The journey of perfumes

It is a rainy day at the Fontaines Parfumées in Grasse when master perfumer Jacques Cavallier-Belletrud introduces Louis Vuitton's first ever perfume collection. These five fragrant masterpieces are made from the finest and most precious raw materials from all over the world, such as spicy cardamom from Guatemala. A conversation about the new masculinity and the difference between the luxury and mass market.
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'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 comes 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

We climb the staircase leading to the studio, a sleek yet elegant, laboratory-like room, in which along the walls in metal frames an impressive number of bottles and jars is placed, filled with oils and powders. The perfumier talks about the special air extraction system that ensures that odors do not linger and the air remains neutral. That is not unimportant, because making a perfume is a precision job. That we are allowed to enter the laboratory is exceptional: everything that is here is confidential and usually this space can only be entered with badges. Cavallier-Belletrud shows a formula written on paper - the recipe of a perfume - to give an impression of what that looks like and asks us not to take pictures ('This is qualified!') .

Then he expands on the special storage place where the raw materials are stored, dry, dark and exactly at the right temperature, as with wines. 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 only really generate 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 the competition. A perfume is only finished when it is finished. ' Laughing: "So I have no excuse to make bad perfumes!"

'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 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, small farmers from villages in Indonesia, Guatemala, Madagascar or anywhere in the world. 'Price is not an issue', he emphasizes, 'when it comes to the most beautiful raw materials. Take patchouli: that is largely produced in Indonesia. Patchoeli applies to the people there as an important source of income. I personally feel responsible for the fact that they are not being exploited. That is not possible: if you do, those farmers can also choose to produce rice from now on. And let's be honest, the world needs more rice than patchouli. '

Photo right: The harvest of Cardamom, in Guatemala.

Cavallier-Belletrud talks about the idea behind Louis Vuitton's first men's perfume collection. Initially it was seventy, but that number has been 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 supermales I wanted to create perfumes with character and emotion, with really good ingredients. The world needs that sensitivity. " Jokingly: "Take Trump and Kim Jong-un. Maybe I should send them a bottle of Nouveau Monde ! "


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