Animalic: Related to animals; used in discussions of perfume to refer to scents derived from or reminiscent of animals, such as musk or civet.
The New York Times devoted some ink in its Thursday Styles section last week to the “feral fragrance clouds” that are captivating “high-fashion niche circles.” “Maybe it’s the desire of millennials to reclaim their beastly odors in an age of technological detachment,” reporter Rachel Syme speculates, “but fragrance buyers are newly excited to smell as if they come from an elegant zoo.”
One of the new perfume brands besotted with beastly odors is Zoologist, founded in 2013 by Victor Wong, a game developer in Toronto who became a gamy-scent developer when he teamed up with a British perfumer, Chris Bartlett, to create Beaver. Yes, that’s what it’s called.
The original Beaver formula “smelled strongly of wet fur, dank musk, felled trees, and the sour buttery odor of a beaver’s castor sac secretions,” according to the Times article, and was “ultimately too challenging for a lot of people”: “The smell of damp pelt (and the not-so-subtle bodily connotations of the name) made some customers feel uncomfortable rather than swaddled in the dense odor.” It has been reformulated with redesigned “linden-blossom top notes accord” and “light leather notes.”
In the 1920s, perfumers dabbling in animalics relied on Animalis, “an unctuous golden liquid” – quoting the Times again – that “comprised civet, castoreum, costus and musk, and smelled a bit like body odor, dirty scalp, perspiration, butter and a horse stable.” (Civet is the glandular secretion of the civet cat; castoreum is an anal secretion of beavers; costus is derived from a Himalayan root; and musk originally came from glandular secretions of the male musk deer.) Today, animalic scents are synthesized in laboratories. As the Zoologist website puts it:
We don’t want to harm animals so that we can smell good. Therefore traditional animal musks have been replaced with synthetic ones for ethical reasons. Now you can spray Zoologist perfumes all over body care-free, and with glee!
Other contemporary perfumers specializing in animalic fragrances include Cadavre Exquis, whose sole product “smells a bit like rigor mortis,” Rachel Syme observes with disconcerting authority; the name comes from the Surrealist word game Exquisite Corpse. There’s also Equus No. 8 by YeYe Parfums (“Inspired by a montage of the imagination and life affirming experiences with nature’ most stately creature”) and Ma Bête by Eris Parfums (“a collision of the floral and the animal”).
Bat by Zoologist: “Allow yourself to hang, draped in pitch black, as alluring musk wafts over you with every unfolding of the thousands of leathery wings that surround you.” $125 for 60 ml.
If you’re interested in how perfumes are created, the Zoologist blog is both attractive and informative.