In Print: The New York Times
By RACHEL SYME OCT. 25, 2016
FOR FULL ARTICLE, READ HERE
We’re Animals, After All
The clean, minimalist trend in perfumes is giving way to scents that bring out the beast.
In 2012, Victor Wong, a video game designer for a toy company in Toronto, had a tiny midlife crisis in his hotel room while on vacation. He felt burned out on work but was strangely revived by sniffing the hotel toiletries, which came from a niche fragrance line he can no longer recall.
What he does remember is that he swooned over the scents, which were spicy, musky and intense. He knew then and there that he wanted to make perfume.
Returning home, Mr. Wong began haunting the message boards of the cult perfume sites BaseNotes and Fragrantica, feverishly researching the formulas behind his favorite scents. The same notes kept popping up: castoreum, civet, musk, ambergris. He realized that he was drawn, in an instinctual way, to animal-derived scents — or rather (because most perfumery materials that come from animals are now banned or heavily regulated) to their lab-created chemical equivalents.
When Mr. Wong worked up the courage to put out an open call online for a perfumer to help him create his fragrance, he already had a specific, and beastly, concept in his head. He would call his line Zoologist, and he would release a series of scents named for the wild creatures that inspired them.
It turns out that Mr. Wong’s animal instincts were right along: In 2016, the demand for fauna-inspired scents is cresting.
“Animalic” is a buzzword floating around the industry, now that the minimalist, clean trend has given way (at least in high-fashion niche circles) to more feral fragrance clouds. Maybe it’s the desire of millennials to reclaim their beastly odors in an age of technological detachment, but fragrance buyers are newly excited to smell as if they come from an elegant zoo.
A few of the latest crop, like the Papillon Artisan Perfumes Salome (a heady cumin-forward bestial) and Bruno Fazzolari and Antonio Gardoni’s experimental new scent Cadavre Exquis (which smells a bit like rigor mortis), are aggressively difficult, with the intent to curl and confuse the nose. This can draw consumers who want to confront their darker desires.
Stephen Dirkes, a self-taught perfumer who runs the fanciful Euphorium Brooklyn from his workshop in Greenpoint says that animalic scents are, in a twisted way, about confronting mortality. “There is a death drive in these smells,” he said over coffee, waving a tin of authentic ambergris from the belly of a whale under my nose. It smelled of boiled fat, mollusks and salt, and was impossible to stop sniffing.
“I like to think about how fashion is often elevated as an expression of personal style, like art you can wear, but it’s also an expression of self-loathing,” he said. “Grasse, in France, where great perfumery came from, was also a tannery town. The smell of death and the smell of flowers went hand in hand.”