a classic ingredient, creating an elegant and subtle unisex perfume perfect for those who adore this powerful scent.”
Victor: Beaver is an artsy musky perfume. I cannot find a better way to describe it. It’s either love it or hate it, with very little middle ground. Even I was a little skeptical at first – should I put it out as my debut perfume? It smells very uncommon and what other people like to say, an “acquired taste”. In different perfume forums you will most likely find a few very unfavorable reviews but at the same time there are enthusiastic defenders writing why Beaver is awesome.
There’s one little review on Fragrantica that almost brought tears to my eyes.
Aldous: That’s awesome! I wonder who wrote the review. I’ll have to check.
Aldous: Some of the notes on Panda are very interesting. Notes I’ve never heard of before. Buddha’s hand Citron? Pemou Root? Can you tell me more about these?
“The adorable Panda is a born charmer and a true ambassador of peace. Indigenous to the Sichuan bamboo forests, the Panda’s natural habitat is a majestic mosaic of dewy greens and enchanting aromas.
Panda Eau de Parfum is a fresh green fragrance that combines the delightful scents of bamboo and zisu leaves to send you on an unforgettable aromatic adventure.
Your journey begins at a quaint Sichuan pepper farm surrounded by mountain streams and then leads you through a forest of osmanthus flowers as you finally make your way into a cozy garden filled with juicy mandarin trees and blooming lilies. Panda is a scent ensemble that will truly awaken and rejuvenate your senses.”
Victor: I think Paul Kiler, the perfumer of Panda is a better person to answer this question. I know what Buddha’s Hand Citron’s are; it’s a citrus fruit with mostly rinds but no pulp and it looks like a facehugger from the movie “Alien”. Paul is a very experienced and knowledgeable perfumer and I’ve heard he is also very well respected in the self-taught perfumery community. Have you seen his work room? Each wall is filled with shelves of tiny drawers holding thousands of unusual perfumery ingredients.
Aldous: No! But now I have to look him up. I love always learning about new people and new perfumers. So interesting! My next question:
Rhinoceros is a very interesting leather. I love the dry-down. It took me awhile to get used to, but once I did I was surprised at its depth. What was your inspiration here? Each one of your perfumes is so unique. I have to ask.
“Massive and stubborn, the Rhinoceros takes stock of his territory under the unrelenting sun. His weathered hide protects him from the merciless heat and eroding drum of sand in the wind, as he protects his domain. Rhinoceros Eau de Parfum establishes itself with a dry, slightly boozy rum note, like heat shimmering on the still savannah.
The air crackles with lavender and sage. A warm breeze carries the scent of leather and rich tobacco. In the distance a rugged, dignified behemoth contemplates the vast expanse while amber, vetiver, smoke and sandalwood drift on the horizon.
This substantial and captivating scent blends the traditionally masculine and high quality notes of leather*, vetiver, cedar, bergamot and sandalwood with the more mellow rum, tobacco, lavender and agarwood. The result is a musky, well-balanced, enigmatic and alluring accord.”
Victor: Rhinoceros is an initially very loud, boozy perfume, like a big animal charging towards you. But after the top notes smooth out, it becomes much tamer, but it still has a strong presence of leather and tobacco to pique your interest. Very masculine and herbal, perfect for bikers and bros! Ha Ha. (Actually, it also has a dedicated female fan base.)
Aldous: It truly is formidable, and you are so truthful. You have to wait for the dry down, but once it does, it’s very, very nice. So next question:
Your website states that no animal products are used in your perfumes. Does that mean you don’t test on animals? That really matters to me.
Victor: Yes, no animal products are used in the perfume and no animal testing. I don’t want to kill animals to smell good. However, I will not rule out the use of hyrax crystal (crystallized hyrax urine you can pick up from the ground where hyraxes live) in future perfumes. Of course, right now it’s just a concept, and if we do make Hyrax, marketing it will be challenging.
Aldous: That makes me so happy to hear! I absolutely love animals and it warms my heart that you do not test, nor use any animal products. Not all brands can say that. So what now Victor? What will you do with Zoologist for 2015? Any new scents you’re secretly working on?
Victor: Yes, I am in talks again with Chris and Paul, thinking about which animals to star in the next round of perfumes. One scent I am pretty sure we will make and its name starts with the letter C…
Aldous: “C”, so mysterious! What notes will it feature? What Olfactif category will it be?
Victor: If I tell you that note it’s an instant giveaway. Let’s say it smells notoriously skanky 🙂
Aldous: Skanky? Hmm…all I can think of with a C is Cheetah and those aren’t seemingly skanky…so I have no idea. Lol. Next question my friend:
From concept to completion, what have you learned about starting a perfume line?
Victor: That is a loaded question. Initially I thought once I have the perfumes, bottles and packaging, I am ready to go! It’s only half the story. Marketing and getting your perfumes to your customers are the real challenge. Zoologist is located in Canada, shipping cost is a big concern.
American consumers have been enjoying economical local shipping fees for so long that they almost think it is the norm for everywhere. Canada has a much smaller population and shipping is very expensive. I am trying very hard to lower the shipping cost as much as possible, but still couldn’t reach the American shipping cost “standard” yet. I hope Americans and international perfume lovers would accept my apology.
Aldous: Have you lost money or made money on your perfume endeavor? Is it more of a labor of love? (Is that alright to ask? Probably not, LOL.)
Victor: It’s too early to say; my brand is only three months old. I have used a huge chuck of my saving on this project; if I am single this would be a very risky endeavour. I am not an aggressive businessman, all I want for now is to break even sooner so that I can make more new perfumes.
Aldous: Victor, another question: what is your favorite scent molecule to feature in your perfumes so far?
Victor: Musks, I believe? I know there are many type of musks out there. I am not a perfumer, so I must admit I do not know a lot of scent molecules, like which aldehyde is best for which project or what musk best represents a bear’s butt. But I have strong ideas about what I want my perfumes to smell like; generally speaking, I like my scent to smell rich, uncommon and interesting.
Aldous: One last question. Do you have any life wisdom you’d like to share with my readers?
Victor: When I was younger, I liked to tackle projects all by myself, trying to prove that I could do everything. But as I’ve grown older, it has become clearer to me what my strength and weakness are. Focus on what you are good at, and look for help and advice from greater people.
Aldous: You know what Victor? I really like that wisdom. It’s only through joining together that the human spirit thrives.
And now on to the review of my favorite. Panda.
I know Beaver is getting all of the love, and it’s very unique and beautiful, however, of all three…Panda was my favorite. There’s just something so nice about the watery bamboo that pulls me in. Any scent reminiscent of rain immediately captivates me and thus maybe that’s why I liked Panda so much. I felt like I was in a bamboo forest in the spring during a rain shower.
It’s very clean, very fresh, and for an aquatic/green scent it’s very potent, lasting the length of a full work day. I would rate it quality wise above any designer aquatic on the market. Definitely. But you have to like bamboo if you’re going to wear this. It’s very bright, and pure and clean, with just a touch of underlying musk.
Victor truly has brought quality perfumes to us through his Zoologist endeavor, and I’m very excited for what’s yet to come with “C”…I wonder what it will be. Each scent in the series is unique among all of the niche, indie, and designer scents I know. There is nothing redundant about them. They each have a strong place in the perfume world.
They are also neo-modern in many ways. Possibly ahead of their time. I’m very impressed with how Victor’s created such a successful and well thought out line. Perfumery is incredibly hard, and starting a line from scratch whilst working another job is even more monumental of an endeavor and Zoologist goes to show what the power of the human spirit can accomplish.