This may, the month of flowers in Grasse, I have the honour to introduce you Carlos Huber, founder of Arquiste, luxury perfumes with amazing stories and amazing scents. Arquiste has recently won an important prize in USA. Carlos will share with you his philosophy "A glimpse into our development process".
I’m always fascinated by the ability the nose has to tie a place to a particular smell. Who hasn’t experienced the smell of the sea on a visit to the coast, or of incense in an old church, mosque, or temple? How about the musty, woody scents of an old house, or the evergreen smell as you hike through a forest full of pine trees? Places are defined not only by their physicality but also by our sensory appreciation of them. Light defines the volumes we see and scent defines an invisible but nevertheless very present spatial boundary also. As in the case of a cloud of perfume surrounding a person, or the exhalation of natural or artificial materials in an actual space, sometimes our nose can tell us a lot more than our eyes about where we are.
I’ve always been very connected to my nose, and every time I recall a place I go immediately to the olfactive memory of it. For example, I remember being twelve and visiting London with my family for the first time. We were staying in a beautiful old-world hotel that had a big bouquet of Madonna lilies in the lobby. To this day, whenever I smell lilies, I think “hotel” and immediately remember the red carpet, red-veined marble columns, and wood paneling.
Another more recent memory ties a sweet, honey-like whiff of orange blossom with a special visit to the Palais de Luxembourg. I was staying in Paris with a friend who worked in the Senate, and he offered to show me around the palace. It was amazing to see rooms and halls reflecting different periods in a building so significant to French history. I especially wanted to locate one of the original rooms dating back to Marie de Médicis, its original occupant. We finally found a small square room with 17th century gilt paneling and a heavily waxed parquet floor. I smelled the sweet, saturated aroma of orange blossom, and my friend mentioned that beeswax was used to maintain the old wooden floor. I found it beautiful to carry the memory of that special visit with me thanks to that scent. With this type of an experience, you can’t separate the smell of the space from the patina of its surfaces or the “personality” it’s developed.
The experience of working close to building materials and in historic spaces is what inspired the process behind ARQUISTE. This awareness of scent, place, and time is unavoidable when I research a historic site. There will usually be an anecdote that leads me to wonder, “what did that smell like?” or “was the day to day experience of that ‘old house’ the same as it is today?” Sometimes, there’s a particular chapter in the building’s history that is especially evocative of scents. This kind of curiosity, my daydreaming of time travel to experience long gone moments or places is the reason I created ARQUISTE.
I wanted to take the “inspiration” mentioned and used by so many perfumers and base it on a strong foundation of authentic references.
My approach in developing a “perfume story” is actually similar to the process I was taught in Historic Preservation. You start by looking at a particular site and research everything about it in an effort to understand its significance. This might be a particular historic period important to the building, an architecturally-significant space, a valuable material used in its construction, or its relation to certain important characters. Because every work of preservation involves interpretation, you have to choose a specific direction in order to “restore” that significance and launch it into the present. This will set the tone for the structure you are building.
Good quality raw materials are essential for a good composition, in architecture and perfume. You have a foundation (base notes), a structure (heart notes), and the ornament or decoration (top notes). The comparison to architecture is not accidental. The architect is the one responsible for coordinating all stages of the building phase to make sure it comes out as purposefully designed.
And how do we find the notes? Well, the answers lay in the story itself. What is the building composed of? What clothing were the characters wearing and what foods were they eating? Is the natural landscape important to the place? Are there any flowers, trees or other notes referenced in the historic account? These answers help me identify the scents of that particular place and time, and we then use those in the perfume formula. For example, the woods used in Fleur de Louis were the materials used to build the pavilion where the French and Spanish courts met in June 1660, and the flowers used were fashionable in the cosmetic catalogues of the perfumers to the French princes and princesses.
This approach, although quite rationalized, was still experimentmental when I contacted Rodrigo Flores-Roux and Yann Vasnier. It felt a bit like Frankenstein—reanimating matter through the spark of a scent. ARQUISTE finally resulted as a very personal, interdisciplinary collaboration of art, history, architecture, and perfumery.
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