Perfume has a habit of triggering memories of places, to be sure. Sometimes it can even pull you back to a specific time, too. Carlos Huber the owner and creative director of Arquiste is one who regularly does both. His career in architectural restoration has combined with his passion for fragrance to make sure the brief for his perfumes come from a specific time and place. Up until now those times and places have not been during my lifetime. The newest pair El and Ella become the first.
Sr. Huber grew up on the stories his parents told him of the Acapulco disco Armando’s Le Club. In the early 1970’s Acapulco was the hip destination in Mexico and where the jet set could be found was dancing the night away at Armando’s Le Club. It was a resort version of Studio 54. The only difference here is the party moved from the pool in the daytime on to the dance floor at night. Disco and Acapulco were meant to be together and Armando’s Le Club was its intersection.
Sr. Huber wanted to capture a feminine and a masculine take on this particular setting. He enlisted regular collaborator Rodrigo Flores-Roux to complete this vision. They decided to name these creations El and Ella (he and she in Spanish). They are each meant to pick up on a part of the experience in 1972 at Armando’s Le Club. Sr. Flores-Roux creates two distinctly gendered personalities in each of these perfumes.
Ella is the scent of the woman who has finished her sunbathing for the day and has nipped up to her room to slide into a Halston sheath. The neckline plunges as the sheen of perspiration forms droplets which disappear further down. Ella is this woman who stalks the pool deck imperiously only to prowl the dancefloor looking for her equal.
Ella opens with that scent of clean sweat beaded skin. Sr. Flores-Roux uses angelica root and carrot seed to form this accord. We then follow one of those beads of sweat as it coalesces at the waist. Rose coated with cardamom and honey. This is the scent of seduction as Ella puts out her lure. It all heads into a magnificent animalic chypre base composed of patchouli, vetiver, and civet. The last little bit of dazzle is a cigarette smoke accord which swirls very lightly throughout the base. This is so perfectly balanced to not disrupt the overall mood but to capture a time when smoking was what was hip.
El is the scent of that man who also enters Armando’s Le Club. He is dressed for the evening wearing a Nik-Nik shirt unbuttoned down to his navel. There is gold around his neck, more than one, but not too many. There is also a sheen of perspiration underneath his chest hair. He is an El looking for his Ella and across the dance floor that might be her standing there.
El opens with a 1970’s power herbal chord of laurel, clary sage, and rosemary. This is so typical of powerhouse men’s fragrances of the time it is almost the equivalent of “I am Man hear me roar”. It would have been so easy to let that beast out. Instead Sr. Flores-Roux works at making this a man of intellect as he uses cinnamon leaves to twist that herbal opening into something fantastically satisfying. Cinnamon leaf is an ingredient almost used as an afterthought. Not here. Sr. Flores-Roux uses it as a harness to keep the rampaging herbs from being too strident. It has to be done because the same cardamom and honey that we met in Ella are also here. This is the heart beating underneath the hirsute chest and gold chains. For El, Sr. Flores-Roux fashions an animalic fougere base. Vetiver and patchouli are transformed with a double dose of animalic as castoreum and civet provide the fur. Oakmoss provides the toothy smile. It is that moment when El sees Ella and passion takes over the night as the music and lights swirl around them.
Both Ella and El have 12-14 hour longevity. El has a little more sillage than Ella but neither is something I would consider quiet.
In every disco of the 1970’s a mirror ball held central position over the dance floor. The ability to reflect the light in many directions feels very similar to what El and Ella achieve. Through their collaborative efforts Sr. Huber and Sr. Flores-Roux have made two fragrances which contain a mirror ball of cardamom, honey, and civet within. The reflection of the other notes in both El and Ella are what makes them distinctive. El and Ella have reached a new pinnacle for Arquiste. These are both amongst the best this brand has to offer.
Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by Arquiste.