Christian Louboutin knows a thing or two about changing the game. With a bottle of red nail polish, an almost-completed stiletto shoe and a radical idea many years ago, he revolutionised women’s footwear, and we’ve been staring at soles ever since. It was natural, then, that when the designer stepped into the world of beauty, his first step was with nail lacquer – but even then, he gave it that little extra something. Besides a luxe, spreadable polish formula to make manicurists weep, he gave the bottle that spear of a brush handle – a design detail to make it stand out, certainly, but also a practical addition that gave users better grip and control when painting nails.
Then came lipstick – shades of red, pink and brown, with matt, satin and gloss finishes, all set in highly designed tubes that hung on necklaces so a woman would never be without her most essential finishing product.
But then the master of design stepped into the world of the invisible – the world of scents. Most companies see a foray into fragrances as a branding move, so those who can’t afford a luxury brand’s astronomically priced products can still buy into it a little bit with a smartly priced fragrance. But Christian Louboutin Beauté items have not come with a price tag that’s friendly to mass consumers, and rightly so. These are ultimate luxury products, more than a hop, leap and a skip from the drugstore variations that simply “do the job”.
Christian Louboutin’s fragrances launched last month with a HK$2,400 price tag and three variations for his capricious clientele. Instead of commissioning an external fragrance house to oversee the project in a licensing deal that’s common for fashion houses, he asked the industry’s top perfumers to woo him with their wares – then, from the choices presented, he selected the most suitable.
“In the beginning we didn’t really know that we were working on several fragrances,” explains Pierre Negrin, the nose behind two of the Louboutin scents, Bikini Questa Sera and Trouble in Heaven, who’s also worked on such fragrances as Tom Ford’s Black Orchid and Calvin Klein’s Eternity Aqua. “But then he said that there’s not just one Louboutin woman, there are several of them. That’s when, little-by-little, we kind of fine-tuned and adjusted and [he] decided to entertain more than just one fragrance. It was like with his shoes: he doesn’t just offer one pair of shoes to his clients. It could be the same here with his fragrances. Each one has her own style and personality, within the Louboutin family of course.”
Bikini Questa Sera, Negrin says, appeals to the free spirit in a woman. “[It’s] definitely based and constructed around jasmine. Jasmine is really the highlight, along with tuberose and other white-flower notes. When you wear this you keep with you the brightness, the freshness of the day. The flowers are blooming, it’s all in the air, it’s lively, it’s refreshing. It’s like bringing with you a day at the beach, during the evening,” says Negrin.
The second fragrance, Trouble in Heaven, “is a little more on the darker side – it’s more warm and sensual, a different aspect of a woman. Trouble in Heaven is more in the warmer camp – some rich amber notes, lovely musk, a little touch of sweet vanilla, and a burst also of rose – it’s kind of a modern interpretation of an amber smell.”
Tornade Blonde completes the trio, with a formula that comes from the nose of Olivier Cresp, another renowned perfumer whose scent work includes Issey Miyake’s Eau d’Issey, Dolce & Gabbana’s Light Blue and YSL’s Black Opium. This is a bouquet of sultry florals – red rose, sweet violet and cassis add up to make a scent the brand describes as “animalistic yet botanic,” or “the scent of desire”.
The collaboration, Negrin says, was an easy one. “The most exciting aspect of it was I pretty much had carte blanche to create and work, which is not something that happens every day in the fragrance world right now,” he says with a chuckle. “Here we deal with a designer, a real designer, someone who has a vision and a strong personality, and someone who is involved in the development process, so he had a strong say on the fragrances he chose. It was a dialogue, a conversation, a real exchange on how to translate luxury and feelings into odours. It was really a very genuine exchange between two creators.”
Surprisingly, Louboutin didn’t take charge of the key visual aspect of the fragrance either, inviting architect/designer Thomas Heatherwick to conceive the bottle design, a fiery flacon that’s a combination of edges and curves, which comes in a clear showcase stand with a screw lock that keeps it protected while on display, like an Oscar statue.
This month, Christian Louboutin gives his women yet another choice – whether they’d like to indulge in his scents in a traditional eau de parfum format, or as a perfume oil, the latter of which can be applied indulgently using a glass dabber across her décolleté, wrists, or wherever she deems fit. It’s a fitting choice for someone who seeks something a little more potent, especially as we’re situated in a climate that’s not exactly friendly to extending the life of scents.
“The oil is usually something that’s going to be stronger and last longer, because the dosage is much higher,” explains Negrin. “You’re going to get more base notes, after time and after evaporation. And also you don’t need to spray or use as much on your skin. With oil, just a drop here or there, you’ll be fine.”