‘Disco deserved a better name, a beautiful name because it was a beautiful art form. It made the consumer beautiful. The consumer was the star.’ Barry White
Costera Miguel Alemán, Acapulco. December. 1978.
In the rear-view mirror he watched her applying lipstick from a golden tube. Her cascade of dark hair and glowing bronzed skin was illuminated by the beams of passing cars. Dressed in plunging ivory with pieces of gold at her throat and neck, she glowed like a pearl in the shadowed interior of the car.
”Eyes on the road, I don’t want to die tonight.”
The driver winked at her.
“You are as beautiful as the magazine pages señorita, my wife has your pictures cut out and saved. She will never believe you have been in my car tonight.”
She smiled as the limo glided along the brightly lit boulevard towards Armando’s Le Club. She wound down the window and listened to the tropical night. The New York shoot had exhausted her, she felt as fragile as glass. She lit a cigarette, the sound of the match suddenly flaring like a shout in the night.
The road was oddly tranquil as she watched the car disappear, the palm trees overhead brushing the sky. The bay was awash with hotel lights. I have missed this… she murmured. A sudden explosion of sharply dressed party people seemed to appear from nowhere, carnival and louche. Someone waved, she nodded and turned to look toward the ocean, hearing its wash and swell in her mind. Holding a small white glass bottle she’d taken from her purse she pulled her hair to one side, exposing the back of her neck and scented her skin feeling her senses cool in the evening miasma. A fine mist for her hair, then throat and décolleté, her skin still slightly slick with oil from an afternoon of languid sunbathing and exquisite observation from behind the biggest sunglasses money could buy.
|Armando's Le Club|
The doorman nodded recognition. Once she was inside she felt like she had come home. She wondered how long she had been coming to Aramando Sotres’ club now, endless afternoons by the sparkling azure-tiled pool under an Acapulco sun that always seemed that little more Hollywood when she was here, glittered off the Moorish white walls and columns. The reflected heat and dense tropical foliage gave the place an eerie, dislocated feel like one of her endless photo-shoots in empty pools or abandoned zoos. Occasionally peacocks wandered poolside like overdressed visitors. She loved the emptiness of sun worship, the near-claustrophobia of stillness cut by the arrival of cocktails, gossip and sexy waiters.
| ÉL and ELLA|
Night time at Armando’s Le Club was dinner and serious dancing; dancing till dawn or until your feet gave out and then falling into the dawn light on the beach. That was one of the delirious truths about Armando’s; it ran from boulevard down to glorious beach. She smiled to her herself at memories of spinning out onto the sand, skin on fire from hours of music, laughter, collisions, kisses and sleeping under a cool rising sun. Sometimes diving into the ocean to shock away the night. She swirled her champagne around and around in her glass. It was nearly midnight. He was late.
A man came up quietly behind her and gently leaned into her neck.
“You smell of hot flowers. Come, dance with me.”
“I should bite you for making me wait so long. Where have you been?”
“Over there on the other side of the room, you see the girl in the emerald dress that sparkles like a snake? I danced a little with her, to watch you.”
She raised her hand as if to strike; he caught her wrist and inhaled her pulse point, licking softly at the surface of the skin.
“A trail of tanning oil…Sobranie…and…jasmine…”.
He pulled her to him, she inhaled all of him violently, a feral charge of sweat, leather and tobacco rose like smoke off his dark curling chest. The lights around them flashed off the stained glass windows and flickered like fever dream. They felt their bodies instantly react to that sliding electronic intro and the beginnings of glistening thunderous arpeggios… Ooh, it's so good, it's so good, it's so good, it's so good, it's so good… she looked to him through the strobing, rolling lights and the now heaving dance floor, everyone moving in their own sweat-tossed worlds to Donna Summer’s insistent pulsating vocals. I have come home…she said out loud, words swallowed by the music. He took her hands gently at first to find a rhythm; she realised Moroder sanctified their disco skin as their bodies flexed and curved in obeisance to the bassline. The smell of champagne and skin filled the floor.
“I’m exhausted, take me outside, I need air.” She leaned into his heat.
He nodded and held her face in his hands.
“My darling, we’ve been married for ten years now. I never tire of this little charade. The staff turn blind eyes and I’m a rogue for a small while as I await your beautiful arrival”.
He laughed and kissed her warm throat.
She shucked off her silver heels as they walked out onto the pool terrace. They walked slowly under the stars towards the empty beach. Suddenly it was precipitously quiet, only the sound of water rolling over her feet like a whisper breached the night air. She watched see him further up the beach, smoking, the flaring tip of his cigarette visible in the salty shadows. Occasionally pieces of disco smeared through the air like fleeing birds.
“There you are.”
He flicked his cigarette into the night and pulled her down to the sand, wrapping her in his arms. He inhaled her deeply and said:
“My love..tonight as always we smell so fucking sexy. Shall we swim? I wanna get naked and wet.”
He laughed to the constellations above.
| ÉL and ELLA|
In the summer of 2015 Carlos Huber, the dynamic and erudite Creative Director of Arquiste Parfumeur visited Edinburgh on holiday and popped in briefly to where I worked to say hello. Arquiste’s stunning Nanban was imminent, launching at Pitti in September 2015. I had posted an exhaustive two-part overview of the Arquiste line in August 2015 and I was preparing my piece on Nanban when I noticed from Carlos’ Instagram he was going to be in town on a break and visiting friends. It was obviously a delight and honour for me to meet Carlos after spending so much time trying to live inside the man’s olfactive and creative mind. Carlos is a very quiet man in person, calm, ordered and elegant. I’m pretty sure privately he’s as wild and alluring as the flash in his Latin eyes, but when it comes to talking perfume, he is exquisitely sober and gentle. There is fire in his words, but he communicates like a lover, imparting the information like courtship. Arquiste is his baby, born out of his preoccupations with history, structures and architecture, beauty, sensuality.
|Carlos Huber lensed by Kevin Tachman|
(Polaroid apped by TSF)
A meeting with über-talented nose and fellow Mexican Rodrigo Flores-Roux lit a dramatic olfactive spark, wonderful friendship and mentorship. This close team also included perfumer Yann Vasnier, but since Yann’s return to France from the US, Rodrigo has been the main perfumer at Carlos’ side. Theirs is much more than just client & perfumer, you can smell it; feel in the heft, depth and quality of the compositions. The glee and emotion that seems to accompany the launch of the perfumes. Rodrigo has that look of a wicked satyr about him, a handsome creature revelling in the senses, indulging in the good things in life but at the same time insuring those around him are loved and cherished.
|Rodrigo Flores-Roux (L) & Yann Vasnier (R)|
Carlos has a degree in architecture and a masters in Historical Preservation from Columbia University. The subject of his Masters was the ‘Responsible Renovation and Restoration of Monuments’. Transferring this into scent may seem offbeat to some, but in actual fact makes perfect sense to me; perfumery after is technically about structure and how things are built to produce a beautiful whole. There is a also a concept of façade and surface, how perfumers create tensions and drama behind the perceived thematics of the work; floral, woody, oriental and marine for example. In the now highly competitive world of luxury and niche perfumery storytelling is still eminently regarded. However it must ring true and have purpose; the perfumes must complement the facts and have what I think of as the odour of veracity. Houses peddling semi-biographical backstories or strange exotic fictions will soon tumble if the facts don’t hold up to scrutiny. I don’t mind a little of artistic licence here and there but a number of projects recently have sounded like glass when they should have ring out like crystal.
|Carlos & Rodrigo gleefully eyeing up a pre-launch|
bottle of Nanban in summer 2015
Throughout the development of Arquiste as a brand Carlos has provided detailed historical briefs or olfactory synopses for the perfumers to work with. These are deliberately studded with aromatic minutiae to enable everyone to visualise and inhale as it were, the full schematic. Whether it be the story of Pushkin’s fatal duel in snowy forests, sacred Aztec rituals of marigolds and death, Mexican nuns guarding secret recipes, the extraordinary Île des Faisanes rencontre between King Louis IV of France and the Infanta Maria Theresa of Spain (from two perspectives by French and Latin noses) to the reckless shimmering gin-fuelled bright young things of 1920s London’s Mayfair, Japanese trade emissaries traversing the oceans in search of God and acquisitions and the immaculate beauty of gardenia buttonholes flaunted by well dressed men at the Opéra-Comique in 1889. All these divinely detailed narratives have been successfully transmuted into perfumes of uncommon beauty and style. When I first wrote on Arquiste my skin struggled with the line, it seemed from flesh to senses my alchemy betrayed me, but after a weird incident with a car knocking me down I realised things were a little off sync generally. It was Architects Club that clicked me back in, Yann Vasnier’s astonishing manifestation of sultry vanilla, angelica, juniper, chilled amber and a pastel-toned lemon peel oil note that rather than giving the scent a generic cocktail vibe suggested the colours of Duncan Grant’s paintings, pale, vibrant and alive with possibilities and subversion.
|Foxy's 'The Architect's Club'|
The key to Arquiste’s success is the authenticity of the olfactory voice. The fragrances themselves are superb; to date the triumvirate of Carlos, Rodrigo and Yann has produced a library of intriguing and personal work that has illuminated materials like etrog, chilli infusion, black tea, Russian leather, violet leaf, gardenia, broom, juniper berry oil, Spanish leather and cade in very singular ways, with deliberate intent to create work that glows and seethes with olfactive realism.
Increasingly with each new launch I feel now that Carlos’ growing confidence in his own abilities around the language and technicalities of olfaction has imbued the more recent launces from Architects Club onwards with another level of richness and patina of meaning. He has obviously always been involved, he is Arquiste, but you get the impression that as a perfectionist or control freak.. they’re kissing cousins, he has worked very hard to learn from the start and from the best (Rodrigo…) and now has the confidence to fully engage and interact with noses without feeling bruised. When we were talking about Nanban during his flying visit he was already obviously thinking ahead to what was happening next and he said he had a sketch of a marine accord to show me, a very early idea for something that eventually would lead in a different way to his Acapulco jet set diptych of ÉL and ELLA. He said he’d had an idea for a scent inspired by the 70s, something wild and sexy, triggered by stories his parents told him of holidays they used to take when they were younger to clubs in Acapulco, dancing all night long after days of sunbathing, then leaving the clubs while it was dark and hitting the beaches, swimming and sleeping off the night.
Now a year later, here we are with ÉL and ELLA, two intensely provocative and defiantly animalic scents for him and her, Carlos and Rodrigo revisiting the sexual aromatics tropes of classic male fougères and feminine chyprés, both genres that Rodrigo is something of an expert in. These two perfumes come in complimentary black and white glossy 70s Italian style glass takes on the classic Arquiste flacon. Up until now, the historical aspects of the perfumes’ biography and the undeniably beautifully restrained mood of the brand have been relatively classical and for want of a better word…sober. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating an all out assault on the senses, it’s never been what the unique architecture of this brand has been about. There are wonderfully subtle elements of subversion within the compositions themselves, you just have to look and inhale a little more carefully. Everything is arranged like ambrosial still lives, but like much great art, there are coded motifs bedded into structures here and there. Arquiste’s grander themes of death, ritual, faith, honour, love, convention and the subversion of all the above is a wonderful one to inhale as a collection.
ÉL and ELLA look and smell different. As soon as they hit your skin you realise this new world of Arquiste is a fucking sexy one and Carlos and Rodrigo have let rip sexually and thrown inhibitions to the roaring wind. Now Carlos as many of you know is a very beautiful guy and a neat as a pin, one of those people who you think how can you possibly be this dapper and tidy all the time? He carefully controls his image through Instagram and Social Media and that is a wise thing; so many people don’t separate work and life. There is however a surreptitious blurring of lines with Mr Huber, images abound of travel, architecture, the occasional glimpse into happy family life as he zips around the globe on Arquiste business. We need to see him set in context of his original training and background as an architectural historian, this is important I think for his veracity and self-fulfilment as a perfumer of history.
We must not forget though despite all the posed suit & mouillette shots that at heart, Carlos and Rodrigo are Latino men, furry, sensual and bursting with life. So beneath their businessman/perfumer/architect facades I think it’s safe to say after wearing ÉL and ELLA I sense the heartbeats of jet setting party animals. Just relatively controlled ones. These scents reek of sex and body crush, slick sexuality and just the sheer delirium of attraction. They are very very different in tone from anything in the previous collection; there is an audacious savagery in places, a persistent sense of gorgeous feral expectation in others. The perfumed equivalent of Helmut Newton or Guy Bourdin, Carlos and Rodrigo have created a duo of decadent honeyed masterpieces.
As I mentioned earlier, both ÉL and ELLA take their inspiration from a particular moment in time, much like the other Arquiste scents. A former 17th & 18th century trans-oriental shipping colony, Acapulco saw its first great boom time in the 1950s when it became a lavish, heat-soaked and semi-exotic getaway for some of Hollywood’s most beautiful and notorious stars. The fabulous bay, luxurious hotels, casinos and lax drinking laws lured movie actors like Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe and Liz Taylor who married Mike Todd in Acapulco.
|Liz Taylor & Mike Todd in Acapulco|
In 1967 LIFE Magazine put Acapulco on its cover declaring it to be the top jet resort in the world. For many the city reached its fabulous apotheosis in the 1970s as the jet set become a saturated enviable thing, the world obsessed with a glossy, narcissist crowd of actors, designers, dancers, pornographers, writers, pop stars and models who drifted across the globe to Paris, New York, Morocco, London, Los Angeles’s, Venice, Rome and of course Acapulco. They danced endlessly, fucked, took drugs, died, wrote songs about one another, took photographs, danced some more and waited to see who would survive.
Acapulco in the 70s’ was a byword for louche, languid heat haze glamour, Midas-touched beaches, sapphire pools and a cacophony of bikinis over bronze oil-slicked skin. Air travel had exploded in the late sixties and early seventies, making dream destinations like Acapulco more realistic for many. The partying was legendary and many claim that disco was born amid the frenetic hot rhythms of the city’s many famous nightclubs. Carlos and Rodrigo have set ÉL and ELLA in this maelstrom of dance, music and beautiful gilded people in December 1978 at Armando’s Le Club one of the city’s most famous places to eat, dance, lounge and be seen. It’s hot in December in Acapulco, temperatures averaging between 27º and 31ºC with nights often not dipping below 22º. The packed dancefloor at night would have been sweaty and sexy, heaving to the club hits of the American billboard dance charts but also the more underground mixes of DJs that were starting to go mainstream and subvert the standard R&B/funk sounds of the day.
|The one and only Bianca Jagger|
Disco was about glamour, dressing like sexy evening dates, halter necks, plunging décolleté, dizzying heels, reckless hair, lipstick that could devour a room. The boys were tight in their garb, slick and flared in places, hips and asses on show like showgirls, chests out, and no use for buttons. Everything seems loose and corrupt, but in fact the sex is controlled and reined in; it’s all about the chase, the range, prey and predator. Signals, eyes flash, drinks tell tales, lipstick is smeared over collarbones and skin macerates in odour upon odour, a vertiginous liqour of leather, tobacco, lemons, spices, musks, woods, patchouli, white flowers, peach, amber and incense.
|Bianca Jagger by Warhol|
Into this mix are two people, personified in ÉL and ELLA, a virile, passionate man who yearns to be loved forever and a woman whose incandescent sensuality burns like a white-hot flame, incinerating those around her like a million lovesick moths. You need time with these perfumes, they are strong and different, but also they need to macerate, have osmosis with your skin; they have been created to replicate that sensation of sun worship to dancefloor to beach. If you pause and think for a moment about a time when you have been all about dancing, clubbing whatever; the whole experience transforms anything on your skin. I spent the whole of my twenties out pretty much every night dancing in gay clubs, in big glamourous VIP Parisian thunderous places and small clubs off piste in dark Edinburgh alleys where the doors seemed to appear out of nowhere. It is almost a sin as a gay man if you can’t dance, rough I know, but I don’t make the rules. I used to club with a set of well dressed folk and we partied hard, enjoying the anthemic noise, booze, drugs and sex. We’d emerge blinking into Edinburgh dawn light and walk down the side of the looming castle guzzling diet coke, marvelling at the breaking chromatics over the cityscape. I wore scent every night I danced and loved the transformative effects on my skin. Sweat, (mine and other peoples..) cigarettes, hash, spilled gin and that weird hushed dove grey glaze of dry ice.
|Armando's Le Club dancefloor...|
It is this transubstantiation of fleshly desire that Carlos and Rodrigo have nailed to perfection in these possessive fierce perfumes. The 70s was an explosive time for fragrance, you wore it big or you went home. That glittering, flashing dance floor at Armando’s would have been a swooning fusion of virile musky fougères like Aramis Aramis and the more chypré toned Devin with it’s caraway and galbanum over pine, cedar and leather, Lagerfeld Classic, so many aldehydes piled on spices, tarragon, tobacco and musk and Louis Monnet’s classic leather and patchouli Pour Homme for Van Cleef and Arpels that had a gleeful amount of castoreum let loose in the dirty base. The boys would’ve been radiating heat and sex, musks and oily woods, animalic base notes rising up from just visible navels. Leather, spices, mucky citrus, golden amber melting onto disco like molten honey. The women, now their perfumes, orientals like Cinnabar, benzoin and peach-drenched, rolling off damp throats, Kiehls golden Amber Oil, Chanel No 5, Diorling and Roudnitska’s over-ripe Diorella YSL’s controversial Opium and Gerard Goupy’s complex Magie Noire for Lancôme, filled with so much velveteen rose, translucent honey and luscious jasmine, tempered with sweet incense and oozing amber. Magie Noire today is a sad pale thing; it’s original serpentine form rolled back on itself in a figure of eight, pulling the notes over themselves in decadent waves, today it has a harsh dullness, barely worth mentioning. This mix of perfumes with tanning oils, the scent perhaps of monoï and salicylates, cigarettes and cigars drifting from the bar, the yeasty breeze of champagne adding to the intoxication. This is the framing, the scented ground if you like for ÉL and ELLA; perfumes with a divine whiff of pornography but also a yearning for freedom, to close your eyes and just let go.
The first sprays of ÉL are pure visceral nostalgia for me, vintage 70s aircraft travel; we used to travel a lot of first class when I was a kid, it was a perk of my dad’s company paying for long haul flights. The shock as I inhaled was a mix of travelling with scented grownups, neat cabin crew, pilots, the scent of classic duty free, warm cabins and dapper travellers. ÉL has a huge buzzy top, almost waxen and aldehydic, but in actual fact it a coronet of green; a super-charged clary sage, green laurel and really elegant Moroccan rosemary note. This trio of stylish aromatics have that masculine jadeite soapiness that classic fougères should have in spades and rarely do. It is an arresting opening, however within five or ten minutes you start to discern the feral hairy chestiness of the thing; it is actually quite disturbing at first. It feels a little like being eye-fucked in a crowded bar. Then you’re lost to it, addicted. You know you instantly crave smelling this on someone else in vast obscene amounts as they dance, sweat and hold you like you are the only thing in the world that matters.
I’ve smelled cinnamon leaf a couple times recently in other compositions and been like…meh; this is how the note should manifest itself, dryly sweet, woody and coyly animalic. Sitting under the greenery it has the odour of spatial expanded calm. One of the loveliest and most adroit moments of ÉL is the use of orange blossom and black buckwheat honey, which has a taste more akin to molasses than regular honey. For me these two ingredients add a purposeful perfumed aroma to the central section, a slightly sticky, handled facet, perhaps in reference to a day’s build up of liberally applied tanning oils and lotions. Whatever the reason, it is a beautiful slow interlude that gives those incredible top notes time to really open out and set the scene for the rumbling sexy bass notes you can sense coming from the groin of the olfactive proceedings.
Carlos told me to give both perfumes time on the skin. I did in different ways. The quality of materials and blending just blows me away each time I wear them. Perfumery this good, this intelligent and sexually aware is rare indeed. The top and heart notes are designed as they should be to dazzle in their own right but also to allow the base notes time to make themselves comfortable and unleash their full molecular potential. This is particularly appropriate in ÉL with Rodrigo using an unctuous filthy castoreum/civet combo and a rather bleak patchouli to really exalt the flagrant masculinity of ÉL’s central concept. The wild animal growl starts slowly but develops over time, rising with the pitch perfect fougère accord dropped into the base that throbs like a tugging bassline through the erotic chords of ÉL’s composition connecting upwards through those poured tactile heart notes to that rubbed coronet of verdant aromatics at the top.
I can detect shards, growls and thrusts of other brutalist masculine classics in ÉL. The metallic beeswax of Chanel’s muscular Antaeus, the pissy sweat-dreams and hardcore hormones of the original YSL Kouros and most of all in the final fading stages of ÉL a ghostly echo of Carlos Benaïm’s immortal Polo. Just a reverberation of that iconic brew of basil, thyme and coriander over leather, cumin and patchouli. Sometimes I hate myself for finding guys sexy in it. Even now it still just about has enough of a quality on the right guy to resonate and draw the flesh upwards.
None of the above come near the bold and determined undertow of sexuality that ÉL brings to skin after hours of wearing it. Body heat and sweat amplify its exponentially. I’m not going to tell you how I tested this, just trust me. ÉL became a different urgent kind of animal. I would have fucked myself to be brutally honest; sprayed liberally across the body and heated during sex, exercise, anger, exhaustion or rage, the potent particulars of cardamom, cinnamon leaf, the animalics, patchouli, dark honey and oddly the clary sage seemed to burn off the skin like green vital fire.
Arquiste wanted to explore new olfactory styles with ÉL and ELLA, an idea of what lovers’ skin might smell like after an indulgent day of sun bathing, disco dancing, flirting, drinking champagne, drenched in perfume, kissing, hot and bothered by desire, attraction and the Acapulco heat. Their scents mingling, they hit the beach, swim under an argent moon, make love. It’s brave olfaction, the imagining of their macerated scents, their perfumes layered and mingled with the liquors and lacquers of the day. It could have arch and a little obvious but the results are anything but. ÉL and ELLA are resolutely masculine and feminine scents; they have a fleeting kiss of conventionality, then plunge into feral grab and slick eye-opening growl. However, the longer they are on skin, the more ambiguous and unsettling they become; the gender lines are still well demarcated but they are a little blurred as if to say… separate we can light a room, together we can burn down the world.
The drydown to the background notes in ÉL is one of the most beautiful I have smelled in years, I never want it to end. It made me quite emotional, raising ghosts of clubs I’ve haunted, men I’ve teased and kissed, marriages I’ve trespassed in. This subversion of a classic fougère is very assured and astute, Rodrigo carefully wresting great poignancy from phantoms of über-macho 70s aromas and erotising them with a beautiful modern framework of ruthlessly wrought ideas and exceptional materials. Veil upon veil of club, oils, tropical heat, beach sand, smoke, booze and virility harmonised by technology and talent.
I rested, sleeping in my shuttered room, avoiding the afternoon sun. I opened my eyes a few times, (perils of cat ownership…if they think you’re dead, they check if they can start eating you…) vaguely aware of how really good my wrists, arms and chest smelled. When I finally woke, five or six hours later, the sun was setting and the residue of spiced, molten, muskiness in ÉL was a revelation. I came full circle to my aircraft memories again. The coppered, furred remnants of this amazing perfume reminding me of late night flights from London, of weary businessmen taking off jackets and settling exhausted into seats next to me, their tired personas a halo of taxis, cigarettes, sweat, cologne, meeting rooms and coffee. Mingled with anonymity, I sometimes find it strangely sexy and moving.
You can see from my thoughts on ÉL it is a rare overtly masculine scent that really worked on my skin and utterly seduced me. I know I want to inhale it off someone else but equally I’d like someone sniffing me like a truffle hound. I wasn’t really expecting to be so obsessed with it truth be told. Then I tried ELLA and I fell in love all over again deeply, ridiculously. I know it’s a woman’s scent and its pretty feminine actually but oh that ashen floral late night haze…
ELLA is the definition of skin scent; the top a salvo of unctuous rose and something I have never smelled before and I doubt you have either, Cannonball Flower or couroupita guianensis to give it its full title. Now the tree is an oddity, flowers and fruits blooming simultaneously on the trunk of the tree, sometimes over a thousand flowers per tree. The brightly coloured blooms have no nectar but copious amounts of pollen and the strong sweet scent, especially at night attracting many insects and bats as unwitting pollinators. The contradiction is that while the flowers smell divine, the large fruits on the other hand do not, in fact they have a particularly repellent odour after they split open. Some foraging animals like the taste of the blue-turning flesh and a select number of Amazonian shamans who use the fruit in rituals. The cannonball moniker refers to the audible explosive cracking sound the oversize fruit can make as it hits the ground. I saw a specimen of the tree in Kew Gardens years ago and the fruit are huge. I’m amused by the fact that where the trees grow close to pathways, sighs are pinned to the trunks to warn passers-by of hazardous falling cannonballs.
|Cannonball Flower Tree |
I messaged Carlos to ask about the scent capture and derivative of the Cannonball Flower and he said he had learned it was a ‘sweet green floral with touches of hyacinth, petunia and rose, with a characteristic green sage note’. This tallied almost perfectly with the peculiar lushness I was sensing around the rose, a feeling of mulch and herb, the slight whoosh of emerald verdancy and rub of culinary leaf. ELLA has a daring top, there are no traditional head notes as it were, no sparkling citrus, lemons, bergamot, orange, neroli, the perceived and accepted scene setters in perfumery. It’s a fabulous intro into what becomes a superlative essay into skin and how textures and substances roll, lubricate, pour, smear and glaze over it.
Angelica root and enhanced carrot seed essence begin the real lesson in skin. Angelica root is related to fennel and imbues ELLA with a feather light kiss of anise that segues perfectly into one of the perfume’s dominant effects, a striking rooty powder that comes off the skin like a cross between silvered iris absolute and buttered ambrette. This stage of ELLA is so beautiful, an impression of perfect shimmering sun-kissed skin. It’s a heavenly pause as the other notes assemble, ready to move in and pull you down toward that pulsating animalic base.
ELLA is a disco queen in white and gold, her white is clinging Halston, her gold cuffs and torque designed by Loulou de la Falaise, a gift from Yves Saint Laurent for a shoot in Marrakech. There is a leopard print scarf tied around her waist, a nod to the animal inside. As Donna crescendos ELLA beckons all, her skin radiating aloof desire, the kind of expensive allure that few can really dream of attaining. Watching her, inhaling her, is a mesmerising experience.
(original image ©timea_welsch IG)
apped by TSF
The more I wore ELLA, the more besotted I was. The key for me is the cigarette smoke accord in the base. Now before anyone panics and thinks this translates as ashtray or in anyway stale, please don’t worry. Rodrigo has conjured up something remarkable, something I thought was impossible, a captured memory of smoking, a romanticised nuance of say Sobranies, Vogues etc snagged in perfumed hair, caught on slick and oiled porny skin. A reference point might be Jasmin et Cigarette by Antoine Maisondieu for Etat Libre D’Orange which does a similar thing in a more overt fashion. I know a lot of people love it to smoky death; I personally find the cigarette accord terribly cold and morning-after-party bitter. It has a pall of fatality to it that I wouldn’t mind so much if the apricot note weren’t so yoghurty and unsettling. In ELLA the accord is warm and ghostly, a dream of fumy weather exhaled by glossy Newtonesque models smouldering gold-tipped Sobranies by night time pools. The accord permeates the entire formula like the memory of an ex-lover haunting a troubled new relationship.
The bold jasmine (referred to as vintage crop in the Arquiste PR notes) enhances and mirrors the cigarette accord due to the quality of the material’s wicked indoles. And this is very good jasmine indeed, its pungency and development reeks of caressed flesh and persuasive whispers. Cardamom and black buckwheat honey have been used again in the heart of ELLA echoing their use in ÉL and again I think subliminally suggesting skin as sexual sun-hot canvas for salicylate-rich unguents and oils from days of indulgent posturing by cerulean pools. They are more subtly played in ELLA, lighter, reflecting more sheen, the honey, less sticky molasses more transparent glaze.
|Marisa Berenson lensed by Slim Aarons|
As with ÉL, ELLA matures beautifully the longer it drops into skin. You have to develop a relationship with these perfumes; they deserve your commitment. It is a quieter scent, but don’t let that fool you, the sensuality is no less potent than its masculine counterpart, the growl and claw no less real. Rodrigo has slipped in a delicious ambergris note alongside the honey and cardamom, it took me a little while to notice it, but when I did I realised its delicate saline ether, the implied hankering for night beach and shadow and its lovely honing and smoothing of that potent jasmine…
Things get increasingly more animalised as the base opens upwards; a sense of genuine erotica, focussed and controlled. Patchouli again as in ÉL and civet, cat musk essentially, to suggest the disco prowl and roar, the throb of electronic beats and sin skin. Vetiver again too, which I find more recognisable in ELLA; it’s grassy smokiness complimenting the carrot seed in the top and that fabulous smutty cigarette smoke accord in the base. Now as with ÉL and his pitch perfect fougère accord, Rodrigo has done something similar with ELLA and created a complimentary chypré accord to lie hazily in the base that over time and with exposure to body heat plumes up, tincturing the mood of the scent.
I don’t want to get into a complicated discussion about the definition of chypré perfumes; needless to say Rodrigo Flores-Roux is something of an expert on them so it no surprise how beautiful his construct is. Trying to create truly glorious classic chypré perfumes is very tricky these days due to the strict IFRA regulations regarding the percentage of oakmoss absolute permitted for use in formulae, this being one of the key chypré notes along with bergamot and labdanum. Patchouli and animalic notes are often considered necessary as well, but that triumvirate is essential. Composed with balance, harmony and clarity around this triptych, the chypré can and has been one of the most beautiful voices in the aromatic choir. There are variants of course: leather, fruit, green and oriental and further subdivisions if you want to get picky and precious but the landmark chypré scents like Guérlain’s Mitsouko, Piguet’s Bandit, Coty’s original Chypré de Coty, Balmain’s Vent Vert, Cristalle by Chanel, Halston by Halston, Diorella and Diorling, Paloma Picasso’ Mon Parfum and Cabochard by Grès; all of these have a certain mystique unique to them that is impossible to replicate. So many of the above have been destroyed by reformulation that their chypré nature has been eroded away to mere shadows of their former selves.
In ÉL the fougère fade suggested a whisper of smoky Polo; in ELLA in the chypré accord has a slighter stronger hint of another almighty chypré wonder, Clinique’s Aromatics Elixir, created in 1972 by Bernard Chant who also made Aramis and Devin for Aramis. Aromatics is one of those bizarre perfumes that has not moved an olfactory muscle since the day is was composed. It is both completely out of date and timeless. I both love and hate the pungency of dried flowers and civet tied up with a HUGE green chypré bow. And yet as it rests and macerates it improves magnificently, orris, rosewood and patchouli lacquer the skin and the initial pot-pourri nose-fuck becomes something ephemeral and weird like collapsed books. Its longevity and sillage are legendary and I’ve always thought the cistus and heady tuberose in the mix gave the scent a distinct whiff of cigarettes and hair spray.
There is only a hint of this Aromatics style in the lovely end of ELLA and remember this is only my reading, my emotion, but it’s enough to demonstrate to me how beautifully wrought this perfume is on the skin and of course we all have very different skin types, different memories and olfactory reference points. But ELLA’s DNA can be linked back to a panoply of skin hugging sensual elixirs that graced a thousand dancefloors throughout the 70s. The final fade of ELLA is wistful and supremely feminine, just traces of jasmine and smoke in hair, on fingers, a fingerprint of civet on a collarbone.
ÉL and ELLA are without a doubt two of the best launches this year; whilst nostalgic and innovatively vintage, for me they have created a new kind of olfactory language, spoken on a erotic stage, following a storyline of unerring, compulsive quality. They will be hard to beat come year-end. Anyone can tell a story. But not everyone can persuade you to stay till the end and care what happens. At Arquiste, because of Carlos’s background and training and Rodrigo’s dexterity and flair as a master perfumer and most importantly their bond as friends, colleagues, mentor and pupil these two talented men are able to meld the historical detailing, aromatic minutiae and feel and emotion for materials in order to create addictive and creative perfumed storytelling of the highest quality.
The concept of sexy perfumes can seem a little gauche. I’m not sure anyone really understands sexy. They might say they do but half the time I’m not sure they really know what they’re asking for. I know, I’ve worked on the front line of the industry for the last fourteen years and have often been asked to show people sexy scents, boudoir perfumes. It’s usually always amber or oud. Sigh. Carlos, Rodrigo and Co. have redefined the modern aesthetic of sexy perfumery, treating the skin with reverence. As a canvas, remembering why we use scent in the first instance, what skin does to perfume, how it changes with our body chemistry, how it seduces, repels and intrigues others. By imagining this osmosis and then creating a version of it for us to wear and inhabit like a persona is both wondrous devilry and erotic joy.
Yes, there are lots of fragrances out there loaded with leather, indoles, civet, castoreum, costus, ambergris, skatole, oud etc but sometimes the notes themselves are not enough to create any true ambience of sexiness or potent sensuality; the rush to embody a sense of sexual shock has neglected the actual effect on skin and these notes lie like dead things, inert and baroque, but ultimately mute. ÉL and ELLA have at their hearts a connective sense of human sensuality, body on body and the glory of skin incarnate. Buy them, wear them, dance in them, fuck in them, cry in them, love in them, disobey in them, rut in them, trespass in them, laugh in them. Skin on skin; we are beautiful animals, we deserve scent like this.
|Guy Bourdin image for Charles Jourdin Campaign|
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©The Silver Fox 30 August 2016