It’s my pleasure to introduce Carlos Huber to Olfactics, Creative Director and founder of Arquiste.
I had the delight of sitting down with Mr. Huber to discuss all things scent related, and to smell his new fragrance NANBAN, which just recently launched in Australia.
Arquiste is a brand I have heard plenty about, but typical me, something I have seldom explored. Arquiste’s approach is unique and refreshingly novel. The works are time capsules and novellas – and push the narrative function of perfume and scent strongly.
Mr. Huber is a phenomenal speaker, and presents a down-to-earth quality when speaking. He offers no frivolous thrills nor fanciful ideas of luxury. Just good quality and well thought out products.
I thank him for sitting down with me. Come back soon!
On Perfume: Carlos Huber
C: From our side of things it’s a subjective art, it has a little bit of science and an exactitude, because something needs to perform in a certain way, but I think where it touches your emotions truly lies in the eye of the beholder.
L: I wanted to ask you: Who writes the little scent bios?
L: Oh! Ok! You’re very talented then! I was going to say … I’m very impressed by them
C: Thank you.
L: You obviously want to read about a fragrance, especially if you’re looking to buy and the stories really immerse you.
C: Yeah. I go through them a lot – digest, digest, and show, and read it to friends then read it again, because for me what’s important is that it has to communicate the ingredients, so that you understand the reason for the notes underneath. It has to communicate the feeling, and it should give you a beginning and an end, somehow – even if the end is a little vague or left a little bit more poetically. It should give you [the sort of] climax that goes with the fragrance.
L: Is there a story behind the bottles?
C: Yeah! So, I chose that shape. I worked with a lot of bottle makers and the question was whether we do a custom bottle, a custom mould, or do we choose something from stock.
Very quickly I noticed [for me] that if I did something custom it would have felt less niche and more along the lines of a fashion fragrance. Because then it would, and you would have to adapt every fragrance to something else – a new scent to a different design.
My style and what I like, in which I like very simple shapes and simple forms and everything. I really like rationalism and that type of architecture from the 1930’s. Neoclassicism too, and so even though there is a lot of ornament, and some fragrances are more baroque than others, I find shape-wise and in terms of aesthetic I am very clean. So I wanted a very simple shape, whatever that is.
I found this glass company in Italy, that not only made the best quality bottles that I had seen, but they had made this round bottle I had never seen before, and I loved that you couldn’t really tell the thickness of the glass, you wouldn’t see that, and being a round bottle, I would be able to tell you: “This one’s about 1930’s London. This one’s about 1830’s in Russia, and this one is about the Aztecs.” There wouldn’t be a conflict, because they would be little time capsules. Little potions. Something precious.
L: Yes, well, I though of them as really elegant, minimalistic styled bottles, in the sense that it’s not about the bottle, it’s about what’s in the bottle. That’s the story.
C: Yes. That too! We kept it very simple, with the juice inside, we never use any colourings. It’s not about labels and this and ribbons and Swarovski crystals or anything like that.
L: Funny. I have plenty to say about that!
C: Even gold flakes and things. It might appeal to a certain type or a certain demographic, for sure … But I think being a more intellectual brand and being a bit more about sophistication; elevated and intelligent. I think that that’s the market. That’s the person I want to capture.
“There wouldn’t be a conflict, because they would be little time capsules. Little potions. Something precious.”
L: I have no doubt that you’ve been asked this quite a bit. But, how would you describe niche perfumery, and how does Arquiste separate itself from the rest? Say, Calvin Klein?
C: It’s like everything in the world. Do you create a menu in a restaurant that will please everyone? Or, do you really create something new, and the way you’d want to do things?
I think niche perfumery is about expression. For something like perfume which is all about expression, to yourself and others. Sometimes you wear something for you. Sometimes you wear it for other people. I think both reasons are completely fine. So, niche perfumery and in the world of perfume, it’s natural that you have smaller brands and more alternative or intellectual or edgy brands, because it is about self-expression.
This is something you can purchase, and of course there’s a business behind it, but it’s different that the commercial mainstream perfume world or prestige world where it really is all about appealing to masses, and appealing to general aspects. This is not necessarily wrong, it’s also nice to love a beautiful cologne that is nothing new, but it’s extremely pleasing like a glass of lemonade.
L: Of course.
Michael Edwards’ said to me a few months ago: “niche is the future” – this means that niche becomes the everyday.
C: That’s a good point.
L: How do you keep Arquiste novel and exciting?
C: I think consistency is very important. So even though it is the future and it might grow, and you know, brands change, the world changes, cities grow, everything will – If you retain some sort of consistency and faithfulness to your core values and loyalty to those first customers; those first people who loved the brand from the beginning, that’s very important. I feel that that is one way to keep Arquiste relevant, special, and precious.
It’s not about making it niche to make it difficult for people, or too aristocratic or too exclusive and too separate … It’s about staying consistent with your point of view, maybe if that makes it a little more esoteric, then that’s fine. Because there’s room in the world for that.
I think that there is always that. It’s not necessarily that niche is the future – But the vanguard is always the vanguard. It’s always been. There’s always the vanguard, which starts niche, then becomes a movement, moves on, something else starts, moves on … So there will always be niche [being niche], whether it’s the same brand or other ones.
L: That’s a good point. Wonderful!
“If you retain some sort of consistency and faithfulness to your core values and loyalty to those first customers; those first people who loved the brand from the beginning, that’s very important.”
A little relevant to Aleksandr. You’ve scented Pushkin, who’s next?
C: It wasn’t so much about Pushkin, but the moment around him. It’s as if you were there with him.
L: I felt I was Pushkin wearing that fragrance. Because I sprayed on that perfume, and in that story he dabbed on, or splashed on, that cologne. I was thinking, will there be another moment like that?
C: Yeah, obviously all of them have some characters, but at the same time I want people to see themselves in it.
Some brands say: “This is Marie-Antoinette’s perfume”, or whatever, which is not necessarily true. I don’t want that conflict … I want that to be as much of a fun thing as possible. At the end of the day you want to smell most like you, in the guise of …
Right now I’m working on something that actually is not as elevated in high culture, but certainly a situation that we’ve been in, or you relate to.
It’s about Acapulco in the 1970’s. It’s a younger thing, it actually feels very vintage, because our memories of perfumes in the 70’s are more accurate, so it will feel more vintage than things from 1660, because we don’t understand that. It’s an interesting thing, coming from all the stories my parents would tell me – going out in Acapulco, and the discos and everything. It’s a fun, really interesting story with an incredible spirit. I’ve always wanted to do something about it.
“Right now I’m working on something that actually is not as elevated in high culture, but certainly a situation that we’ve been in, or you relate to … It’s about Acapulco in the 1970’s.”
L: That brings me to the next question: Let’s pretend your next brief was to scent Australia.
C: Oh yeah! I’ve thought about it!
L: Well, our history is short, but our natives are good – in the floral department. How would you scent us?
C: I’ve thought about it a lot. I love coming here and I love Australia. I have a special soft spot for it all over. The thing for me as a foreigner is, well, I don’t know the bush so well or the outback, and I haven’t been to the country necessarily. I’ve been to Perth, I’ve been to Melbourne, I’ve been to Sydney, Byron Bay and the beach around there. What really strikes me is how scented the cities are. The amount of star jasmine, and magnolia, and frangipani all over. That is very striking to me, even being from Mexico where we are used to these flowers as well. But not as lush or not as much in the street than [you]. I mean, here you are just walking down the street and you smell star jasmine all the time, you smell frangipani, and that is very significant to me. I don’t know how special it might be for you, but for foreigners it’s something very striking.
L: Well, it seems to be a very floral impression and reality of Australia for you, whereas I think of Melbourne because I live here, obviously, and I’m in the city everyday – and I think of the urinous smell of honey, and coffee, and similar. It’s interesting to get your take on it, which seems to contrast to mine nicely. Perspectives are important I guess!
C: Whenever you travel somewhere else you always get the idea of the foreign or the different. And of course I have a special place in my heart for those flowers. I really do love them, I like gardenia, and there are so many of them. Even though they aren’t Australian flowers, and not natives, they express Australia to me.
L: I look forward to the next perfume then!
C: Yes. One day.
“What really strikes me is how scented the cities are.”
L: What are you wearing at the moment? Last time I read you were wearing Sycomore by Chanel
C: Mmm. Yes I still love it.
Right now I’m working on this new scent, so I’ve been wearing it everyday. But from another brand, erm, to be honest because I’ve been in development so much I’ve just been wearing that. I wear a lot of cologne actually.
I wore NANBAN a lot since I started working on it, first due to testing, then actually now it’s a good scent for when I go out. People really seem to like it. I know I’m going to get a compliment with this one.
Architect’s Club for example is very me, and very much my sort of fragrance. But in the morning or before I go to bed, or the weekend or when I am heading to the gym – I splash a lot of cologne on.
4711 and Agua Brava. I love Agua Brava.
L: And Neroli Portofino, Rodrigo’s creation?
C: Neroli Portofino, I mean, I obviously love it from Rodrigo, but I don’t have it! It’s so much his fragrance that I think I don’t need to buy it. But at the same time, because he worked on L’Etrog, I feel like I have his citrus anyway – although it is very different. But I do love it.
L: Have you tried Thierry Mugler’s Cologne? The green one?
C: You know what, I did, a long time ago. I don’t remember it very well though.
L: It’s wonderful. It’s a mix between a hot steam iron and green orange leaves.
I guess if we’re talking about cologne, you have to look at perfume history. Does looking at old brands like Chanel, Caron, and Guerlain interest you?
C: Of course! It’s part of the heritage and the heart of the industry. Especially Guerlain. Guerlain for many perfumers is up there – maybe not now, but the old Guerlain. So whenever I work with Rodrigo or Yann there’s always a reference to their schooling and Guerlain. In their mind and in their head there’s always a connection and a point of comparison and a counterpart to the inspiration of those houses.
L: Do you wear any Guerlain scents?
C: No I don’t.
L: Ok. We’ll have to change that!
C: Well, I obviously love Jicky, Mitsouko, and all those things. But they are not for me or my skin. Habit Rouge … Vetiver, I like it, but my grandfather used to wear that so it’s too much my grandfather.
L: Have you tried Eau de Guerlain?
C: Yes! I do like it as well.
L: Well, my favourite is Habit Rouge. I wear it all the time.
C: Yeah. That’s a great one.
Photo by Arquiste
L: I wanted to talk about the new fragrance you’re launching today, NANBAN.
It has a Japanese undertone to it, I find. It doesn’t overtly have oriental notes in that literal sense. Like, it doesn’t evoke Asia. Instead, it evokes travelling to and fro; the in between.
C: Yeah. That’s the point.
L: I guess the question is, will there be an oriental orientated scent? Something that may evoke a more direct image of China, Shanghai or the like?
C: This is why I was drawn to the idea of NANBAN. I have been to Japan once. Thailand once. I have not been to China. I want to do things from the heart and that come from experience. Things that I know a bit more of. So, the thing that got me excited in discovering the story for NANBAN was exactly that I could approach the Orient as a foreigner. You know the story. It’s about this group of samurai who left Japan to negotiate all these trade agreements with the european powers, stopping in Mexico, Spain, France, Italy, and then came back.
It’s that moment of exchange between the Portuguese and the Spanish, which were the NANBAN. They were the ones called NANBAN. So it’s that idea of visiting the orient as a foreigner. And also, the Japanese in this case visiting Europe also as foreigners, and how both interpreted each other in different ways. So the fantasy and the romanticism of the Orient and the exotic, and at the same time the misinterpretation of the exotic. So, that’s why I thought that it felt accurate, and that it feels natural to me. Because as somebody from Mexico that lives in the States and I travel profusely, and I lived in Europe for a while, for the last seventeen years I’ve been a foreigner everywhere. I like that idea. It’s a little bit more in the middle. There’s room for interpretation, and that’s fun.
The more I can learn about something and a subject, the more my confidence grows in talking about the subject. It’s not just about the inspiration. There’s a lot of speaking and justifying, and proving, and people, like you, come with really good and accurate questions and you need to be able to answer this. You need to know what you’re talking about.
So if I do something about China and I’ve never been, and it’s just something, then it becomes very anti-Arquiste. It’s just: “Oh. A borrowing”. Or an inspiration that is not very niche. That’s not what I want. I want everything to feel, and that you will feel somebody took you as an intelligent person in creating this with a certain level of detail.
L: So, are these travel logs through scent?
C: In a way. It’s not necessarily about me, but since I’m creating it, it’s things I feel comfortable with – and that I want to share. There is a level of subjectivity and interpretation, but I think we all do that in whatever we are doing. This is what I’m good at and this is what I do and this is what I know. It’s not so much an activity of following me, Carlos, along his path – it should be about you and you saying: “I found this” – it’s an interest the same way that I was [interested]. A shared relevance.
L: The last question is for the sake of ceremony and tradition really – it’s a thing I do on the blog.
How do you like your eggs?
C: My what?
L: Your eggs. How do you like them cooked?
C: Oh! Ha. Poached. Runny yolks. If they’re scrambled – runny.
C: No, no, no. Olive oil.
L: Well, thank you!
C: Do you always ask that?
L: I always try to.
Arquiste can be purchased from Peony Melbourne (http://www.peonymelbourne.com.au/)