For Carlos Huber, founder of Arquiste perfumes, to be fragrantly correct means to journey back in time. Perusing the past has become a daily preoccupation for the Mexican-born architect and preservationist. The aromatic goal is to transport the wearer to a particular point in history, for example the meeting of King Louis XIV and his wife, Queen Maria Theresa, in 1660, or Alexander Pushkin’s death by duel in 1837.
In one year, Huber has developed six such high-concept scents for Arquiste, all of which have been picked up by Barneys New York. In addition, the fabled candle company Cire Trudon has invited him to collaborate on a scented candle, and the perfumer's cherubic face has been chosen for J.Crew’s current fall collection.
We caught up with Huber, who filled us in on how his longtime love of perfumes and history and the support of his clientele have converged to turn Arquiste into a latter-day reality...
Capturing a historical moment in a scent sounds like a difficult enterprise. How can an event in, say, 1695 in Mexico City (Anima Dulcis) evoke olfactory memories for you?
Because we are inheritors of the same world, heritage and traditions. When you visit an old building, you can sense its history by the feeling you experience. You smell the old materials. When you open a book on the period, you can find ancient culinary recipes that you might very well have tasted in 2012. Same with some perfume ingredients. We all know natural ingredients that have been used in fragrances for centuries, and that are tied to a specific geography or culture. That's why with Arquiste there is a big emphasis on "naturals."
Sounds like an intense process. Which fragrance was the most challenging to create?
Anima Dulcis for sure. It's like the mole paste invented in Viceregal Mexican convents. It has gourmand notes, green, florals and also woody aspects. To find the right balance of them was a no-no-no-yes process.
What exactly is your role?
My role is developer. I research the historic site and period that a story is based on, and I conduct smelling sessions to figure out the balance of the ingredients. I focus on evoking the historical moment and the perfumers try to make it a complete and aesthetic work of olfactory art. In the end we all end up agreeing over an after-work drink. I am fortunate to work with very accomplished perfumers who are smart, fun, and supportive of my stubborn ideas.
What makes a good perfume?
Whatever works well with your own skin. A perfume that has 'flight,' that breathes, touches your heart and tickles your nose.
Please describe your childhood. Where did you grow up? What did you originally want to be?
I grew up in Mexico City. My childhood was spent between old convents and Aztec pyramids. I'm kidding. I had a very standard, happy childhood with my brother and sister. We still have a ridiculous kid's sense of humor when we are together. I originally wanted to be an architect specializing in Lego blocks. (Laughs)
You've come a long way since Legos. What was your epiphany moment when you decided to launch a perfume line?
My epiphany moment came one day on a flight back to New York after a long weekend. I realized the day I was looking forward to the most was the day when I had my perfume course with nose Rodrigo Flores-Roux. I was talking about it with my partner and he said, "Why don't you work on a project with perfume, maybe mix it with architecture?" Bah, I thought, How can you do that? "Maybe if you do it through the idea of 'restoration' by recreating a smell, an experience, through research and restructuring." It all started as an experiment, a project to be tested. And it worked. Being based in New York and taking advantage of the support of its entrepreneurs made it easier. American perfumery is more open, as opposed to the European world of hierarchies and traditions. I work with French-trained perfumers, so we have a good mix of both traditions.
Do you believe in masculine, feminine, or in shared perfumes? Is there a need for all three?
I do believe in all three. But for me, most perfumes fall into the category of shared. That said, there are some fragrances that are just iconic as feminine. For me anyway. Women can get away with a lot more.
Why has it become important to place scent in an artistic framework incorporating art, painting and architecture?
I do think perfume is an art form. There are styles, aesthetics, techniques and "schools." But don't forget there is also the experience of perfume, which takes appreciation, critique, and ultimately a selection of masterworks. I also think perfumers are very inspired people who feed off of other art forms. A similar thing happens with architects. A lot of my close architect and designer friends are also big foodies. Ever met one of those? It’s kind of funny. I love food. I'll try anything!
What do you think about the trend in fashion and beauty to tell a story?
I don't personally think it's a trend. I think everything designed or created tells a story. I would agree that today there is more emphasis on the sharing of that creative process.
In your opinion, what's contributed most to the success of your line?
The support of a very stylish, good-looking and hip clientele.
Does that incude bloggers and online fans?
Very much! Fragrance enthusiasts (including myself) are very vocal and have a huge presence on blogs, forums, review sites. They are the true experts, and the passionate aficionados. And since perfume is such a personal, emotional, even visceral thing, everyone's point of view matters.
Finally, can you tell us what are you working on at the moment? What can we expect next from Arquiste?
A very cool, masculine take on a floral. A flower worn on a man's jacket lapel. I really wanted to push the envelope and make a quintessential floral scent as masculine as possible. And like you mentioned, a very exciting collaboration with Cire Trudon, a Franco-Mexican candle. How good does that sound?