Zoologist Perfumes Macaque, 2016

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Perfumer Sarah McCartney.

Victor Wong has used a model of art direction to build the Zoologist Perfumes line. As the brand’s owner and artistic director Wong commissions work from independent perfumers and collaborates with them to shape the perfumes. I’m interested in commissioned work because it allows an artist to step outside of herself to try on a new persona/style. The work can shift expectations and find a new audience.

Wong has used this approach to create a consistent but broad aesthetic for his brand. The line has expanded to include a number of genres, but the potent eau de parfum concentration of the perfumes, excellent presentation and cheeky anthropomorphic animal themes give the line coherence. Sarah McCartney is the author of the 4160 Tuesdays line of perfumes. She approached approached Wong, upending the pattern of the director pursuing nose, and then set herself a particular challenge by choosing a green perfume as her topic. Macaque is the second green woody perfume in the line after Paul Kiler’s Panda. Third if you count Chris Bartlett’s Beaver, which is a musky green floral. (Fourth if you count the reformulated Beaver.)

Cedar and frankincense reinforce galbanum’s balsamic olfactory profile and give Macaque backbone. The core of the perfume holds a coherent shape from start to finish, giving the more volatile aromas a chance to run their course at their own pace. McCartney makes the connection between wood and fruit via sap. Unripe fruit tends to be chalky and starchy, qualities often used to describe galbanum. At the cusp of ripeness, fruit is effectively resinous. McCartney takes advantage of this particular aspect of fruit to generate woody fruit notes. Her approach short-circuits the expected associations of green perfumes with springtime breezes, chirping birds and butterflies.

Macaque is painted in broad strokes and generates deliberate juxtapositions. The ‘sap accord’ defines the perfume and gives it a bittersweet balance. McCartney does some of sleight of hand in the drydown, recreating the balance with a different accord. For most of the perfume it is the mash-up of fruit and galbanum that produces bittersweetness but in the basenotes, fruit is replaced by a sweet muskiness. The slight dissonance of sweetness and bitter inkiness extends through the life of the perfume. It’s a clever use of a soft musk, avoiding the bland ‘soft landing’ white musks give to many contemporary perfumes.

Galbanum is such a particular and forceful scent that many perfumes that use it become penned in by it. It defined the vivid green perfumes of the 1960s-’70s and has unfortunately acquired a retro vibe. McCartney dives headlong into the material and implicitly begs comparison to some heavy hitters of the past, like ChamadeChanel 19, Aliage and Safari. It’s a gutsy move and one that pays off by focussing our attention away from the bright floral stylings of these older perfumes and toward a more dusky, vegetal interpretation. McCartney succeeds in shaking off associations with the past and places Macaque solidly in the present.

(image source, My Lin Le’s Portfolio)

Sample provided by Zoologist Perfumes/Victor Wong.


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  1. Sarah McCartney says:

    One day we should publish the Facebook chat (long) that Victor and I had before setting off on the project. It didn’t start out green…
    I sent a message asking if Victor would let me make him a totally different animal. He was so surprised (lovely man that he is) I think he nearly fell off his chair. Victor has a very clear idea of what he wants but is open and adaptable, and a joy to work with. I think I quite possibly terrified him, but who knows? Maybe one day we’ll do another.

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