With just one day back in his New York apartment between a work trip to Egypt and on to Paris, we were able to check in with Carlos Huber for a fascinating Zoom chat about Peau, his latest release for Arquiste...
Q: Hi Carlos! Wow, that wallpaper is really great, so beautiful.
A: Thank you. Yeah, the design is based on these specific gardens in India.
Q: We don't usually start with the packaging, but since we're talking about visual design, the Peau bottle is also really beautiful.
A: Thanks, the inspiration is matte black Wedgwood. I started collecting black Wedgwood, because I love Wedgwood in general and really like the neoclassical figures in it. But what I like about black was that it was a little bit more sober than the "grandma's house" light blue, even though I like that blue color.
When I found out that the original black Wedgwood was made for mourning periods it fit because Peau is about memorializing the scent of skin. It's about framing it, idealizing it and remembering it.
Q: An Arquiste approach to skin scents.
A: So, I've worked on accords that represent skin for a long time. When I initially started working on them, I wanted a gardenia scent that also represented the person wearing it — something beyond the creaminess of gardenia, beyond the flower, beyond the femininity of it. In this case, to make it more gender neutral, I wanted to represent the skin of a man, to complement the femininity of the flower, and to make it available to everyone.
One of the ingredients Rodrigo presented to me when we started out was Ambermax, a synthetic derived from cedar wood — it comes from a natural thing but is isolated. I love it because it gives you a saltiness that is almost like salty sweat. It became a bit of a signature in Arquiste fragrances and all of them include it.
Q: Is that the salty muskiness in Sydney Rock Pool?
A: Yes, exactly. In Sydney Rock Pool, we pushed it a lot more because it's all about sunscreen on sweaty skin. We actually call our skin accord "panacea" because it's good for everything.
In terms of Peau, during the COVID lockdown I starting thinking about the idea of closeness and intimacy — something that we took for granted or that we missed, that we lost. How do you represent that?
Because it was a very emotionally charged year for everyone, I was thinking about the idea of memorializing things — the melancholy of remembering and cherishing someone who is gone — a partner that you're no longer with, or somebody that you knew who has passed.
I didn't want to work on a perfume, I wanted to work on the memory of skin. And not necessarily just skin, but the idealized memory of it, which is gilded... I have a fantasy that when people wear Peau it will become a tool for somebody else to preserve something of them forever.
Q: Your brand description of Peau includes the historic story of Hadrian and Antinöos. Is that something you'll be incorporating as you promote the scent?
A: Yes! When I started researching for Peau, I found something I felt was very beautiful... the reason the Greeks and Romans created idealized beauty in their art was not because they actually looked like that. The beautiful contours of a nose, a foot, a silhouette actually represent the spirit and virtues of a person.
So when you see a statue of Zeus or Venus, it's not modeled after a woman or a man who looked exactly like that. It's representing an idealized beauty reflected on the body, but coming from the soul — in the way Emperor Hadrian memorialized his lost lover, Antinöos, by commissioning statues, coins and portraits — paying him honor and trying to remember him. Trying to hold on to him, even though he was physically gone.
The memorialization of the body was super important for them. It was the only thing they had to push against the void of darkness, loss and forgetfulness — of not existing anymore. I thought that was beautiful and a little sad, and at the same time really lovely. I also thought that perfumes can have a tint of melancholy and be extremely beautiful.
So then I thought, well, what is the silhouette? What is the scent of skin? How do we idealize that? That was my work with Rodrigo. Peau is very abstract fragrance in a way because it has a lot of ingredients — clary sage, white pepper, wood from Gabon and a salty marine amber note.
It's a scent that you smell on the person but can't quite identify. An experienced nose will be able to pick out some specific notes, but for many people, it will just smell good. It smells yummy. Smells like skin. But it's not like, "Oh wow, perfume."
Q: Based on your background in historical preservation, is research one of your favorite parts of working on a new scent?
A: It's 100% my favorite part of the work, along with fragrance development of course. Once you do all the research, there's nothing more fun than getting to the sessions with Rodrigo and smelling.
Q: Do you foresee working with Rodrigo throughout the life of the brand?
A: Yeah, it's not like I'm not going work with anyone else but it's a relationship that is just so fruitful. We get each other and we push each other to do new things, which is exciting. For example, Peau is not a typical fragrance for Rodrigo stylistically, so he has also grown with the experience.
And the quality of Rodrigo's work is so strong — everything is well-designed and has the right landing. It's like working with a clothing designer when everything has the right fit and the perfect lining... he's really, really good.
On the other side of that, it's also very exciting to think of working with somebody else, like a woman or someone from a different country, different culture, different background.
Q: Yeah, the more diversity in perfumery, the better!
A. I'm learning as I'm growing up, as I'm traveling to new places. I'm discovering new signatures, new ways to think about scent. For example, when the whole oud thing started, I had zero connection to it. I actually didn't like any of it, not because I didn't like the scents, but because I hated the trendiness of it. But now that oud is just one ingredient amongst the rest, I'm more open to working with and developing with it.
Q: Aha, do you have any hints about what you're working on next?
A: Well... it's a black tea scent and it's not with Rodrigo. The perfumer is a French woman and she completely captured it. I really loved it from the very first time I smelled it.
Q: Intriguing, when will you be announcing more about that?
A: No dates yet but it will probably launch in the Fall of 2022.
Thanks, Carlos, bon voyage!
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