Shrouded in secrecy since Jacques Cavallier Belletrud was appointed House Perfumer in 2012, Louis Vuitton’s new perfume collection has finally been revealed, marking a return to an earlier know-how that birthed its first fragrance Heures d’Absence in 1927, but which took a seven-decade hiatus after the release of its fourth scent, Eau De Voyage in 1946.
Creator of Jean Paul Gaultier Classique, L’Eau d’Issey and Opium pour Homme by Yves Saint Laurent, Cavallier is a fitting choice to steward the revitalised perfumery business. A third-generation Grasse-born “nose”, he learned perfume notes while other kids his age were practicing piano scales. Little did he know then that the imposing wrought iron gate he walked passed daily as a schoolboy was the entrance to Les Fontaines Parfumées, the creative lair now entrusted to him by LVMH Chairman and CEO Bernard Arnault.
It is the flowers of Grasse and its leather heritage, combined with months of travels by Cavallier across the five continents for inspiration that forms the basis for his new scents: Rose des Vents, Turbulences, Dans la Peau, Apogée, Contre Moi, Matière Noire and Mille Feux.
Whittled down from well over 80 initial expressions, these final seven fragrances were conceived as a celebration of feminine virtues, and are only available for purchase in-store. “There is no one type of woman in my mind. I wanted to celebrate the universal values of femininity through all the countries, from Asia to Europe, America and the rest of the world,” Cavallier shares.
Despite the conversation about unisex fragrances, you’ve chosen to dedicate these first seven creations to women. Why?
Without women, the perfume industry wouldn’t exist. One can always consider that smells are genderless and everything is unisex. That said, I had a wonderful time imagining each of these creations on a woman’s skin. I believe strongly in femininity, although not the kind that is relegated to the usual clichés. I wanted to offer women a collection that was dedicated to them, with strong emotions, just for them. And I tested all my creations on my wife and my eldest daughter.
How long have you been working on these fragrances?
I started when I first arrived at Louis Vuitton in 2012. While I was exploring the Maison and getting to know the people who work there, the different designers, the leather goods and crafts, I was already jotting down my first formulas. I didn’t want perfume ingredients that to me seemed too trite. I wanted to tell real stories on the skin. Fresh flower scenarios unfurled in my head. I wanted this delicacy to be embodied in each composition. And I was looking for olfactory movement, freshness, and transparency. Perfume is like Aladdin's lamp: once it’s opened, it should produce some form of magic.
You had access to extremely rare raw materials; how did you select them?
I went looking for ingredients that could help me tell the stories I wanted to tell. In China, I discovered magnolia, osmanthus and a truly astonishing sambac jasmine. In Grasse, I had CO² extractions done with local jasmine and May roses; that’s a first in the perfume industry. As for the leather infusions I used in certain compositions that were made to measure using Louis Vuitton's emblematic natural leather, or reworked like fine jewellery. In any case, having the best raw materials in one’s palette does not guarantee a great creation. What I wanted in particular was to make use of their beauty to create surprise but not confusion. And to inspire rare emotions.
Did the fact that you were working on seven perfumes simultaneously make the creative process more difficult?
I experienced immeasurable happiness while developing these seven fragrances. Working on seven leads simultaneously allowed me to create conversations among compositions. One provided respite from another when I was overcome by doubt. And it gave me great freedom because it let me tell seven different stories without trying to bring all women together in a single perfume. This adventure made me even more inventive and allowed me to push the creative boundaries of my approach to perfume.
Read more about Louis Vuitton’s new fragrances in our September issue.