Blog post by Gwen

NANBAN – spicy and leathery and woody

Arquiste, the niche fragrance line launched by architect, history buff and designer Carlos Huber, has become one of my go-to lines since it was launched in 2011. The fragrances are gorgeous evocations of a specific time and place in history.

And, NANBAN, launched in 2015, is another stunning olfactory expression Huber’s genuine interest in history and culture.

NANBAN was inspired by a Japanese galleon on the Pacific Ocean in January 1618. The full story can be found on the Arquiste website: “The precise time and place that NANBAN centers on is the last leg in the transoceanic voyage of a Japanese delegation returning home, after having spent seven years abroad visiting Europe, Mexico and lastly, the Phillipines. After failed negotiations with the West, Ambassador Hasekura Tsunenaga organized for the ship to be loaded in the Manila one more time before returning to Japan.

The pitch black hull of the galleon carried exotic goods like European leather, fine oil paintings and carved woodwork, rich spices from South East Asia and silver, cacao and coffee from Mexico. It was the last commercial and diplomatic excursion to the West until the 19th century. After this epic mission, Japan closed its borders to foreign influence due to its mistrust of Catholic missionaries. Hasekura Tsunenaga’s journey represents a unique and almost forgotten moment in history, one never to be repeated.”

NANBAN translates into ’southern barbarian’ - a word that at one time referred to foreigners coming to Japan from the South Sea.

For me, NANBAN is one of those fragrances that is hard to break down into notes and although I can smell individual notes, they don’t stack neatly into clear levels. On me, it opens with spicy, tingly black pepper, leather-faceted saffron and an aromatic black tea accord – all beautifully rounded and smooth, with no harshness. The top notes call forward a pungent note of animalic Spanish leather – likely from a combination styrax and cade. It is a stunning combination of scents. When the leather quietens, it allows a note of fruity/leathery osmanthus to bloom. Coffee is here, too, and it warms and strengthens the osmanthus.  Myrrh, frankincense and copaiba balsam – an aromatic, slightly bitter oleoresin used in making oil paint, varnishes and lacquers – and cade give it a thick, balsamy, resinous feel while sandalwood gives it a rich, sweet woodiness.

The drydown is rich, woody and slightly sweet, with a potent sensuality that lasts for hours.

Smelling NANBAN, I smell the hold of a 17th century Japanese galleon full of treasure from its transoceanic voyage – the oil paintings, the leather, the carved woodwork, the spices and the coffee – and really, isn’t that what great fragrances do – take you on a journey? Well, they do when you have a travel guide like Carlos Huber.

Check out NANBAN in our Shop.