Aside from our shared love of Jane Austen, Visconti movies and all kinds of plants, I can’t really remember how Carlos and I met. Of course, I knew his globally successful cult perfume line, Arquiste, but I’m not exactly sure how our paths crossed. Regardless, they were clearly supposed to, because we had an instant meeting of minds. Carlos is someone who has the same overarching sense of romance about the world, and similarly notices every minute detail with a critical eye. In truth, we’d been looking for a head of membership to work alongside my fellow Brisbane boy and beloved-by-all Nick Chandler, but we never found the person who was quite the right fit to help build and lead our community. I remember at one point during the long (and global!) search, writing down the attributes that I know PRIOR people would look for, and saying to another team member, “Well, that’s Carlos—his goddamn fragrances!” It was our luck, then, that a couple of months later, Carlos, polymath that he is, called me out of the blue and said, “About that role….” The decision was instant and I’m proud to introduce him as our new Director of Membership.
Some people are well-rounded, few people are richly rounded, and Carlos is one of the rare people who is exactly that. He constantly inspires me by always renewing himself, and in a permanent state of curiosity and joyfulness. He’s also forever adding to his interests and expanding his knowledge, which reminds me to do the same. His discoveries might be some extraordinary maker found in, say, Tunisia; an exquisite off-the-market house here, a beautiful landscape there; a building in need of restoration funds, or a wonderful restaurant down a lane somewhere.
He studied architecture in his hometown of Mexico City and Paris and historic preservation in New York after launching his career in Spain—then threw himself into the study of fragrance creation with some of the most internationally recognized noses. His brand, Arquiste, captures the olfactive notes of historical moments, like a merchant spice galleon in the 17th century, a London cocktail bar in the 1930s, or a disco in 1970s Acapulco. As we move into a new year and a new world after these last few months of being more or less grounded, we’re so glad to have him working with us to create extraordinary experiences and to help us celebrate the rare, real and wonderful.
David Prior: You travel the world constantly, but there are a few places that I’ve noticed you continue to return to. What are those places and why?
Carlos Huber: Spain, number one. Spain is my emotional home, because it’s where I kind of grew up. Not in the sense of being raised, but where I became an adult and came into myself as a person. It started in Paris, actually—which is another place I go back to. I left home during college to study architecture in Paris for a year, which turned out to be one of the most formative years of my life, because of learning the language and everything about the historic architecture there—and becoming financially independent for the first time.
That year I also met the person who would become my first partner, who was Spanish. I would travel to see him in Spain—he was living in Ibiza doing his residency as a doctor—and so I spent three months on Ibiza, taking a job with an architecture firm. It was idyllic, not at all a wild Ibiza experience. And his family really embraced me and became my adoptive family. Then he would come to Paris all the time and we navigated the city together as expats. Although I went home to finish my degree, I ended up leaving again for Bilbao, where I lived for a year. Since then, Spain has just been sort of like home. Some of my best friends are the friends I met at that point in my life.
DP: The formative places. It’s the same story for me, except I left Australia for Italy.
CH: Mexico is also a case study in looking outwards. Maybe you feel similarly, David, and it’s awful to say, but we grew up feeling like Mexico wasn’t well perceived internationally, and that gave us the feeling that everything had to be better somewhere else. Thankfully that’s changed in Mexico, and that is really exciting. But growing up, it was almost corny when you went to a nice Mexican restaurant in Mexico. They seemed thematic, with Pancho Villa posters and the like. You did have wonderful Mexican food at home, but you went out for Spanish food, French food, sushi. This made us very observant of the outside world. We were dressing like they did in Paris and London, we were listening to the best British music that my American cousins had no clue about. And so I think Mexicans have always been very good at absorbing different influences and at adapting.
DP: Yeah, that is exactly the same for me, although I now love Australia and would do almost anything to visit. I think growing up like that you can develop an unrelenting curiosity and ambition to take it all in, because you felt like you were never going to have that opportunity, or at least that it would be fleeting. Returning to this question of the places you’d go back to: There’s Spain and Paris that you have these formative emotional connections to, but then there’s also Sydney, right?
CH: For me, it always goes back to emotional stuff. But yes, Sydney too. My first trip there, I was going through a breakup and it was like therapy. I went to Sydney after launching Arquiste and I met Jason Minty [owner of concept store Becker Minty] and [his then business partner] Adam Khoury, and they were so lovely. It was the first time that I had traveled so far. I remember my Spanish family had told me—they had been to Australia—“It’s really beautiful, but it’s too far away for what it is.” And what they meant was it’s not exotic, you’re not going anywhere that you haven’t seen in some way somewhere else. And so I wasn’t really expecting much. But I loved the Victorian architecture, I loved the sandstone and the cast-iron porches. And, of course, I loved the gardenias and the frangipani and the jacarandas and all that. It had way more history and way more charm than I thought.
DP: You ended up creating a fragrance around the rock pools at Sydney, right?
CH: Yeah. Things were going very well at the store, so I would come back for two weeks every year. In the mornings, Adam would pick me up from where I was staying and we’d go for a dip at Bondi before work. I was there for the Presidential election in November 2016 and the day after Trump got elected, I was freaking out, because I had heard that they were stopping people with green cards at the border as a result of the new travel ban. I thought I might have to move my business. And I remember that one day we went to Bondi and I was like,” I need an escape right now and I need to disconnect from reality.”
And it occurred to me that while every one of my fragrances is about transporting you to another place and time in history, right then I wanted to be transported to a beach day, to somewhere else that was not necessarily historic, but that gave me peace of mind, that provided some relief. So that’s where the idea of swimming in the rock pools came from. And, of course, the fact that you smell the jasmine and frangipani as you’re walking down the streets to get to the beach is really beautiful.
DP: What’s the link between your interest in architectural restoration and traveling and fragrance? How do you make those leaps?
CH: At the end of the day for me everything is about how you experience environments. Like, the way Le Corbusier said that architecture is the play of forms assembled in the light. You experience sensation and emotion, shadows, temperature, all of it. And the way you react to a modern building or the way you react to an old building has to do with the construction materials, has to do with the patina of the place, the way things have aged. If I’m having a sensory experience or even an emotional experience in a place, it’s not just because of who lived there or what happened there, but because of the setting, the volume, the shape of it—and then the construction of it provides me with notes, with clues. So obviously stepping into an old church in Italy is going to feel very different from stepping into a skyscraper lobby in New York or a building like MoMA.
I really do subscribe to the idea of architecture being part of the sublime. When you walk into an immense place, when you walk into a beautiful garden, when you walk into something that takes your breath away, all your senses are kind of bombarded by that experience. You’re imprinted. Because of that, I love historic architecture—I love convents and churches and old houses with creaky wooden floors and dusty brick that also smells a certain way. All of those kinds of things.
DP: I think that’s something that you and I share, the belief that traveling engages all of the senses.
CH: The way I discovered architecture was through travel. The way I discovered perfume and fragrance was also through travel. I don’t think I ever paid attention to the scent of magnolia as much as I did when I first went to Sydney. I connected it with the fact that there were magnolias back home, but I had never focused on them because they were just there. Whereas in Sydney, they were part of my trip and that memory was more valuable than a daily routine at home, you know?
DP: For me, taste was the number one thing, the entry point. So how do you recreate that emotional sense impression in a bottle?
CH: Well, this is where learning about historic preservation, as in the methodical scientific method of studying a building, obviously helped. For example, I have a couple of scents that are based on a specific convent in Mexico City. And I researched this convent and I learned about the construction materials. I know that the beams in the ceiling are 300-year-old cedar beams, and will have a scent to them, right? If I know that the walls are stucco and stucco has a salty profile to the taste and smell, then there’s a salty note that I have to add. And then culinary history is tied to convents because of what nuns would bake and cook to either sell for income, or to give to relatives who were visiting. And in Italy and Spain and France and Mexico—in Catholic countries, especially—a lot of pastries and candies and cookies come from convents. In this particular convent, there were two recipes I found that gave me notes of nutmeg and cinnamon and vanilla and chocolate and all of that is in the perfume as well.
DP: It occurs to me that building a perfume and building a trip share a sensorial approach, an idea of how people should experience things.
CH: Absolutely. What sticks to you when you travel is the sum of it. It’s the whole moment, right? It’s what you taste at that restaurant that you love, but also the smile that the server gave you when they approached you. And the two words in French that you said that made you feel competent. I mean, everything’s tied into the full experience. It’s not just one aspect of it.
DP: It could seem to some people like an illogical leap, but why did you join the PRIOR team and what are you most excited about?
CH: In the same way that I’ve never really left architecture, this feels like a very natural extension of what I want to believe I’m good at. And it’s kind of like, again, the sum of the parts—it’s my experience and curiosity about travel, my way of telling you a story and directing you on a journey, my sensitivity to the little things that make a trip really special and beautiful. It’s very much tied to that sensibility of creating a perfume and noticing those little notes that make it unique, you know?
DP: What experiences are you looking for us to create in the future?
CH: Every time there’s a conversation on cultural and environmental stewardship at PRIOR, it gets me very excited and makes me feel proud to be a part of that. So experiences that highlight that and also experiences that are sensory driven are really exciting for me. Obviously, something like the scent journey from Florence to Paris via Provence is super exciting, not only because of my expertise and because of the know-how, but also because I can’t wait to do that journey myself, to track those points in perfume history. I’ve wanted to do a culinary trip to Japan since forever. And doing a botanical trip somewhere where we can discover plants and flowers and trees—just the specificity of that, I think, is what makes our approach different. I come from a niche world in fragrance, and historic architecture is another niche. I find specificity to be very reassuring and complete. I think the specificity in our journeys gives them a stronger point of view.
DP: Well, and there’s the fun too, the joy of it all.
CH: And the joy of it all. But it’s about pleasure and joy in a richer way. It’s a satisfaction that stays in your memory. It’s not just a satisfaction that is gone after you put the fork down and you forget about it. You’ll remember it. And I think that’s what’s wonderful about travel in general, that things like eating and sleeping become extraordinary just because you’re somewhere else and because you’ve allowed yourself that time. You’ve made it precious.
Where will your next vacation be?
Meeting my family in Mexico, on the Nayarit coast. We’re renting a place where we can all be together. I’ve missed them so much this year. I can’t wait to get there.
The thing you can’t travel without?
Fragrance. Putting on fragrance is a daily pleasure, not only as part of my grooming routine, but as a sort of stamp to give my day a specific tone or character. Deciding which fragrance to bring on a trip is likewise a way to design how that trip experience will be, what notes will live in my memory once the trip is done.
When were you happiest while traveling?
I love traveling with people, but I also enjoy traveling on my own immensely, and the happiest moments are always when I discover something unexpected: a restaurant that only trusted locals can point out, a hidden courtyard or charming street discovered on an early morning jog, a provincial town overlooked by most but full of hidden treasures.
If you could live at any hotel, which would it be?
Being born and raised in Mexico City, I’m very partial to Mexican hospitality; I think the warmth and attention are hard to beat. When I was young, we would go to Acapulco on the weekends and the most glamorous hotel back then was Las Brisas, where the Acapulco of old jet-set fame held court. Admittedly Acapulco has changed a lot, but Las Brisas retains its character, minus the “scene.” The architecture and style have been preserved exactly as they were when it was built; it’s all very Slim Aarons. Every little bungalow in white and pink has its private pools with swaying palm trees, pink and red hibiscus and that magnificent view of the bay that is nothing short of legendary. Acapulco has had its ups and downs, but Las Brisas is still that self-contained haven, with that iconic Sunset Bar and its Bertoia chairs where you can have gin and tonics exactly like people did in the ‘60s and ‘70s. For the aesthetics, the individual private pools, the ceviche and the sunsets, Las Brisas is pure nostalgia for me.
The place/trip that challenged you most?
My first trip to Marrakech. But as with most challenging trips, I learned so much and it left me eager to come back to Morocco and redeem the experience. Coincidently, the next year I had the chance to travel to Casablanca with Columbia University to learn about Art Deco and mid-century architecture. During the inter-war period, there were more Parisian architects building in Casablanca than in Paris itself. It was an amazing trip and it taught me to never give in to a first impression.
What is your room service indulgence?
French fries and a bottle of red wine.
The strangest place you’ve spent a night?
I’ve had my fair share. But I think the strangest experience was the first time I traveled to the Médoc region to tour wineries. We found a small family-owned château that functioned as a B&B. The place and the family were super charming, but then the next morning breakfast was served at a large family dining table, with all the guests awkwardly sitting opposite each other as if part of the family, with the owner frantically directing her husband to serve breakfast. It was so chaotic and funny, but also wonderful and unforgettable.
What is your favorite market in the world?
Mercado de San Juan, in Mexico City. Mexican markets are all wonderful for the incredible bounty of fruit and flowers, but in the San Juan Market you have some of the best and most exotic food stands you could imagine anywhere. You can have Spanish tapas, Tokyo-grade sushi and pre-Hispanic food and buy the best produce imaginable. I’ve never seen anything like Mexican markets.
What are your showoff spots in your hometown?
Breakfast at Niddo and a visit to Ago Projects in the Colonia Juarez area, lunch at Meroma followed by contemporary galleries like Gaga, Mascota, OMR and Galeria Karen Huber.
A visit to Chic by Accident and Trouvé for mid-century and vintage furniture, a visit to the Tovar y Teresa house museum, a three-house lunch at Contramar for carajillos and animated conversation, or El Parnita for tacos.
A walk through San Angel, starting with the El Carmen convent and its beautiful Andalusian crypt with mummies from the colonial era, and finishing at the San Angel Inn courtyard for martinis or margaritas served with sidecars in traditional silver buckets.
For architecture and design aficionados, Casa Gilardi, Casa Barragán and Cuadra San Cristobal are obligatory stops, as well as the UNAM campus and El Pedregal.
Chapultepec Castle always impresses—those checkerboard black-and-white terraces overlooking the city are just so beautiful. It’s a fantastic history museum, but the view of the city on a clear day is mind boggling.
And always, in between stops, great food and drinks. One of the most fun things about Mexico City is the incredible food, conversation and laughs during shared meals.
Which places would you happily spend a weekend, a week, a month, and a year and why?
Weekend: Hudson, NY. Seeing friends, visiting Olana and Art Omi. Dinner at Feast & Floret, drinks at The Maker.
Week: Provincetown, Cape Cod. Beach days at Hatches Harbor, biking through the Provinceland dunes, shopping at Loveland, drinks at the Red Inn, dinner at Sal’s, shingle cottages and hydrangeas.
Month: Mexico City. Even though I grew up there, it never ceases to surprise. It’s a city of neighborhoods, and every time I go there’s a new one having a moment. The contemporary art scene as well as the food and nightlife scene keep it so youthful and dynamic.
Year: Madrid. Almost like a second home, and my favorite city to live in. I have as dear friends in Madrid as I do in New York and Mexico.
If you could travel to any place in any epoch, which would it be?
A European Grand Tour as it was done in the 18th century. I’d follow the traditional journey: Rome and Southern Italy to learn about the antique world, Florence for the art, Venice for worldly pleasure, Paris for polish, Spain, Greece and Turkey for exoticism.
Where are you embarrassed that you’ve never been?
Portugal. I can’t wait to go, it’s so overdue….
Co-Founder and CEO David Prior was formerly Contributing International Editor of Condé Nast Traveler and Contributing Editor at Vogue Living. David was named by Bloomberg Businessweek as “One to Watch” in 2018 as part of the publication’s prestigious Global 50: the people who defined business in 2017.