Friday, 12 October 2012

Persolaise Review: Arquiste (2011) + Jovoy (2011) + Terry De Gunzburg (2012)

Of all the new niche brands that have popped up recently, three keep returning to my thoughts as they seem to represent the broad categories into which emerging perfume houses can currently be divided.

The first of these groupings is called 'Oops! We Spent All Our Cash On The Bottle' and I'd suggest it's typified by the likes of Terry De Gunzburg's range. On the surface, these sorts of brands do everything right: they're linked with a well-respected figure from the beauty industry; they manage to get into high-profile retail establishments; they come up with evocative names for their scents; they produce elegant-looking carded samples in spray vials; and they pour their juices into attractive flacons. But they don't pay much attention to how their perfumes actually smell.

So in TDG's case, for instance, we get a release called Lumière D'Épices which is neither luminous nor spicy and wallows in a soapy, overly synthetic accord of white flowers. Parti Pris is no better (its unpleasant fruitiness seems better suited to the budget shampoo aisle at Tesco) and Rêve Opulent doesn't deserve much praise either (its vaguely floral, vaguely woody thinness is about as opulent as economy class on EasyJet). Only Ombre Mercure and Flagrant Délice generate some interest. The former mixes iris, violet leaf and patchouli into a partially-enjoyable, vintage-like blend, whereas the latter is a fairly convincing sweet fig composition. In short, these are the types of brands that wish to align themselves with the niche world - and enjoy the cachet it brings - whilst creating fragrances that rarely venture beyond the safety of predictable mainstream styles.

The second category is 'Let's Do What's Already Been Done, But Let's Do It Well'. This is where I'd locate an outfit like Jovoy: its perfumes are beautifully constructed, highly wearable pieces of work, but we've smelt them all before. So although La Liturgie Des Heures presents a lovely frankincense with a commendable touch of antique dustiness, it doesn't give us anything we haven't already had from, say, Bertrand Duchaufour's Avignon. And whilst L'Enfant Terrible is a rich-smelling, sensuous combination of woods, pot pourri and booziness, it's far too similar to Féminité Du Bois to command any real authority of its own.

Mind you, I have a lot of time for such brands. Originality isn't the be all and end all of perfume composition, and I'd much rather someone wore a scent from Jovoy than succumb to the lure of a firm that can't even be bothered to give consumers a half-decent product. But ultimately, these are scents without a raison d'être. They're trying to fill gaps that have already been filled, and so they end up without a home, doomed to drift in the mass of forgettable releases churned out each year.

Fortunately, there are some firms that fall into Category #3: 'For The Love Of Perfume'. Rare and precious, they restore our faith in the industry. They provide proof that it is still possible to elicit joyful astonishment from cynical scent veterans. And they generate excitement without resorting to embarrassing publicity gimmicks.

The latest entry into this hallowed field is Arquiste. Created last year by the Mexican architect Carlos Huber - with Yann Vasnier and Rodrigo Flores-Roux on board as official perfumers - its introductory collection of six fragrances is one of the most auspicious debuts I've had the pleasure to smell for quite some time. Their unifying theme is Huber's love of history: each of the scents is inspired by a specific moment in a particular place. And although all the 'back stories' are fascinating, they're not crucial to an appreciation of the fragrances. So it is perfectly possible to enjoy Flor Y Canto as an admirably restrained, green tuberose - a friendlier version of Carnal Flower - without being aware of its links to a religious, 15th-century Aztec festival. And you can relish the charm of the subtle, expertly sustained citrus notes of L'Etrog even if you don't know about 12th-century harvest celebrations in Calabria.

However, there's no doubt that an engagement with the conceptual backdrop yields rewards. The striking coldness of Aleksandr, for instance, makes excellent sense when you discover it has been designed to evoke a January morning in St Petersburg. Sub-zero effects are difficult to pull off in perfumery because they can often seem callous and devoid of all humanity. But in this case, the perfumers have made the chill endearing by contrasting it with hotter, steam-like notes, as though the wearer is determined not to give up the fight with the bitterness of the elements. So on the one hand we have frozen berries, icy violet leaf and glacial citruses, but on the other we're offered balmy, petitgrain-like woods and an elusive suggestion of leather. Haughtiness and vulnerability combined in a single perfume.

The ideas behind Infanta En Flor and Fleur De Louis are especially touching. The former is a quiet, nostalgic, gentle orange blossom with a regal base of tanned hide. The latter appears to be the reverse: a sunny, citrusy leather, punctuated by a faint orange blossom. The apparent similarity between the two is explained by the press release, which states that IEF depicts the moment in June 1660 when Maria Teresa of Spain first saw her husband-to-be, Louis XIV of France... and FDL is - you guessed it - an olfactory representation of the very same incident, seen from the Frenchman's point of view. It's this witty, unostentatious attention to detail that makes Arquiste such a welcome addition to the niche world.

Although each of the creations in the range is worthy of the most serious attention, the standout is unquestionably Anima Dulcis. Here the setting is Mexico City in November 1695. We're in the Royal Convent of Jesus Maria. We're told that a group of nuns is preparing "a Baroque recipe of Cocoa infused with an assortment of chillies". But no amount of allusive prose could prepare us for the pupil-dilating shock of smelling this brew. Yes, the cocoa emerges straight away (bitter and powdery) but it's only one of several facets in a complex, almost unfathomable blend that reveals new layers upon each wearing. Of course, there are the spices: mainly a warm, autumnal cinnamon. There's a curious, oily suggestion of candle wax. There's a pronounced incense note. There's that faint whiff of leather again (something of a signature for the brand as a whole). There's a burnt, woody, patchouli aspect. And finally there's the heart-stopping gourmand base, replete with thick vanilla. It may display the sweet, soulful characteristics referred to in its name, but AD is also unashamedly carnal ('anima' isn't too far from 'animal', after all) and deeply, incorrigibly intimate. If this is the sort of stuff the nuns drank, I suspect it wasn't too hard for them to remain celibate. There were probably enough endorphins generated by one spoonful to keep them happy for weeks!

As for the rest of us, here and now in the 21st century, we'll remain happy too if Arquiste continues to treat us to such intelligent, seductive pieces of work.

PS Since the above was written, I've had a chance to smell Arquiste's next release, so I thought I'd give it a quick mention here, as I suspect there won't be an opportunity for a full review before the year is out. Boutonnière No. 7. - which takes us to a night at a Parisian opera in May 1899 - could just as easily have been called Gardenia Pour Monsieur. Like Dominique Ropion's Geranium Pour Monsieur for Malle, it places a lucid, almost three-dimensional floral note against a backdrop of more traditionally masculine facets of lavender, bergamot and leather. Its most remarkable feature is restraint: somehow, Rodrigo Flores-Roux has managed to maintain decorum throughout the scent's development, without compromising the green freshness. It's also interesting to compare it with Tauers' Carillon Pour Un Ange, which appears to follow a similar path, but in a far more conspicuous manner. Either way, it makes an elegant addition to the original sextet.   

[Reviews based on samples of eau de parfum provided by Arquiste, Jovoy and Terry De Gunzburg in 2012.]



  1. Everything I've read about Arquiste have made me very eager to try their fragrances- especially since I'm very much into history! I can just picture scenting myself with some Alexandre while listening to Eugene Onegin-one of my favorite operas...
    I just wish they had a sample set or some better distribution in Europe! When you live in Sweden there's no nearby store I could smell them and my favorite online store First in Fragrance doesn't carry them.
    PS After your review I must get my hands on some Afternoon of a Faun pronto!

    1. Eva S, no matter how much I like a new brand or perfume, I never encourage 'blind' purchases, but I appreciate that obtaining samples isn't always easy. The case of Arquiste is made especially tricky because they're not stocked by Lucky Scent or Aus Liebe Zum Duft, both of which offer excellent sample services.

      Have you checked The Perfumed Court? I find some of their samples very expensive, but their stock is certainly worth browsing through. And it might also be worth contacting Jovoy Paris, as I know they sell Arquiste.

      As for Afternoon Of A Faun, yes, it's a definite must-try!

    2. I have the same problem living in the Netherlands. I got curious as a couple of bloggers have given this firm the thumbs up. I won't be able to try them though. I refuse to pay for samples from the US, it is far too expensive.


    3. Austenfan, I agree that it can be very expensive to order samples from distant countries. Perhaps you could contact Arquiste directly and ask them if their range is going to appear anywhere near the Netherlands soon. And I'd say it's worth getting in touch with Jovoy Paris too.

      Let me know how you get on.


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