Earlier this year, Arquiste celebrated its tenth anniversary and launched Misfit, a patchouli fragrance developed by perfumer Rodrigo Flores-Roux. And one morning soon after Misfit's launch, I met with Arquiste founder Carlos Huber in his Manhattan apartment and we spoke in his dining room, which also serves as a non-typical and beautifully appointed meeting-space.
Once I'd had a chance to admire some of the room's details (pieces of black jasperware, a cluster of decorative obelisks, wallpaper patterned with a fantastic scene of Indian gardens), Carlos gave me a run-through of Misfit's notes and backstory. Our conversation drifted into a few tangents about nineteenth-century perfumery, fashion and architecture. I've always admired Arquiste's poetic yet accurate use of historical narratives (I can't think of any other perfumery whose website includes a bibliography!), and it was a treat to chat with someone whose interests overlap so much with mine.
While I've been trying and trying to write this review over the past month, and making little progress, I gradually realized that the memory of that visit has been haunting me. As we enter our ninth week of lockdown here in the New York City metro area, that morning now seems inconceivable: rising earlier than usual, taking the bus and train to Greenwich Village, purchasing a coffee to-go along the way, rushing along a busy sidewalk in my Fluevog heels, and finally arriving at Carlos's address for our one-on-one conversation about cashmere, courtesans, and cistus. Will I ever be able to enjoy a meeting like that again — face to face, not on Instagram Live or Zoom?
I can only hope so, although right now it's hard to imagine. And yes, I'm grateful that my loved ones and I are safe and well, but that gratitude doesn't dispel the sense of loss and disorientation I'm also feeling. I've had a hard time writing about this fragrance because the memory of that visit, and everything else I was freely doing around NYC in January and February, now seems remote and bittersweet. Then again, the Arquiste brand has always leaned into nostalgia and history, so maybe my layered emotions about Misfit are appropriate in some strange way.
I've already alluded to Misfit's character, but let me get more to the point — it's a patchouli fragrance, inspired not by the flower-power oils worn by the Woodstock generation but by a much earlier counterculture. In the earlier decades of the 1800s, fine exported materials like cashmere were packed with dried patchouli leaves to protect them from vermin on the long trip from India to Europe. By the 1870s, however, the upper classes had abandoned the shawl trend, leaving bohemians and prostitutes to adopt these aromatic accessories as their own.
Misfit aims for "a decadent balance between regal and rebel," using a "proprietary combination of two fractioned essences" of patchouli plus other notes that suit its imagined time and place. This fragrance is designed to evoke Marseilles, France in 1877, so we also get lavender, as a nod to traditional sachets; rosewater, used in nineteenth-century beauty regimens; ambrette seed and tolu balsam, both blended into skin ointments and other remedies of the era; and tonka bean, to suggest some indulgent pâtisserie. Other notes include bergamot, carrot seed, angelica and styrax.
I don't wear many patchouli fragrances (two exceptions from my past: L'Artisan Parfumeur Voleur de Roses and Christian Dior Midnight Poison) but I can appreciate Misfit's sophistication. This isn't a dirty patchouli. It has the luster and smoothness of a highly polished wood tabletop, and to my nose, the labdanum (cistus) plays a strong secondary role in the composition. The musky herbal notes give this fragrance a "lift" in its initial phase, but overall Misfit is a rich, resin-y patchouli scent that has a distinct (but not overwhelming) presence.
Misfit lasts well on my skin, slowly shifting to allow the tonka and styrax to appear in the dry down. By then, I'd describe it less as a patchouli-forward fragrance and more as an amber scent that showcases patchouli, if that makes sense. It skews more conventionally "masculine" than most perfumes I wear but it could certainly be worn by women — and not just Marseilles prostitutes of the 1870s! — as well as men.
With Misfit, Arquiste has (again) given us a well-crafted fragrance and a nuanced story of style and identity told through a historical-olfactory lens. Arquiste suggests that its fragrances "[allow] both women and men to unlock personal revelations and experience history in a most intimate way." Misfit is now part of my own personal history, a reminder of the pre-pandemic days of 2020, but maybe that's all right. Things change. History keeps happening around us. Perfume can be a reminder of that.
Arquiste Misfit is available as 100 ml ($195) or 7.5 ml ($40) Eau de Parfum. For buying information, see the listing for Arquiste under Perfume Houses.