Zoologist Snowy Owl ~ fragrance review :: Now Smell This

A thick carpet of silver envelops the landscape, untouched but for the dazzling reflection of the sun. Snow stretches as far as the eye can see, while a bitter wind rolls silently across the sky, its hush barely broken by the powerful beat of an ivory wing…

Thus we are introduced to Snowy Owl, the newest perfume from independent fragrance brand Zoologist. A real-life snowy owl (Bubo scandiacus), I’ve learned from the National Audubon Society, is a “large, powerful owl of the high Arctic tundra, colored for camouflage during northern winters.” Its namesake fragrance was developed for Zoologist by Dawn Spencer Hurwitz and includes top notes of snow accord, lily of the valley, mint and coconut; heart notes of iris, snowdrop, white rose, mate, frankincense and galbanum; and base notes of ambrette, cedar, civet, musks, oakmoss, tonka and vanilla.

I have to confess I read that description and purchased a travel-size atomizer of Snowy Owl unsniffed, based on my past experiences with Zoologist and Dawn’s work for her own brand. I’m happy to say that Snowy Owl lived up to my hopes. It’s not a gourmand vanilla-peppermint bonbon, nor is it a squeaky-clean “fresh air” fragrance. Instead, it’s a sophisticated, gently layered take on cold air and wintry sunlight that might fall loosely into a category with Frédéric Malle L’eau d’hiver, Olfactive Studio Lumière Blanche, or Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’s own Shimotsuki.

Snowy Owl opens with an aldehydic intro that gives the effect of a chilly breeze and cold earth. It’s ozonic, but not in a “sport” way. It’s slightly mineral, and it has an additional greenish bite that feels closer to green tea than to mint. (If you were wondering about the mint or the coconut making this fragrance feel too foody or tropical, never fear.) Snowy Owl’s white-floral notes are delicate and restrained, still surrounded by the “cool” outdoorsy notes, like pre-spring flowers threatened by a late-winter snowstorm. (I recently encountered some small patches of snowdrops growing in a park in my own neighborhood and I’m hoping for them to flourish!) The vanilla note is there in the heart, too, but it’s very understated. Overall, Snowy Owl feels semi-transparent, like frost — and soft as a feather, to get back to the owl!

If this fragrance is a carpet of silvery snow in the sun, its traces of incense and sheer woods play out like shadows flitting over the snow’s surface. Everything is smoothly blended into the whole. Eight hours later, I’m left with a subtle “skin scent” of tonka and musk. I’ve worn Snow Owl several days in a row and it suits my current “are-we-there-yet” mood, oscillating between melancholy and hopeful. It has low-to-medium sillage and above-average longevity on my skin. (It’s in Extrait de Parfum concentration.) It’s also, despite the flowery- and sweet-looking list of notes, completely gender-neutral.

One last note about actual snowy owls: they “feed almost exclusively on lemmings,” according to the National Audubon Society. How appropriate for this perfume and my impulsive purchase! Snowy Owl is now tied with Bee and another ethereal beauty, Dragonfly, as my favorite Zoologist fragrance. I know I shouldn’t recommend buying anything unsniffed, but do try to sample Snowy Owl if you share my tastes and you just can’t resist.

Zoologist Snowy Owl Extrait de Parfum is $165 for 60 ml or $45 for a 10 ml travel spray.

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