Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Carlos Huber & Rodrigo Flores-Roux On The Magic Behind Arquiste

I've already hinted at the fact that Rodrigo Flores-Roux is a great interview subject: he talks at length, but he doesn't waffle, and he remains focussed on each question he's been asked. So when I wanted to find out more about his work on Carlos Huber's brand, Arquiste, all I had to do was spark a train of thought, sit back and listen.

Regular readers will know that I'm a fan of the Arquiste range: it has injected genuine excitement into the niche world and it has proved over-arching concepts needn't be hollow or gimmicky. The historical slant adopted by Huber strikes a note of auntheticity; it comes across as intelligent and carefully considered, rather than superficial and condescending. So I wanted to ask Flores-Roux how he thinks this high standard was achieved. Was Huber a particularly demanding taskmaster, asking for hundreds of tweaks and modifications? Was the project simply blessed with good fortune? Or were the reasons more material: did Huber spend tons of money on the fragrances? This is what Flores-Roux had to say...

"It's a wonderful story. A very close friend of mine - a collaborator at Givaudan - does perfume evaluation. We met in Mexico many years ago after she had finished at ISIPCA. She's also very good friends with Yann Vasnier, who is the perfumer who co-authored several of the Arquistes. We normally have lunch together. And one day, I couldn't find them. So I went to the cafeteria, and I ate alone. And then at around 2:30, they walked into the office, all giggly. And I said, 'Where were you, you bitches from hell? You abandoned me.'

"And they laughed. 'Oh, we were out with a friend of ours.' And then they were like, 'You know, you should meet this guy.'

"And I said, 'Who is this guy?'

"'Well, for starters, he's Mexican.'

"And I said, 'You went out with a Mexican national, and you didn't tell me?'

"So Yann shows me Carlos Huber's Facebook page, and it doesn't hurt that he is absolutely, absolutely beautiful. And he's very smart as well. So the four of us organised a lunch and we clicked immediately. It was a kind of love at first sight. At that time, Carlos was working as a retail architect for Polo Ralph Lauren, but he was always very, very passionate about perfume. And he actually has a Masters from Colombia University in Responsible Renovation And Restoration Of Monuments. In his work, he always likes to keep a little bit of the original patina and to show a little bit of the destruction of time. He doesn't like making things completely glitzy and shiny and golden. He's a history buff. And he's always had the idea of: 'What would be the scent of...?' It sounds trite, but it isn't.

"So he started playing with the story of the olfactive phantom. And he said to me, 'Can you teach me? Can we sit down and smell some things? Because I think I'd like to develop a line.'

"We organised an unofficial perfumery school. We met every Tuesday after work. And we did it for about a year. We became very good friends. And one day he decided to leave Ralph Lauren. He had a little bit of money, so he wanted to launch a line. I was very intimately involved with this. For example, I helped him find the name. I also had points of view about the packaging. He always wanted to make a perfume for the king of France and the moment he met the 'infanta' of Spain. He also wanted to play with the idea of the convent of Jesus Maria Teresa in Mexico. He also wanted to play with Aztec flowers*. He had an idea about Napoleon. And he wanted a fifth perfume.

"With Yann, we distributed the tasks in an interesting way. We said, 'Ok, the French guy does the queen of Spain. The Mexican guy does the king of France. The nuns are crazy and frustrated, so we'll both do them.' We fought about the citrus. So we decided to each make something and put them together. And then the Napoleon thing developed into Pushkin**. That went to Yann, and I took the Aztec flowers.

"He did give us money to formulate. They are expensive perfumes. But it's not there that the magic resides. I think the perfumes are very layered. I like talking about perfumes that are chatty, perfumes that are talkative and have a lot of eloquence. Carlos is a good conversationalist, and so is Yann, and so am I. So we established a dialogue in our line. And Carlos also orchestrates very nicely, because he's always very, very warm, very smart. But Boutonnière No. 7 was very difficult. We kept taking the project to different places, and it kept being sent back to us by him. Carlos can say No."

from left to right: Carlos Huber and Rodrigo Flores-Roux
image: Naiffer

In a series of email exchanges, I put a set of similar questions to Huber himself. How did he achieve such a high quality of creativity? Did he give the perfumers a very generous budget so that they could use wonderful materials? Did he keep pushing them until they produced something truly exceptional? Did he go easy on deadlines? Does he think the very nature of the historical angle lent itself to the formulation of unique scents? Did he just get lucky?

"I think it’s all of the above," Huber wrote, "especially the access to high-quality materials and enough time and freedom for development.

"Also, having the historical research behind each of the scents prompted a unique situation: the scents had a quality of ‘rediscovery’ and surprise that made them exciting and at the same time familiar. I think this is palpable in each of them. Everyone involved in the development of the juice is extremely passionate and careful. I am so grateful for the support we've had so far from perfumers, distributors, retailers and bloggers. One of the goals of creating these olfactive journeys is establishing an emotional connection with history; indeed, to make it personal, bring it quite literally to your own skin. I’d like to think this does indeed resonate with people.

"I believe in luck and I think I have been blessed with it many times. However, I think luck is part of a larger scheme: I believe in taking opportunities and being positive, working hard and having a good attitude when misfortune knocks on your door. No journey is perfect. When you look back and see that you have a lot to be thankful for, that is when you count your blessings."

* The perfumes inspired by the king and the 'infanta' eventually became Fleur De Louis and Infanta En Flor; the convent scent was bottled as Anima Dulcis; the Aztec flower idea turned into Flor Y Canto.
** The citrus scent is L'Etrog; the Napoleon/Pushkin concept eventually developed into Aleksandr.

Coming in the next few weeks: Carlos Huber on the creation of Aleksandr.

Please remember that you have until Sunday night (UK time) to enter this draw for a copy of Alyssa Harad's highly readable perfume memoir, Coming To My Senses.



  1. Dear Persolaise
    What a lovely Little Dorrit of an interview, so good to hear both voices and be assured that people behind a perfume house I am coming quietly to adore are so eloquent informed and intelligent.
    Long may Arquiste and their historically informed fragrances reign!
    Yours ever
    The Perfumed Dandy

    1. Dandy, thanks very much indeed. And yes, I couldn't agree more: I hope Arquiste goes from strength to strength.

  2. Fascinating insight in to the brand, thanks D. I'm going to have to try out these Arquiste scents, they sound very intriguing indeed.

    1. Candy, thanks for stopping by. I think the entire Arquiste range is well worth trying. I still remember the evening when I had my initial sniff of them: I was filled with so much excitement by the interesting, complex visions that were unfurling beneath my nose.

      By the way, you may be interested to learn that in a few weeks' time, I'll publish a post in which Carlos Huber provides an extremely detailed account of the creation of one of the perfumes, Aleksandr. I found his words utterly fascinating, so I hope you will too.

    2. I have no excuse not to seek them out now. The historic element of the scents is very appealing and appears to be refreshingly non-gimmicky for a new niche brand.

      I shall look forward to your next Carlos post!

    3. Next time you're in London, seek them out at Liberty or the Roja Dove Haute Parfumerie... and then let me know what you think :-)


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