I love a good story. There are plenty of stories in artistic perfumery but the artform is in the delivery and not all brands are equal in this respect. Stories are successful when they capture the intended audience’s imagination. The story needs to be accessible, within the audience’s realm of experience but towards the outer edge so that it pushes them to dream. Most importantly with fragrances, they need to be consistent with the story written on the packaging.
A brand that always delivers great stories is Arquiste. I’ve been writing about Arquiste fragrances for the past eight years, after meeting Arquiste’s founder Carlos Huber. Since that first meeting we’ve seen each other several times in different countries. I‘ve always admired Carlos’ storytelling abilities with different audiences and in various languages. People always connect with him and his work.
The last time I saw Carlos was in France where he told me the story behind Misfit on the eve of the fragrance's launch. We were in Cannes for the Tax-Free World Association (TFWA) exhibition. I was working with Fragrances of the World and Carlos was visiting clients. During our morning jog along the Boulevard de la Croisette, Carlos talked about his next fragrance called Misfit. I’m usually prepared with my phone to record these stories but on this occasion I couldn’t. Fortunately for me, Carlos recently retold the story of Misfit on the US podcast How He Does It. It’s an interesting episode where Carlos talked about how he entered the fragrance industry from architecture and his creative process. For the podcast he used Misfit as an example of how he develops an idea into a finished fragrance. For Misfit, the seed of the idea came from the fragrance ingredient patchouli.
Carlos said, “Patchouli leaves were used to wrap Indian shawls to protect them from insects when they would be transported from India to Europe, whether it was by caravan or by ships. Once the shawls arrived, they smelled of patchouli. When you see portraits of women in the early 19th century and they have one of these shawls, that’s what this woman smells like.”
“Then what happened is the industrial revolution. These shawls started being copied in Europe locally, and the price fell. They started becoming more accessible, and less desirable by the elites, until it was bohemians and courtesans that would be wearing these shawls. Patchouli became the scent of counterculture for the first time. It was the first time that misfits were associated with patchouli. I thought it was a very interesting story. It tells you a lot about the history of trade. It tells you how trends and fads happen in society, not only in fashion, there are a lot of social ramifications of course.”
He went on to talk about how the idea progressed. “Usually for creating the formula, I will set it somewhere. (For Misfit) I set my project then I anchored it in Marseilles. I think, who would be wearing one of these shawls that smelled of patchouli in 1870 when they were no longer the exclusive property of the elite? Now it would be a courtesan in her bedroom. I thought OK, let’s put it in a bedroom, draped over a bed and what else would be in that bedroom? So, you look into the history of cosmetics of the era. What were the lotions and balsams, the makeup a man or a woman would wear in that time? What else would be in that room? What kind of drinks would they be drinking? What’s the environment like? What would it smell like? At some point you want to choose something that is obviously attractive, and it feels like ‘Oh, I want to smell like that!’ You know, you’re not going to talk about the black plague or battlefield scents! All of these paints a picture, sets it and anchors it in something real. Once I have that story, that setting, I can do a list of ingredients. Lavender for lavender water, balsams and resins for creams and lotions. The patchouli from the shawl. The wood from the room. All these kinds of things. Once I have this list of ingredients I can go to the perfumer and he will interpret. I basically give him an essay on the scent, and he comes back once he is ready to show me a first trial or first modification. I smell that first mod, and we refine it. So we keep developing until we decide that it is done and it’s a joint effort between everyone involved.”
The perfumer Carlos referred to is his friend and long-time collaborator Rodrigo Flores-Roux. Together with perfumer Yann Vasnier and the team at Givaudan Fine Fragrances in New York, Arquiste has developed its own unique olfactory fingerprint, which Misfit continues. The signature grew from Arquiste’s The Architects Club (2014) and matured in Nanban (2015). Present in Él (2016) and again in Sydney Rock Pool (2018), which, for me, showed how versatile Arquiste’s signature accord could be. It’s a spicy, woody, ambery theme that lingers on skin with an attractive tenacity, and it’s showcased well by Misfit.
Misfit is an abundantly rich scent that makes its intention clear from the outset. Instead of offering a cascade of notes that fall like dominos from top to bottom, Misfit’s rich base of golden balsams and decadent woods shines through from the beginning. Under a thin veil of aromatic lavender and zesty bergamot, Misfit paints its picture with small, detailed brushstrokes of spicy, powdery angelica root and orris-like carrot seed. Bulgarian rose is muted by Misfit’s more intense notes, but it works effortlessly to create a sateen-like aura that quietly surrounds the fragrance. The warm ambery notes and earthy woody notes intertwine seamlessly. Arquiste’s amber is quite special. It’s ruled by Spanish cistus, a resin with a distinctly animal-like odour. Ambrette seed gives the fragrance texture and a vegetal muskiness with golden balsams and tonka bean rounding off cistus’ jagged edges with an almost cocoa-like effect. Set amongst this complex tapestry of notes is the patchouli. Two fractions of patchouli oil were used along with Akigalawood, a new bioingredient exclusive to Givaudan, which is derived from patchouli and has a dry patchouli-woods scent. Misfit’s sillage on its drydown is superb.
Anyone expecting a ‘patchouli fragrance’ might be disappointed. There are plenty of other hero ingredients in Misfit. It’s not just about patchouli. If you enjoyed Arquiste’s recent launches, then you should enjoy Misfit. And it’s the perfect scent now that autumn is here in Australia and temperatures are dropping. Misfit is like an olfactory shawl.