Inside the world of Louis Vuitton's much-anticipated fragrance collection
To say we were excited to smell and experience the seven creations of Louis Vuitton's maitre parfumeur, Jacques Cavallier Belletrud, would be an understatement. It's not often you come across a perfume launch, not just shrouded in a thick veil of secrecy, but carrying the prestige and the weight of expectation that the Louis Vuitton name commands. Les Parfums Louis Vuitton is a breathtakingly exquisite collection of scents, inspired by the feminine. And after smelling the seven fragrances — each quietly intoxicating it its own way — and hearing from Belletrud himself, we were not just impressed but entranced, by the freshness, vivacity and modernity of these striking scents.
Each with a concept and a point of view of its own, Belletrud has boldly eschewed the many blah creations that flood the market, and decided to create seven vital, personal and intriguing expressions of perfumery that play on the luxury of natural ingredients, the emotion of memory and the many facets of femininity.
THE BRIEF (OR LACK OF IT)
Trust Louis Vuitton to approach fragrances with the same discreet sense of luxury and quality that has made the brand a success, since its inception in 1854. When he was appointed the maitre perfumeur four years ago in 2012, Belletrud was given neither a marketing brief, nor a strict deadline. The chairman of the LVMH group, Bernard Arnault assured him that the fragrances would be launched only when they were ready. And the luxury of an unrushed, almost old-fashioned approach to perfumery shows in the stunning results.
Belletrud created around 90 juices, before settling on these final seven, based on the strength of the scents, their names and the concept surrounding each. Said Belletrud, "I didn't create perfumes to please everybody. There was no brief. It's based on the pure intention to create, and is purely emotional. We don't practise consumer tests. A consumer for me is merely a number in a statistic. I work for a client who has a smile, eyes and feelings." The eloquent Belletrud goes on to say that his intention was to create perfumes for women to wear and enjoy. "I don't want to embarrass or kill you with my perfumes," he quips.
Belletrud works in an Atelier de Création in the heart of Grasse that is shared with Francois Demaçhy, the master perfumer for Dior — another LVMH brand. Belletrud himself is a third generation perfumer, whose family has lived in Grasse for up to five centuries. "Louis Vuitton bought a property right in the centre of Grasse three years ago. It was founded in 1640 and they previously made leather and produced perfumes through steam distillation. Louis Vuitton rebuilt a part of it and made it my atelier. I share it with Francois Demaçhy. We have guests that visit and it is also dedicated to training. It's the first time a luxury brand is establishing an atelier and going right into the deep roots of perfumery — and delving into natural, raw materials."
Previously employed by Firmenich — where he created scents ranging from Dior's Midnight Poison to Issey Miyake's iconic L'eau d'Issey — Belletrud brought along the technology that he had been working on: CO2 extraction. "To extract the smell of rose and jasmine, you need to heat a mix of flowers and solvent. And to heat it at 95˚C you are killing the most fragile and beautiful tones of the flower. I was working on CO2 extraction in Firmenich, but we were extracting dry materials like cinnamon bark, nutmeg and pepper — it had never been done before with fresh flowers, because of the water content in it."
When he moved to Louis Vuitton, Belletrud brough the technology with him. "I worked for four years on this project, so I asked Firmenich for exclusivity for this extraction method on the Grasse flowers (rose and jasmine) and they accepted. We do the extraction with gas and we buy CO2 that is trapped in the air — we are not creating new CO2. We reject the same quantity of gas as we are using, so it's a green technology. With this technology, we extract the smell of the rose at a very low temperature, so that we can retain the beauty and the freshness of the rose in the perfume."
Each of the seven scents have a unique emotion and inspiration behind them. The difference between the Louis Vuitton creation and others on the market? They are uncontrived and there is a clear, emotional connection between the perfumer and his creations. For his first scent, Rose Des Vents, Belletrud said "I was obsessed with putting fresh flowers in a bottle." And by using his CO2 method on the rose in this scent, along with other kinds of roses, he has certainly captured the olfactory sensation of a live bouquet.
For Turbulences, based on the intoxicating tuberose, Belletrud shares a poignant memory that took place at midnight in his garden, four years ago. "My father and I were right in the centre of the garden, and we just stopped and smelled the scent of the jasmine and the tuberose meeting. Sometimes nature offers you moments that are just perfect. My father was 81 at the time, and he told me he would always be impressed by that smell. I wanted to capture this moment in my mind and put in a bottle — the fresh breeze of the tuberose and the jasmine. I worked a lot on the top note of the fragrance to make it very delicate and sophisticated." Other interesting influences include Japan and the art of ikebana arrangement, that informed Belletrud's approach to how the floral notes in the lily-of-the-valley-heavy Apogée were arranged.
BRINGING BACK LIGHTNESS INTO PERFUMERY
Another inspiration for Belletrud was the idea of freshness and light. He says, "I love light in my perfume. I think that today we have enough perfumes that are really heavy — liquorice and caramel-like. To bring back sophistication in perfumes it was the duty of Louis Vuitton." Besides Rose des Vents, the oriental Contre Moi is another one that has both freshness and light. "This is a pure oriental fragrance. But is it a new oriental with a lasting freshness on your skin. I wanted to make an oriental with the fluidity and the light I like in my perfumes, without being heady and sticky."
LEATHER AS INSPIRATION
Of course any scent collection for Louis Vuitton would have to nod towards its history in leather and trunk-making. Belletrud wanted to innovate and create a natural leather infusion, "At Louis Vuitton, it was not an obligation, but it was really important to work with leather. Other leathers in perfumery were made with synthetics. I worked with natural leather." But capturing the scent of leather — specifically Louis Vuitton's signature natural leather — proved to be an uphill task. "We tried steam distillation and classic extraction and it was a disaster — it was smelling very bad, animalic and dirty. I was quite dispirited after a few weeks of trying. Then we decided to create an infusion. To just put the leather in alcohol and see what happens every day, as alcohol traps the natural molecules of smells."
The result was perfect, and from this leather infusion, Belletrud created two scents. The first is the unusual and intoxicating Dans La Peau. This blends the leather infusion with five, sophisticated musk molecules, apricot, jasmine and narcissus, for a sensual fragrance that captures the sensation of this material on bare skin to perfection. The other scent that employs this infusion, Mille Feux, works with raspberry, apricot-like osmanthus and iris for what the brand calls an olfactory apotheosis.
When the scents were first unveiled to the press, the sleek bottles impressed even before we could smell the fragrances. Designed by Louis Vuitton favourite, Australian industrial designer Mark Newson, the clean flaçons are pure and elegant in the way that best design is. All you'll see is black lettering on transparent glass, the brand name engraved discreetly on the bottle and a transparent black cap that cleverly hides the pump mechanism. Perhaps even more importantly, all the bottles are refillable — just bring them back to a Louis Vuitton boutique when you're done. Besides being more eco-friendly, you'll also save a pretty penny, with refills costing roughly two-thirds of the original price for the 100ml bottle. Who says luxury can't be both indulgent and cost-effective?
Available in 100ml, 200ml, travel-sized sprays and a miniature set. From $370-$540. Exclusively at Louis Vuitton stores from 15 September