Monday, January 2, 2017

Zoologist Perfumes Part One: Bat

One of the things I wanted to do when I started my blog was examine some perfume houses entire line of fragrances, or at least as many as I had access to. Buying tiny samples can quickly become surprisingly expensive and I always appreciate reading differing reviews which can help me decide if a particular fragrance sample might be worth my time and expense. I wanted to be another voice out there giving my opinions for whatever they're worth, but last year I only managed to do one house, Berdoues Cologne Grand Cru I decided to start 2017 reviewing the perfumes from a house that has fascinated me since I first became aware of it, and that has garnered quite a few accolades in other fragrance blogger's best of 2016 round ups, Zoologist Perfumes.

Zoologist Perfumes is the creation of Victor Wong. In 2013 he came up with the concept of founding a line of perfumes based on animals and using a variety of perfumers to create the scents. The brand has become known for its offbeat and unusual creations and received accolades and awards for the early 2016 introduction of Bat, which won this year's Art and Olfaction Award in the independent category. The brand is also recognized for the quirky Victorianesque artwork on the bottle labels. The illustrations are reminiscent of a time when intrepid explorers rode steamers to far off and exotic destinations, tramping through unexplored wilderness to bring back information of the natural world to the masses.

My first sniff of Zoologist Perfumes Bat almost makes me laugh, it is so wildly creative and realistic. For a city girl I have had an unusual number of bat encounters and this perfume brought back vividly one such contact with the nocturnal creatures. In the early 1990's my family lived in Sarawak on the island of Borneo. One three-day weekend my husband and I took off with our three five-year-olds on a tiny plane to visit the nearby Mulu National Park, home to Deer Cave which was then the largest cave in the world. (The discovery in 2009 of Hang Son Doong cave in Vietnam now claims that honor). The day of the cave exploration we hiked in the jungle for some way until we reached a river where we then boarded longboats, gliding down the narrow waterway bounded by impenetrable jungle. Upon alighting we continued our hike along a three kilometer plankway until reaching the huge yawning opening to Deer Cave. In those days there weren't many tourists so no more than ten of us gathered outside the cave awaiting the daily spectacle of the departing bats at dusk. Sure enough around 5:30 the bats began to emerge, first a few in thin spiraling streams, then eventually a multitude numbering over two million that physically blotted out the light of the sky and turned it inky black.

Millions of wrinkle lipped free tailed bats leave Deer Cave in Gunung Mulu National Park at dusk. Getty Images.

We explored their cave habitat which fortunately has raised walkways so one doesn't have to step on the years of accumulated guano. It was a marvelous and mysterious place and applying Bat to my wrist brought back the memory of entering that space; the damp earth and vegetation, limestone walls, dripping water, and strong animal scent. The perfumer responsible for pulling off this recreation is Ellen Covey who has her own line of perfumes, Olympic Orchids Perfume. Dr. Covey's background is fascinating. She grew up as a bit of a nomad, living with her family in Switzerland, Germany, Italy, and France and learning the languages of each. She returned to the States and began to pursue a medical degree but was enjoying her job in a lab so ended up going a more academic route. While pursuing her doctorate at Duke in chemical senses she became exposed to the auditory systems of bats, and she studied bats in their natural habitat. This mixture of scientist/perfumer really works to make Bat an impressionistic rendering of the winged creature in its habitat and following it on its night flight adventures.

Bat's notes are listed as:
Top Notes: Banana, soft fruits, damp earth
Heart Notes: Figs, tropical fruits, mineral notes, myrrh, resins, vegetal roots
Base Notes: Furry musks, leather, vetiver, sandalwood, tonka

The perfume's journey starts in the damp cool cavern where the bat hides and rests in the daylight hours.  Bat's opening captures the cave habitat. Vegetal pungunt scents, water dripping from limestone cavern walls, and earth rich, loamy and moist. Fortunately we don't have to smell the guana which is piled on the cavern floors, although if my 20-year-old memory serves me, I don't remember it being a particularly horrible or overpowering smell. Mineral formations that would be found in a cave can also be noticed in the scent. I am really fascinated how Dr. Covey has managed to capture this variety of smells in one perfume.

Antique bat print from Google image.

At dusk the bat takes flight into the moonlit skies, swooping and feasting on ripe fruits of the forest. I smell the fig faintly, a subtle warmth and sweet creaminess. I also sense bananas and other ripe fruit smells. The fruit is balanced by the earth and humus so it never becomes a fruit bomb, just vaguely tropical.  As the fruit notes emerge the scent softens and makes me feel like I'm on a hike in nature with fresh and unusual scents actively engaging the senses. The longer the perfume is on my skin the softer it becomes and I eventually lose the strong cave sensation. A soft earthy musk emerges and a mere tinge of leather, which helps to illustrate the bat's silky fur and leathery wings as it dives and cavorts through the night before returning to the cave to beat dawn's light.

There is no doubt that Dr. Covey has created a superb "journey of the bat" with this perfume but is it wearable? That depends. Probably not for the novice who has never ventured beyond department store perfumes, and I don't mean that in the condescending way it may sound. Some are quite content with their perfumes and don't feel the need to explore further. But for those of us who have caught the scent bug, niche perfumes at their finest represent that sweet spot where boundaries are pushed and unfettered creativity can explore facets of scent that may not be commercially viable to mass markets. Zoologist Bat is certainly representative of that realm of creativity but it is also a very wearable scent. The initial opening may surprise you for a moment but it is not unpleasant, merely unexpected. Picture yourself standing at the mouth of a cavern, hesitating for a moment before you push onward to explore the mystery inside. What will you find? Once you submit  you find there is nothing to fear, just a different world than you are accustomed to and beautiful in its own unique way. Thus Zoologist Bat weaves its own unique path, taking you on a journey of unexpected delight.

There is an interesting article in the Zoologist blog on Ellen Covey here.

Read more about Zoologist Perfumes in Part Two, Part Three. Part Four and Part Five.

Top photo Google image. Fragrance samples are my own.

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