After a side-step that saw him produce two scents in collaboration with J Crew, Arquiste's Carlos Huber returns to his signature range and quells fears that his sensibilities may have been growing too mainstream with the release of Nanban* (composed by Rodrigo Flores-Roux). Nocturnal, tempestuous and grandiose, it's inspired by a period in Japan's 17th century history when the country sealed itself off from the outside world, suspicious of the work of foreign missionaries. Not long before this self-imposed isolation, a Japanese galleon returned to its home, bearing contents that Flores-Roux, hundreds of years later, has used as a blueprint for Nanban's olfactory details.
The late Mona Di Orio explored a similar idea in her Vanille, but while her work was pierced by the sun, Flores-Roux's couldn't be darker. Indeed, it's probably no coincidence that this scent's historical backdrop is a time of inward-looking insularity: with its coffee, pepper, saffron, tea and pungent, animalic leather (lots of it!) there are moments when it threatens to collapse beneath its own immensity. However, it offsets this heavy-handedness with the inclusion of softer balsams and resins - notably myrrh and frankincense - some of which echo the flesh-caressing sensuality of Anima Dulcis (also by Flores-Roux, as it happens). It veers a bit too closely towards crudeness - I confess there were occasions during its development when I wanted more contrasts, a greater interplay of light and dark - but there's no question that it is a welcome addition to the Arquiste range and confirms its status as a brand to watch.
The 17th century may have had more than its fair share of cultural conflicts, but it's probably true to say that the story of the whole of time is a catalogue of one clash after another. The very particular frisson of such encounters - the brew of danger, excitement and daring - is the blood pumping through the veins of Nanban. Do seek it out.
[Review based on a sample of eau de parfum provided by Arquiste in 2015.]
* From the Arquiste website: "Nanban (南蛮, “southern barbarian”) is a Sino-Japanese word, originally referring to foreigners arriving to Japan from the south sea. In Japan, the word took on a new meaning when it came to designate the Portuguese and Spanish, who first arrived in 1543, and later other Europeans. Today it’s used more as a historic designation, referring especially to 16th and 17th century art and decorative objects with a European influence."