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.