Arquiste Boutonnière No. 7: Vetiver Gardenia

Carlos Huber. Source: Fragrantica

Carlos Huber. Source: Fragrantica

History in a bottle, and a trip back in time through scent are the specific goals of the American niche perfume house, Arquiste. Founded by the architect turned perfumer (and now, also, designer), Carlos Huber, Arquiste always attempts to bottle a specific moment in history, using fragrance as a symbolic time-machine. In the case of Boutonnière No. 7, the target date is 1899 in the lobby of the Paris Opera house.

Released in late 2012, Boutonnière No. 7 was created by Rodrigo Flores-Roux and is an eau de parfum. (I’ll refer to the fragrance from this point forth merely as “Boutonniere” for convenience and practical reasons.) Boutonniere is categorized as a “Floral” on the Fragrantica website but, interestingly, Carlos Huber calls it a “Floral Woody” on the Arquiste website.

Source: Arquiste.

Source: Arquiste.

There, Carlos Huber elaborates further on the precise historical scene that the perfume is meant to recreate:

May 1899, Foyer of the Opéra-Comique, Paris
During the Opera’s intermission, a group of seven young men gather at the Grand Foyer in search of new flirtations. Women of all sorts are lured in by the crisp, green scent of the men’s gardenia boutonnieres, enlivened with the bergamot and lavender colognes they wear. As they draw closer, the “Opera Flower” exudes its elegant masculinity, the last breath of a bloom sacrificed on a black-tie lapel.

Notes include:
Lavender, Bergamot, Italian Mandarin, Gardenia jasminoides/Gardenia citriodora duo, Genet absolute, Vetyvert, Oakmoss.

Rodrigo Flores-Roux (left) and Carlos Huber (right). Source: Fragrantica.

Rodrigo Flores-Roux (left) and Carlos Huber (right). Source: Fragrantica.

A brief word about the notes. First, “genet” is apparently some sort of Broom plant, not a relative of the civet mammal. (A big thank you to perfumer, Maggie Mahboubian, who clarified that point for me, and who also commented that it has a rich, honeyed, herbal aroma.) Second, you have to remember that the smell of a gardenia flower is often replicated through other floral notes. In this case, however, Arquiste seems to be saying that different varieties of actual gardenias were used. Regardless of source, the goal seems to have been a masculine, green floral. A Fragrantica profile on Boutonniere and Carlos Huber states, (or perhaps quotes Huber himself):

In taming and “sharpening” gardenia’s multifaceted nature towards a great masculine feel, it took a mix of lavender, bergamot, Italian mandarin, vetiver and oak moss. And the “gardenia” is a duo of Gardenia jasminoides and Gardenia citriodora. While citrus and bergamot combine with lavender to create the opening, the base of vetiver and oak moss in the final stages will always back up the straightforward courage into the subdued passion of the wearer.  

It all sounds terribly good on paper. How often do you have the lush, indolic, hyper-feminine gardenia flower treated almost like a traditional fougère with its lavender, moss and herbal elements? A masculine take on gardenia has infinite potential for originality, so I was really excited to try Boutonniere when I won a sample set of the Arquiste line in a giveaway on The Fragrant Man blog. If only the reality of Boutonniere were as complex or unique as the promise of its notes.

Boutonniere No. 7 presentation on the Arquiste website.

Boutonniere No. 7 presentation on the Arquiste website.

Boutonniere opens on my skin with a burst of fresh, very green gardenia. It is heavily infused with vetiver that has a brief nuance of something rather minty, and is also accompanied by a touch of bright, springy mossiness. The whole thing is a visual panoply of emerald greens with a bright, dewy, green-white gardenia at its center. Dainty whiffs of bergamot, orange, and a vaguely herbal, very abstract aromatic note dance around the edges, but they are mere specks in the picture. The final element is a subtle, synthetic tonality resembling ISO E Super that lurks deep down in Boutonniere’s base, though it is very muted at this point. [Update: Arquiste has clarified that the aroma-chemical in question is Ambermax, a synthetic which Givaudan describes as having “the power of dry amber” with “subtantive [sic] fusing [of] cedarwood facets.”] Initially, the whole thing wafts in an extremely airy cloud that blooms 2-3 inches above the skin. It is perfectly balanced between the bright, fresh, green elements and the sweet gardenia, and is initially strong when sniffed up close. From afar, however, Boutonniere smells merely like a translucent wisp of green gardenia with vetiver.

Haitiian vetiver grass. Source: astierdemarest.com

Haitiian vetiver grass. Source: astierdemarest.com

Time is not kind to Boutonniere on my skin. Less than 15 minutes in, the perfume starts to devolve. Boutonniere becomes thinner in feel, and also loses its touches of citrus and mint. A bare 25 minutes in, the sillage drops further, and Boutonniere hovers an inch above the skin. Before the first hour is even up, the perfume lies right on the skin, and is close to becoming a skin scent. It accomplishes that disappointing feat a mere 75 minutes into its development. Around the same time, a subtle element of pepperiness pops up at the periphery, as the ISO E Super Ambermax starts to rise from the base.

Gardenia jasminoide. Source: flowerpictures.org, photographer unknown.

Gardenia jasminoide. Source: flowerpictures.org, photographer unknown.

The end of the first hour ushers in another change as well. Boutonniere feels creamier and warmer, as the more jasmine-based gardenia element becomes more prominent. The scent still retains its greenness, but the flower is less dewy and crisp. It parallels the evolution of a white flower that you pick and wear, moving from the dainty, fresh greenness to a warmer, more yellowed creaminess after a few hours. The minuscule citric curlicues vanish; and the vetiver begins to turn more dry. It eventually becomes more woody than green and bright, but, for now, Boutonniere is still primarily a gardenia scent with varying levels of fresh vetiver.

By the end of the third hour, Boutonniere lives up to its description on the Arquiste website as a woody floral, for the softened, velvety gardenia is now firmly entrenched in a woody, dry vetiver embrace. It has a lightly mineralized feel that is supplemented by the tiniest touch of oakmoss, but there really isn’t much more to the scent. It is light, simple, and airy, but it clings to the skin like translucent gauze. In fact, the perfume is so wispy and thin that I was sure it was going to die at any moment after a mere 2 hours, so you can imagine my surprise to see Boutonniere cling on tenaciously for quite a bit longer.

Vetiver roots, the primary source of the aroma. Photo:  Herbariasoap.com

Vetiver roots, the primary source of the aroma. Photo: Herbariasoap.com

As the hours passed, Boutonniere fought for dear life as the most basic gardenia soliflore around, with fluctuating degrees of vetiver and a growing ISO E Super Ambermax peppered flourish. At times, the vetiver actually seemed like it had wiped out the gardenia altogether, but the flower is stalwart and makes a comeback. In its final moments, Boutonniere is the sheerest smear of a vaguely greenish gardenia. All in all, it lasted just under 7.5 hours on my skin.

On Fragrantica, the comments range all over the place:

  • Like Carnal Flower, but less skanky/interesting. WAY too feminine for unisex IMO.
  • On paper I thought that maybe a little bit of Carnal flower had somehow got mixed up in my sample, I was overpowered by crushed gardenia petals. However when put on skin the sweet floral edge almost disappears to give way to a sensual spicy skin scent that I can not stop sniffing! This is like carnal flowers darker sultry sister, still with a hint of sweet gardenia but mostly about spicy wood (vetiver) and balmy lavender, and dirty (in a good way) genet and a shimmer of petitgran. In the heart the creamy sparkly gardenia comes back a bit to soapy strong for my liking. This scent wears very close to the skin not much silage. But depending on how long the soapy gardenia lasts this could be a little gem that should be worn close to skin, a little secret that only those close to you can appreciate.
  • This smells like a balloon that was rubbed against someone’s head…. [¶] I honestly don’t know know what notes are clashing to create that sharp, dense rubber note (oakmoss and genet poop perhaps!?), but I cannot imagine forking out that kind of money to smell like this, it’s bizarre.
Source: Hdwallpaperes.com

Jasmine. Source: Hdwallpaperes.com

Kevin of Now Smell This had an infinitely better experience than either that last commentator or me, though Boutonniere did not seem to sweep him off his feet. In his review, he wrote:

Arquiste Boutonnière no. 7 opens with a burst of fleshy white flowers (not gardenia, but jasmine); the flowers are sweet, mildly indolic and have an undercurrent of woodiness. As the fragrance quickly develops, I detect a soft “orange peel” note, a gentle touch of “smoke” (the vetiver?) and oak moss. Arquiste Boutonnière no. 7 plays nicely on skin: after I sprayed the fragrance on, I detected indoles on my left hand, orange peel on my right hand, and vetiver and flowers on my wrists; this fragmentation makes for an interesting experience, and all the perfume’s notes work together to create a “happy,” sunny, summertime vibe. Boutonnière no. 7 dries down to a “fresh” (but creamy) white floral and smooth vetiver perfume.

Arquiste Boutonnière no. 7 can easily be worn by women, but how will men take to a jasmine/“gardenia” fragrance? (I’m betting, without any evidence, that women will buy this fragrance more than men.) Arquiste Boutonnière no. 7 contains excellent ingredients, has good lasting power, discreet sillage, and it does not smell old-fashioned[….] As for me…the gardenia perfume I’ve been waiting for has not yet arrived.

Victoria of Bois de Jasmin loved Boutonniere, though her experience was closer to mine with all the vetiver than to Kevin’s. In her review, she writes, in part:

My first impression of Boutonniere no.7 was that it was a gardenia at long last. […][¶] But as I wore Boutonniere longer, I realized that it’s really a vetiver fragrance with just a scattering of white petals. The earthy vetiver and cool moss are so rich in the drydon that you are no longer sure if you’re smelling the petals or the stems. The damp, nutty vetiver may seem a surprising companion to the lush gardenia, but their earthy facets are natural complements. A bright touch of bergamot keeps the composition sparkling and vivid, while lavender takes off the overripe, indolic edge. The result is a bright, crisp fragrance, the heady gardenia notes notwithstanding. […]

There are many elements of Boutonniere that draw me to it. I love its contrasts and smooth transitions from one accord to another. I love the salty, damp darkness of vetiver that is contrasted against the white petals. I also love its quality and polish.

I envy her experience. I wish I had “twists” with Boutonniere No. 7, let alone “transitions.” On my skin, the only significant changes pertained to the early, muted, tiny flickers of tertiary elements vanishing in less than 15 minutes.

I love big white florals, so I enjoyed the green gardenia in Boutonniere quite a bit, but my overall reaction is disappointment. The Arquiste signature style seems skew towards light, discreet scents as a whole, but the sillage on Boutonniere is far too weak in my opinion. 50 minutes for it to lie right on the skin, and a 75 minutes for a skin scent? It is extreme. If Boutonniere had more projection, body, or richness, then I wouldn’t mind that it was a completely basic, linear soliflore that primarily consisted of two elements.

I don’t believe in examining perfumes in a vacuum, and, in this case, all the factors combined together are very problematic in light of the perfume’s cost. Arquiste may currently sell the perfume for $175 for a small 55 ml bottle on its website, but most of the big U.S. retailers are charging $195. The same story applies in Canada, too. With tax, that makes the final price for a small bottle of Boutonniere just under $220. In my opinion, that’s bloody high for the fragrance and size in question.

I find it interesting that a handful of the biggest perfume sites in Europe seem to have dropped Arquiste. Perhaps it is merely a contract issue, but Arquiste fragrances are no longer available on Liberty London’s website, and Jovoy Paris has stopped carrying the line entirely. At the same time, First in Fragrance is massively slashing its prices on those few fragrances in the line that it still has, an action that I find to be quite telling. Others large retailers who continue to carry the Arquiste line (like Essenza Nobile, Osswald in Zurich, and First in Fragrance as well) don’t even bother with Boutonniere No. 7, suggesting that the perfume simply doesn’t sell at the high price point that Arquiste wants for it. 

[UPDATE 1/30/14: Arquiste has responded in the comments to both the pricing differential and to the distribution issue, and it’s only fair to repeat the gist of their position up top in the text where everyone can see it. Arquiste clarifies that the $195 price is for a special numbered edition of the fragrance which comes with a steel stick-pin made by jewelers. The regular, retail price for the normal Boutonniere No. 7 fragrance is still $175. According to Arquiste, the “stores have chosen which one to carry based on what they liked.” As for the issue of distribution in Europe, Arquiste states that it is a matter of finding out which partnerships work and which don’t. You can read the full text of their response down in the comments.]

One can only wonder if perhaps Arquiste is over-pricing fragrances that are consistently sheer, wholly unobtrusive, quite simple, thin, and with only moderate longevity. I really love Arquiste’s Anima Dulcis, but it has similar flaws in projection, body, and longevity which renders its price too high for me. Same story with another Arquiste fragrance that I tested last week. As for l’Etrog, an Arquiste citrus scent I reviewed a while back, I found it to be a dull, overly simplistic, terribly boring, linear, ISO E Super-laden disappointment.

Boutonniere is a significantly better fragrance than that one, but a complex, nuanced masterpiece it is not. I think it would work best for women who are looking for an extremely intimate, green gardenia scent that few other people can detect. Boutonniere is most definitely suited for an office environment. I’m less certain as to whether men may fall hard for Boutonniere. It’s not as masculine as touted, and the amount of vetiver (let alone lavender) that you may experience will undoubtedly depend on skin chemistry. I think if you enjoy green interpretations on white florals (like, for example, Frederic Malle’s Carnal Flower), but want something even sheerer, lighter and more unobtrusive, then Boutonniere No. 7 will be right up your alley. I’m still highly dubious about the value for the price, though. 

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Boutonniere No. 7 is an eau de parfum that is available only in a 55 ml/1.85 oz size. It costs currently $175 on the Arquiste website, but many U.S. retailers carry the special, numbered edition which costs $195. The perfume’s non-US price is: CAD$195, £125, or €159 (I think). In the U.S.: You can buy Boutonniere for $175 from Avery Fine Perfumery, The Twisted Lily, and Babalu Miami. The following sites sell it for the higher $195 price with the numbered bottle and accompanying steel stick-pin: BarneysOsswald NYC, Beauty Habit, and Aedes. Outside the U.S.: In Canada, the Arquiste line is available at Holt Renfrew Bloor in Toronto (though I could not locate it on the overall Holt Renfrew website), or at Etiket in Montreal for CAD $195. Each store is the exclusive dealer for the Arquiste line in their city. In the UK, Boutonniere is available for £125.00 from Bloom Parfumery, along with a sample. In France, Jovoy no longer carries Arquiste, and First in Fragrance is discounting those few Arquiste fragrances that it still carries. In Australia, there are a few vendors which carry the Arquiste line, such as Peony Melbourne or Libertine which sells Boutonniere for AUD$199. Arquiste is also sold at numerous small retailers throughout France, Italy, and Germany, but also Mexico, New Zealand, Lithuania, Croatia, Ireland and more. You can use Arquiste’s “Stockists” page to find a retailer near you. Samples: Samples are available at Surrender to Chance where the price starts at $4.99 for a 1/2 ml vial. The site also sells all 7 perfumes from the Arquiste line in a sample pack for $33.99.