The story of Arquiste is one that traverses many continents but the fragrance house’s most intrinsic stories often take place in Mexico, the birthplace of Arquiste’s founder, Carlos Huber. As the saying goes, home is where the heart is, no matter how far afield life takes you. Having worked almost exclusively with Givaudan perfumer and fellow countryman Rodrigo Flores-Roux, Carlos uses scent as a time capsule that speaks of Mexico’s past, present and even its future. Examples of these stories are Flor y Canto and Anima Dulcis; the wearer is transported to a Baroque convent in Mexico City and they take part in Aztec flower rituals in Tenochtitlan’s ancient temples.
Carlos’ background as an architect and historic preservation prevails and Arquiste’s stories describe these historical events in meticulous olfactory detail. 2016 was a busy year for Arquiste. New to the collection were two fragrances called Él and Ella. Both were inspired by Acapulco during the 1970s. Arquiste also launched a new trio of fragrances in collaboration with Mexico’s premier luxury department store El Palacio de Hierro. The Esencia de la Palacio fragrances are currently sold exclusively in Mexico.
Carlos visited Sydney in November when lifestyle concept store Becker Minty celebrated the launch of Él and Ella. At Becker Minty’s 1970s-inspired cocktail party, Carlos offered a few words about his two latest fragrances.
“I am from Mexico City and I spent a lot of time in Acapulco, going there with my family on weekends. My parents told me stories about how fabulous it was in the 1960s and 1970s. It was not only lovely but it attracted the ‘jet set’ and fabulous. There was Princess Grace of Monaco, Grace Jones, Mick and Bianca Jagger, all of them. They talked about the clubs and the beach, the back and forth between one another and how exuberant and decadent it was. So starting a career in fragrance, I always asked my dad, what did you wear in the 1970s? What was your favourite scent? He always described his time in Acapulco as being very much about dressing the part, putting perfume on and going out to the beach. A cousin once told me that dad got in trouble with my grandparents because they went to the airport to pick up a relative and they saw him with a friend standing next to a car talking to these foreign girls to lure them into going to the beach with them.” Carlos laughs, “So he would go to the airport and meet girls!”
“I asked him to tell me everything about Acapulco in the 1970s, what it was like, what he wore and what he did. He mentioned he wore fragrance to the beach, usually very strong perfumes that had a lot of personality. At the end of a day at the beach these fragrances would be macerated, would be lived in, would have mixed with the sun, sunscreen and everything. Then he would reapply the fragrance to go out to the disco. The disco was called Armando’s Le Club and it was the most exclusive club ever. The whole idea was to meet a girl and to go to the beach with her to skinny dip.”
“I thought this was an interesting story. From a technical point of view, I wanted to work on a fragrance that started with these top notes but it quickly goes into skin. So Él and Ella are about fragrances that will mix and feel lived in on your body and on your skin. We didn’t want to cover you with something. It’s about your own skin shining through the fragrance. We wanted something that was strong, voluptuous and decadent and ‘70s but at the same time very contemporary and very new.”
“They are both made with Rodrigo Flores-Roux, who is my best friend apart from being my perfumer. He is also from Mexico so there is definitely a Latin sensibility to both of them. With Él you get a little bit of reference to 1970s masculine fragrances. It has a lot of aromatic Mediterranean notes and with Ella you get jasmine, Turkish rose and a little bit of a cigarette smoke accord. Both these fragrances meet at some point because it’s a story about a couple that meet and there is this skin to skin aspect.”
Clary sage enriched, Moroccan rosemary, Egyptian geranium, cinnamon leaves, orange flower water, oakmoss, vetiver, castoreum and fougére accord.
Él pays homage to the aromatic fougeres and masculine chypres of a bygone era that gave rise to Pierre Bourdon’s ultra-masculine Kouros (Yves Saint Laurent) and Josephine Catapano’s J.H.L (Aramis). Rodrigo Flores-Roux is no stranger to using a contemporary lens to view historic fragrances. In 2010 the perfumer reworked Paul Parquet’s Fougere Royale for Houbigant, the fragrance that began the fougere trend in 1882. It was the first fragrance created with synthetic molecules. Although Rodrigo Flores-Roux’s formula was based on a fragrance with more than one hundred years of history, his Fougere Royale still felt modern and relevant. The same can be said of Él, which carries some nostalgic qualities but the use of 21st century raw materials makes it unmistakably modern.
Like Kouros, which smells animalic from top to bottom, Él is raunchy right from the outset. Leathery castoreum, dank oakmoss and a far-from-clean musk accord hold the rest of the formula captive. Under this animalic veil, Él begins with aromatic notes of clary sage and rosemary. The floral heart contains an indolic hint of orange blossom water and geranium, the fougere accord’s essential floral ingredient. Fresh, slighty metallic and overtly rosy, this floral heart is given a spicy kick with cinnamon leaves. As the fragrance dries down, I see some olfactory connection to Arquiste’s 2015 release, Nanban, which also has a powerful spicy, dry woody-amber base. Él’s woody-amber drydown is a modern contrast to the other retro-inspired accords that share the base. For any guys that lament, ‘they don’t make cologne and aftershave like they used to,” give Él a try.
Cannonball tree flower (curupita), angelica root, carrot seed enriched essence, Turkish rose, jasmine absolute “vintage crop”, cardamom absolute, black buckwheat honey, ambergris, patchouli, civet, vetiver, cigarette smoke accord, chypre accord.
In comparison to Él, which has a clear bibliography of classic references, Ella, for me, sits on a more ambiguous timeline. I only catch glimpses of classic 1970s perfumes, like Studio 54 favourite, L de Lubin and Le Galion’s Sortilege, a 1930s perfume that was still influential in the 1970s. Although Ella has an intensity and sweeping trail, typical of a 1970s perfume, I enjoy the modernity of it and I happily wear it despite its intended female audience.
Ella opens with vibrant floral notes with fruity undertones. I haven’t smelled cannonball tree flower. Like many tropical blooms I imagine this Jurassic-looking flower has an overpowering odour, which I suspect is the reference I smell in the opening notes. This pulpy, magnetic scent is enhanced with jasmine and leads to a seductive Turkish rose, which is the spine of the fragrance, leading right down into the base. Carrot seed adds a woody orris facet and a honey note compliments rose. Like Él, animalic notes play a key role in the fragrance. Ella has a strong indolic note and the base is filled with ambergris – not the fresh laundry odour of Ambroxan but a darker, dirtier sea mammal note. Civet’s angular bite adds texture and the deep, mossy chypre accord washes the entire fragrance in vintage charm.
Arquiste x El Palacio de Hierro: Esencia de el Palacio
El Palacio de Hierro was built over 125 years ago. Baptised by the people of Mexico City as the “Iron Palace”, the luxury department store paralleled Le Bon Marché in Paris and Harrods in London. Today the business has department stores across Mexico, which carry international designer brands as well as Arquiste fragrances. Last year El Palacio de Hierro collaborated with Arquiste and a co-branded collection of three fragrances was launched called Esencia de el Palacio. The fragrances represent Mexico’s past, present and future.
White magnolia, magnolia leaves, jasmine, rose, mandarin, cardamom, galbanum, violet leaf, white cedar, eucalyptus flower.
Magnolia is the “flor del corazón” or flower of the heart in pre-Hispanic Mexico. One flower was enough to perfume an entire palace. Magnolios perfectly captures the soul of this majestic flower. The flower’s airy, sparkling grapefruit-like top-note is made more radiant with sunny mandarin and contrasted with cool green galbanum and violet leaf. The jasmine accord is also light and breezy unlike the dense, jammy feel of jasmine absolute. To a degree, Magnolios is linear but there are plenty of hooks and turns that make this almost photorealistic magnolia soliflore an attractive fragrance to both niche perfume lovers and the more mainstream consumer. Refreshing and solar, it’s a perfect warm weather fragrance.
Orange blossom, lemon leaves, sweet orange, lemon, melissa, lavender, clary sage, blackcurrant, Tuscan iris, ambrette seed, angelica.
Rodrigo Flores-Roux is a maestro of many things. After the great success of Neroli Portofino, a perfume he created for Tom Ford, he has developed a reputation for his eaux de colognes and orange blossom perfumes. Azahares is another alliteration of orange blossom. The first time I met the perfumer, he talked about his love of eau de cologne, inspired in part by an orange tree that perfumed the courtyard of his family home in Mexico and his love of classic eau de cologne. Amongst the classic cologne names he cited, he mentioned a Mexican staple called Agua de Colonia Flor de Naranja Sanborns. Capturing the essence of contemporary Mexico, a cultural melting pot of the senses, Azahares is a refined eau de cologne that pays tribute to Mexico’s orange flower. Once the fleeting citrus notes fold away “flor de azahares” is laid bare. A touch of powdery iris and clean, soapy musk lead Azahares to its end.
Three different vetiver extracts, artemisia, myrtle, incense, cedar, labdanum, patchouli, gaiacwood, amber, tonka bean.
Sweet, resinous, vegetal and woody, Vetiveres speaks to a future Mexico by referencing the country’s rich artisanal heritage. Five hours by road from Mexico City, the remote town of Olinalá is known for its lacquered goods, which the town’s artisans craft from fragrant Olinaloe or Aloe wood. Olinalá’s cajitas de Olinalá (lacquered boxes) inspired Vetiveres through intricate and colourful artwork and the unique smell of the Olinaloe wood. To create Vetiveres, Rodrigo Flores-Roux used three different extracts of vetiver with other woody notes including cedar and smoky gaiacwood. This complex woody melange is sweetened with ambery labdanum and resinous incense. The result is an aged wood odour that will probably resonate more with men than women. The name Vetiveres might set up an expectation for a vetiver fragrance like Guerlain’s classic Vetiver and the numerous other fragrances by brands that have done a “vetiver”. Although vetiver is a key note in Vetiveres, overall the fragrance has a much broader olfactory profile compared to cult “vetivers” like Vetiver Extraordinaire or Encre Noire Pour Homme.
Él and Ella are available from Arquiste stockists around the world. The Esencia de el Palacio collection is available exclusively from El Palacio de Hierro department stores in Mexico – just one more reason to visit this beautiful and culturally fascinating country.