Louis Vuitton’s Master Perfumer Jacques Cavallier Belletrud on Les Parfums Louis Vuitton
Going on an olfactory journey
On a recent trip to Seoul, I stopped by Dongdaemun Design Plaza, where Louis Vuitton's Volez, Voguez, Voyagez exhibition is currently on show. Celebrating the history of the maison, the exhibition spread across many different rooms, each dedicated to specific worlds of the maison—expeditions, yachting, writing, automobiles, and more. It was in the aviation room that I came across Gaston-Louis Vuitton's first fragrance for the brand, created in 1927. Called Heures d'Absence, its name itself conjures feelings of nostalgia. (Heures d'Absence is, in fact, the name of the second home the Vuitton family bought in the 1920s).
Fast forward to 2016, Louis Vuitton releases not one, but a collection of seven fragrances, created in the heart of Grasse, France, the world's perfume capital. The man behind Les parfums Louis Vuitton, is none other than Master Perfumer Jacques Cavallier Belletrud, who travelled the world and took four years to create and perfect the seven scents that make up this collection: Rose Des Vents, Turbulences, Dans La Peau, Apogée, Contre Moi, Matière Noire, and Mille Feux.
"Even their names are very French," says Belletrud. "I've used a lot of flowers in these fragrances—it's all about a journey of the emotions, of flowers and femininity. I wanted to create something new, something that people could come into our stores and discover something different."
"There is no one type of woman I created these scents for," Belletrud continues. "I wanted to celebrate femininity; I wanted to offer women a collection that was dedicated to them, with strong emotions, just for them. Working on seven perfumes gave me great freedom because it let me tell seven different stories without trying to bring all women together in a single perfume. It allowed me to push the creative boundaries of my approach to perfume."
On Rose Des Vents:
"I used an exceptional rose from Grasse, the Rose of May. It blooms only in May, for about 4-5 weeks. It's a classic, luxury rose that grows only in Grasse, which means there's limited production. For many years, I was obsessed about recreating the smell of a flower within a bottle. Heat kills the most fragile notes of the flower—then we decided to try the CO2 extraction method, something which I've been interested in, which has never been used with fresh flowers before. The beauty of this method is that we're extracting the smells of the roses at very low temperatures, and because the petals are not heated, they lose none of their most fragile facets and you get a pure scent, almost like the real thing."
"Rose such a sophisticated ingredient; its scent has many facets—it's fresh, it's fruity, it's spicy, it's woody. It's difficult to work with, and I wanted something timeless and very sophisticated. To the May rose extraction, I added two other roses—Turkish rose essence and Bulgarian rose essence, which adds a different dimension to the fragrance."
"Grasse is a small city; it's about 10km from the sea, and 15km from the mountains. We get the morning breeze from the sea, and evening breeze from the mountains. And it's this climate that makes the roses and jasmines smell unique. In my garden, I have 2,000 plants of jasmine flowers and 1,000 plants of tuberose. One August evening, my father and I took a stroll in my garden. In the centre of the garden, my father, who is also a perfumer, stopped to smell the fresh breeze of jasmine and tuberose flowers mingling in the air. Some moments are just perfect, and I wanted to capture that moment, to put it into a bottle."
On Dans La Peau:
"In France, when you're in love with somebody, we say, 'I have you under my skin'. This is my first work with leather. I didn't want to do a leather perfume in the classic way—most leather in perfumery are made with synthetics. I was with the leather artisans one day and asked about the leftover bits of leather they weren't going to use and asked if they could send them to me. I had them sent to my brother, who works at a company that specialises in raw, natural materials—I worked with him because I wanted to keep this project a secret. We tried steam distillation and classic extraction but those didn't work - it was a disaster. After a few weeks of trials, we tried an infusion method instead - we soaked the leather in alcohol. This time, it worked. I'd found the perfect method to recreate the smell of Louis Vuitton's natural leather. Each time my wife wears this fragrance, she gets a lot of compliments."
"This is a tribute to Asia, more specifically, Japan. I've always appreciated the art of Ikebana, and I've always wanted to create a fragrance like that—where the flowers are all in the right place. For this bouquet, I used lily-of-the-valley, Grasse jasmine, and May rose. I wanted a nice, fresh, floral bouquet, with a touch of wood. The smokey guaiac wood is there to push the floral scents. This is a tribute to flowers."
On Contre Moi:
"It's an Oriental fragrance, without being too heavy or sticky as traditional Orientals can be. I wanted it to be light, to create a contrast between the flowers and vanilla. I've used Orange Blossom, very poetic, rose centifolia from Grasse and the essence of Magnolia. The contrast is created by using a natural vanilla extract from New Guinea, extracted using the CO2 extraction method. There's a softness to the scent. I've also used a vanilla infusion that allows the perfume to be delicate and sophisticated when worn on the skin."
On Matière Noire:
"This is a mysterious scent. For this fragrance, I used agarwood from Laos. It's spicy, woody, a strong fragrance. I've created a contrast by using floral notes, white narcissus from the centre of France, sambac jasmine, with middle notes of black pepper and blackcurrant extract. It's a perfume with the mix of bright and dark notes."
On Mille Feux:
"'A thousand lights'—this is a different conception of leather, using the same leather infusion as in Dans La Peau. On a visit to the Louis Vuitton leather ateliers, I watched a craftsman make a Capucines bag in a beautiful red colour. That vibrant colour inspired me for this scent but I wasn't sure about red flowers, so I thought of using fruit instead, like raspberry. This perfume is fresh and fruity—a radiant smell, that's truly original."
Designed by Marc Newson, the Louis Vuitton perfume bottle is simplicity at its best—clean lines topped off with a black cap with LV initials at the top. The Louis Vuitton perfumes are available in 200ml, and 100ml sizes, both refillable when you bring the bottles back to a Louis Vuitton store, travel bottle with four cartridges of 7.5ml, and a box of seven 10ml miniatures. Les Parfums Louis Vuitton are now available exclusively at the Louis Vuitton Suria KLCC store, with a dedicated pop-up running from now till 22 July 2017. For more information, please call Louis Vuitton at 1300 888 586.