Colognoisseur Best of 2018: Part 2- Perfume, Perfumer, Creative Director, and Brand of the Year

2

Part 1, yesterday, was my look back at the year in broad terms. Today in Part 2 I get specific naming the best of the year in four categories.

Perfume of the Year: Arquiste Esencia de El Palacio GuayabosArquiste Creative Director Carlos Huber and perfumer Rodrigo Flores-Roux began their exclusive collection for luxury Mexican department store El Palacio de El Hierro in 2016. As of the end of 2018 they have released eight perfumes exploring the botany of Mexico in a set of “tree stories”. Both creative minds behind this collection have always put a little bit of their homeland of Mexico in every Arquiste release they have collaborated on. Saying that, this collection feels like there is heart and soul, along with the country, within each of these excellent perfumes.

Rodrigo Flores-Roux (l.) and Carlos Huber

During the summer I received Guayabos which immediately connected with me. I have worn this weekly since I received it. I’ve sprayed my bed with it. The poodles have inadvertently ended up smelling like it. It is one of the very best perfumes ever made by Sr. Flores-Roux.

I scheduled a call with him at Givaudan to find out how this came together. The concept was to create a guava perfume which captured the ripe guava in his house as child. As an adult the perfumer had to undertake headspace analysis of green guava, ripe guava, and guava blossom. This would lead to a layered effect which captured the esencia of guava. Jasmine and osmanthus provide the perfect floral companions over a clean woody base accord.

Guayabos is my perfume of the year because it was an obra de amor (labor of love) for Srs. Flores-Roux and Huber.

Charna Ethier

Perfumer of the Year: Charna Ethier– 2018 is going to be memorable for the excellent independent perfumer releases. The independent perfumer who had the strongest year was Charna Ethier of Providence Perfume Co. She has been one of the most consistently innovative perfumers I encounter. 2018 is the year where that quality overflowed in three spectacular releases. The first was Vientiane a study in sandalwood which was elevated by a jasmine rice tincture. Next came Lemon Liada an abstraction of lemon eau de cologne with no lemon used as an ingredient. Sedona Sweetgrass captures the scent of the American desert southwest in a photorealistic manner.

The breadth of these three perfumes is not only testament to why the indies rocked 2018 but more specifically why Charna Ethier is my Perfumer of the Year.  

Runner-Ups: Rodrigo Flores-Roux, Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, Maria McElroy, Cecile Zarokian, and Sarah McCartney

Rania Naim

Creative Director of the Year: Rania Naim– How about this for a to-do list for 2018? Take on the reformulation of one of the great historic perfumes. While doing that create four new contemporary perfumes honoring that history. That would sink most creative directors. That Rania Naim succeeded makes her the easy choice as Creative Director of the Year.

The first part of the year was given over to completing the new formulation of Jacques Fath Iris Gris. Mme Naim oversaw a painstaking effort to achieve something amazing in L’Iris de Fath. She would end up trusting a young creative team to accomplish this; which succeeded spectacularly. The decision to trust in young creative perfumers extends to the Fath’s Essentials releases where perfumers Cecile Zarokian and Luca Maffei produced two perfumes each under Mme Naim’s direction. All four exemplify the creativity still able to be found in the niche sector.

Capturing the past while living in the present means the future is all that is left to Rania Naim; my choice for Creative Director of the Year.

Runner-Ups: Carlos Huber (Arquiste), Victor Wong (Zoologist Perfumes), and Celine Roux (Jo Malone)

Brand of the Year: A Lab on Fire– If other brands weren’t going to show me something different Carlos Kusubayashi allowed perfumer Dominique Ropion to capture “The Morning After” winning an Academy award in And The World Is Yours. A long night into day encapsulated by neroli and cumin. This was followed up by perfumer Emilie Coppermann combining violet along with the De Laire base of Iriseine in a gorgeous purple flower melody called Hallucinogenic Pearl. Mr. Kusubayashi has never been afraid to release what comes of giving perfumers the space to create freely. In 2018 it makes A Lab on Fire my Brand of the Year.

Runner-Ups: DSH Perfumes, 4160 Tuesdays, Arquiste, Jacques Fath, and Jo Malone

Part 1 was my broad overview of 2018

Part 3 is my Top 25 New Perfumes of 2018.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Reviews Arquiste Esencia de El Palacio Vainillas, Resinas, and Nardos- Aromas del Otoño

When it comes to perfume the cities of Paris, Milan, or New York have all the fun as it is where perfume is debuted. That has become less true over the last few years as other cities are joining in by having their own special perfume character. Mexico City is one of those. It arises from a partnership between the luxury department store El Palacio de Hierro and the creative director Carlos Huber and perfumer Rodrigo Flores-Roux of the brand Arquiste. Two years ago, they released a trio of perfumes under the Arquiste Esencia de El Palacio name.  2017 has seen the spring release of Guayabos and Limoneros now followed by the release of three more for the end of the year; Vainillas, Resinas, and Nardos.

Rodrigo Flores-Roux (l.) and Carlos Huber

The concept of these perfumes are meant to capture the indigenous botany of Mexico. Both Srs. Huber and Flores-Roux have used this collection to shine a fragrant spotlight on their Mexican heritage. All three of these perfumes display Mexican twists to well-known perfume ingredients.

One of those ingredients is vanilla. Did you know that vanilla originated in the Papantla region of Veracruz? The Aztecs were the first to use it as a flavoring. Once Cortez took it back home it spread all over the world. The Papantlan version of vanilla is used in Vainillas.

The vanilla is partnered with a tart citron in the top accord. The citrus adds contrast to the vanilla. Sr. Flores-Roux tells me Papantlan vanilla is called “blackened vanilla” by flavorists. It seems like he wanted to create a fragrance version of that. The vanilla accord here comprised of Papantlan and Madagascan versions in overdose have a darker edge than most vanilla in perfume. As it progresses Sr. flores-roux sticks to those darker tones with benzoin, amber, and the animalic musk of civet. It is this darkness on the edge of the usually sweet vanilla which makes Vainillas stand apart.  

Resinas also takes a traditional ingredient of Mexico and combines it with sources from other places more known for it. A perfume called “resins” is going to be a festival of incenses. Sr. Flores-Roux wanted an accord which captured the resin of the Ocote pine used for fire-starting. He wanted to find the clean quality along with a bit of the burnt.

Resinas opens with the ocote alongside Peru and Tolu balsams. A classical Middle Eastern frankincense joins in. this forms a very dry incense accord. The hint of smoke keeps it from going too far in that direction. Myrrh and patchouli add even more depth pulling away from that early austerity. Overall I found Resinas to provide the kind of perfume experience most often described as a “church incense”. It has been a great companion over the Holidays for that quality.

If there is a scent I associate indelibly with Mexico it is tuberose. Called “nardos” it was inevitable that this collection would also have an entry called Nardos. Tuberose is one of the keynotes of floral perfumery. My experience of nardos flowers were sitting outside in the evening drinking while enveloped in the heady scent of the blooms. The perfume version manages to also find some tuberose a seat at the bar to create a memorable version of this white flower.

In the early going of Nardos the outsized creamy slightly mentholated tuberose is all that is on display. It is a gorgeous version of tuberose but far from unique. That happens next as the swagger of a boozy escort intersperses itself into things. The accord is called “essence of cognac” but Sr. Flores-Roux told me it actually comes from an essence distilled from the residue of wine-making called “lees”. There is an earthiness which exists as an undercurrent to the alcoholic nature. Sr. Flores-Roux uses sugar cane to tilt the wine residue back towards the top shelf liquor it is trying to emulate. This forms an intoxicated, and intoxicating, tuberose accord. If this was all there was, I would have enjoyed Nardos; but there is more. One thing about tuberose is it is so expansive it tends to overwrite almost anything else in the perfume. What can happen is after a few hours of wearing a high concentration tuberose perfume like Nardos you get something entirely different over the last few hours. As the tuberose loses its intensity immortelle provides its maple syrup-like sweetness. As much as I liked the rowdy tuberose of the first part this immortelle pairing is near-perfect. The syrupy quality of the immortelle adds a compelling contrast. It becomes even more enjoyable as castoreum and oak provide wood and animalic to the final stages. It is this part of Nardos which elevates it.

All three perfumes have 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

Srs. Huber and Flores-Roux have continued their story of Mexico told in perfumed chapters by spending the three latest based on the scents of autumn or more appropriately, “aromas del otoño”.

Disclosure: This review was based on samples supplied by Arquiste.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Arquiste Sydney Rock Pool- In the Golden Hour

For most people the smell of the beach is a combination of salt spray, suntan lotion, and fresh air. Growing up in South Florida there is another ingredient I have always added to that; the smell of damp coral. At the edge of my bicycle range as a child was a public beach called Matheson Hammock. The main feature of this beach was a natural atoll pool. This was a natural saltwater pond which was refreshed as the tides came and went, ringed with coral. Everything at Matheson Hammock was made of coral; the snack bar, the picnic canopy, you name it. It was as present as the ingredients I mentioned above in my memory of the beach. There have been a few perfumes which have added a bit of stony minerality to the beach scene, the latest is Arquiste Sydney Rock Pool.

Carlos Huber

The name indicates what part of the world inspired this perfume. Creative director-owner Carlos Huber released Sydney Rock Pool exclusively to Australia earlier this year. It has just become available worldwide. The perfume grew out of a private release to Conde Nast VIP’s. Sr. Huber continued to develop it with perfumer Rodrigo Flores-Roux into what has become Sydney Rock Pool.

Rodrigo Flores-Roux

There is a time and place represented by every Arquiste perfume for this one it is the “Golden Hour” in 2016. For those who don’t know the phrase “golden hour” it represents the final hour of the sun in the sky every day. For me the golden hour was the natural signal to head home while there was still daylight to ride my bicycle. As an adult it has become one of my favorite parts of the day as it closes with a palette of colors across the sky; sometimes finishing with a flash of green.

On the days I was at Matheson Hammock as the sun reached a low position I had salt dried on my skin from swimming in the atoll pool. The remains of my suntan lotion were on its last legs. The sea breeze was switching directions bringing the smell of the flowers growing on the land to me. The wet coral was mingling with the scent of the warmed trunks of the palm trees. This is what Sydney Rock Pool smells like.

Sydney Rock Pool begins with a suntan lotion accord represented by coconut on top of salt spray dried on skin. I remember looking down at my chest and seeing white trails. Some of which were dried sea water and some were the places where suntan lotion remained. It would take a touch to see if it was oily or flaky to determine which was which. The scent is reproduced here uncannily by Sr. Flores-Roux. A mineralic accord that rises underneath this is the smell of wet coral. The scent of the flowers behind me come as jasmine and frangipani provide the tropical style botanicals. Sr. Flores-Roux use a thread of narcissus to stitch them together into a late afternoon early evening style of floral accord. The narcissus provides some weight without overwhelming. A healthy dollop of ambermax captures the smell of drift wood and palm trees warmed by the day’s sun.

Sydney Rock Pool has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

I suspect that some where Down Under there is a young child on a bicycle standing atop an atoll pool who is a twin to myself fifty years ago and a world away. Sydney Rock Pool connects us via the scent of the golden hour no matter what the map says.

Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle supplied by Arquiste.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Arquiste Esencia de El Palacio Limoneros and Guayabos- Tree Stories

4

I am fortunate to have the connections to try almost any perfume I hear about. I keep my eye out looking for some of the interesting new places to find fragrance. One place I discovered last year was the collection being produced by Arquiste for the upscale Mexican department store El Palacio de Hierro. Creative director Carlos Huber working with longtime collaborator, perfumer Rodrigo Flores-Roux, produced a trio of fantastic perfumes under the Esencia de El Palacio label. I wasn’t sure if that was going to be it. A few months ago, I received a notice that there were two new releases coming. I couldn’t wait to try Limoneros and Guayabos. I was not disappointed as both of these are among my favorite new releases of 2018. Because I was so taken with them I arranged a phone call, to Givaudan, with Sr. Flores-Roux to get some background which you will find sprinkled throughout the remainder of the review.

Rodrigo Flores-Roux (l.) and Carlos Huber

Sr. Flores-Roux told me that he and Sr. Huber had agreed that they wanted to continue the collection’s focus on the indigenous botany of Mexico. This is apt because Sr. Flores-Roux was in school studying that subject when he was called away to begin his perfume career. When speaking with him he mentioned that along with Azahares and Magnolios from the first trio; Limoneros and Guayabos add to the “tree stories” they are trying to tell. The thought was to go into these two new perfumes focusing on the Mexican version of lemon and guava respectively.

When I first tried Limoneros I was strongly reminded of a lemon-lime soda I grew up with in S. Florida. I can’t find the name, but this was not Sprite or 7-Up it was a Cuban version. It was much tarter with an ebullient effervescence. I just described Limoneros to you. Sr. Flores-Roux was also inspired by a lemon-lime soda of his youth in Mexico. When his family would visit Acapulco there the soda the kids drank was called Yoli. Made of the Mexican limon it is not the traditional Italian lemon most Americans know. It is a lemon which is closer to lime. Srs. Huber and Flores-Roux wanted Limoneros to be the smell of squeezing that Mexican limon, into your bottle of beer or over your fish taco, on your hand. Along the way a bit of the Yoli inspiration found its way into the final Eau Fraiche composition.

That Mexican limon is what greets you straightaway. It is tarter than typical lemon in a perfume. There is a significant green quality added in. Cardamom is part of the formula of Yoli soda and it finds its way in the top accord of Limoneros. This captures the smell of freshly squeezed limon on my fingers. Then via the use of ginger a kind of effervescence bubbles up from underneath the limon accord. Right here is where Limoneros most closely resembles Yoli. It is full of life. It rests on a light summery base of vetiver, patchouli, and iris.

One of the great things about Sr. Huber is he knows when Sr. Flores-Roux is inspired and needs to just be left to his own devices. Such was the case for Guayabos. Sr. Flores-Roux returns to his childhood where ripe guava was in his house. He very much wanted to capture that for Guayabos. To accomplish that he undertook headspace analysis of green guava, ripe guava, and guava blossom. This would lead to three sources of guava in the final version.

It is those three layers of guava which open Guayabos. Sr. Flores-Roux wanted to make sure to capture the cinnamic spicy nature of the guava. By combining the three guava sources he finds it in the place where they come together. Guava is an odd tropical fruit and you’ll know if you like it right away in Guayabos. I don’t just like it; I swooned for it. There is a vividness to the guava in the top accord that made me feel like I should be able to reach out and take a bite. Guayabos could stay here but Sr. Flores-Roux is better than that. He uses jasmine to moderate the guava blossom into something more traditionally floral. Osmanthus provides a leathery botanical rind to encase the fruit within. It rests on clean woods of cedar and cypress.

Both Limoneros and Guayabos have 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Guayabos is my favorite new perfume of 2018, so far. From a perfumer who I have admired this is a tour de force for him. It shows why Sr. Huber letting him follow his inspiration leads to something amazing. I’m not sure if Guayabos didn’t exist I wouldn’t be saying Limoneros is my favorite perfume of 2018. I’ve been wearing both of them so much they are going to be reminders of the summer of 2018. Taken together the tree stories of the Esencia de El Palacio collection are as good as perfume gets for me. Thankfully it was confirmed there are more to come. I know as long as Sr. Huber and Sr. Flores-Roux continue to tap into their shared Mexican heritage they can’t go wrong.

Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by Arquiste.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Arquiste Esencia de el Palacio Magnolios- Cinco de Magnolia

Arquiste owner-creative director Carlos Huber and perfumer Rodrigo Flores-Roux are men for whom their heritage is reflected within their artform. Nowhere has this been reflected as potently to me as it has been while experiencing the Esencia de el Palacio collection they produced for the Mexican upscale department store El Palacio de Hierro. The three perfumes produced were meant to provide interpretations of modern Mexico, Azahares; the future of Mexico, Vetiveres; and the Mexican past, Magnolios. I’ve gone about this in a very random order starting with Azahares followed by Vetiveres and now finishing with Magnolios. Yet ending with Magnolios is a contrast to what had come before.

Carlos Huber

Most Americans will associate magnolia with the South. It has been a symbol of that part of the country since the beginning. The blooming of the magnolia trees is the harbinger of spring for US Southerners. In Mexico, the magnolia grows throughout the country. It is thought by some botanists to be the first indigenous flowering plant in North America. When Sr. Huber and Sr. Flores-Roux say they are going back they probably don’t mean that far back. Magnolia by itself tends to carry with it a sense of history because it defines its geography.

Rodrigo Flores-Roux

For Magnolios Sr. Flores- Roux creates a floral celebration of Mexican history around a central keynote of magnolia. Magnolia works as the centerpiece of any fragrance because it also carries a noticeable citrus character along with the creamy floralcy. Magnolios explores all aspects of the magnolia throughout its development.

The magnolia core is supported using the magnolia leaves to provide a full-spectrum effect. In the early moments, the flower, the woody bark of the tree, and the green of the leaves are like watching a magnolia develop via time-lapse. Then sweet orange teases out the citrus within the bloom. Early on it smells like fresh orange juice. Cardamom begins the transition into the next phase with its lemony and green duality. This evolves into something greener as the magnolia leaves are emphasized by galbanum. Sr. Flores-Roux then adds in something which takes the breath away, eucalyptus. The mentholated scent of it adds a lung-filling vibrancy while also hewing to the green effect. Cedar is the woody foundation upon which Magnolios rests.

Magnolios has 12-14 hour longevity and above average sillage.

They will have to speak for themselves but I feel a passion, from Sr. Huber and Sr. Flores-Roux, underneath all three Esencia de el Palacio fragrances. Which is understandable when these were designed to be sold exclusively in Mexico maybe they felt they could allow their heritage a little more room to express itself. I do have a wish that at some point all three of these excellent perfumes are added to the main Arquiste collection. Magnolios as well as the other two deserve to be celebrated around the world.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Arquiste.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Arquiste Esencia de el Palacio Vetiveres- Mexican Summer

I have been a soccer fan for many years. It is funny to think how far things have come. Now I can watch and follow my favorite players and teams effortlessly. In 1986, I couldn’t know this future was coming. With the World Cup in Mexico that summer I decided to go follow the whole tournament since I believed it was the best chance I would have to see the players I had only read about for real. For nearly a month I traveled from stadium to stadium trying to see all 24 teams. I spent many nights sleeping outside. Most mornings the scent of the air which woke me had this great vegetal tang. There are many perfumes which have had a passing resemblance to that but it was only recently that one absolutely captured what I remember; Arquiste Esencia de el Palacio Vetiveres.

Creative Director Carlos Huber and perfumer Rodrigo Flores-Roux have collaborated on a collection of fragrances exclusively for an upscale Mexican department store; El Palacio de Hierro. Both men have roots in Mexico and all three of these perfumes feel like perfume love letters to what the country means to them. Vetiveres is meant to be representative of the future. The perfume that has resulted is a fantastic interpretation of vetiver where the greener aspects are amplified.

Rodrigo Flores-Roux (l.) and Carlos Huber

In the last few years vetiver-centric perfumes have become much more versatile because there have been more versions of this raw material to use.  Sr. Flores-Roux now has such an array of choices it allows him to create almost any shade of vetiver. What he does for Vetiveres is form a dense vegetation accord. There is a smell to the dense jungle in the tropics when the summer sun is high in the sky. The nucleus of Vetiveres is the mixture of dense growing green things with a bit of the woods way underneath.

In the early moments, I think the vetiver used is a fraction where the woodiness is very attenuated. To combine with that Sr. Flores-Roux caresses the vetiver with myrtle and artemesia. This forms that scent of the morning I spoke of in the first paragraph. It is recognizably vetiver but it is different in presence, pleasingly so. In the heart the vetiver begins to deepen. Here Sr. Flores-Roux chooses to bracket it with incense and labdanum. It elongates the green in what I found surprising. The resins almost step in for the typical woody underpinning of vetiver. Cedar and guaiac provides the woods that have been missing and patchouli bring the earthy aspect. The longer Vetiveres goes on the vetiver expands its presence until at the end it is beautifully displayed.

Vetiveres has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.

I believe that Vetiveres not only represents the future of Mexico as much as it represents the future of what a vetiver perfume can be. As I wore Vetiveres I realized it had been a while since I wore a vetiver perfume which engaged me as much as Vetiveres has. Maybe it is because it is a scent memory of my summer of 1986. More likely it is because Sr. Flores-Roux has found something new within vetiver.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Arquiste.

Mark Behnke

Arquiste 101- Five To Get You Started

Arquiste is another one of those perfume brands which I consider to be “mine”. The criteria to be considered “mine” is that it started about the time I started to get serious about writing on perfume. I’ve been trying to remember the first time I met Carlos Huber the owner/creative director of Arquiste. While I don’t remember the place Sr. Huber is one of the most genuine personalities in perfumery. He came to perfume from training as an architectural historian. Every Arquiste perfume starts with a brief which describes a place and time period. He then managed to find two perfumers with whom he has exclusively worked with by themselves and in tandem; Rodrigo Flores-Roux and Yann Vasnier. Together since their debut in 2011 they have created a brand aesthetic which now announces itself with each new release. Obviously, I think this is a fragrance collection worth checking out; here are the five to start with.

When you get around other perfume lovers and you both really like the same perfume there is a combination of sounds and facial expression which convey the emotions. A fluttering of eyelids over rolled back eyes. A low semi-guttural purr combined with a tilt of the head to one side. Long-time friend Ida Meister and I did this when we both tried one of the first Arquiste releases called Anima Dulcis. The fragrance was set in 1685 Mexico City as cloistered nuns developed their concoction of hot cocoa and chiles. M. Vasnier and Sr. Flores-Roux capture the simmering heat of the chiles in juxtaposition to the cocoa. Cinnamon, clove, jasmine, and sesame provide texture and detail to one of the best gourmands I own.

L’Etrog is another co-production by M. Vasnier and Sr. Flores-Roux. It is at the cologne end of the spectrum as the perfumers imagine the scent of 1175 Calabria, Italy as the local species of citron known as Etrog provides the early citrus brightness. In the background are the very light smells of the flowers around the Calabrian milieu. Vetiver provides the green contrast in the base.

For Boutonniere No. 7 Sr. Huber asked Sr. Flores-Roux to imagine a group of young men at fin de siècle France in the lobby of the Opera-Comique in Paris. Their lure is the gardenia in their lapel. Sr. Flores-Roux captures the gardenia as it scents the air to capture attention. Using lavender to evoke the cologne the dandies would be wearing then a perfectly balanced gardenia accord, lush and green. It all ends on an expertly formed accord of a freshly ironed suit. Boutonniere No. 7 is a fabulously different take on gardenia.

The Architect’s Club is the Arquiste which most acts as a time machine. Set during 1930 Happy Hour at an elegant Mayfair club of the same name in London. Some of the Lost Generation burst into the room livening up the stuffy atmosphere. It opens with spice and wood paneled drawing room accords before M. Vasnier unleashes the gin-toting wild things into the mix. Things just pick up steam from there. M. Vasnier keeps the frivolity under control to make The Architect’s Club the best party in town.

Nanban is an East meets West fragrance set on a Japanese sailing ship in 1618 returning from their first contact with Mexico. Sr. Flores-Roux and M. Vasnier create a construct where osmanthus pushes against the spices of the New World. Myrrh and sandalwood provide serenity which is disrupted by coffee and leather. It ends as the ship sails into the harbor of home as the fir trees and frankincense welcome the crew home.

Arquiste is one of the best new brands of the last few years well worth the time to explore. Start with these five.

Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Arquiste Esencia De El Palacio Azahares- Mexican Flower Power

2

When I first moved to the Washington DC area I had the opportunity to attend a fantastic event at the end of October 2012. There was a reception for two of the men behind the perfume brand Arquiste; owner-creative director Carlos Huber and perfumer Rodrigo Flores-Roux, at the Mexican Embassy. The night was about how these proud Mexicans love to add a little of their home country to every perfume they collaborate on. That sentiment is best represented by a quote from Sr. Flores-Roux on that night, ““Maybe I can cite a Mexican poet, Carlos Pellicer, who always praised the beauty of the Mexican tropics: the Mexican people have two obsessions: we are interested in death and we are in love with flowers. And as a Mexican flower lover, I always like to put a bit of Mexico in every perfume I make. It's not an accident I studied biology, specifically botany, and understand the secret language of flowers. It's also my last name!”

Carlos Huber (l.) and Rodrigo Flores-Roux at the Mexican Embassy October 2012

Ever since that night I have always looked for that bit of Mexico in the perfumes Sr. Huber and Sr. Flores-Roux have composed for Arquiste. At the end of last year Sr. Huber told me of a new collection Arquiste was releasing in conjunction with an upscale department store in Mexico; El Palacio de Hierro. Three perfumes all composed by Sr. Flores-Roux. This was something I very much wanted to try but I couldn’t buy it off the website. I then had to cast a wide net to find someone who could bring me back a bottle of the one I was most interested in, based on the description, Esencia de El Palacio Azahares. I was successful towards the end of the year with the bottle arriving soon after the New Year.

The concept behind the perfumes was for them to represent the past, present, and future of Mexico. For more about that you can follow this link to the website in Spanish. Magnolio is meant to be the past. Vetiveres is the future. Azahares is meant to be modern-day Mexico. The concept is nice and I have no idea about the success of the other two at evoking the desired feel. I do know that Azahares is a fabulous contemporary floral full of the flora of Mexico.

Rodrigo Flores-Roux (l.) and Carlos Huber collaborating in the lab

Sr. Flores-Roux is an extremely versatile perfumer and I believe he can make a perfume out of paste, vinegar, and yeast; if he had to. Yet as the quote I used above illustrates there often seems to be a more intimate style of composition when he works with flowers. Azahares is Sr. Flores-Roux working at the top of his game with the ingredients of a “Mexican flower lover”.

Azahares is made up of three phases all with a floral at the core of the accord. In the top it is orange blossom which he swaddles in a blanket of lemon balm, orange, and lemon leaves. The citrus is present without becoming overwhelming. This allows the orange blossom a chance to peek out and assert a bit of its indolic core. Also, a bit of its green which the lemon leaves amplifies a bit. As Azahares transitions to the heart cassis forms the connection as the green facets from the top are carried forward to a deep lavender. That floral is accentuated with clary sage which with the cassis provides a stronger green but as with the citrus in the top Sr. Flores-Roux makes sure the flower does not get obliterated. The final accord is a deeply beautiful iris which Sr. Flores-Roux grounds in a botanical musk accord of ambrette and angelica. That natural musk opens up the earthy quality of the iiris.

Azahares has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

As I wore Azahares I realized that it is the culmination of the pride of two Mexican artists which has overflowed into a beautiful representation of the country they love.

Disclosure: this review was based on a bottle I purchased.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Reviews Arquiste El and Ella- Mirror Ball Fragrances

1

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.

arquiste ella

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.

arquiste el

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.

Mark Behnke

Colognoisseur 2014 Year-End Review Part 2- Perfume, Perfumer, Creative Director, & Brand of the Year

4

One of the reasons I think 2014 was a very good perfume year was I had so many candidates to choose from for what I think are the best perfume, perfumer, creative director, and brand of the year. I have changed my mind numerous times, revisited the perfumes all had created this year, and considered other metrics. In the end I finally settled on a list I think shows off why this year has produced some great perfume.

rozy vde

Perfume of the Year: Vero Profumo Rozy Voile d’Extrait– When I sat down with independent perfumer Vero Kern in Milan she had had a bad fall and was sporting a black eye hidden behind, her always stylish, trademark eyeglasses. As she handed me the strips of her newest creation my mind was not on sniffing but concern for one of the truly great people I have met in perfume. I was still asking her if she was okay as I lifted the strip to my nose. From the moment I inhaled my focus shifted immediately to what I was smelling.

Mark and vero

The Very Moment I Describe in the Paragraph Above (Photo: Sarah Colton)

There have been a lot of perfumes which have professed to be a post-modern rose. Rozy Voile d’Extrait lives up to that description better than any other which has made that particular claim. By using honey as a sticky bit of texture to pull in all of the other notes it creates unbelievable expansiveness at the same time. Rozy VdE also has some rough edges courtesy of a brilliant addition of labdanum. This rose has not been stripped of all of its thorns. Inspired by Italian actress Anna Magnani, Rozy VdE reminded me of the throaty laugh of a beautiful intelligent woman much like the perfumer who made it.

vero-kern

Perfumer of the Year: Vero Kern– Yeah it seems obvious if Vero Kern made the perfume of the year she should be perfumer of the year. That’s generally not the way I work as I look for a body of work when making this particular decision. One of the things I admire about Ms. Kern is she takes her time perfecting her creations and that has resulted in what I consider to be one of the greatest overall collections by an independent perfumer. Which usually means one release per year and heading into the final part of the year I did not have Ms. Kern on my short-list.

Then I received my sample set of the Richard Luscher Britos Terroir Perfumes. Ms. Kern was responsible for the one called 14oS48oE which were the coordinates of an ylang-ylang plantation in Madagascar. For the second time in 2014 a perfume demanded every bit of my attention as the heart of this perfume has what I would consider a near perfect heart accord consisting of ylang-ylang, evergreen, pink pepper, and mimosa. I had an inkling that Ms. Kern had a bit of a challenge working with an entirely natural palette and in some correspondence after I reviewed it she confirmed that to me. This is exactly what does comprise a perfumer of the year one who is willing to work outside of their comfort zone and still be able to produce something instantly gorgeous. For Rozy Voile d’Extrait and Richard Luscher Britos 14oS48oE Vero Kern is my Perfumer of the Year for 2014.

Runner-ups: Maria Candida Gentile, Rodrigo Flores-Roux, Josh Lobb (slumberhouse), Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, and Cecile Zarokian.

Carlos Huber1

Creative Director of the Year: Carlos Huber of Arquiste– I was given the opportunity to introduce Carlos Huber on Sunday of Sniffapalooza Fall Ball 2014 in October. Part of that introduction was my lauding Mr. Huber at creating a distinctive brand identity for his perfume line Arquiste. I believe that too many new brands skip this step to their detriment. From the beginning Mr. Huber has had a clear vision on what he wanted his brand to be. He has worked exclusively with perfumers Yann Vasnier and Rodrigo Flores-Roux on putting this vision into a perfume bottle. That process resulted in two outstanding additions to the Arquiste line in L’Etrog Acqua and The Architects Club. Lots of Creative Directors had multiple good releases.

What elevated Mr. Huber to Creative Director of the Year was the collaboration he did with J. Crew. He created two perfumes for J. Crew which also carries the Arquiste brand; Arquiste for J. Crew No. 31 and No. 47. By working with J. Crew’s Creative Director Jenna Lyons they made two perfumes which were not wholly of either brand but an excellent introduction to each brand to those who like one or the other. Only a Creative Director confident in the concept of his brand can easily do that. Confident and assured describes Carlos Huber my Creative Director of the Year for 2014.

Runner-ups: Christian Astuguevieille (Comme des Garcons), Karl Bradl and Robert Gerstner (Aedes de Venustas), Alessandro Brun and Riccardo Tedeschi (Masque Milano), Christopher Chong (Amouage), Sylvie Ganter-Cervasel and Christophe Cervasel (Atelier Cologne).

2013 best of pics41

Brand of the Year: DSH Perfumes– As I was looking back over the list of things I reviewed this year there was one brand which kept popping up time and again, DSH Perfumes. Independent perfumer Dawn Spencer Hurwitz had a prolific year as she released two collections The Cannabis Culture Collection and The Brilliant Collection. A very personal re-interpretation of Jacques Fath Iris Gris called Scent of Peace. A masculine perfume, Metropolis. Her Holiday release, Vanilla Bourbon Intense. Three perfumes for The PLP Project. Finally, my favorite of all of these Seve de Pin.  There was so much here that reviews of The PLP Project and The Brilliant Collection will be coming early in the New Year. Normally this kind of profligacy leads to less than thrilling results. One of the things I have come to realize about Ms. Hurwitz is when she is inspired she is a force of nature. I think 2014 saw her as inspired as she has ever been. She is also inspired by so many different influences but yet manages to make each new release another brick that fits in the entire DSH Perfumes brand pantheon. For all of that DSH Perfumes is my Brand of the Year for 2014.

Runner-ups: Aedes de Venustas, Arquiste, Comme des Garcons, Etat Libre d’Orange, and Masque Milano.

Tomorrow in Part 3 I’ll reveal my top 25 new perfumes of 2014 and give a little love to the perfumes that were runner-ups to Rozy VdE.

Part 1 was my overall take on 2014’s trends and news.

Mark Behnke