nanban arquiste carlos huber sydney launch becker minty

On the scent of an idea | Arquiste & the artiste | Tale winds

Charisma and character - and just a little bit game-changing. Action!

Every perfume tells a story … some a little more seafaring than others. Carlos Huber swaps top notes with Susan Skelly

If there were such a thing as a perfume novelist, Carlos Huber would be its Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It’s not enough for a fragrance to have a formula and category, it has to have a story with an epic sense of alchemy and history.

The woody oriental Nanban, then, his 10th perfume for Arquiste, is a Man Booker Prize in the making.

Based on the ancient commercial trade between Asia, Europe and the Americas, it’s the (olfactory) tale of a Japanese galleon on a diplomatic mission to the West, circa 1618, carrying a delegation of samurai, and loaded with rare and precious cargo, the ship’s hull redolent of tropical woods, Spanish leather, frankincense, fine black pepper, coffee and other exotic ground spices.

Like a good story, a perfume needs a beginning, a middle and an end: Japan, a voyage, Spain. It needs an inventory of sensations: ocean, mast, salt, sailors, salty skin, the splash of the ocean on the skin, then “the end of the journey bringing bounty … the darkness of the black pitch painted onto the galleys, the mysterious smell of spices.”

nanban sydney launch carlos huber perfume arquiste becker minty skelly

Inside the hull of a galleon bound for Spain? Photo Susan Skelly

Is that coffee you’re wearing?

A moody tableau representing the ingredients of Nanban took centre stage at its Sydney launch recently, held at the Potts Point treasure trove, Becker Minty … bark, black pepper, coffee beans,  dustings of spices, sandalwood boxes, leather plaits, coloured glass vials…

Essentially, this New York-based perfume developer, whose background is in architecture, smells ideas. Curiosity, cultures and commotion drive his creativity.

“I like always having an element of disruption in fragrances,” Huber says. “I like the idea of the bespoke, buttoned-up classic love story – classical, beautiful and traditional – to which is added something edgy and jarring that takes it out of this context.

“I love smelling a fougère or chypre on someone you wouldn’t expect to be wearing it. Coffee, for example, is the unexpected in Nanban – it’s a huge part of this perfume. I thought that would be amazing … it’s a very coffee-driven fragrance for such an oriental perfume.”

nanban perfume arquiste ingredients coffee beans spices skelly

Coffee, Nanban’s fragrant disruptor. Photo Susan Skelly

The kingdom of ideas

Huber loves shooting the breeze. Over Champagne, an aged cheddar and chocolate-dipped strawberries on steroids, we canvass linguistics, dialects, accents, the West’s appropriation of oud, the impeccably groomed Grand Budapest Hotel,  the pleasures in rediscovering classics, whether music or perfume.

“I like discussions about taste and style, about appropriateness in art, the sublime, the monumental; [about] what’s appropriate for a king, for a bourgeoise person. I love the idea of taking style to an almost subliminal level, not just something that a magazine tells you, but something you feel and develop, an innate quality of humankind. A virtue.”

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Huber grew up in Mexico City, with its magnetic mix of Aztec, Spanish colonial, beaux arts and modern structures. He studied architecture there and in Paris before travelling in Spain. In New York City, he studied historic preservation at Columbia University.

The perfect perfume

Eventually Huber returned to a longtime love of perfumery, studying fragrance development before launching Arquiste in 2011. He describes himself more as a perfume developer than a perfumer. He briefs Rodrigo Flores-Roux on his research ideas, the abstracts, the nuances,  the feelings, the emotions – and gives Flores-Roux carte blanche to interpret to his heart’s content.

“Every morning I have to try it, test it, love it,” says Huber. “It’s kind of like dating – for a while, you’re just not into it; then you meet that person, that scent, and it’s like ‘That’s It!’.

“Fragrance should define things in your life – places, people or moods. You don’t have to smell like an intelligent sophisticated person in a moment that you’re not!”

In recent times, Arquiste has branched into exotic candles and created scents for J Crew and the St Regis hotel group.

carlos huber arquiste perfumer nanban

Carlos Huber, Arquiste perfume developer

With the perfumes in the Arquiste portfolio, says Huber, you get “a very specific feeling through them: the scents are sophisticated, not pretentious, with an intelligence. And that makes them elegant. “I don’t want people to think that Arquiste is about luxury [just] because it has expensive materials. It’s about something making you feel better about yourself, the experience. If people pick up a bottle and say ‘Oh My God, what’s the story behind this…?’ that’s brilliant. I am not after best-sellers. I am just happy when people love it.”

Gucci’s Envy was Huber’s  first love (“I still love it; such an important perfume”). He fondly remembers Dior’s Fahrenheit and Polo Ralph Lauren Blue (“My Dad had Green”).

If he could have invented one perfume, what would it be?

“Chanel’s Sycomore. It is so perfect. Sycomore has the largest amount of vetiver in the world! It can’t be improved on …”

Aperitif at the Club

Huber is proud of Nanban, but even more proud of Fleur de Louis, a woody floral blossoming on the Isle of Pheasants, in the Basque region, on the French/Spanish border in 1660. (OK, the storyline: To ensure peace between them, two royal courts converge at a richly appointed pavilion built of freshly cut pine and cedar wood. From the French side, in a golden aura of iris, rose and jasmine, emerges a young Louis XIV, all starched and composed, eager to catch a glimpse of his new bride, the Infanta Maria Teresa.)

“It’s an amazing scent for me,” he enthuses. “It really has this orange blossom, rose and jasmine but also woody background French 17th century opulence.”

But it’s The Architects Club that best defines him and that Huber most likes to wear. Think cocktail time, 1930, Mayfair, London … “A group of architects gather for cocktails at Mayfair’s smartest Art Deco smoking room. As they settle into the warm interior of dark woods, leather and velvet, London’s bright young things burst in, frosted martinis in hand, surrounded by a cloud of laughter, white smoke and fine vanilla.”




Editor. Writer. Traveller. Keeping tabs on all things fab.

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