Beauty

The Journey of Perfume According to Jacques Cavallier-Belletrud

On a rainy day at the Fontaines Parfumées in Grasse, the master perfumer reintroduces us to Louis Vuitton's first-ever perfume collection.
Reading time 7 minutes

Les Fontaines Parfumées is the epicenter of perfumery. Here, in a former water mill in Grasse, Jacques Cavallier-Belletrud works on his sublime perfume creations. As he shows us around his workplace and office, including a messy desk, he explains the essence of perfumes: creating emotion, seduction, and surprise. Or building memories, something brought by traveling, which was the driving force behind Louis Vuitton since the creation of the first 1854 emblematic suitcases. Cavallier-Belletrud points to the surrounding garden where roses, jasmine, violets, lavender, and orange blossoms grow.

"This place is unique in the world," he says proudly. "Some crucial ingredients that I use“This place is unique in the world”, he says proudly. "Some crucial ingredients that I use in my perfumes grow nowhere else than here. But ninety percent of the raw materials come from all corners of the world, such as osmanthus from China, oud from Bangladesh, and patchouli from Indonesia. My mission is to select the most refined ingredients and get them to Grasse to process them in perfumes. These smells then go back into the world and continue to travel on the skin of people. I call this trajectory the journey of the raw materials. In my perfumes grow nowhere else than here. But ninety percent of the raw materials come from all corners of the world, such as osmanthus from China, oud from Bangladesh and patchouli from Indonesia. My mission is to select the most refined ingredients and get them to Grasse to process them in perfumes. These smells then go back into the world and continue to travel on the skin of people. I call this trajectory the journey of the raw materials."

The Perfect Bouquet

“This place is unique in the world”, he says proudly. "Some crucial ingredients that I use in my perfumes grow nowhere else than here. But ninety percent of the raw materials come from all corners of the world, such as osmanthus from China, oud from Bangladesh, and patchouli from Indonesia. My mission is to select the most refined ingredients and get them to Grasse to process them in perfumes. These smells then go back into the world and continue to travel on the skin of people. I call this trajectory the journey of the raw materials.”

Climbing the staircase leading to a sleek yet elegant laboratory-like studio, where along the walls in metal frames, are an impressive number of bottles and jars filled with oils and powders are. The perfumier talks about the special air extraction system that ensures that odors do not linger and the air remains neutral. This is crucial because making a perfume is a job of precision. The fact that we were allowed to enter the laboratory is exceptional: everything there was confidential, and usually requires a badge for entry. Then Cavallier-Belletrud showed us a formula written on paper, the recipe of a perfume,  though telling us not to take pictures.

Then he expanded on the special storage place where the raw materials are stored. Dry, dark, and exactly at the right temperature—just like wine storage. After all, these are precious materials: one kilo of jasmine costs about 130,000 euros. "Every year there are about two thousand new perfume launches," he says. "You have to distinguish yourself in this, and that is only possible by working with the highest quality raw materials. Because in this way you can generate real emotions and create a perfume that is sublime. And that is my goal. I am fortunate that at Vuitton I have absolute freedom to make what I want and when I want it. I am not being chased by competition. A perfume is only finished when it is finished."

"So I have no excuse to make bad perfumes,” he laughs.

"Ninety percent of raw materials come from all corners of the world. I see it as my mission to select the most refined ingredients and get them to Grasse."

Transparency and Empathy

The sympathetic Cavallier-Belletrud is an easy talker, who emphasizes how much he cares about showing the ingredients to us and explaining the creation process of his perfumes. This openness determines, among other things, the difference between the luxury and mass market. "There is always an element of storytelling, but it is much better if that story is also based on truth," he says. "I do not like fake. Especially when it comes to luxury, you are obliged to highlight not only the beauty of the product but also the truth of the ingredients. ' A fiery argument follows about how we live too much in a virtual world today, addicted to our smartphone.

Picture left: worker in Guatemala during the cardamom harvest.

That we nowadays think that we have seen everything on the basis of the pictures on the internet, yet we ignore what really counts. “We must be more connected to reality. And that reality comes from the soil below us. Nothing is, however, what comes from the earth. And that is why I find natural materials and their origins so important. Forget pictures of the internet. Instead - touch, feel, smell, and experience! That is the essence. That way you create real emotions, and that is exactly what luxury is supposed to do.” That we nowadays think that we have seen everything on the basis of the pictures on the internet and in this way we ignore what really counts. 'We must be more connected to reality. And that reality comes from the soil below us. Nothing is, however, what comes from the earth and that is why I find natural materials and their origin so important. Forget pictures of the internet, but touch, feel, smell, experience! That is the essence. That way you create real emotions and that is exactly what luxury is supposed to do. '

But it also means something else: “Luxury is also responsible for the people who produce the raw materials.” The perfumery emphasizes how important it is that fair prices are paid to producers: the small farmers from villages in Indonesia, Guatemala, Madagascar or anywhere in the world really. “Price is not an issue”, he emphasizes, “when it comes to the most beautiful raw materials. Take patchouli, which is largely produced in Indonesia. Patchoeli is an important source of income for the producers.” 

Photo right: The harvest of Cardamom, in Guatemala.

Cavallier-Belletrud talks about the idea behind Louis Vuitton's first men's perfume collection. Initially, seventy were planned, but that number was reduced to five sublime perfumes: L'Immensité, Nouveau Monde, Orage, Sur la Route and Au Hasard. With this, the master perfumer aims for a new kind of masculinity. "The image of the dominant, victorious man is dated," he says firmly. “Just look at fashion: men are no longer afraid to wear color or floral designs. Nowadays there is more room for feelings and sensibility: you can be powerful while showing your weakness. And this change can also be seen in men's perfumes. And because there are so many smells for the sporting, victorious super-men, that I wanted to create perfumes with character and emotion, with really good ingredients. The world needs that sensitivity." Jokingly, he says, ”Take Trump and Kim Jong-un. Maybe I should send them a bottle of Nouveau Monde!"

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