Disruptive. It’s the beauty industry’s favourite adjective of late and it rings true in the fragrance world, where scrappy startups helmed by outsiders are making waves despite no family ties or formal training in perfumery. (See: lines like Beaufort London and Unum, created by The Prodigy’s live drummer and one of Pope Francis’ tailors, respectively.) So when news broke in 2012 that Louis Vuitton, a nearly 200-year-old luxury brand, had hand-picked third-generation French perfumer Jacques Cavallier Belletrud — maker of mainstream hit L’Eau d’Issey—to be its house perfumer, rule-breaking didn’t seem imminent. But the Grasse-born olfactory artist considers himself a rebel. “Disruption is not necessarily destruction. It’s not necessarily something negative,” he says, sitting in his office, a few doors down from his fragrance lab inside the newly restored Les Fontaines Parfumées, a building whose wrought iron gates he passed every day as a child on his way to school. “For me, creation and disruption are really linked.”
Uninhibited by the house’s previous fragrances — three were launched between 1927 and 1946 but only the bottles remain, so Cavallier Belletrud has never sniffed them — his debut collection of seven perfumes for Louis Vuitton (from $265) is proof that he is indeed quite comfortable flipping the script. For instance, Rose Des Vents features Grasse’s most storied bloom, May rose, which is captured via a process called supercritical CO2 extraction, amplifying its scent. And Dans La Peau and Mille Feux both feature a bespoke leather note. “For the first time in perfumes, we’re using a natural extract of leather,” says Cavallier Belletrud, who repurposed remnants from handbags and travel trunks made at the Louis Vuitton atelier, soaking them in alcohol as if steeping tea.
With Turbulences, “a tribute to tuberose,” he wanted to recreate a summer evening spent with his father in the garden. “The smell of the tuberose was meeting the smell of the jasmine,” he recalls. “You have some moments in your life you want to keep forever, and that moment, I wanted to put it in a bottle.” The remaining three — Apogée, Contre Moi and Matière Noire — feature rare ingredients like magnolia from China and splurges like agarwood (also known as oud), which costs as much as gold. Limiting himself to just one or even a trio of fragrances for his debut would have been a challenge, he says. “I have too many ideas.”
When he won his starring role at Louis Vuitton, Cavallier Belletrud joined an exclusive club of in-house noses that includes Olivier Polge at Chanel and Jean-Claude Ellena at Hermès. Cavallier Belletrud’s perfume pedigree also makes him part of the “mafia grassoise,” a term coined by fragrance critic Chandler Burr in his book The Perfect Scent that’s used to refer to the elite group of fragrance families wielding significant power in the industry. But what makes him an insider is also what has pushed him to clear his own path, something his father advised early on in his career. “Everyone will tell you that I’m [the one] making your perfumes,” he told his son. “Prove that it’s you.”
Shop the new Louis Vuitton fragrance collection below.
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