How to choose the perfect scent with fashion's favourite nose Carlos Huber

Image: Flor y Canto by Arquiste 

What does style smell like? Currently the eau de jour is being conjured by former architect turned master perfumer, Carlos Huber, founder of Arquiste. Specialising in historic preservation, the handsome Mexican now based in New York, has turned his love of time and place to the world of fine fragrance. Known for creating scents that recall a moment in history, the 34-year-old was selected by global tastemaker and J Crew creative director Jenna Lyons to bottle the brand's signature scent, as well as capture the fragrance of the luxurious St Regis hotels worldwide (a candle of which will be available to buy in Fenwick next year). We couldn’t think of anyone better to guide us through finding the perfect perfume just in time for Christmas.

What advice would you give to someone walking into a beauty hall looking for the perfect scent?

Perfume, like wine, is a fine product that can be intimidating. The best advice is to allow people to experience the fragrance on their skin and guide them through the type of scents they like. I like trying out a new scent based on my recent travels - the scents that have an emotional connection to me.

For example, I’m in Sydney right now and there is star jasmine, frangipani and beautiful open magnolia flowers everywhere. I know when I get back to New York I will want to smell those lovely scents again, so I will be drawn to floral ones like Flor y Canto, with frangipani, tuberose and magnolia among its notes.

Image: Carlos Huber by Kevin Tachman

How do you buy fragrance as a gift for Christmas?

I base it on the style of fragrance that I’ve noticed they like. For example, do they wear mostly florals? Woody scents? Citrus ones? Then I think of the recent holidays or trips that they have taken that they enjoyed, and I’ll buy something that relates to that place. It always works! Because it shows you paid attention, and of course, they will have lovely memories to connect with.

Image: Arquiste Citrus and Woods travel gift set 

What do many people not know about fragrance?

Unfortunately a lot of the inspiring and personal stories behind the creation of a scent are lost in the midst of its marketing. Too often in the mainstream fragrance world, we find that what was a lovely inspiration tied to perfumer’s family or history is replaced instead with a model and a tagline.

That’s why today in niche fragrances there is so much storytelling – we want to hear the real story behind it, and that’s why with Arquiste I strive to be meticulous. The more references and pictures I can paint for you, the more inspiration and connection you will find with your own life.

Also, many people know you should keep perfume away from extreme temperature changes and from light, but many don't know that if you can find the space, store it in your fridge. It will preserve the fragrance nicely and also give you the benefit of a cool spritz every time.

Image: Flor de Louis by Arquiste

How do you calm an over-stimulated nose?

What Rodrigo Flores-Roux, one of the two perfumers who I work with, told me to do early on in my fragrance education is to warm the nose up by blowing out of it into the inside of your elbow. Then, because of the heat, it loses the sense of smell for a brief second. You will see that it actually helps a lot.

Image: A selection of Arquiste fragrances

Is one's taste in fragrance hereditary?

The first fragrance that I remember having is one that my father bought me. It was cologne that he bought from the drug store in Mexico City called ‘Agua de Colonia Sanborns.’ It was cheap, but such a lovely scent. Later I found that actually the quality of the orange blossom in it was outstanding, and the only reason they could sell it for such a low price is because they produced so much of it. To this day, I’m much more of a fresh, cologne person than a dark and woody one. I think life shapes your own taste in scent. The memories you associate as positive will influence what you prefer.

Image: L'Etrog Acqua by Arquiste

Are there personality traits that are attracted to certain fragrances?

Absolutely. Scent and personality go hand-in-hand, though sometimes the most interesting people are the ones that wear something completely different than you imagined. For example, a sultry vamp in a virginal orange blossom cologne, or a demure blonde in an incense-heavy oriental scent. My favourite scent is fresh gardenia flowers.

Image: Aleksandr by Arquiste

Should a scent take you on a journey?

Always. Our sense of smell is connected to memory more than any other sense. As abstract and evanescent as a perfume can be, in our actual memory it is always tied to a specific time and place. Personally,  I’ve always been very connected to the discovery of a new city or a new landscape through its scent. In my practice as a conservation architect, every time I would do research on a building or city I would come across an anecdote where I would think: "What did it feel like? and What did it smell like?" That’s when I thought: “Could we actually 'restore' that olfactive experience?” That was my goal with Arquiste. With each of our scents, I want to guide you through a journey. That’s why it’s very important for me that the perfume is ‘transparent’, that you are able to smell each ingredient so that you recognise them as clues in the story.

Image: Anima Dulcis by Arquiste

Do you think a scent should be identifiable or is its mystery part of the allure?

It should spark something - a memory, an attraction, a familiar feeling. In the subtlety of a scent lies its beauty, so I would say that both familiarity and mystery are equal strengths. It’s what draws us to them, because we notice something we respond to, and at the same time we want more of it because it stands out. A scent has to touch you somehow. There are no catch-all scents for women. The more I meet and talk to women about this, the more I think this is untrue. Women are beautifully open to discover new scents.

Image: Carlos Huber by Ilan Rabchinskey

By Claire Brayford