IN 2013, VICTOR WONG STARTED ZOOLOGIST, a perfume company driven by endless curiosity about the experience of our animal peers. In the past decade they’ve released over twenty scents designed not necessarily to replicate the smell of their eponymous creature, but to find their essence. Each scent strikes a fascinating balance between what an animal eats, where it lives, and the flora that decorates the air of its habitats.
We tried on several Zoologist scents to see if a group of people largely untrained in the art of sniffing could pick up on the essence of the animals with whom Orion is perpetually enchanted. All are, it should be noted, free from natural animal-derived musks, meaning no animals were harmed in the creation of the scents.
Promised experience: “Captures an autumn forest bursting with ripe nuts.”
First impression: Spicy and warm
Comments received: “You smell nice.”
Elicited thoughts in equal measure of being warm and cozy by the fire with a mug of something hot in winter and warm summer nights that don’t require an extra layer after the sun sets. Would wear again.
Promised experience: It recreates “the distinctive scent though a mixture of synthetic musks and natural oud and florals.”
First impression: subtle, high-note florals
Comments received: “Oh, that’s nice.” (Unclear what was meant by the “oh.”)
Today I wore the Musk Deer perfume, and today I was productive.
Promised experience: “A heavy dose of dark spices jolts your senses before settling into a dusting of honey-sweet rose and powdery florals.”
First impression: heady fragrance of night blooms in the moonlight (heliotrope, jasmine); earthy/smoky base notes, spices for top notes
Did it put us in mind of playing with fire: Yes
Masculine and sexy. I tried it on my husband. Was reminded of an Oscar Wilde quote: “I’m not saying we ought to misbehave, but we should look as though we could.”
Promised experience: “A gargantuan scent that sinks its teeth into the world of delicate fragrances and rips it wide open.”
First impression: Campfire, musk, sweet and spicy
Why T-Rex?: In the spirit of trying to inhabit another’s skin, I identified the T-Rex as the animal I related to the least, and thus the fragrance I had to sniff. Like any savvy explorer approaching a seven-ton obligate carnivore with banana-sized chompers, I did so with caution. I sprayed the scent on a scrap of paper, stowed it in a little-used room, and visited it from time to time between sitting with my feelings. There is a sweet, musky, campfire-smokiness to this fragrance. I picture Sir Rex kicking back in a deep leather chair, puffing on a cigar in a wood-paneled room, flecks of burnt nutmeg, black pepper, and shredded flesh dotting his velvet jacket. Nearby a vase of roses has just started to wilt. It’s not unpleasant by any means, indeed, I came to enjoy visiting the room, but it wasn’t something this lifelong vegetarian wanted to embody. I did attempt to terrorize our kittens with the essence of this legendary predator, but they remained nonplussed.
Promised experience: “The delicate balance between heavy and light results in an austere woody scent with mild hints of creamy sandalwood.”
First impression: Woodsy, citrus
Comments received: “Good.” (From a six-year-old.)
Macaque had me at yuzu, juniper, and myrrh. I know what I like, and eating citrus fruits in fragrant mountain forests is very high on that list. And I’ve been known to collect dried tree resin to burn in my home, so yeah. This balanced, bright, and woody scent has notes of mandarin, oakmoss, and sandalwood, and it absolutely made me want to peacefully cavort around under moonlit pine boughs, a streaming stick of incense in one hand. I don’t normally wear straight perfume, but I put this on several times, enjoying how it lingered in my office overnight. Would I wear it again? Yes. Would I delight in the opportunity to party with some woodsy, fruit-loving macaques? You know it.
Promised experience: “A warm nest of homespun scent” where “stalks of wheat sway among chamomile, davana, and hay, and rich beer extracts are sobered by resins and woody notes.”
First impression: Sweet and opulently floral with enough musk to anchor it.
I selected Harvest Mouse based entirely on the very dapper cap, tweed vest, and bowtie that the mouse pictured on the label was wearing (its vibe matched the plaid beret I had on my head at the moment). I tempered the high expectations I had for it based on judging it by its cover (er, label) and then was bowled over by how lovely the scent was. Sweet without being cloying. Not delicate, cool, ethereal floral, but something substantial and full-bodied with deep, layered basenotes that I delighted in smelling throughout the whole day. Will absolutely wear again.
Promised experience: “A melancholy tale told through tangy brine, crisp incense, and sweet, cloudy ink, all united by the moody aroma of ambergris.”
First impression: A cupcake left in a powder room
Where we wore it: A birthday party for a friend
As an icebreaker at a party, I made people smell me with this scent on. My partner was the first person to notice that the dominant note was sugary icing. I was expecting a sea smell: salt, seaweed, dead fish—something pungent, musky, umami. Instead, I got Magnolia Bakery with a base note of potpourri.
Promised experience: “Carries you with the fruit bat to a sumptuous feast in a lush tropical jungle, before whisking you down to the recesses of its cavernous home.”
First impression: Musky and animalic, like a barn, but good?
Where we wore it: Out to dinner
Comments received: “That’s called Bat?”
I had the first spritz aimed in the wrong direction and got it in my eyes, which left me temporarily blinded—a state probably closer to actual batness than anything the scent itself evoked. Once I cried it out, I was pleasantly surprised with how it smelled. I could pick up hints of hay and wood, and something undeniably animal, but I like animals and so did my dinnermates, so I wore it with impunity.
Promised experience: “Captures the tranquility of this sleepy beast in a soothing green essence.”
First impression: Sweet and jungle-like; hints of soil
Where we wore it: Post office
I was worried that the scent would inspire slowness, which I could not afford on a day of errand-running. But it did not! It was quite pleasant to have on. Every time I got back in the car, I would smell it more strongly and wonder “what’s that?” Then I would remember it was me! 10/10 would wear again. (Note: I didn’t ask any strangers to smell me, so I don’t know what they thought. No one complained.)
Promised experience: “Like the frantic hustle of the bee through a maze of multi-faceted scents.”
First impression: Meadowy, if that’s a word?
It was if I was in a meadow, as a bee would be, and smelling the intensity of different plants as I brushed past them. Strong scents of orange and ginger, but equally of hay and woods.