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

Sunday 2 August 2015

Imagined Reconstructions: The Gathered Beauty of Arquiste - Part II

Isle de Fasianes/Isla de los Faisanes

In 1659, the Ile des Fasaines or Isla de los Faisanes, a narrow strip of land in the Bisadoa river in the Pyrenees witnessed the by proxy marriage of Louis XIV of France and Maria Theresa, the Infanta of Spain. A series of rigourous etiquettes, theatricals, political manoeuvring and esoteric court discourse had led the two courts to the point they were they were meeting on an obscure if highly symbolic condominium to seal the marital fate of two royal personages.

Pheasant Island is not much to look at to be honest, but as a condominium, an area of joint sovereignty, it still holds an oddly charged symbolic power, jointly controlled by Irun in Spain and Hendayé in France. At he time of the historic meeting, it would have been elaborately dressed like a stage set, bridges constructed to link the island to either side of the river, pavilions built to house the various royal entourages. These would have been lavish and dazzling to behold, each court aware of the importance of such visual array. The invisible line between the to camps would mark the Infanta’s crossing from Spain to France, a deeply symbolic movement away from the gloomy customs, mores, dress codes of the Spanish Hapsburg court into the convoluted and comparatively frivolous French Bourbon court concentrated at Versailles.

Arquiste hero images:
Infanta en Flor (top) & Fleur de Louis (bottom)

It is this moment of duty and elaborate rencontre that Arquiste have chosen to examine from opposite and complimentary viewpoints in two exquisite floral compositions, Infanta en Flor by Yann Vasnier and Fleur de Louis by Rodrigo Flores-Roux. Yann, a Frenchman takes on the Infanta’s delicate worries and Rodrigo, the Latin, tackles the confident French floral strut of Louis and his courtly demands. The formulae echo each other yet differ in beautiful and elegantly contrived ways.

Yann’s vision of the Infanta is immensely charming, a virginal apparition of feminine delicate toilette and soft soapiness rising gently from the lovely breath of bergamot. The cistus and immortelle lend a sense of island fauna backdrop to the notes and the heart and base unfold. There is a slightly unsettling whiff of unwashed hair, unclean skin as the indoles of orange blossom and jasmine bruise into the leather facet. To my mind this suggests the classic peau d’espagne note, a swirling and intoxicating animalic whiff of tanned hide that can both enchant and repel, used to scent skin, paper, leather and swooning senses. 

Gloves & tanning pits

There is also a whiff of les gants parfumés, echoing the tradition of soaking fine kidskin in perfumed oils such as neroli to mask the leather’s potent journey through the tang of tanneries. This suggestive throw of initial notes is very inventive; the rose that follows is oddly carnal for a very brief blooming moment, a flash forward perhaps of wedding night consummation. The musk/benzoin mix hangs hazy like a neurotic miasma.

There is a steely modesty to the floral construction of Vasnier’s work in Infanta en Flor, his palette of deliberately curvaceous blooms effusing suggestion into tense and decorative air. There is tension in the benzoin/resin vs. immortelle top. It feels like storm rain about to break. I love the controlled femininity of Infanta en Flor, the shift between sweet cossetted androgyny and acceptance of change as the Infanta literally looks her future in the face and sees her past receding into the distance.

Maria Theresa, Infanta of Spain
Louis VIV of France

Rodrigo Flores-Roux has been charged with creating the reflective response. Fleur de Louis is the scented reply imagined for Louis XIV as he waits for Maria Theresa. There are echoes of Infanta en Flor in the mirrored use of bergamot, jasmine, orange blossom, rose and cistus however Fleur de Louis initially opens on a higher pitched scrubbed tone, pushed upwards by the recognisable burnt sugar/marmalade tonality of neroli. I am not normally a neroli fan; it is one of the few notes in perfumery (along with slap dash doses of heliotrope and Norlimbanol) that can trigger my full-blown aura migraine attacks. I’m a cold-blooded northerner. I like the darkness, chill, rain and claustrophobia of winter. My relationship with citrus scents is fraught to say the least. I know some guys (and gals) smell just fabulous in them. I do not. But as ever with Arquiste, Carlos and his olfactive architects find inventive and persuasive ways to present classic materials.  

The oddly metallic pomander hit of rose, jasmine and clove at the heart of Fleur de Louis is presented with a dandified panache. Only after this wonderful effect brakes across the skin does the cypress from the opening clutch of notes begin its minty, breathy decent, carousing charmingly over the indolic petals of jasmine and orange blossom on it way down. There is a certain unpredictability and swagger to Fleur de Louis, a princely radiance of bloom and sunny citric essence that is different each time I wear it. The punning Fleur de Louis (Lys) has a lovely redolent base of milky woods, vetiver, transparent amber and a very nicely turned out cistus that serves to draw out the solar aspects of the blooms above.

If I had to choose, I think I prefer the Infanta en Flor, the subtle flashes of skank that rise and fall delight me all the more because they are subtly buried beneath soft leathery shadows of fleur d’oranger and shivery cistus. I find Fleur de Louis a tad less complex to my mind, the soapiness too insistent and that’s just not my thing at the end of the day.

As a duo, the two perfumes present a fascinating concept; king and bride-to-be caught up in the inherited spectacle of elaborate courtly ritual, surrounded by the extraordinary pomp and expectations of their empires. To try and encapsulate the human aspect of that elaborate singular day on the Ile des Faisans in olfactory form is a tall, and potentially pretentious order, but Team Arquiste have gathered memory, history, skill, technique, verve and flourish in this pair of remarkable fragrances.

Foxy marigiolds 

Flor y Canto is another of Rodrigo’s persuasive masterclasses in floral combining, layering petal on petal, indole on indole, and decadence on virginity. The name is simple, Flower & Song, and the scent is deceptively nebulous, an olfactive song of ceremony, inspired by Cempoalxchitl (a Nahutal or Aztec name), better known to us as wild marigold, a flower sacred to the Aztec people and still today a hugely important part of Day of the Dead rituals in Modern day Central America. The brightly coloured flowers and petals are scattered on altars and used to create pathways to guide spirits to sacred tombs and ancestral resting places. Tapestries, patterns and images are woven from the differing tones of red, gold and ochre blooms. This explosion of colour has an aroma too; marigolds have a distinctive scent of bitter, smudged green herbiness and a cold geranium like astringency. There is a sweetness too if you rub the petals gently between your fingers, but there are most odd blooms.

Foxy marigolds II

Rodrigo sets Flor y Canto in 1400 in Tenochititlan, the legendary Aztec capital, founded in 1325 on an island in Lake Texcoco, in the Valley of Mexico. I was partly home-schooled as a child, travelling abroad so much; I’m not sure the boarding school concept idea appealed that much to my parents. My mum taught me stuff that fascinated her, so I had the luxury of indulging in Plantagenet bloodlines, obscure entomology, British poetry, Russian revolutionary history, the Romanovs, Etruscan art and of course Mayan and Aztec culture. I was I think a bloodthirsty child, inordinately mesmerised by tales of endless sacrifices atop the towering stepped pyramids; beating hearts cut out with glinting obsidian blades from slippery chests to appease a solar God they feared might not rise unless rivers of blood tumbled down the stone steps. Older, I realise much of the sacrificial figures are of course the work of the Spanish storytellers, conquerors and re-shapers of history. 

But Tenochititlan was much more than repository of fears; it was a city of architectural wonder, built on islets on forcibly reclaimed swampy, insect-infested land. Modern day Mexico City now stands on the site of the original Lake Texcoco site and at its peak, experts estimate perhaps 800,000 people lived in Tenochititlan. Aztec art dazzles, gold work, the anthropomorphic animals, grimacing jaguars, undulating serpents and the sacred eagle, symbol of the sun god Hiutzilopochtli. Death was part of life, rituals emphasised this. They believed in reincarnation, the spirit returning in some form that reflected the way a person had lived. Over a thousand gods crowded the Aztec psyche, so calendar life was marked by devotions.  

La Muerte, hat & gown trimmed in marigolds.
From 'Book of Life' directed by Jorge Gutierrez

Concerns with death and ancestor worship have echoed down through time into the vibrant, commercial but nonetheless important seismology of this powerful Aztec or Nuhatl heritage. Flor y Canto is an olfactive song of kindness and solace, overtly pretty and pensive. The fluttering heart of plumeria or frangipani is gorgeous, soft and petalled, drifting in and out of the delicious mimosa flooded top. There are some aquatic acrobatics in the early stages, as the flowers unfurl. Tuberose is tricky, and pitched quite high in absolute under the joyous top rush. It lends opacity and a rather unusual sense of laundered bitterness as it settles.

Mark Rothko - No 14/No10  (1953)

Everything is laid down in tones of yellows and whites..mimosa, magnolia, vanilla. An auric sunburst of marigold, a ghostly magnolia, canary bursts of mimosa and moreish Mexican vanilla that has more of a rougher frayed edge to it than the classic Madagascan Bourbon variety. The marigold effect fluctuates in and out of the more showpiece aromatic and indolic heart notes but it is there, an odd oily green presence, pompom petals smeared with dirty pollen. Marigolds remind me of my African childhood and thunderstorms that tore the skies apart. Our garden in Jos, Nigeria was a sea of mustard and marmalade coloured marigold varieties. The sudden downpours smashed leaves and petals to the muddy, turbulent ground, releasing a particularly vegetal and almost antiseptic aroma into the humid aftermath of clinging electric air.  

There was always going to be one or two of the Arquiste line that didn’t really do it for me. Flor y Canto was the one I’m afraid, much as I liked parts of it. My on/off issue with it is its troubled vacancy as the scent wears on. There is no foundation or progression after that bounty of top notes and affectionate gift of frangipani. Everything seems to dissolve too fast in the descent. It may be my senses and skin; I’m not the best tuberose wrangler. There is a shaky hold to Flor y Canto and I’m not entirely convinced by its finish or build, it feels incomplete, dashed off, the only one for me of the line hat doesn’t quite match up to its inspiration and ambition. 

Foxy's bottle (with Mr E's Sobranies..)

Finally, Architects Club, glorious, drunk on headlong rule-breaking love, giddy with chic design and just so damn sexy. It made so many best of lists in 2014 including mine, it’s a vanilla to drown, fuck and just luxuriate in. It feels personal, an olfactive abstraction of Carlos and his obsession for dapper detail and joyful sensuality. The nose is Yann Vasnier, a man with glacial eyes who knows a thing or two about the world of the bright young things.  

Stephen Tennant, The Bright Young Thing

Architects Club is a homage to the hedonistic excess of 1930s London, that unique period after the utter horror of The Great War where no one ever believed such things could be ever visited upon the world again. Frivolity and dissipation became art and the wealthy, for it was a time of money, danced, smoked, dazzled and fornicated to the sound of jazz. A new generation of bright young things, luminescent in their desire to shock and fritter away time and talent focussed their attentions on London, dancing, carousing amid the city’s sudden interest in modernism, art and commerce. As a teenager I was obsessed by the involving hawkish novels of Evelyn Waugh and Brideshead Revisited is a novel I read at least once a year for the pleasure of losing myself in so much maudlin decadence, guilt, grandiose minutiae and the desperate longing to belong. I instinctively understood the role of gilded outcast, poor destructive Sebastian Flyte and his swirling demons. The Deco suites, liners, café-bars and cocktail bars of Brideshead are revisited in the aristocratic languor of Vasnier’s heavenly vanilla.

Sebastian Flyte, Charles Ryder
& of course Aloysius the Bear

Carlos & Co have set their rakish and ambivalent scent in 1930s Mayfair, in a gentleman’s Deco smoking room as a group of forward thinking architects gather to discuss their angular work, perhaps a striking addition to London’s acclaimed luxury hotel scene or perhaps a modern bank building decorated in cryptic moons and stars, an office for Cunard, a private residence for a painter and his diamond-collared leopards, a soaring power station housing giant turbines or a department store, glittering and brash, a beacon of hedonism in a hitherto staid and meek age.

A Quartet of Deco Doors

A geometric wave patterned door bursts open and into this hushed and perhaps a little conservative enclave tumbles a coltish tribe of jeunesse dorée, cocktails in hand, clothes bright with starlight and sex, blood awash with gin and cocaine. Lashings of ambiguity, perfumed dazzle and chatter fill the room momentarily like surging music. The Architects Club is lit like fire, white and bright with the vital force of rush and frivolity of sudden modernity, laughter and sensuality crashing against hard surface, line and rigid form.

Thus far, Architects Club is the Arquiste masterpiece, although Anima Dulcis and Aleksandr run it pretty close. There is something new on the scented horizon in the autumn which I have been privileged enough to sample. I am not going to discuss it here. That would be unfair and break a trust. But needless to say, it is quite astonishing and makes me worship at the altar of my own hide.

Vanilla pods..

I am of course a gourmand lover and obsessive vanilla hunter in scents. Architects Club still managed to surprise me with its grandiose quirky vanilla with sparkling shards of bright lemon candy. The bigarade note lends a quaint ghostly twist of lime marmalade to the opening of the scent, as if the olfactory rim of the glass had been rubbed with juice. The elegant build of the juice is plush, smooth mixology influences wrapped in a whispered oak surround to suggest the walls of the Mayfair den. Years of cigars, cheroots, and cigarillos have left embedded traces of smoke in the wood and although there is no tobacco listed in the notes, there is shadow and wraith in the carful blending of the woods and amber.

Yann Vasnier has used a heavy dose of fruity cedar-toned Ambermax in the formula; you can smell its creamy, silken texture flowing over the sweeter elements. It has enormous tenacity and fusion as an aromachemical; I find it embeds perfumes astonishingly into cloth. In Architects Club it seems to amplify the leather/tobacco sheath nuances of the vanilla as the scents dries down. Initially it is the unctuous crème anglaise parfum of the vanilla that catches the senses. I love the interplay of chemical and natural in scent, when done expertly as here, the tapestry of effect is stunning. It is a feature of the Arquiste line the blending of notes is magnificent, often seamless, like watching for the line between reality and digital render. The better the effect, the more luxurious and convincing the overall experience.

The sillage of gin experience is not quite as pronounced and sudden as some reviewers would have you believe. It is a little more subversive in its transition from spiky botanical to clear and tranquil suggestion. Angelica is related to fennel and lends an anisic shade to the suave fall of the vanilla, so full-bodied, yet discreet and controlled. Each time I spray it I love the inhaled dichotomy of peppered sweet balsam and quivering dessert. The lemon is a very clever addition, a cocktail zing, but vital in tempering any potential excess in the gourmand flourishes on skin. Mixed with the bigarade and angelica, the vanilla becomes magnificent, lit through with high quality citric tones.

There is immense addiction to be had at the Architects Club, you are compelled to keep on wearing it, and it lingers with great beauty and distinction. If I’m honest I was surprised how much I loved this scent, on paper I wasn’t terribly convinced by the notes; I expected quietude and overtly woody aromatic charge. But this enfolding elixir of dexterous and sensuous vanilla with bursts of sunshine lemon and bitter orange is a perfume of hush-hush subversion, modern, sexy, solid and yet in its own way an erosion of the gourmand status quo.

Path Outside St Pauls Cathedral (London Night)
Images by John Morrison & Harold Burkedin (1934)

Is it Deco? Does it matter? The movement itself was a reaction against the dangerous sinuosity and rampant sexuality of the Art Nouveau decadence that preceded it. By imposing a more rigid decorative code, this somehow made the sensuality all the more driven and desirable. Carlos Huber and Yann Vasnier have used a arresting array of motifs – Deco London, cocktail culture, Bright Young Things, sex vs predictability, party vs meeting, smoke, light and shadow, sugar and stability. In the end, architects mingle with gilded things, the air roars with vivid perfumed life. Glasses smear and break, cigarettes and confidences are shared. Suddenly everyone falls out into the dawn-soaked streets of a silent London, dizzy with booze, vanilla and laughter. Kisses are scattered and hands shaken. The scent of a night of joyous excess lingers on skin, cloth and hair as goodbyes are said in the sobering light. The air is so still they can hear the echoes of last night’s cocktail flutes and coupes kissing edges in the haze of mirrored lights.

©The Silver Fox

July 2015

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

To read part I of this post please follow the link below:

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