Perfume Review – Arquiste Anima Dulcis: Conquistadors, Convents & Chocolate

It was a chilly day in Mexico City that November, long ago in 1695, and the kitchens of the Royal Convent of Jesus Maria were a beehive of activity. The haughty Mother Superior took the heavy key from the chain around her neck and unlocked the vault with the sisters’ most precious ingredients: bitter, dark chocolate, rich chilies, earthy spices, incense used in their religious ceremonies, and the heaviest of vanillas. The recipe for their famed “Anima Dulcis” was a secret one — even some of the nuns weren’t privy to its true magic. Were there flowers hidden under its dark depths? Was ancient incense responsible for its smoke, or was it darkened patchouli? The Mother Superior smiled to herself as she passed through the convent’s stone passageways and heard the younger sisters’ whispered questions. She, and she alone, would add the finishing touches.

Sao Roque Church, Lisbon, which is a little how I imagine the Royal Convent to appear. Photo: "ToonSarah" on VirtualTourist.com

The chapel of Sao Roque Church, Lisbon, which is a little how I imagine the wealthy Royal Convent in my mind. Photo: “ToonSarah” on VirtualTourist.com

Cornelis de Vos, Flemish Baroque painter, 1584-1651. Source: This Ambiguous Life Blogspot.

Cornelis de Vos, Flemish Baroque painter, 1584-1651. Source: This Ambiguous Life Blogspot.

The Royal Convent of Jesus Maria in Mexico City on a day in November 1695, is the explicit reference point for the “baroque gourmand” fragrance that is Anima Dulcis (loosely translated as “soul of sweetness”). It comes from the perfume house of Arquiste, founded by the Mexican architect and designer, Carlos Huber. Mr. Huber — who just won the Fashion Group International’s Rising Star award a few weeks ago — was inspired by the convent’s history and practices after he worked on renovating and converting the building in Mexico City.

Carlos Huber. Source: Etiket.com.

Carlos Huber. Source: Etiket.com.

As Mr. Huber explains on the Arquiste website, the Royal Convent of Jesus Maria had been founded in 1578 for the female descendants of the Spanish Conquistadors. (Or, at least, the very wealthiest and most aristocratic among them!) It was known for the nuns’ recipes which combined European and Asian ingredients with those particular to Mexico’s ancient history. Octavian, the highly respected perfume blogger of 1000 Fragrances, elaborates further in his beautiful review of the perfume:

The most carnal elements of the baroque cuisine were mixed in unexpected combinations, forgotten by the modern nose. Animalic jasmine, tuberose, petals of white flowers and all the temptations of the flesh were mixed with cocoa and hot spices to produce liqueurs and sweets. The nuns were discovering the fabulous scents of the new world, earlier than Europe. Vanilla, cocoa and tuberose, brought to Versailles, but still a great luxury before their massive use in the next century, made their debut in a Convent where the ancient Maya and Aztec flavors were tested and studied by Europeans. Anima dulcis, a modern interpretation of this magic encounter, tells the story of when the european sensibility started to use the “dark” ingredients of the New World – the discovery of cocoa, vanilla and chili pepper, reported by Cortez 150 years earlier. [Emphasis in the original.]

Using his research (and, I believe, the sisters’ actual recipes), Carlos Huber worked with twoAnima Dulcis perfumers, Yann Vasnier and Rodrigo Flores-Roux, to encapsulate the Convent’s creations. The result was Anima Dulcis which was released in 2011. It is classified on Fragrantica as an “oriental vanilla,” though I think “oriental chocolate” might be a more accurate summation. On its website, Arquiste says the notes include:

Cocoa Absolute, Mexican Vanilla, Cinnamon, Chili infusion.

Those official notes are just the tip of the iceberg. There is no way that the list is complete. I would venture a guess that the complete list might possibly look a little bit like this:

Cocoa Absolute, Mexican Vanilla, Cinnamon, Red Chili infusion, Jasmine Sambac (or some sort of florals), Seville Oranges, Cumin, Cardamom, Patchouli, Incense and, possibly, some sort of ambery resin.

Pre-Columbian chocolate with chilies. Source: CaFleureBon.

Chocolate with chilies and spices. Source: CaFleureBon.

Anima Dulcis opens on my skin with cinnamon-infused dark chocolate. It’s chewy, dusky, and spiced, but also, simultaneously, honeyed. Fiery red chilies counter the sweetness of the vanilla that just barely seems to breathe in the background. So does the earthiness of a dark patchouli — dirty and slightly smoky in the best way possible. The smoky notes seem to be further accentuated by some hint of light incense. It’s a lovely take on vanilla and chocolate, especially with the piquancy from the red chili pepper.

Mexican Hot Chocolate. Source: Zested.com. (Click on the photo for a link and a recipe.)

Mexican Hot Chocolate. Source: Zested.com. (Click on the photo to go to the website where you can find a tasty recipe.)

The chocolate note, however, is the real star. It’s unusual and nothing like the typical sort of chocolate notes which, to me, often feel more like powdery cocoa. At the same time, it’s also not like purely dark chocolate. Here, it’s more like the richest chocolate flourless cake covered with ganache made from bitter chocolate, covered by a dusting of smoky powder, cinnamon, cumin, cardamom, decorated with faint slivers of Madagascar vanilla pods, and then set on a plate of spicy, cinnamon red-hot candies. The richness almost has the feel of a British Christmas plum pudding, only tinged with incense.

It’s an incredibly cozy scent that is, at the same time, very sexy. There is a rich, meaty, chewy, dark aspect to it that can certainly be called “baroque” but, to be honest, aristocratic Mexican nuns descended from the Conquistadors are not really what comes to mind when I smell it.

Vermont West Hill House B&B.

Vermont West Hill House B&B.

Instead, I feel transported to a secluded wood cabin in Vermont on a very snowy, wintery night; there, by the light of a roaring fire which casts flickering shadows on the wall, a seduction scene full of deep long kisses and teasing nuzzles unfolds. Cups of spiced hot chocolate filled with dark liqueurs lie empty; the fire releases an occasional tendril of smoke; the light is glowing amber and red; and sensuality underlies the cozy warmth of the scene.

As time progresses, the baroque chocolate notes are joined by something that is definitely floral in nature. It’s lovely, adding a lightness and sweetness to the dry spices, but I can’t pinpoint the exact flower. Perhaps Jasmine sambac, with its earthier, muskier nature than regular jasmine? Octavian on 1000 Fragrances thinks it’s a green lily note and, while I can see some light greenness, I don’t think it’s the delicate lily flower. Either way, the perfume definitely has some sort of floral component. Carlos Huber may consider Anima Dulcis as a “baroque gourmand,” but, to my mind, it is much more of a spicy oriental perfume which just happens to have some gourmand elements. It’s also a very ambery perfume for something that is meant to smell like Mexican hot chocolate, and I wonder if there is some sort of resin in Anima Dulcis’ foundation. Whatever the specific notes, it’s a fascinating and addictive scent. I can’t stop sniffing my arm, and I just barely stifle the urge to put on more.

Nordic Christmas Oranges. Source: Trine Hahnemann & The Times of London.

Nordic Christmas Oranges. Source: Trine Hahnemann & The Times of London.

Two hours in, the perfume shifts and changes a little. It is now predominantly cinnamon orange with red chili peppers. There is a feeling of caramelized cooked fruit, where the caramel has burnt just a little. Or, maybe, it’s more like a sticky, toffee’d orange, salted and sweet, mixed with dark raisins stewed in rum and dark chocolate. It’s really hard to pinpoint; the perfume is superbly blended, leading all the notes to melt together in a decadently luscious, rich whole. The burnt note, unfortunately, lasts a wee bit too long for my liking, and seems to become just a tad bit more bitter and burnt with time. It’s not strong and over-powering — it’s not even the predominant note — but I think I would have liked just a little less of it or, perhaps, a little more sweetness to counter it.

After another hour, it fades, leaving Anima Dulcis as a lovely combination of bitter Seville oranges, dark patchouli, cinnamon, chili pepper and a soft dusting of sweet vanilla. Eventually, at the end of the fourth hour, the perfume turns into a soft amber with spices and just a flicker of orange, before finally ending up in its final stage as sweet vanilla and light white cocoa powder, with just a smidgen of dusty spice.

For all that these notes seem dark and heavy, the perfume itself actually is not. It’s neither narcotically heady nor cloyingly sweet. It’s not a light, clean, airy scent by any means — no laundry detergent freshness here —  but it’s surprisingly not heavy or opaque either. Octavian describes it as “light, woody, airy” and “delicate.” I think it’s a bit heavier than that; I wouldn’t want anyone to think this is a sheer, translucent scent or something like the minimalistic creations made by Jean-Claude Ellena. But, given the richness of some of its components, it is far from thick and never overbearing.

In fact, even the sillage is moderate. In the beginning, you can smell it on yourself but it’s far from overpowering. Someone across the room definitely won’t be gassed by it. After the first hour, the perfume becomes softer and, by the third hour, it was quite close to my skin. By the fourth hour, it took some determined sniffs, putting my nose right on the skin, to detect some of the nuances in the notes. As for longevity, it was moderate on my perfume-consuming skin. It faded away shortly before the sixth hour. On others, I’ve read lengths of time around varying between six and eight hours.

All in all, I really liked Anima Dulcis. A lot. The only thing stopping me from wanting a full bottle is the fact that, for my personal tastes, I would have preferred it if the scent were heavier, headier, and just a slightly bit sweeter. (Just a smidgeon!). I realise, however, that most people don’t share my preference for narcotically heady scents, so I think Anima Dulcis would be a real crowd-pleaser for many. It taps into the current trend for gourmand scents but, in my opinion, it really isn’t one. Those who are expecting a true dessert fragrance will be disappointed. This is not half as sweet as some of the niche Guerlains that are out there. Those, however, who share my feeling that a few of those Guerlains are a bit too gourmand should really look into Anima Dulcis. The same applies to anyone looking for a very high-quality, luxurious take on spicy Orientals without the heavy, boozy or opaque aspects that can sometimes accompany them. I should add that it is most definitely unisex!

Try Anima Dulcis, and see if a perfume twist on a recipe from the aristocratic descendants of the Conquistadors over three hundred years ago touches your sweet soul.

DETAILS:
Anima Dulcis costs US $165, CAD $200, £125.00 or €149. It comes only as an eau de parfum and is available only in a 55 ml/ 1.8 oz size. In the US, it is available on the Arquiste website, Barneys, and Aedes. 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 $200. Each store is the exclusive dealer for the Arquiste line in their city. In the UK, it is available for £125.00 at Liberty London. In France, you can find it at Jovoy Paris where it retails for €149. In Germany, it is sold at Aus Liebe Zum Duft. Elsewhere, you can use Arquiste’s “Stockists” page to find a retailer near you. 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.

47 thoughts on “Perfume Review – Arquiste Anima Dulcis: Conquistadors, Convents & Chocolate

    • Barbara, how lovely of you to stop by! Thank you for your kind words — creating a lemming for an unexpected type of perfume is a huge, huge compliment, and I’m very touched. If it helps even more to enable you to give it a test whiff, think of this as an ambery floral oriental which just happens to have some chocolate in it. ;) If you try it, please let me know what you think. :)

  1. This one sounds very enticing.I was supposed to get a sample of this Anima Dulces months ago, but instead to selected Guerlain’s Tonka Imperiale and Double Vanille instead.Great review.

  2. I initially thought this wouldn’t appeal to me based on the notes, but the more I read the more I was intrigued and reassured. I don’t like perfumes that are too heavy or thick or sweet or spicy – or “baroque”, indeed. I don’t even like dark chocolate! But you do say that this is pretty wearable so I would like to give it a go, not least because Mr Huber is rather easy on the eye. He wouldn’t need to get chilies on those white trousers, mind.

    • It’s very sweet for the first 30 seconds, Vanessa, and then all the spices really make it quite a dry perfume. Not dry by the standards of something like Tauer’s L’Air du Desert Marocain but a LOT dryer than one would expect. And certainly dryer and less sweet than some of the Guerlains. Take, for example, Guerlain’s Angelique Noire which just turns into a vanilla cupcake at one point! Or the boozy, rummy Spiritueuse Double Vanilla. Or the very patisserie-like Shanghai. This one, in contrast, is really much dryer (at least on my skin) and with the lovely addition of that unexpected floral note.

      As for heaviness, I think I would compare it to one of the strong(er) L’Artisan perfumes. It has strong notes, but it is still isn’t heavy, viscous, or gooey. It’s nothing like the thickness of Absolue Pour Le Soir, for example! I wouldn’t say it’s a light perfume, but it is surprisingly airy. Plus, it doesn’t project a ton either.

      Mr. Huber is gorgeous, isn’t he? When I stumbled across his photo at the end of putting together the final touches on my review, my jaw almost dropped…. Good heavens!

  3. The notes don’t sound particular appealing to me as a whole, but the review makes me curious to at least try it. I am a fan of those elements in food/drink, but I don’t necessarily desire to smell like them.

    What makes me interested is that you say it isn’t *too* gourmand compared to others. Plus, I don’t think I have tried any perfumes from a Mexican creator, much less a Mexican house, so it might be nice to branch out a tad.

    I loved the way this review was written, thanks for sharing!

    • I actually am not sure I’d really classify this as a gourmand at all! The spices make it quite dry, there is that mysterious but absolutely lovely floral note, and it really seems a lot more like an oriental. Its sweetness is most apparent in the opening minute, but then the spices take over and there is a very definite amber-y feel to it. I think Octavian really nailed it when he said that the nuns took European traditions (florals like tuberose, jasmine or whatever the flower is here) and added some Mexican/Mayan/Aztec touches (chocolate) to it.

      To me, something like Guerlain’s Angelique Noire is hardcore gourmand. Vanilla cupcake, vanilla icing, vanilla sugar. This is absolutely nothing like that. It’s not even like Guerlain’s Spiritueuse Double Vanille either. It lacks the boozy elements of Alahine, Tom Ford’s Tobacco Vanille or Hermes’ Ambre Narguilé. And it’s galaxies apart from the tooth-achingly, cloying, sugar overdose of Kilian’s Love.

      I would totally ignore the official notes which, in my opinion, are just the tip of the iceberg. I think you’d actually like this — though I’m not sure about its projection or longevity on your skin.

      As for the perfume house being Mexican, I don’t think that it is, officially? Mr. Huber was raised in Mexico City, but I think he spent quite a bit of time in France, got his Masters at Colombia University, and now lives in the US (in New York, I think).

  4. I haven’t tried a single thing from Arquiste. This perfume house is not available in any of the niche stores in Poland. But from your review they sound nice. Love the photo of oranges in chocolate!

    • I hope you can get a sample of Anima Dulcis and perhaps a few others from the line when you visit London later this year, Lucas! I think you may like Aleksandr from what I’ve read of the perfume, its inspiration and its notes!

  5. K – I really like this fragrance a lot, but feared that it would be one of those scents that would be used on a very limited occasion. Once I got over the sweetness at the beginning, it really became a comfort. Your review has once again made me want to dig it out of my sample pile to give it another go :)

    • Let me know if you prefer it a second time around. On my skin, it wasn’t actually very sweet after the opening minute. It’s definitely not as sweet as some of the Guerlains! The very dry aspect to the spices, the smoky notes and the floral ones made it a scent that seemed much more like an oriental than a gourmand or “chocolate” scent. :)

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  7. How poetic, it makes me truly envious of your nose. Mine is hardly as sensitive or finely tuned. Perfume is sort of this desperately romantic subject for me, that I will never be able to discuss in depth because I haven’t the equipment to appreciate the faceted complexity of the scents. So I shall read the reviews and use my imagination instead.

    • Oh, please don’t say that, Duchess (is it all right for me to abbreviate your name as such?). You can train and develop your nose — I *promise you*, you can. Really! You can start with the basics to catalog those scents in your mental rolodex but then, you simply have to try a lot of things. The more things you try, the more your nose will recognise and develop. I really think the nose is a muscle which, just like every other, becomes stronger through exercise. It really just takes a little practice.

      Please, please don’t give up or think you can’t learn the different facets of a scent. If you are someone who thinks that perfume is a “desperately romantic subject” — which it is and which is an absolutely LOVELY way of putting it! — then you’re someone with the passion and interest to learn. Getting small samples, even from places like Macy’s or Sephora, is a start and then you can move onto more niche stuff that often has more unusual notes.

      Perhaps you can order a few samples of something that has caught your fancy, try something and then, if you’d like, you can email me and we can discuss it (assuming that I’m familiar with the scent or have reviewed it). Let me help you. I’d be glad to do it for anyone who seems to feel about perfume as you do. :)

  8. That Carlos Huber – what a cutie! The universe must be telling me to try this. Renee over at Dad’s American Beauty just wrote about it a few days ago and I thought I had a sample but nope…then came your wonderful review. I must remedy the lack of a sample soon!

  9. Anima Dulcis was one of the best surprises I encountered last year. It manages to be so rich yet weightless. I think it’s the most shinig gem in the Arquiste collection. Unfortunately it is a bit fleeting on me.

      • It still hasn’t arrived! Today, I hope — which means I hope to get to Puredistance M by the weekend, if my reviewing schedule holds. I’ve been looking for a perfect leather, so let’s hope that is the one. :D

          • Well, I’m a female, but I liked how you thought it wasn’t very butch. I was also relieved that you didn’t note any barnyard scents, which can often happen on me with leather. It was the main reason why I couldn’t handle Cuir de Russie. On me, it was horse manure cloaked in soap. *shudder*

          • I find it masculine -or better yet, gentlemanly- in spirit but perfectly wearable by a woman. Bel Ami would smell butch on me. Cabochard and Cuir de Russie smell somewhat butch on me although I enjoy them, but M makes me feel assured and somewhat dangerous, more like an evil Bond girl.
            I appreciate CdR for its horsey associations, manure and all.
            I am sure you will love M. I would definitely buy it, but I must get a bottle of Opardu first.

          • So many perfumes, so little money for ALL that one loves….. ;) Don’t you wish we had a cheaper addiction? LOL.

            I have noted your huge, very evident love for Opardu and have noted it on my list of things that I definitely need to try. :D

          • Opardu is definitely a must try. It smells familiar and soapy but like the finest, most luxurious soap.
            At least our addiction is sort of healthy compared to others.

          • I hear so much about Boxeuses! I shall definitely put it on my list for my next order to Surrender to Chance. Boxeuses is the one that you’re tempted to get a full bottle of, isn’t it?

          • Yup, tempted is the right word. I may “require” myself to purchase it in Paris and not through Barneys with the huge markup; however, I currently do not have any plans to visit Paris anytime soon.

    • Caro, I hope your comments will further persuade people that it is not some ghastly chocolate dessert smell but, rather, a gem. :) How fleeting was it on you? I only got 6 hours but my skin is very odd. I have to admit, I would have liked it even more had it lasted longer.

      • Oh, no, no dessert at all. It is very complex, not too sweet…more like chocolate with chili. I liken it to Coromandel in the sense that both of them are lightweight baroques. After some time it got sort of flat on me. Lack of longevity in fragrances is a dealbreaker for me but it is an issue I have with many fragrances. It might be my -or rather my skin’s- fault.

        Caro

        • It’s my deal-breaker too, Caro. And I have the same skin as you do! As for Coromandel, excellent comparison. One with dark chocolate and chili (the Anima Dulcis), one with white chocolate and incense (the Coromandel) — but both very lightweight baroques that aren’t opaque or thick.

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  14. This one is a winner. To me it is like Mexican hot chocolate! Not that it smells like Mexican hot chocolate, although there are commonalities, but how all the notes are swirled together so deftly and smoothly that they blend together in my nose. It has chocolate and vanilla, but it doesn’t come across as a gourmand to me. There is that smokiness, and incense and amber which is not exactly appetizing. I will be wearing this more because it is just so lovely and unique. In fact, I would love to wear this everyday for a while, but I need to get to Puredistance M! I smelled the sample tip and it is tantalizing.

    • You’re starting to turn into my perfume twin, Cohibadad! *grin* And I couldn’t be happier! Did you know about the scent before or did you rely on the list of some of my favorites that I posted in the “About Me” section and in Post #100? I’m just curious because it doesn’t sound like you are the sort to like gourmands (I certainly am), and Anima Dulcis is a fragrance that may initially lead one to think it was precisely that. It’s not, of course, as you yourself discovered. The smokiness, amber and incense cut through any dessert-like veneers so beautifully! What does your wife think of it? And how close are the two of you to succumbing to a bottle? ;) :P

      • I had never heard of it before I saw this review, linked from the Mitzah review. I will look at the About Me and Post 100, I haven’t seen them yet, either. I wonder, do I like gourmands? I am not really looking to smell like food, but something like Amen Malt (which smells to me like eating sugar cookies while drinking ale only to leave me with that distinct stale beer smell after a bit) I love. My tastes are so cosmopolitan. My wife loves Dulcis as well. There was no hesitation in her response but it wasn’t as wholeheartedly gushing as it was for Mitzah. This may seem silly but I also love the Anima Dulcis bottle. So simple and elegant. I love the lines and the color. I could see us succumbing! I think you did a great job in capturing the essence of Anima Dulcis in your review Kafka. Great job :)

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