Somewhere in Time: The Arquiste Fragrance Line
One of the newest “concept” niche lines to emerge out of the seemingly constant torrent of new fragrances is Arquiste, and it’s set itself apart from the herd with two things: a novel idea and the talents of two star perfumers from Givaudan. After testing them I found the six fragrances (all launched at the same time) to be interesting and highly wearable with only one that was a real miss on me. The concept is really more of a scenario, a tableau of a captured moment in a richly imagined history. The fertile mind behind the perfumes is Mexico City native Carlos Huber, a prominent architect and designer with a penchant for historical preservation who poured his passion for the past into this series. I understand that more perfumes are in the works soon, and I eagerly await their arrival.
There often seems to be one weak link when a house releases multiple perfumes at once; for me it was Aleksandr, a masculine scent by Yann Vasnier with a disconcerting opening sequence that left me wondering with some dismay what it was going to do on my skin. As it turned out, this one has ozonic and aquatic notes in it, which explains everything; Calone and its ilk don’t play nice with my skin no matter how high the quality of the fragrance is. The juxtaposition of these with leather and fir balsam created a strange dissonance for the first few minutes that smelled for all the world like the ghost of valerian root, and if you know your herbs, that’s not what most people would want in a perfume. After that passed, the watery character persisted for quite some time until it finally settled down to a very nice but quiet leather. The inspiration for this scent, as with everything in the line, is an exact moment in time; in this instance that moment is a gentleman in 19th century St. Petersburg, Russia getting dressed on a cold winter morning to go out and fight a duel. There is nothing warm and fuzzy about Aleksandr, for it is as austere as can be, but once it gets to the drydown it is eminently suitable for men (and women) who like their fragrance to be lean, mean and elegant. Lots of people will love this; it’s just not my style.
One might think of Infanta en Flor as the polar opposite of a scent meant for a man on the way to meet his doom, even though it also has a leather note. It is a tender floral so soft and pretty that it reminded me of a fragrance I once had that was meant for children, although I wore it as a young adult. It’s not sugary or trite, however, but a really well done composition featuring orange flower, cistus (rock rose), immortelle and the gentlest suede-like leather. If only it had better longevity, but alas on my skin it was quite fleeting, lasting only a couple of hours. I had visions of young girls in pinafore dresses and ribbons in their shining hair while wearing Infanta en Flor and I can’t imagine a fragrance of greater innocence. Yann Vasnier is also the author of this perfume.
The masculine counterpart to Infanta en Flor is Fleur de Louis; while “she” is meant to represent a young Spanish princess, “he” is the embodiment of the youthful Louis XIV, all dressed up to meet his new bride in the heart of the Basque country in the year 1600. It is a woody floral that opens with citrus, and it’s both refined and restrained, though very likable. It also has orange flower but this time it’s paired with jasmine, powdery iris and cedar. It has a very bracing woody-green quality that smells like fresh twigs when you shred the ends off. A certain sourness pervades it but it’s the pleasant kind and it smells very much like something we used to call “sour grass” when I was growing up, a fleshy herb that we chewed on hot summer days to quench thirst. I never thought I would run across this aroma in a perfume; this would be an outstanding scent to wear in the dusty, muggy heat of August. I did find that it leaned toward the more “masculine” end of the spectrum, but it’s certainly wearable by anyone. It was composed by the prolific Rodrigo Flores-Roux.
A more boisterous citrus scent is L’Etrog, which opens with a delightful burst of Calabrian citron, which is an especially bright and pleasing type, and the scent is named after a regional variety of this aromatic fruit. There is an unusual surprise in store here; after the juiciness of the citrus and the lush green of myrtle leaves comes a deliciously sweet date note that lasts an impressively long time without becoming sticky or cloying, although it really is easily recognizable as date. I still don’t know how this fragrance manages to last so long since it’s virtually devoid of traditional base notes but I am in favor of it. The idea behind this scent, a collaboration between Yann Vasnier and Rodrigo Flores-Roux, is a medieval Mediterranean harvest celebration. If the year 1175 really smelled like this, please bring me a time machine! (I am not surprised at all that L’Etrog is so good - Rodrigo Flores-Roux also made my one of my favorite recent mainstream citrus scents for men, 2009’s John Varvatos Artisan.)
Another in the line that brought the talents of both perfumers together is Anima Dulcis, which is categorized as a “baroque gourmand” and I can’t think of a more suitable description. It starts out smoky and sweet like snuffed-out candles at a grown-up birthday party where the tastes and aromas of rich chocolate and vanilla desserts linger in the air, but it has just a touch of tingly heat from cinnamon and chili pepper that keeps that intense sweetness in check. So often I find that gourmands of this kind degenerate into a sugary jumble after an interesting but short opening; Anima Dulcis avoids this trap and just gets better as it develops and deepens into an ambery beauty with time. It’s one of those addictive eat-your-own-arm perfumes and a wonderful addition to the gourmand genre. This is one of my favorites in the line and one that I would like to own a bottle of. The concept is of nuns at a convent in Mexico City in 1695 preparing a recipe that has been kept secret for centuries until now, but even without the story, this fragrance stands on its own.
To no one’s surprise given my well known fondness for white florals, my other favorite of this group is the gorgeous Flor y Canto, a swooningly good floral mélange by Rodrigo Flores-Roux with the unexpected sharp tang of marigold (Tagetes) to give it a unique character. Tuberose, magnolia and plumeria combine to make for a luminous tropical perfume that manages to be both narcotically heady and refreshingly sheer at the same time, and I can’t get enough of it. I especially like the way the sharp herbal note of the marigold lingers on the skin and plays off against the petal-soft florals. The time in history for this one is the most dramatic of them all too; it’s the year 1400 in Tenochtitlan, Mexico (before it was even called Mexico actually) during an Aztec temple ceremony. I would love to wear it on a sultry summer evening; who knows what might happen with something this seductive? Anyone who is disenchanted with mainstream white florals and wants one that’s not too sweet and overpowering should really try Flor y Canto.
The Arquiste line is available online from their Web site, and in stores exclusively at Barneys New York locations. It comes in a 55 ml size for either $165 or $175 USD.
Image credit: Xochiquetzal, Aztec Goddess of the Arts, via Mesoamerican culture and history site tlacatecco.com.
Disclosure: The sample set was sent to me gratis for testing at my request by Arquiste.