That meant setting up a proper atelier in the Mecca of olfactory history and innovation—Grasse. The Provence location is home to the top fragrance makers and perfumers. Generations have grown up around the making of scents, driven by the desire to please the nose. It’s not uncommon for entire families to be involved in the industry. The landscape, too, is ideal for growing raw materials like tuberose, rose, jasmine, orange blossom, violet. To put it simply, Grasse is synonymous with perfume.
And who better to head this new endeavor for the house than Jacques Cavallier Belletrud, who was born and raised in Grasse. His father was a perfumer, and he knew at the tender age of eight that he wanted to follow in his footsteps. Belletrud studied and dissected the blotters his father brought home each day from work. At 18, working for Charabot, he made his first formula. He went on to work for 22 years for Firmenich, creating noteworthy scents like Jean Paul Gaultier’s Classique, L’Eau d’Issey, and Opium Pour Homme by Yves Saint Laurent.
Named the master perfumer for Louis Vuitton in 2012, Belletrud spent the next four years dreaming up his dream palette. That resulted in the debut of seven women’s fragrances in 2016 and, most recently, five men’s two years later in 2018. All the bottles were designed by Marc Newson.
Belletrud spent years sourcing the very best raw materials for the collections. With the spirit of travel at the core of Louis Vuitton, that meant traveling far and wide—to places like China for jasmine and magnolia, Bangladesh for oud, the Ivory Coast for cocoa, Tuscany for Iris, and Peru for balsam.
In the meantime, the brand was renovating its future home for olfactory creation, the majestic Les Fontaines Parfumées. The picturesque building, purchased by LVMH in 2013, is named for the actual perfume fountain on its ground since the 1920s. Today, its fragrant waters rotate seasonal scents. Behind its iron gates is a well-manicured landscape, complete with a garden designed by Jean Mus (also born in Grasse) full of citrus trees, bushes of jasmine and roses, and other floral species from around the world.
In the main building, on the ground floor are a lounge, light-filled dining room, and kitchen. On the next is Belletrud’s office, which when we visited last spring featured a selection of colorful pieces from the house’s “Objets Nomades” collection just outside. He compared imagining a perfume to cooking, just slightly more complicated. He shared that ideas come to him immediately, on the nose, as a vision, and in color. The art of his process comes in translating that emotion into the right proportion of ingredients. “Smell is something you feel,” he said.
On the second floor is the workshop where a mix of science, know-how, and instinct come together to distill the latest perfumes. Like the five debut men’s fragrances—L’Immensité, Nouveau Monde, Orage, Sur la Route, and Au Hasard. With a new creative director at the helm of Louis Vuitton men’s (Virgil Abloh) and the shifting perceptions of masculinity today, Belletrud wanted to capture that openness.
L’Immensité, which he worked on for five years, was based on contrast, including ginger, grapefruit, and a blend of vegetal amber. Nouveau Monde reflects a meeting of two cultures, with notes of oud mixed with cocoa and saffron for a leathery finish. Orage is a blend of patchouli, iris, and vetiver. “It was the shortest formula I every created,” Belletrud said, “but that’s all I needed.” Sur la Route speaks to the journey of Louis Vuitton, a bright scent full of bergamot and balsam. Au Hasard, with its volume and energizing cardamom, came to the master perfumer spontaneously when he was working with sandalwood. Belletrud wanted to evoke a feeling of the horizon line on an ocean—something never-ending but also quite peaceful.
“I want to talk to those essential feelings with our perfumes, without being too intellectual,” he said.
Louis Vuitton has since premiered a regionally targeted perfume for men, Ombre Nomade, and launched its first home scent line with a collection of candles. Our senses eagerly anticipate what comes out of Les Fontaines Parfumées, and the mind of Belletrud, next.