Wednesday, 10 December 2014

'It's Still A Challenge' - Arquiste's Carlos Huber At Bloom Perfumery

Carlos Huber at Bloom
image: Bloom

Although I remain a massive fan of the brand, I find myself unable to give an unqualified thumbs up to Arquiste's new The Architects Club (composed by Yann Vasnier). Several critics have been won over by what they've read as its gorgeous presentation of vanilla, but I haven't been affected in quite the same way. I love the scent's opening - an expertly-balanced, boozy, peppery evocation of the interior of Claridge's Fumoir - but as it develops, its complexity appears to diminish: to my nose, the vanillic drydown isn't as multi-layered and compelling as it could have been. Perhaps that's the perfume's inadvertent statement on the profession referred to by its name. Architects need to have an artistic temperament, but they must also ensure that their work is grounded in prosaic, physical realities. Maybe that's why the scent feels like it's holding back and keeping its more free-spirited impulses in check. It's a compelling explanation, but it doesn't make it any easier to accept that, as an olfactory representation of the Fumoir, the scent doesn't come across as sufficiently debonair. So when I met up with Arquiste's founder, Carlos Huber, at London's Bloom perfumery in October, I began our conversation by asking him why the vanilla in The Architects Club isn't more engrossing and more elaborate.

Carlos Huber: Like anything in life, when you have a creative journey, you have a stance on something. For example, conservation and preservation is regarded as a very straightforward career: you basically work with something that is established. You're going to take a building and you have to be very faithful to it and return it to its accurate space, to the most faithful representation of what it was like when it was built. But that's actually not true. There's always a position behind it, there's always an interpretation behind it. And the interpretation of the restorer or the preservationist is always going to be of his own time and place and what he finds significant. That is a position that I think is very honest in anything creative, especially in perfume. So it's about an interpretation. You want to have an interpretation that is as close and as objective as possible to the truth. This vanilla wasn't about darkness. It wasn't about a syrupy vanilla, or an animalic vanilla. It was about a comforting, cosy, cocoon-like vanilla. The cocoon environment of the Fumoir. It was also about a very polished vanilla. That's what I really like about it. And it also felt atmospheric.

Persolaise: I'm curious about the proportion of natural vanilla to vanillin in the perfume. Do you know how much of the latter is in the formula?

CH: We started with a healthy dose of vanillin, but always with more of the natural vanilla. We were working a lot on the top notes, on the gin and the juniper. And at some point, we wanted to make it more dense, and that's when Yann put more natural vanilla in there.

P: Now that your brand is about 3 years old, where would you say it's at? Is it becoming less niche? Is its identity changing? I've wondered whether the release of L'Etrog Acqua was a sign that you were taking things in a more mainstream direction. I think it's a great perfume, but could its citrus vibe be seen as less niche and more mainstream?

CH: L'Etrog Acqua is actually an exercise in perfumery. To be very honest, it's something that Rodrigo Flores-Roux created for himself, actually. He rather liked it, and he pushed the lemon and the citron and the green sharpness a lot more. I found it interesting to launch it with that story in mind, that this is a perfumer creating something based on his work in collaboration with somebody else. It's his own, solo interpretation.

P: How about your two perfumes for J Crew? Are they not a sign that you're pushing things towards the mainstream?

CH: Remember, J Crew is not Arquiste. The new perfumes are 'Arquiste for J Crew'. It's an entry-level extension for us that, for sure, brings the awareness of the brand to another demographic, but the Arquiste fragrances are not at J Crew, and the J Crew fragrances are not going to leave J Crew. So it's in a very contained environment. J Crew has actually done it really well. They could have done a licensing agreement with Coty and launched a massive thing. But they don't do that. They like working with small brands. And they like working with experts in different fields. So the fact that they tapped into us was a huge compliment to me, because they know what they're doing.

P: How much say did they have in the making of the perfumes?

CH: It was a meeting of minds and of two brands, for sure. It was still fun. They are very well aware of what they want and what they like. We had a good time. And I think it's something really positive for niche, because they wanted to stay true to the niche character of these two fragrances.

P: Your brand has become successful. Your perfumes are stocked by several high-profile perfumeries. What's day-to-day life like now? Is it quite hectic?

CH: It's really tiring, but at the same time, I still enjoy it, it's still a passion, every day. And it's still a challenge.

P: What's the most challenging thing you've had to do in the last 3 years?

CH: Developing thicker skin. Because you have to. Sometimes there are emergencies, sometimes there's problem solving. And yes sometimes it's because of what people say. But you also have to take into account that it's somebody's point of view, and it's not the end of the world, and you have to feel very sure of what you're doing. You put something out there and somebody tweets something horrible. But you can't take it personally.

P: How have your perfumes been received outside the US? Have their been any surprises?

CH: I didn't expect Infanta En Flor to work well with a demographic that's more Middle Eastern. I also didn't expect for it to work well in Spain. It is a very Spanish fragrance, but I thought they would find it so familiar that it wouldn't be interesting to a niche perfumista. But it has worked really well there.

P: And have any been less successful than you'd expected?

CH: Fleur De Louis is definitely not our best seller, but I find it one of our most beautiful scents. It's more particular and more classic, and maybe that's not what a lot of people are looking for in niche.

P: You portray a very particular image of yourself and of the brand on social media. You always seem to be posting photos which you've taken in interesting destinations around the world. Is that an accurate reflection of your life now or is it a carefully-constructed projection?

CH: In that sense, yes, it's a projection, but it's not like I'm masking the reality. People choose what they like to see. I haven't travelled for five months. I've been working on production for Architects Club, L'Etrog Acqua and the J Crews for months in New York.

P: People who've worked on films say the process is actually much more boring than they'd imagined: they say there's a lot of sitting around on the set, just waiting. What's the perfumery equivalent of sitting around on set?

CH: I wouldn't say there's any boring side, because there isn't a passive side. There's no inactive side. I have to move. I have to react to stuff.

P: So far, all your perfumes have been made by Rodrigo Flores-Roux or Yann Vasnier. Do you think you're going to bring a third perfumer into the mix?

CH: No, not really, not now.

P: Do you ever worry about inspiration drying up for scent ideas?

CH: No, because it's my framework. I always want to do something that is related to storytelling or to architecture or to history. There's tons of beautiful stories. Actually, there are too many.

P: Have members of the public ever given you stories for perfumes?

CH: Oh my God, yes, of course! I met this woman who has all the Arquistes in her house, and she gave me a book about a garden called Ninfa, south of Rome. It used to be a medieval city that was conquered and it fell to ruin. This Italian family basically turned the whole dilapidated, ruined village into a garden. And she was like, 'I think you would love this.' The beautiful thing about travelling is that you are constantly in new environments, you're experiencing different things and different stories.

P: And finally, how close are you to opening an Arquiste boutique?

CH: [smiling] Not immediately. But it's a dream. I'd love to, of course. I think it would be in New York first, because it would have to be where I'm based. I'd want to be an active part of it.


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