Interviews Confessions of a Fragrance Maker: A Very Honest Interview With Zoologist's Owner Victor Wong

Confessions of a Fragrance Maker: A Very Honest Interview With Zoologist's Owner Victor Wong

07/04/16 04:59:32 (20 comments)

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.

MM: Zoologist is a work-in-progress brand. I know that Panda was the most problematic one in the beginning, right?

VW: The thing was when I had my first three perfumes I liked Panda the most. From day one I knew that Rhinoceros was complete, but the nose Paul Kiler still wanted to add the rum note. But it is too masculine and I don't wear very masculine perfumes. And when I had Panda I actually liked it, but the response was very surprising to me. There are actually a few people that really like Panda and I am one of those few. But again, after talking to some people I realized it has some problems.

MM: Sometimes you have this perfect work of art that is just not commercial. It can be perfect but it doesn't sell. The same way that a perfume that is not perfect and seems unfinished can sell a lot. Just think of Dior Sauvage, for example. It's crap and it sells!

VW: Haha! I was going to say that!

MM: I know that after speaking with some experts you decided that Panda had to be tweaked.

VW: Beaver was the first one to get reformulated. I asked Paul to reformulate Panda too but it's not heading into the direction I wanted. And meanwhile, I received orders from other countries outside the USA. It seems that Panda is actually a hit abroad. The reason is because it's very concentrated. I wanted it to be a very strong perfume. I decided to go with 20% concentrate and it was too strong. But it turned out to be an advantage to certain countries that are super hot like India and Dubai. People like this perfume because one spray lasts the whole day.

MM: So you've found a public for Panda. It's just not the public you were expecting at first. It took a while for the perfume to find its buyers. That's very interesting.

VW: Yes, it's true. I think fresh fragrances have their special market. In the niche market, fresh is not usually cherished.

MM: Tell me about the reformulation of Beaver. I actually prefer the original version, but this one is also very good.

VW: I reformulated it because it didn't sell. That is the reason, to be honest. Initially I ordered two kilograms of concentrate from each perfumer. Bat and Hummingbird just drained like a bucket with holes, it went so fast. They are the bestsellers.

MM: But Bat is a very difficult perfume. I admire it and I think it's a great work of art but it's hard to pull off. It's radically unusual but maybe that's also its appeal.

VW: I think it's the quality. The composition is very well done. That's why it appeals to you. People that like strange perfumes, they are selective also. They will not accept everything that is strange. But if it is strange and good they will definitely buy it. So I think I have secured a corner for people who like strange perfumes.

Ellen Covey

MM: Well, you asked Ellen Covey to do it. You wouldn't expect a different thing from her.

VW: Actually she approached me, which is like a blessing from the sky. And I didn't realize it was in the beginning. She literally put me on the map so I'm very very grateful that she created this perfume. It was so diplomatic and peaceful to work with her. She listened, she would tell me what would work and what would not work. She was actually happy with some of the suggestions that I gave her. The theme that we decided to go for was very strong. Once we've decided that the theme of this perfume would be the cave, then everything became kind of easy.

MM: But now we have to go back to the conversation about the reformulation of Beaver...

VW: When I was at a perfume shop that carries my brand it happened that a few people walked into the shop and they started sniffing the caps. Beaver had a very fresh, outdoorsy top note but when you smell it that way it becomes really dark, musky, ashy and smoky. When the custumers went into the shop and smelled the caps what they got was the base notes. When I saw people's reactions I saw that it was not going to sell. Even if I find Beaver a challenging fragrance, I do like it and I wanted it to sell. I've talked to many different perfumers who I have given samples to. I asked for their honest opinion and they all thought it was not a bad scent at all, just not so commercial. And I feel like it's a pity that it just gets into the sample pack and never gets purchased in a full bottle. I talked to Chris Bartlett about reformulating and he admitted himself that Beaver was very avant garde. You have to understand: it's a big investment for me when I launch my perfumes. I use my life savings. And the perfume came out as not user-friendly for a lot of people. So now because of Bat and Hummingbird I have better success and I don't want Beaver to have a flanker, I just want it to be consumer-friendly. I told Chris what people on Fragrantica were saying about Beaver and why they like it. I talked to some people who like it and also to people who didn't like it. So, first of all, the cap-sniffers: people should like it when they sniff the cap. There were also some very harsh notes in it so I asked him to remove the ash and smoky, burning notes that were in it.

MM: But there is also an animalic accord in the original Beaver that was somehow lost in the new formulation.

VW: I think that it's still very musky but we've cleaned up the musk so it's much more wearable. For people that never smelled the first Beaver, I think thay will not think this is an easy musky perfume. It still packs a punch. I think that the top note is the best improvement and I find it very addictive.

MM: I saw on your Facebook page that you are already creating a new perfume and you are a bit worried that it may be a challenging one again. What can you tell us?

VW: I am actually working with several perfumers for a new series. One of them is Sarah McCartney from 4160 Tuesdays. But another perfumer I would like to refer is Christian Carbonnel. During the Art & Olfaction Award I met him and his scent also got nominated. Before that he had emailed me proposing a collaboration and so we talked and agreed to do that. After the show, on the next day, we went to Scent Bar and he showed me some of his creations that the shop carried. I loved one that was very animalic and I asked him to do something for me in that style. The name of the animal is still a secret. It's part spices, myrrh and frankincense with an animalic base. Another upcoming fragrance in the Zoologist line is Civet, designed by Shelley Waddington. There is also going to be an iris/heliotrope with scents from the pond and a petrichor accord, designed by Juan Perez from The Exotic Island Perfumer. I have another person designing a saldalwood perfume and there is a Japanese perfumer making a plummy chypre scent.

MM: Bat won a prestigious prize at the Art & Olfaction awards. What was your reaction when you heard the name?

VW: The biggest reaction came from knowing it was nominated, actually. I was super pumped but also very nervous. To be honest, I thought I would win because I follow Luca Turin and I think he also follows the Art & Olfaction Awards. Last year he wasn't a judge but he wrote about some of the perfumes that were nominated. And those perfumes he had written about ended up winning. This year, between the Art & Olfaction Award nomination and the actual ceremony it was about two months. And he wrote about Bat during that time. I had a strange feeling that I was going to win. And also I knew that Bat had all the features that the judges find important for a winner fragrance.

MM: What was the reaction from the industry and the public after you got the award?

VW: It opened the doors for me. I got more orders of the scent, for sure. But I think the biggest win for me is my peace of mind. Because when you have a niche brand and your scents are very unconventional, and you receive a lot of negative comments, mixed with some positive ones, the negative ones can be very nasty. It hurts me and sometimes I couldn't sleep. And when it won I felt like I had validation and peace of mind that I needed for a long, long time.

Miguel Matos is a Portuguese journalist obsessed with perfume. Miguel likes to see himself as a fragrance curator, investigating perfume as contemporary art. He directs his own cultural magazine, Umbigo, and writes texts for museums and galleries. He is a vintage perfume collector and organizes regular talks called Vintage Perfume Sniffing. He also writes on beauty and grooming for Beautyalmanac.comHe is a Fragrantica writer, translator and editor of Fragrantica.com.br

JLB



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BeOrtega
BeOrtega

"Just think of Dior Sauvage, for example. It's crap and it sells!"


haha love it just as much as mush as i love Zoologist :)

it makes me proud that Torontos very own Victor Wong has gotten so much recognition by the community for his lovely works or art

i have been into your line since day one and have been yelling it from the roof tops to anyone of my friends or coworkers who will listen and ill continue to do so

thank you Victor Wong for the passion and time you put into each master peace

Toronto fragrance lovers take notice and support our home grown talent!!

Dec
15
2016
relder175
relder175

I always liked Victor. He probably doesn't realize this but I did.

Jul
23
2016
Mando
Mando

Aren't there other perfumers that are used for this perfume line? I noticed other noses such as Paul Kiler, Shelley Waddington used for some of the fragrances of this line and I know they have their own personal brands. Curious... So is Zoologist sort of like a "Fredric Malle" indie sort of brand then? Enlighten me.

Jul
16
2016
MeanSuga
MeanSuga

Loved this comprehensive and honest interview, into the open mind, feelings, and nose of Victor.
Thank you, Miguel.

Jul
10
2016
Angela Agiannidou
Angela Agiannidou

Hmmm, I ve got a sample of Dior Sauvage,( my engine insisted on typing 'Dior Sausage'....!!!!!!), I think I ll have a go.

Jul
09
2016
smellysmellerson
smellysmellerson

@spcmiller - Me too, and I'm sure Dior is laughing about Sauvage as well, but for different reasons.

Jul
09
2016
spcmiller
spcmiller

I started laughing when they both made a not-so-subtle dig at Dior Sauvage. :-O

Jul
09
2016
Jomoves
Jomoves

An interesting interview made even more so by the fact that he 1) Acknowledges that a fragrance has been reformulated 2) Business decisions are made based on what is and isn't selling.

You rarely hear anyone mention either of these things even though they are rife in the fragrance industry today.

Jul
09
2016
gypsy parfumista
gypsy parfumista

I only just recently received a lovely sample package from the kind and generous Victor. Each and every aromatic creature (old and young alike) from Zoologist is unique creative and amazing. Thank you for the candid look into not just a Creative Director; but someone who, though he may be famous, is all to human...just like us!

The teasers of scents to come and the perfumers involved already have my brain spinning, my nostrils twitching and my "third nostril" osmagining fragrances as diverse and robust as the species that inspired them. Remember too Victor THIS IS YOUR DREAM don't let too many people change it too too much!

smell swell & be well

Jul
09
2016
Jyrhara
Jyrhara

I like the idea behind this brand, and the look of the bottles (especially the pictures!!), but I still have to try the perfumes (they are all in my to try list). Seeing there's a person behind the perfumes and not just a heartless company makes me want to smell them even more!
Update: I've just ordered the sample pack and can't wait for it to arrive!

Jul
07
2016
Stanleydragonjr
Stanleydragonjr

Thank you so much for this interview,my friends and I have a small club,but we have friends all over the world,and love to share,I posted a small video on my IG and my YT(not the best quality) but honest and to the point. I love most of these creations, i have mentioned to Mr.Wong that Panda needs to be a candle,i like it,and I like Beaver.I do understand that these are like children,to a creator and in this business many get lost in the multitudes of choices.So I understand the reformulated of Beaver and possibly Panda.
I see many wonderful things for this line,i love coming up with names of future creations (in my head)they are unique and the wear is amazing.
I do have to say the customer service is incredible and one of the best I have experienced in a Niche brand company.
I see these bottles as a constant in my collection, aside from being beautiful ,i love how I now store my boxes safely as books in my bookcase, (safe from heat and light)thanks to the wonderful packaging.
Excellent Line,and I saved the best for last.
HUMMINGBIRD, IF YOU HAVEN'T TRIED IT,YOU MUST,wow,love it so much,and I am already down to the bottom of my bottle,all my friends love it too,and they just help themselves to a spray everytime they think I am not looking.........they need to buy their own Bottle.
Love to hear the inspiration and creative process behind fragrances, tweaks too,thank you so much.
Thank you Mr.Matos

Jul
06
2016
mikemuscles21
mikemuscles21

I just love this guy and to be blunt, I just love this whole line. I only have a bottle and a sample kit so far. But! I plan on expanding in the future.
This interview is so endearing. It just makes me more interested in his creations. Great article. And for the record I do like the original Beaver and have worn it. I also love the creativity of the artwork and shape of the bottle.
Oh God I hope he doesn't sell his company to a big conglomerate. Lol

Jul
05
2016
Nomen
Nomen

What a nice, frank interview here! Yes, critics can be quite harsh, and consumers never really understand how difficult it may be to balans between originality and commercial sustainability. We never really even think about it, but there is someone who has sleepless nights worrying over it.
This is an eye-opening and very much refreshing aspect revealed, so thank you both for exposing it.
I have never gotten a chance to test any from the house and probably won't any time soon, though the very concept sounds quite attractive! However, congratulations to Zoologist for the public award and personal peace of mind! ;)

Jul
04
2016
Zoologist
Zoologist

Thank you Miguel for giving me the chance to tell my story in Fragrantica, I really appreciate the opportunity.

And thank you everyone for the encouragements!

Jul
04
2016
smellysmellerson
smellysmellerson

I'm worried about the reformulation of Panda. I love the original so much.

Jul
04
2016
jacobbonilla
jacobbonilla

Enjoyed reading this interview!

Jul
04
2016
Angela Agiannidou
Angela Agiannidou

Miguel thank you, this is a superb article and hugely interesting. I appreciate Victor Wong's honesty and effort to create something unique and individual and it takes hard work, commitment and risks to achieve it. Iam very intrigued by 'Bat' and would love to test it, though his Rhinoceros and Beaver are more up my street. All VW creations share a bold and very creative character. What particularly caught my attention was the one with 'spices, myrrh and Frankincense on an animalic BASIS's, his up and coming 'Civet' and the ' plummy chypre' as I adore plum!!! Bring them on. I believe there is plenty of room in modern perfumery for Victor Wong's ideas and creations and hope to hear more from him in the future!

Jul
04
2016
Labaloo
Labaloo

Nice interview. I'm a fan of the original Beaver, but I can definitely understand that it is quite challenging.

Jul
04
2016
NebraskaLovesScent
NebraskaLovesScent

Thank you, Victor, for being so candid about your experiences in launching a niche perfume brand. I admit, Bat and Hummingbird are my two faves from this house and the original formula of Beaver was a bit too much for me. I look forward to trying the updated Beaver and wish you the best of luck!

(Great interview, Miguel! Thank you!)

Jul
04
2016
Gigis
Gigis

Great interview! I really respect Victor's honesty and wish him success! I'll have to get my nose on this line.

Jul
04
2016

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