Perfume has to be emotional. It has to touch you somehow …
Helder Suffenplan: Arquiste’s creations are inspired by historical events and personalities. How did you develop this unusual approach?
Carlos Huber: I am interested in the interpretation of the past and in the traces it leaves in our world. Arquiste is in many ways an extension of my practice as an historic preservationist — researching and “reading” the past in an effort to understand our present, and launch these lessons into our future. The memory of a scent already acts as a ghostly resurrection in our lives, and so using it as a tool helps me connect our own experience with a long-lost moment or place.
HS: If a time machine would bring me to the court of Louis XIV for just one day, what would I smell? And would I like what I smell?
CH: If you would visit Versailles after the court moved in 1682, and you were taken to the Hall of Mirrors you would smell the scent of orange blossom emanating from the orange trees the King had planted in silver pots, rhythmically placed in between the wide windows.
You would also smell the iris-scented Pommade de Florence worn by the courtiers, and behind that soft veil of elegance you would also smell the human scent of the many courtiers present wanting to gain favor from the monarch.
Louis XIV at the age of 26.
Robert Nanteuil, 1664. © Bibliothèque nationale de France.
HS: In art, the concept of beauty has changed profoundly over the centuries. Do you think this is also true about perfume?
CH: Absolutely — as history and evolution changes us we go back and forth: back into traditions that we rediscovered, and forth into uncharted territory.
HS: Does perfume necessarily have to be beautiful to be meaningful?
CH: Not necessarily — and it doesn’t have to be super powerful either. It has to be emotional, though. It has to touch you somehow …
Both architecture and perfume involve the physicality of our body.
HS: Before Arquiste you were working as an architect. Both architecture and perfume are “holistic” crafts that create a new environment and completely enwrap the recipient. But what are the main differences between creating architecture and perfume?
CH: As an architect specialized in the preservation of historical monuments, I think both architecture and perfume involve the physicality of our body; both are about the experience of occupying a space, whether it is standing protected in a room or in a cloud of perfume; however, architecture is permanent, perfumery evanescent …
HS: You work with two renowned noses to realize your perfume visions: Rodrigo Flores-Roux and Yann Vasnier. How would you explain the actual development process to a non-specialist?
CH: I present them with my research on a specific historic episode that uncovers a rich olfactive experience. Once they have understood the ingredient listing and they have thought of the combinations they present what we call a first modification which I will then reshape and refine through my evaluation and direction. This process takes us around a year for each fragrance.
Researching places and moments in history.
HS: SCENTURY is all about perfume storytelling. How do you communicate your visions to the perfumers? Do you use visuals, or maybe do you tell them stories?
CH: Both because for me the more visual and ALIVE the storytelling the better! I work on a presentation where I share with them what I have uncovered about a specific place and time, telling them the story with all the passion and showing them images, describing in detail every nuance of the story and showing them artifacts or the authentic sources where the notes on the olfactive materials are mentioned.
The more information I can give them on ingredients, and the more detailed the feeling and description of the place and story is, the better we can approximate that reconstruction. All this information they keep as a mini-thesis that they can go back to and revisit.
Alexander Puschkin, the inspiration behind Aleksandr by Arquiste.
Pastel by Pyotr Petrovich Sokolov, 1836. Via: Wikipedia.
HS: You were born in Mexico and have a multicultural background. How does this influence your perception and your creations?
CH: I was born in Mexico City and my background is actually an entangled mix of Polish and Russian, with some Swiss, Greek, Turkish and Spanish-Mexican thrown in. This mixed background has always prompted me to look for an identity, and this search is what has made me so curious in historical research.
I realize that in a way I’ve been trying to construct an olfactive library that can open up my family’s complicated, entangled history. It wasn’t a conscious intention — but when you come from a family of such mixed origins, of people that have left behind so much, you try to reclaim something to understand more about yourself.
Hence, I inherently started researching places and moments in history that had some emotional connection with me. I felt that talking about what was an authentic interest would bring an honesty that would shine through.
I was born and raised in Mexico and its culture (Flor y Canto, Anima Dulcis) and studied and worked in different places in Europe (Fleur de Louis, Infanta en Flor); my family is Jewish (L’Etrog) and comes from Poland and Russia (Aleksandr).
Tenochtitlan, Capital of the Aztec Empire.
HS: The writer David Leavitt said: “Childhood smells of perfume and brownies!” What did your childhood smell like?
CH: Agua de Colonia by Sanborns (an orange flower cologne from Mexico), the smells of my family’s kitchen and grass …
HS: Why did you chose New York as base for Arquiste?
CH: New York is as much of a center of perfumery as Paris. The top perfume houses have creative offices here, and there is so much support from a community of entrepreneurs. Also, launching a fragrance collection in a center of fashion and media is easier since everything is concentrated. People are open to discovering new things in New York!
Arquiste amalgamates perfume traditions from the “Old World” and the “New World”.
HS: Is there a general difference between ”Old Word“ and ”New World“ perfumes?
CH: I think more and more ”New World“ perfumes are blurring the lines in between — the American market certainly has a reputation for liking more citrusy or fruity scents in comparison with Europe. But I don’t think you can generalize what ”Old World“ means in Europe: the differences in taste change from border to border.
Arquiste is a ”New World“ brand but it amalgamates historic perfume traditions from the ”Old World“ and the ”New World” — the influences go back and forth now, and I believe we are serving something new yet familiar to European scent aficionados.
HS: What is your vision for Arquiste in — let’s say — 10 years from now?
CH: To become a reference for quality and originality in fine fragrance — to grow our collection of scents into a real archive of iconic fragrances, found everywhere in the world and with our own stores: I want Arquiste to elevate the experience of perfume, taking the independent character of the niche market to an unprecedented level of quality and complexity.
HS: Thank you!
The Guiding Stars of Carlos Huber
What are your guiding stars, Carlos Huber? What works of art, books and movies inspired you and who are the people you admire for their integrity and impact?
Piensa in mi by Luz Casal.
1. Piensa en mi by Luz Casal.
… music for me is a daily soundtrack, but this one always gets me.
2. Carlo Scarpa, Architect.
… for his beautiful designs and his “surgery” with historic buildings — he is an inspiration.
3. Orlando (1992), by Sally Potter.
… with Tilda Swinton!
4. Life is Meals by James & Kay Salter.
… a book of days that describes the history, culture and meaning behind food and what we do with it.
5. Mexico City.
… all its different aspects and layers of history.