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.
That must’ve been a lovely weeting at Carlos’s place.
I have to tell that I’m not a big patchouli wearer if it plays a main role. I like Voleur de Roses like you and Moonlight Patchouli from VC&A also works for me (although on my skin it’s mostly iris!)
Misfit sounds intriguing and I definitely would like to test it when I have a chance
I need to try that Moonlight Patchouli! I like a few of the VC&A scents.
It *was* a lovely visit, very true to the overall Arquiste aesthetic!
Jessica, thank you for this touching and poignant review. I’m sure we’ll find our way again to the ease and closeness that we all so recently took for granted, but not having any concrete timeframe to look forward to makes my heart ache more than I can express. Perfume, and the NST community, are certainly comforts in this time!
Thank you, Isabella…I know exactly what you mean. My heart hurts, too, for NYC and New Yorkers specifically, and for everyone who is feeling adrift right now. I’m even more grateful than ever to have perfume and NST in addition to books and music! Be well.
That’s a beautiful and insightful review. Thank you. Would love to see that room! I’m a huge patchouli lover so this goes on my immediate to-try list. The smooth wood aspect sounds unique and intriguing.
I think his apartment has been featured in some magazines…let me post a link here, if that’s ok!
I only saw the living room and the dining room…you can spot them both in the slideshow in that article.
This isn’t what our Kevin would call a dirty or oily or “hairy-chested” patchouli but I like it all the more for that reason!
I loved this lovely and wistful review. If reviews can ever be called wistful. I regret not trying this when I was in Brussels in February. I did manage to try Ella, which I liked. I remember that lovely day in Brussels, the morning spent in the National Library gazing at old etchings by Brueghel, the afternoon doing some shopping, like you do your meeting with Huber. It almost seems surreal, to be able to get on a rather dirty train with tons of other people, wander about the streets without worrying about bumping into other people, or even getting too close to them. It will be a while before we will be able to get back to that. Of course it wasn’t perfect, but I do miss it.
Ella is one of my favorites! I have a travel-size spray of it tucked away in my perfume “cupboard.”
That sounds like an ideal day, even the crowded or grimy bits. That’s how I feel about NYC: there are always problems and frustrations, but the richness of culture and architecture and people-watching, and the serendipitous moments of beauty and connection that have a way of happening just when I least expect them, more than compensate for the difficulties.
I mourn every time a favorite department store or cafe or bookstore closes, and this really feels like the death knell for so much of the city. I hope I’m wrong.
Department store closings, sigh. I had an appointment at Neiman’s for a Tiziana
Terenzi event March 17th! I was looking forward to it that week, then poof! The world went on pause. Tiziana was going be there, making specialized blends or something like that. Not only did I miss the event but Neiman’s has sunk completely: /
Great review, Jessica and how fun to chat it up with Huber:). My main exposure to the Arquiste line thus far was a quick whiff at Barney’s several years ago. However, the quick whiff left me impressed. I had sniffed several perfumes that afternoon..and having a bit of “nose fatigue” as a result. I sniffed Anima Dulcis and I stopped in my tracks and immediately thought it was special. Simply wonderful to smell. A perfume line that I need to revisit. I really want to smell Sydney Rock Pool! It just sounds like fun.
Yes!! Anima Dulcis is worth revisiting! Sydney Rock Pool is *really* fun. I’m also a fan of Ella and Aleksandr and the Banana Republic collaborations…some scents are more to my taste than others but they’re all smart.
Argh, I meant the J. Crew collabs! Sorry!
I keep thinking of the title of an essay in The Atlantic:
“You thought you were free, but history found you.”
(The conceit of the essay is a 2020 commencement address that will never be delivered.)
The most positive thing I can think of is that this is a powerful time when what we do, each of us, matters more than at any other time. Whether it is reporting every day to that essential job, taking care to avoid getting the virus and putting others at risk, being as generous as we can to those in need, voting, trying to create a stable life for children, etc. What each of us does every day makes a different.
Thank you for your beautiful review. It is a gift to be able to express so well what many of us are feeling, and to do justice to a work of art.
That sums it up *perfectly.* Thank you, Noz! xo
Another well written and interesting review. And those Fluevog heels! I haven’t really explored Arquiste as much as I’d like. I recall wanting to like The Architect’s Club perhaps more than I did. A few samples may be in order, and I do like patchouli quite a bit. Meeting Carlos Huber, though – ?
Those are my shoes for special/fun events and I miss wearing them! sigh. I suppose I could wear them around the house, but I’d rather save them to enjoy when we’re out and about again, even if I’ll be wearing a mask at the other end…
Yes! and Carlos is as gracious and smart as he is handsome.
I love this write-up. I can see how this was difficult to finish because it felt like a bygone era even though it had only been a few months … and the fact that I just said “a few months” so casually make me want to pinch myself to see if I’m awake! Before we were all directed to WFH indefinitely on March 13, for start of business March 16, I was in Houston on vacation for 4 days. I came back to NJ to reports of empty shelves and a feeling of the world as we knew it has ended. I also did not have closure with saying goodbye to my colleagues in the office nor to tidying up for an absence of unknown duration. I don’t want to worry about what the future holds, but want to wish everyone safe passage for however long it takes to get to an acceptable new normal.
Oh, I’m sorry that timing happened for you! So stressful — and, as awful as it is to vacate a workplace, you didn’t even have that ritual of packing up and saying a temporary good-bye in person. Sigh.
I miss my workplace and coworkers so much — we only had a few hours to clear out, but that was something, at least.
I echo your wish!!
Dying to try this one! So hard to find