Victor Wong is the Toronto-based founder and creative director of the marvelous award-winning Zoologist Perfumes. We've long admired Victor's vision and appreciate him taking time out of his busy day to tell us about the fantastic 2023 fragrance, Cardinal.
Q. It's interesting to hear how you choose each animal. Was Cardinal your choice or perfumer Rosendo Mateu's proposal and, in either case, what in particular made you want to prioritize this particular bird?
A. Mr. Mateu was referred to me by Christian Carbonnel (perfumer of Zoologist Camel and Panda). Back a few years ago, Christian offered Mr. Mateu a studio space at his family’s perfume company to create his own line of niche fragrances. Christian also knew that I had always enjoyed collaborating with different perfumers, he liaised between Mr. Mateu and me.
I sent Mr. Mateu my brief for “Otter”, but I guess the concept was utterly too odd for a “traditional” perfumer with over 50 years of experience, the perfume mods he sent me never quite captured what I had wanted the perfume to be.
However, there’s one special mod that I really liked, and it smelled “red and green” to me. The animal that immediately came to my mind was the red cardinal, a bird that doesn’t migrate away for winter but stays in woods and forests. So instead of pursuing the original brief, I decided to publish that scent and called it Cardinal.
Q. Each Zoologist perfume celebrates an animal in a different way, from an olfactory standpoint. How do the notes in Cardinal pay tribute to the bird?
A. Cardinals often build nests in thick vines such as honeysuckle, rose bushes, or young conifer trees. Cardinal the perfume has a “green leaves” note, and hints of rose and leather. To me the combination smells like a green forest and berries dotting snowy branches.
When I was young, a lot of Christmas cards had illustrations of a group well-dressed folks singing carols, and often somewhere there’s a cardinal sitting on a branch singing. Cardinal smells like the scene in the illustration - a dapper green scent, slightly retro, festive, warm and inviting.
Q. How do you balance traditional ideas about "wearability" with "originality" (and an animal's attributes!) in the Zoologist collection? There are a few polarizing fragrances in the line, which we find to be exciting. Do you have a balance in mind between launching something totally original and potentially shocking vs. scents that are comparatively easy to wear and sell?
A. This is a hard question! Wearability is important, but not a high priority for me. Interestingly, I think that wearability is an attribute that ties to a perfumer’s style, meaning that some perfumers like
to design highly wearable perfumes (or you could say they can’t make shocking perfumes), and some go for uniqueness and audacity.
Also, I believe that the more experienced or skilled a perfumer becomes, the more wearable his/her designs will be. So if I want a very unique, mold-breaking perfume, I would choose an indie or a perfumer with a rebellious heart. Tyrannosaurus Rex by Antonio Gardoni is a good example. For my upcoming perfume Harvest Mouse, I gave the brief to Luca Maffei, because his works are always beautiful, smooth and gentle to me.
Q. With Zoologist continuing on an impressive path of growth and productivity, what's currently your favorite thing(s) about the experience of running an independent perfume brand?
A. There are just endless new challenges to face as my business grows, and the experience I gain from solving them always gives me new insight about the perfume industry, and why perfume brands do certain things and why customers react a certain way. I am still very appreciative that I can choose uncommon animals for my perfumes and determine what they smell like.
Q. And if you have downtime, what do you do to relax from the pace of production?
A. I vacuum my workshop and enjoy the temporary tidiness and peace.
Q. Any words of wisdom or inspiration for people out there who are just starting to explore indie and niche perfume?
A. Don’t dismiss a perfume immediately, your taste changes and palette grows as you explore the sea of fragrances.