Jacques Cavallier-Balletrud has traversed the globe in search of inspiration, emotional resonance and unique ingredients, to create Louis Vuitton’s new fragrance collection, Les Parfums
The journey of Louis Vuitton’s new fragrance collection spans five continents and four years. The man – and nose – at the heart of the luxury house’s latest foray into fragrance, Jacques Cavallier-Balletrud, has an affinity with olfaction as strong as Louis Vuitton’s association with leather. And with every last note all but gone from Louis Vuitton’s 1946 fragrance, Eau de Voyage, it was time for a new fragrance heritage.
There is no place better suited for the beginning of Louis Vuitton’s modern olfactory journey than Grasse, often referred to as the perfume capital of the world. The maison’s creative atelier on Les Fontaines Parfumées (“the scented fountains”), in the heart of the province, is surrounded by varietals of the most covetable flora in the fragrance kingdom.
Optimum growing conditions offer a feast of the world’s best jasmine, tuberose, rose, orange blossom and violet. Not incidentally, these ingredients were traditionally used to scent leather gloves before liquid fragrances became the heart and soul of Grasse, when leather tanneries were the bread and butter of the region.
Inspired by this legacy, and Louis Vuitton’s long history with leather, Jacques sought to create a bespoke leather infusion from the aromas he experienced throughout the house’s workshops. Drawn in by the gentle aroma of natural leather – the light beige material used to cover the handles and straps of the brand’s signature trunks and handbags – Jacques created a soft, sensual note, more floral than musky, to represent the hint of perfume that has hung in the air since the first trunk was manufactured in 1854.
With florals the other signature fragrance of the region, Jacques also sought to create a unique offering never before experienced in the world of fragrance – the CO2 extraction of fresh flowers. The result of his experiment saw two of the most prized flowers in perfumery, the May rose (centifolia) and jasmine, combine in a sensual extract. This technique is now employed exclusively at Louis Vuitton.
Not content with taking inspiration from the heritage of Louis Vuitton and the history of Grasse, Jacques travelled across the globe in search of exotic fragrances and rare materials. The final seven scents in the collection represent the adventures and unexpected emotions he experienced on his travels, from immersing himself in nature with Apogée (a perfectly balanced floral bouquet with a touch of wood), the ecstasy of a first night with Dans la Peau (an infusion of Jacques’ natural leather note with Grasse-grown jasmine), to an exploration of the darker side with the more masculine, patchouli-based scent of Matière Noire.
Jacques says working on seven fragrances at once allowed him to “create conversations among compositions. One provided respite from another when I was overcome by doubt.” The adventure, he explains, made him even more inventive and allowed him to push creative boundaries.
Hailing from Grasse, Jacques is a third-generation master nose. His family has lived in the region since the 15th century; his formative years were spent immersed in the world of scent. Aged eight, Jacques informed his father – a perfumer – of his intent to become a great nose. Each ensuing night, the boy would be given a blotter dipped in essence and instructed to write a detailed description of the scent come daybreak.
Summers were spent helping to weigh out formulas and at the completion of his high school diploma, Jacques began his apprenticeship at the perfumery Charabot, where he learnt to distil flowers and delved further into the business of fragrance. After 22 years with fragrance conglomerate Firmenich, Jacques’ repertoire includes such iconic perfumes as Jean Paul Gaultier Classique, Issey Miyake’s L’Eau d’Issey and Opium Pour Homme by Yves Saint Laurent. In 2012, he was named ‘maître parfumeur’ at Maison Louis Vuitton, beginning the story of Louis Vuitton Les Parfums.
Testing each scent on a woman’s skin was essential to the creative process for Jacques. Trialling Les Parfums on his wife and eldest daughter throughout the process helped him to bring the collection to life. “I believe strongly in femininity, although not the kind that is relegated to the usual clichés. I want to offer women a collection that was dedicated to them, with strong emotions, just for them.”
The Louis Vuitton Les Parfums collection will be available in September exclusively from Louis Vuitton stores. Each scent is carried in a 100ml Eau de Parfum ($420) and 200ml Eau de Parfum ($600) as well as travel sprays – all in refillable bottles. Special Louis Vuitton fragrance cases, containing three 100ml bottles of your choosing, are also available in limited quantities for $8000.