An Interview with Sven Pritzkoleit, the perfumer of Zoologist Hyrax

February 15, 2018

An Interview with Sven Pritzkoleit, the perfumer of Zoologist Hyrax

Zoologist Hyrax Deluxe Bottles and Travel Spray will be available in mid-June 2018 through this web shop and Samples are available now.

Could you tell us about yourself? When did you become interested in perfumes and perfumery?

I studied pharmacy at the beginning of the ’90s, and was impressed by the novel Das Parfum. I visited Grasse in 1991 for the first time. So I started studying raw materials, reading books about perfume composing. During the 18 years I worked as a pharmacist in the family-owned pharmacy, I was always addicted to scents.

How long have you been studying perfumery? Are you a self-taught perfumer? Did you have any mentors?

I finished studying pharmacy in 1995 and became a pharmacist by profession, but I also started to become a self-taught perfumer, through passion, at the same time. I made contacts with some people in the industry to learn more about special molecules. Dr. Philip Kraft (Givaudan) and Egon Oelkers (Symrise) were the first professionals who ‘reviewed’ my first perfume compositions more than 10 years ago and encouraged me to go my own way. Later, I met Maurice Roucel with my Pink Patchouli on a blotter. He said I should commercialize it, that it would be a perfect niche scent. That was in 2013.

What is the fragrance market like in Germany? Do Germans wear a lot of perfume, and do they have a perfume culture like France’s? Do you know if there is a fragrance-making community in Germany? Are there any notable local indie or niche perfumers to your knowledge?

I think the perfume market in Germany is a copy of the French market. It’s difficult for niche labels, but there are people who are interested in what we do. There are not many self-taught artisan perfumers with their own brand; in Germany I know only of Tanja Bochnig of April Aromatics.

Sven Pritzkoleit, Perfumer

When did you decide to create your own perfume house? Was there a catalyst to making that decision? Were they any perfume brands or successful indie perfumes that inspired you?

In 2012, we sadly closed our pharmacy. There were many reasons for that, but it’s another story. After that, I was burnt out because of some bad things that had happened. But it was still my big dream to give perfume to the people, so I started my adventure by founding SP Parfums in 2016. I started with my “Essential Collection” – five fresh and five woody scents, and also published my book, Duftspuren, in German.

As far as brands that influenced me… I think I was inspired by Comme des Garcons with my interest in new molecules, but also fascinated by brands like Le Labo because of their style and marketing.

Sven Pritzkoleit Duftspuren book

What is your book Duftspuren about?

I wrote Duftspuren as a guide for those people who are interested in perfume composing. I wanted to give them some inspiration for their studies by telling them my story. It’s about my way to learn about perfumery and perfume composing.

Can you tell us about SP Parfums? What is its olfactive style and philosophy? Are your perfumes modern or classic? Do you prefer natural ingredients or prefer mixed media?

Some scents from my childhood memories are the main ingredients of my creations. So, you can find my grandfather’s shaving soap in Lignum Vitae Forte, the smell of old pharmacies in Liquorice Vetiver… and wood, wood, wood. And animalics, vintage-style classic perfumery combined with new molecules in a (hopefully) unusual modern interpretation. That’s me, SP PARFUMS.

I first met you in Milan in 2017 at the perfume show, Esxence. You had a booth there. You were introduced to me by Fragrantica editor Miguel Matos from Portugal who spoke very highly of you. He told me I should collaborate with you. In fact, you two just had had a collaboration and you were showcasing the new scents. But first tell me, how did he know about you? What was the collaboration about?

When I presented my ESSENTIAL COLLECTION in Düsseldorf in April 2016, there was that moment when things happen… I met Miguel Matos, who was impressed by my Civette Intense. He was the first to write about my perfumes at Fragrantica. I asked him if he would be interested in creating a kind of ‘private perfume’ with me and writing about the process. Miguel was very interested in that project, and he wanted me to do a perfume with the vintage scent of suntan lotions of the ’70s/’80s and the glam of the beach life on the Algarve at that time. Three months later, Suntanglam was born, and we did two more scents together, Lisbon Blues and Funfair for “SP Private Perfume with Miguel Matos”, both also related to Portugal, Miguel’s home and home to his childhood memories. Miguel and I became friends and ‘scent twins’ while working together. It was an inspiring and exciting time for both of us.

Do you enjoy designing fragrances for someone else? Why?

It’s always a challenge to create with someone. I love to learn about someone’s scent memory. The process is always a gift of love, life and open-minded inspiration.

Art and Olfaction Awards 2017 Group PhotoAbove: At the Art and Olfaction Award Show 2017, Berlin. On the left, Victor Wong of Zoologist Perfumes, Andy Tauer and Sven Pritzkoleit of SP Parfums.

We decided to have a collaboration shortly after Esxence, and I met you again a month later at the Arts and Olfaction Award ceremony night, as both of our perfumes had been nominated. (Yours was Liquorice Vetiver and mine was Zoologist Civet.) By that time, you already had some quick prototypes for me! But first, please tell us more about your nominated perfume.

I was surprised about the A&O nomination of Liquorice Vetiver, because it has that kind of medicine smell. But there is that link to my profession as a pharmacist, and I think Liquorice Vetiver fixes that memory of an old pharmacy with herbal tea boxes.

Sven Pritzkoleit SP Parfums

I remember, of the many perfumes samples of your own line, the one that stands out most to me is Civette Intense. I mean, just the name itself gives me both shivers and excitement. It tells me that you have guts and you are not afraid of bold and animalic scents. Can you tell me more about that scent? Did you use real civet in the scent? Did you ever consider people might not wear it in public, and that you designed it purely for the wearer’s own pleasure? Are your other perfumes also very animalic?

I think Civette Intense is one of my signature scents – and a perfume of desire, too. The civet is absolutely in the focus with Himalaja Narde, which brings that green and vegan-animalic contrast. I love to combine animalics and woods. It’s some kind of natural-born instinct, which gives power to our soul. I think Civette Intense is absolutely wearable as a perfume to attract as well as a mood-modifier scent to give power, energy, freedom.

At SP PARFUMS, I use high-quality synthetic reconstitutions of animalic scents, so no animals were harmed for that.

You have smelled Zoologist Civet. What was your reaction? Did you find the civet note too mild?

I like Zoologist Civet. It’s different from Civette Intense, because civet is not in the focus. It’s another style.

I love to have a potent focus as a theme, which is present for hours, and I love to have contrast, like harsh and smooth or sweet and earthy, like I did with Lignum Vitae Forte.

What was your reaction when I told you I wanted to make a perfume called ‘Hyrax’?

It was a challenge to create Hyrax, absolutely!

Hyrax on a mountain

Hyraxes are little rodent-like mammals that live in African mountains. Their closest relatives are actually elephants! Hyraceum is the petrified and rock-like excrement composed of both the urine and feces excreted by them. It ages and petrifies over hundreds of years, and now it’s a sought-after material for perfumery. In the perfume industry, people like to call it African Stones. Can you tell me what hyraceum tincture smells like?

The smell of the tincture of Hyraceum / African Stone is like a combination of civet and castoreum, plus that urinous smell.

Civet and castoreum are two popular animalic notes in perfumery, but not so much for hyraceum. Can you tell us more about the ‘hyraceum accord’ you initially built?

First, I tried to make my own accord that smells like hyraceum with different materials so I could get it in contact with other raw materials and see how it works in them. Also, authentic hyraceum tincture is not strong enough to have the power of civet/castoreum to last for hours, so I created my own animalic mix.

But in the end you still added some real hyraceum to it. Why?

I used authentic hyraceum not just because I want to have authenticity, but because there are some side effects – like that urinous aspect, and some special tar-woody notes, which are unique.

Zoologist uses only synthetic musks, but in Hyrax we use hyraceum. Apparently, Hyrax is no longer a ‘vegan’ perfume, but can you reassure the wearer that no animals are harmed with the use of real hyraceum?

With using hyraceum tincture, no animals are harmed. Hyraceum is a kind of olfactoral 'fossil', the excrement of hyrax.

Can you tell me what other notes you’ve picked for Hyrax and why? What’s the olfactive theme or effect you want to achieve with this fragrance?

While ‘playing’ with some hyraceum tincture, I got an association of oud from Laos, which has that animalic smell. The idea of an “oudy perfume” with hidden florals was born, and I tried to find some molecules to construct that. In the end, I decided to do an animalic floral oud with a harsh mineralic, peppery, razzle-dazzle start to represent 'Hyrax is coming, look at me!', then soften it with hidden lilac-hyacinth florals, coming up more and more with tonka, woodsy and musks and a slightly soapy touch in a skinny musk dry-down.

hyrax family on rocks

I have to say when people look at the notes pyramid and compare it to the actual scent, many might not be able to tell they are in the perfume… as if the notes have all fused together to create a single scent.

A friend of mine, who is really not a big fan of animalic scents, tested Hyrax and he wore it in public without any fear! And he didn’t wear it as an animalic scent.

I think Hyrax is abstract in the sense of being typical animalic – it’s an ‘oudy’ concept with the effect of a real oud attar with a hyraceum focus, but is much more than extended hyraceum. And I tried not to destroy the hyraceum focus with the additional notes.

Yes, it’s a fusion. The structure of Hyrax is not a pyramid – it’s done with a focus and layerings to move it, but not to destroy the main theme. I hope, it will move people, too.

Now I have to mention the cost of the perfume compound based on your perfume formula! When the compounding house gave me the quote, I was shocked! It was so high that I had to ask you to replace some materials with less expensive but similar-smelling ones. In the end, you successfully persuaded me to use the original formula.

Hyrax contains high-quality animalic reconstitutions and natural raw materials like tonka bean and Turkish rose oil, which are expensive. I always use the materials a perfume needs so it will be as unique in smell, volume and quality as I want it to be. You were a bit concerned about the costs and determined to change it. I was really sad to lose that spirit we created. Any changes in the formula would destroy that unique oudy fusion spirit. But in the end, you used the original formula. I was happy, and you felt the same.

Compared to other Zoologist scents, I must say the opening of Hyrax will be very confusing to most perfume wearers, including perfume connoisseurs. Some might be repulsed! What would you say to them? Who’s the target audience, in your opinion?

The opening of Hyrax is a peppery, "razzle dazzle" animalic, a hyrax declaring, 'Here I am, it’s me!' scent. I love that shock! I love perfumes that open with a shock, because I am excited to find out what comes next. In the case of Hyrax, it changes to a smoother floral oudy type on the skin! Take your time. You won't believe it’s the same perfume after the first two minutes.

I don't think there is a special target client. I think every meeting with a perfume is a play of trial and error. It’s the same with people. The same in real life.

What’s next for you?

I just finished a new perfume with Miguel. It has the working title Nowhere Fast, for an exhibition in Lisbon. And now I am working on two new floral perfumes, hopefully to be launched late summer.

Thank you very much!