I am quicksilver, the fox in the night, emotional about the poetry, love & desire in scent, read me.

Friday, 31 July 2015

Imagined Reconstructions: The Gathered Beauty of Arquiste - Part I

I have been a fan of the Arquiste line since its stylish inception in 2011. The striking visuals, sensual storytelling and olfactory time travelling marked the house out as one to keep a close eye on. The brand’s artistic director Carlos Huber is the indefatigably upbeat, pitch-perfect and handsome embodiment of the brand. He is charming and relentlessly persuasive in his pursuit of Arquiste domination. 

Carlos Huber, Creative Director, Arqusite. 

His Instagram is a warm and charming mix of work and personal journeys, destinations, architecture, family, brand love, sun, fragrance development, toned torsos, swimshorts… (ha) and a subtle collage of all the things that coalesce into the Arquiste creative mindset. There is gloss and vivacity, laughter, smiles and dapper placement of Carlos & Co amid locations like London, Mexico City, New York, Madrid, Sydney and Brussels. Partly work and some play, the seemingly casual imagery is in part just that but also a subliminal reinforcement of a meticulous Brand Arquiste.  

Rodrigo Flores-Roux (L) & Yann Vasnier (R) 

The noses working with Carlos are the multi talented Yann Vasnier and Rodrigo Flores-Roux, both perfumers of great dexterity and luminosity. Together, this trio of men have assembled a body of work that has grown in artistic stature and slowly gathered acclaim across the perfume world from critics and perfume lovers alike.

Initially, I had a problem. No matter much as I loved the fragrances, my skin and senses struggled with them; I never quite got to grips with the whole range and for a while abandoned trialling them. I’d had a weird car accident; I was knocked down in a street near my apartment. I was bruised and badly scraped, really spooked and for a while, all my senses collapsed. I found smelling particularly hard for some reason. I first tried Arquiste round about then, so I was not quite in the best olfactory frame of mind.

With the rather triumphant arrival of Architect’s Club I took time to carefully revisit Carlos, Yann and Rodrigo’s portfolio of stories again. My preoccupation with Architect’s Club seemed to open up hidden doors, unstick ancient windows and second time around I surprised myself with a very different emotional set of reactions to the perfumes.

Foxy's bottle... 

I am late to praising Architect’s Club is some ways, it featured in many end of year 2014 reviews and round-ups across the olfactory blogosphere. I did include it in my won Silver Fox best of 2014 listings where I described it as:

‘…the gin sling referenced juniper note is brittle and cool, tempered by a brilliant use of cadmium-lemon intensity and a persuasive anisic angelica note which threads top down to the woods, a shimmer of amber and that gorgeous, swirling, sexy vanilla. Oooooooohhh the vanilla is so damn fine, fresh and modern, a touch of crème anglaise with a whiff of unwrapped electrical goods.’

However I really wanted to place it into some sort of wider context within its own aromatic Arquiste siblings. I have taken my time, really luxuriating in the clarity of message, wit and verve of truly elegant storytelling.

As I spent time with each scent in a silent apartment (I tend to write at night…), wrists anointed, making notes as images and words flickered into view and registered, I found myself losing time to the aromatic narratives and technical skill on display. The complexities of aromatic blending, vivid fictions, historical referencing and sheer bravura assemblies started to fill my small tumbled notebooks accompanied with sketches, dates and pieces of torn poetry.

Arquiste hero images:
Aleksandr (top) & Anima Dulcis (bottom)

I always admired the cloistered savoury cocoa and chilli collision of Anima Dulcis, it’s secretive underpinning of herbaceous addiction slides oh so carefully under the meaty chocolate. It was the Arquiste scent that always kept me hooked to the house. The icy melancholy of Aleksandr was another that worked, I wasn’t sure if I liked it at first though, it disturbed me a little to be honest. It is tundra scent, wild and fast, a man rides to his death by duel over iced earth, watched sadly by a thousand weeping fir trees. The more I wear it the more I fall into its frozen embrace.

I admire the triumph of difference chez Arquiste. True beauty and elegance often invites suspicion and jealousy. Fragrance is no different; we are humbled and therefore sometimes a little aggressive in the presence of genuine olfactive innovation. I realise I was perhaps I was just a little peeved by how lovely the Arquiste line was. Not an easy thing to admit. Everything seemed pretty perfect, sunny, sensual and open. It is only when you spend more time with the perfumes you sense the shadows, the spaces between lines, notes and words. There are not flaws per se, but unsettling catches of sadness and historical oddity.

My favourite Carlos image. 

Carlos Huber trained in architecture, or more precisely Historical Preservation from Columbia University. His Masters was in the ‘Responsible Renovation and Restoration of Monuments’. This combination of layering history and structure has revealed itself to be intrinsically natural to Carlos’ aromatic vision. He understands the importance of blending and maintaining shade and submersion. For me the best of historical preservation is about ensuring a carefully applied buttressing or skeletal support of modernity for a correctly maintained and referenced love of antiquity. It is hard to get right and so many cities and architects get it wrong, choosing modernity over heritage and paying lip service to Disneyfied echoes of the past.


Arquiste was born out of Carlos Huber’s growing preoccupation with scent after meeting Rodrigo-Flores Roux a fellow Mexican and of course one of the perfume world’s most respected and versatile olfactory talents. Carlos was working in his chosen field of architectural restoration but – depending on which version you hear – Carlos asked for scented lessons or… Rodrigo offered. Whichever version is correct, it doesn’t really matter, as the end result was a very rich and dedicated (and I imagine highly entertaining) study immersion in the complex art of raw materials, aromachemistry and aromatic assembly.

Carlos of course wanted to do things a little differently; he was never going to be able to entirely shake off his historical and architectural instincts and starting musing on how he might be able to create fragrances with something else behind them, story, context and substance and most importantly: a sense of genuine historical reference as opposed to lip service marketing frou-frou.  

He decided to pen detailed briefs that laid down narratives he hoped could be invoked with scent. This use of historical and reported documentation is hardly new in the marketing of scent, however Carlos’ deliberately applied slant of historical recreation and allying this to resolutely modern perfumery techniques has been carefully researched and realised.

From 'Dorian Grey' by Karl Lagerfeld

Many critics consider Boutonnière No 7 to be Arquiste’s masterpiece and there is no doubt this vibrantly trangressive masculine floral is magnificent. It is inspired by the scent of heady gardenias pinned to the lapels of buttoned up bucks and ladies at the Opera-Comique in May 1889. The odour anticipates the blooms crushed, perhaps in amourous assignations or later in fervent close dancing, the smell of heady flowers mingling with sweat, nerves, cologne and skin.

Boutonnière No 7 twists and turns on my skin and yowls like crazy, it is a brutal framing of a white floral, petals crushed against a dandified yet virile chest. I have a friend who smells like a dirty god in it, it’s hard to believe it’s the same scent. I like the swooning virility of it, if such a dichotomy can be held up, strong, beautiful men, encased in evening wear, allowing themselves to be unwrapped with erotic care. The more I wear this crazy, horny bloom, the more I am drawn to its crushed closeness.

René Gruau
Club Magazine Cover 1951

It is an defiant statement of masculine ambiguity.. I am man enough to reek of indoles and trail white petals.. A daring and heady notion. The gardenia is sheathed in violet leaf and this just explodes the creeping animalism of the leathered cistus in the base. Broom is an odd choice of heart note, but lovely and honeyed to my nose, sweet buzzy and hay-like with a green pea ground. The base is all sex, aftermath of evening, scattered clothes, corsage savaged, broken over sheets and floor. The woody piquancy of the initial base flow is oddly fleeting and doesn’t quite match the full-blown giddiness and thrilling eye contact of the opening floral salvo. But you know what.. I’d like to think this was perhaps deliberate, this careful rate of flirtatious layering, smiles, smells, touché, laughter, heat and disintegration into a carnal night. My admiration for the sweet skank under well-dressed elegance is undimmed.

The first thing that strikes with Anima Dulcis is the stealth and quietude of the work. The perfume was inspired by a sacred, secret meal prepared by nuns in the Royal Convent of Jesus Maria in Mexico City in 1695. The convent had been founded in 1578 for the daughters of conquistadors and a closely guarded recipe of cocoa, chilli, vanilla and spices was held within the cloistered walls. This hidden blend intrigued Carlos, Yann Vasnier and Rodrigo Flores-Roux to create Anima Dulcis, which translates roughly as sweet soul, one of the most delicately paced and delicious chocolate scents I have tried. Strictly speaking it is cocoa, bitter and dry, dusted through a brew of cloves, cumin, cinnamon and chilli. The savoury gourmand context is beautiful and very difficult to pull off; the addition of nutty smeared sesame and aromatic oregano contrast truly explodes the shadowed sweetness.

Xocolatl - Fueguia 1833

I recently added Fueguia 1833’s Xocolatl to my collection, a piquant scent from a low-key Argentinian House based in Buenos Ares. This is ostensibly a tribute to the bitter ground brew drunk by Aztec priests and emperors; Montezuma was rumoured to consume up to fifty cups a day in the name of virility. Again, this is a savoury, almost turned and anti-gourmand chocolate scent that teases with sweetness and then withdraws its favours. I get a lot of compliments cloaked in this, a lot of leaning in and neck sniffing. Fueguia 1833 are a tad frustrating with notes, focussing on key impact facets, in this case vanilla, rum and cocoa, but the rum smells like it has been has been splashed over mouldy wood, the vanilla soaked in ancient tequila, the leathered sheath smashed into orchid petals. Xocolatl and Anima Dulcis both demonstrate the artistry of gourmand savoury twisted perfumery.  

Chocolate Fox     

Cocoa scents are a big weakness; I adore them. The thought of transforming skin into edible canvas to be nibbled, licked and savoured. I have so many in my collection, but Anima Dulcis is something different, discreet and held down almost, like a flower hidden beneath a veil of fine soil. The slight pinch of cumin adds to the dirtiness of the chilli and seems to accentuate the buttery oddness of a central jasmine note. The vanilla is reserved, cloistered even, a clouded secret that settles with a reserved grace.

Anyone who might ponder a cocoa scent but is troubled by the worry of sweetness should consider the strangeness of Anima Dulcis, it feels rather magical and erotic as if all the sublimated desires and forbidden thoughts have been woven and worked into that original Convent recipe. Baroque dreams, sensuous and provocative flavourings, indulgent sweetness; things normally forbidden but indulged for occasions of feasts and religious excess. This elegantly balanced scent wears close to skin, but it is the one Arquiste scent I have worn continually since the brand launched and I have never tired of its originality.   


L’Etrog takes its inspiration from the story of a mediaeval harvest in 1175 in Calabria, a family event, the gathering of the etrog citron, the eccentric knobbly, textured citrus considered to be one of the four original citrus fruits along with the pomelo, mandarin and papeda. Etrog is the Hebrew word for citron. The fruit is an important part of a Jewish ritual for the Feast of the Tabernacles. The purity of the fruit is vital, DNA etc with no grafting or hybridizing. The fruit is often stored, bound carefully in silk or flaxen wrappings in a silver box before the ceremony begins. Wonderful care for such an oddity of citric charm. The scent celebrates the harvest of this distinctive citrus fruit against an imagined backdrop of dates and fragrant myrtle bushes radiating scent into vibrant cicada-laced Mediterranean nights.

Checking the etrog... 

L’Etrog is one of those scents that really shouldn’t work but succeeds brilliantly. Again, the work of Yann Vasnier and Rodrigo Flores-Roux, the daring control of cedrat, dates and jasmine is bright sticky perfection. In lesser hands it would have skidded off skin and hurtled off into molecular oblivion. Dates are an odd note in scent and usually mixed with heavier, dirtier spices, oud, leather, cinnamon and clove. Here they have a kneaded pastry sweetness that is particularly alluring when merged with the camphor facet of myrtle in the early stages of this unexpected scent. Whether it’s coincidental or not, myrtle is also symbolically important during Sukkot, or the Jewish Feast of the Tabernacles; where a willow bough, palm leaf and myrtle branches are tied together and carried by worshippers.

Mastic tears

I like mastic in scent and I can really detect it in L’Etrog, it’s the first time in ages I’ve been able to smell it realistically in scent. Mastic is gorgeous weird stuff, a white crystalline resin from the pistacia lenstiscus tree. You can chew it, crush it and use it to flavour food like ice cream, pastries, nougat, coffee and fruit compotes. My favourite thing is to use it in homemade rice pudding; it lends every grain of plump rice the scent of resinous pine forest. It is also used in Chrism, the holy oil used to anoint in religious rituals, the production of incense and the holy art of embalming the dead. In L’Etrog it lends a warm sun-baked translucency to the bergamot/cedrat/lemon triptych in the top of the scent. The effect is sensational, piquant and brisk.

I found the smeared date note hard to ignore as L’Etrog developed, not in a bad way at all, it just kinda stared at me as the jasmine fluttered about on the mastic/pine tinted summer breeze. This chemistry of notes is beautiful, a seasonal marmalade of heated and sweetly parched landscape. The vetiver and patchouli in the base are stealthy lovers, softly rising to support the settling weather of the notes. I was quite surprised by how much I liked L’Etrog, this mix of citrus and aromatic woods is not normally my cup of tea, Vasnier and Flores-Roux have used dates and mastic with verve and talent to suggest a rather different kind of distant olfactory vista, one well worth exploring.

Last year Arquiste added L’Etrog Aqua to the line, apparently something Rodrigo had been wearing, a personalised, sharper, juiced up version of the original with the date note excised. The jasmine is also absent. L’Etrog Aqua mis an exercise in bright dripping juice, tones of shimmering yellow, lime and cedrat hurled at dazzling blank canvases in sunlit white rooms. The aqua version is the early rise of the etrog harvesters, dew on the knobbly fruit, a cold morning sun leaking over the fields. It is shockingly bright and oozy, the cedrat exploded with Sicilian lemon, mandarin and petitgrain, all designed to enhance the original etrog note. Bergamot and labdanum deepen the brightness, adding a Van Gogh sunflower yellow to the middle ground; there is just enough cedar and vetiver to suggest the glimmer of luminous forest in the distance. L’Etrog Aqua is a beautiful citrus, defiantly aurora and a delight to liberally apply.

Aleksandr was the first scent I revisited as I re-immersed myself into Carlos & Co’s mutable world of constructed olfaction. This is an outstandingly eerie scent, an odour of mauve-grey and silver, ostensibly the perfumed telling of Pushkin’s quiet hurtling toward a fateful duel that would kill him in a frozen St Petersburg in January 1837. 

Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin

Alexander Pushkin is a giant of Russian letters, his work is Russia; Boris Gudonuv, Eugene Onegin, his poetry and atmospheric feral prose. He is not much read outside of Russia and universities, ill-served I think by translation and readers acclimatising to his distinctive verse style. I studied his shorter work at university and have always loved his stories along with those of his mellower countryman Chekov. Pushkin spent his relatively short life disturbed by censorship and snobbery, irritated by a system that seemed determined to undermine his status and talent. Married young to the beautiful Natalya Goncharova, he spent most of his married life twitching over whether or not her honour and by association therefore his, was being compromised. In his lifetime he fought perhaps thirty duels on the subject which is either highly neurotic or a chivalrous thing to do depending on your point of view. In 1837, in the depths of a bleakly frozen January as Pushkin’s private life slid out of control into debt, scandal and open paranoia he became somewhat fixated on the rumours flying around St Petersburg about Natalya and her brother in law Georges-Charles de Heerckeren d’Anthès. He of course challenged Georges-Charles to a duel.

The Duel by Ilya Efimovich Repin

I wonder if Pushkin thought back to his wedding day as his sleigh sped across the ice from the Nevsky Prospekt; the ill omens of dropped wedding rings and candles blowing out across the church. The duel was fought in the Black River area of St Petersburg, full of trees and private dachas. Shot and mortally wounded in the stomach, Pushkin was dead two days later.

It is this dramatic and piece of visceral Russian history that Carlos and Yann Vasnier have chosen to evoke with Aleksandr, a biting frozen leather extraordinaire.  My god its cold, the foretelling is glacially sad. A near perfect piece of olfactive biography, the shards glittering in the memory as only Vasnier seems to be capable of doing in his oddly melodramatic disco sensual perfume lab mind. Aleksandr has been created to tell a story of how Pushkin might travel from morning toilette to death. The delicacy of bright personal preparations to cordite and blood amid the darkening forests of the Black River. It is built in three deepening stages from Pushkin’s nervous morning preparations through travel to duel and endgame.

He mounts the sledge, with daylight fading:

``Make way, make way,'' goes up the shout;

his collar in its beaver braiding

glitters with hoar-frost all about’

From Eugene Onegin by A.Pushkin (tr. Charles Johnston)

The opening salvo of violet (which rises brutally from the heart) and vodka is beautifully austere, tinged with bitter orange blossom. Pushkin at his morning toilette, mind turbulent with firebrand thoughts and cuckold dreams. The green sappy switch of birch leaves in the top augers the burn of birch tar in the base used to suggest leather, perhaps of worn tired boots or the lining of a sleigh. It’s a clever touch. There is a dash of cognac in the heart, thrown back for courage perhaps. It is an injection of febrile warmth into this icy bruised formula. The heart is the journey, contemplation, and texture. Iris, leather and the mauve powdered remnants of violet form a kind of cocoon, fur and leather, the cognac heat wrapped around Pushkin as he hurtles through the ice and snow toward his fate. I love this stage of the scent, melancholy and soft, isolated and just a little bold.

The ending is silence, fir balsam, the smoky catch of birch tar, musks and traces of oakmoss to suggest Pushkin’s end surrounded by the trees and dachas of Black River. Birch tar has been used for decades by perfumers to create the smoky, animalic pelty pull of leather in scent. It has the most extraordinary aura of Nordic pagan fire, cold and black, yet somehow converting into distillation and careful handling and delicate placement into suggestive fur, roar and hide. Furtrappers have used the thick boiled down tar resin to coat their skin and that of their sleigh dogs to deter the horrendous swarms of biting insects that descend in high summer to plague them. It is a smell I find sexy and repellent, it can cause huge pounding headaches in high doses and charm, lull and sensualise me in subtle, balanced smears. Vasnier has used just enough to suggest the snuffing out of a flame in the calm menace of duel. I’ve come to realise how remarkable this work is, how controlled and atmospheric. Each time I wear it, I am struck by its melancholy wonder.

For more information on Arquiste, please click on the link below:

To read Part II of these post, please click on the link below:

Imagined Reconstructions: The Gathered Beauty of Arquiste Part II

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