There are fragrances that seek to encapsulate the smells of a library, like musky, dusty books, freshly printed paper, worn-out leather and wood. Then there are libraries that house the scents of the world… like Jacques Cavallier Belletrud’s.
One of the fragrance world’s most noted noses, the master perfumer for Louis Vuitton has built a vast collection of olfactive souvenirs from his decades of travels—comprising rich and rarefied raw ingredients filed alongside his “imagination, library of feelings, and memory of emotions”. His desk at the brand’s headquarters in Grasse, France, is lined from end to end with fragrance bottles, overlooked by a portrait of monsieur Louis Vuitton himself. It is these precious elixirs that have allowed Belletrud to traipse the globe sensorially during the pandemic, which interestingly, bolstered his creativity. “There’s been a lot of inspiration this past year. It was a period where we were really quiet, and we took the time to work a lot,” he explains, crediting Grasse’s network for bringing in the finest natural materials from across Asia, South America and Europe.
Finished in lockdown, the maison’s newest fragrances are its boldest so far—extrait de parfums, which are the most luxurious and potent versions of eaux de parfum, boasting double the oil concentrations of up to 30 percent versus the traditional 10 to 15. “I wanted to venture where no one goes anymore. To reinvent the notion of an extrait in a contemporary way, it’s important to draw out the ingredient and reveal the expression of its essential truth. To reconnect, casting aside any frou-frou, with the rendezvous of seduction. I wanted to deconstruct the very architecture of perfume,” he explains.
Composed of five fragrances representing five olfactory escapades, the Les Extraits collection revisits perfume’s major families—florals, chypres and ambers—of which Bellutrud took in their purest form, twisted, and completely liberated by condensing them into extraits, in turn allowing new and exaggerated facets to blossom. In an attempt to not only surprise wearers but to also exalt these raw materials, these concoctions have been crafted without top, heart or base notes, structured like olfactory columns that extend and expand each accord.
“This perfume is 100 percent floral” is how he describes Dancing Blossom, formed by an elegant bouquet of May rose from Grasse, a hint of tuberose, jasmine sambac and fruity Osmanthus from China; while Cosmic Cloud is 100 percent musky and “quite a challenge”, with its core traits derived from a “vegetal musk called ambrette, seeds coming from poppies growing in South America that are collected and dried naturally”. Rhapsody is a tribute to the chypre family, an emblem of French perfumery, with a magnified blend of patchouli, vetiver, vanilla, lots of fresh floral notes and moss in the form of a molecule called evernyl. Symphony is fresh and bright with hits of grapefruit and bergamot, elongated by ginger extracted with CO2. And finally, Stellar Times is a sensual fragrance that tantalises with a molecule called ambrox, classic amber, orange blossom and Peru balsam, striking a fine balance between sweet and oriental without being too heady or gourmand.
It was only fitting that these essences be housed in equally transportive vessels, and Louis Vuitton called upon architect and designer, Frank Gehry, who stretched and curved the lines of the original glass flacon and crowned it with a gleaming, sail-like sculpture modelled after a crumpled sheet of aluminium. Belletrud muses: “Gehry is always looking to translate movement. It is a piece of art, blooming from base to cap, and there is a lot of energy from the cap, which looks like a flower in movement. This is exactly what I like to do when I create perfumes—to capture movement and to reveal the beauty of some materials through others.”