One of the more interesting periods in history was when western sailing ships discovered Japan. The very insular society was shaken to its core as evidence of other civilizations were uncovered. The resulting culture clash as Western attitudes and Eastern honor clashed is the subject of much popular culture in books and film. Even though it wasn’t as well-known there was the reverse as Japanese sailing ships made their way west. The first diplomatic mission from Japan to Europe via Mexico took place from 1611-1618. Carlos Huber the creative director behind Arquiste uses this historical trip as the inspiration for the new Arquiste Nanban.
Nanban in its first usage in 16th century Japan referred to the visitors from Portugal and Spain. It has evolved over time to come to mean Japanese art of that time period which has obvious Western influences. This is fertile ground for Sr. Huber to mine as he has done with historical touchstones for the previous nine releases in the line. He has employed his team of perfumers in Rodrigo Flores-Roux and Yann Vasnier to collaborate together for the third time. This is another example where the teamwork between this team leads to extraordinary results. There is a clear bond between all of them whenever I have met them. I think that shows in the perfume they produce. While all three worked on the preliminary concept it would be Sr. Huber and Sr. Flores-Roux who would carry it to the finish. The idea was to have Nanban be the view of the West this Eastern diplomatic mission would bring back home.
The story Nanban tells is of a Japanese delegation who has been away from home for too long. When they arrived in Mexico I can imagine they must have been very happy to see the familiar osmanthus flowers greeting them after the long ocean crossing. This is where Nanban starts. The perfumers then dust it with black pepper, infuse it with black tea, and cloak it in saffron. All of the Western influences are imposed on the Eastern floral. The feel of culture clash is vividly on display. In the heart sandalwood and myrrh provide a meditative core of resinous woods. That calm is shattered with the new Western influences of coffee and tanned leather. The tug of war begins in earnest as the coffee and leather are in direct opposition to the sandalwood and myrrh. This is a civilized struggle as on my skin it was a vigorous negotiation as to which would eventually have the upper hand. Over time the coffee and leather win out. By the time we get to the heart the members of the mission breathe deeply of the forest adjacent to the harbor. The woods of home embrace them upon their return. Cade wood, copahu balm, and frankincense provide the structure of the homecoming.
Nanban has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
The best Arquiste fragrances are descriptions of the everlasting change history provides. Nanban is one of the liveliest discussions to take place so far. On the days I wore Nanban I found myself engrossed in the voyage it took me on. It also made me consider what it must have been like for the crew of the Japanese ship alone in the West trying to build a bridge. I can’t ask more from a perfume than to engage my intellect as well as my emotions, The Arquiste team has once again put time in a bottle, making it beautiful.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Arquiste.
Header photo by Hisao Oka and Edwin Pabon