Jacques Cavallier Belletrud, Louis Vuitton’s Master Perfumer is a legend in the perfume industry. Having created some of the world’s most iconic fragrances over the last three decades his wealth of experience has allowed him to combine his expertise with the quality of Louis Vuitton to create a special range of fragrances. Louis Vuitton’s scents are in a league of their own. Only available exclusively at the brand’s standalone stores, they set a new standard for quality and are based on evoking emotions and creating a story and relationship with the person that wears them.
JACQUES CAVALLIER BELLETRUD
Cavallier Belletrud grew up in a family of perfumers in Grasse creating fragrance has been in his blood since a young age. As a young boy, he would walk past an estate called Les Fontaines Parfumées every day. Unbeknown to Jacques, what was hidden behind the wrought iron gates would many years later become his creative atelier. Jacques has always been fascinated by some of the ingredients that could be found close to his hometown – Orange blossom, citronella, lavender – and today he looks to combine this with other preferred ingredients sourced from every corner of the world.
In 2012 Cavallier Belletrud joined Louis Vuitton and has since been focused on introducing cutting-edge technology combines with his incredible expertise and innate sense of storytelling to not just create perfumes that smell nice but evoke emotions and create an instant relationship with the wearer. In 2016 Cavallier Belletrud introduced the first women’s collection for Les Parfums Louis Vuitton with seven initial fragrances. This has since been joined by a line of men’s creations as well as fragrances designed for both genders to enjoy.
This year Jacques Cavallier Belletrud embarks on a journey to the desert with his latest creation Fleur du Désert. Bringing the Master Perfumer back to the Middle East this amber floral fragrance for men and women combines the scents of the East and West. Cavallier Belletrud pays tribute to three Middle Eastern flowers: jasmine, rose and orange blossom which he combines with the perfect balance of oud. The deep scent of Oud is rounded by a honeyed note and a touch of cinnamon. The sensuality of Ambrox melts into the naturally musky softness of ambrette seed to complete this sensory experience. As the fragrance launches around the world, we talk to Jacques Cavallier Belletrud to discover more about the emotions evoked by perfume and the personal experience behind this new scent.
Tell us about the importance of the flowers and other ingredients used in the Fleur du Désert fragrance?
It’s very important to find the right balance between the flowers and the Arabic accords. If the perfume feels too French it’s not good and if it feels too Arabic it’s not good either because it limits the consumer. People are wrong to think that people in the Middle East only love heavy fragrances or fragrances with Oud as it’s not the case at all.
We know you continued to create scents during the pandemic, how challenging was it during this period to continue with what you do?
I stayed at home with my family and my assistant in the South of France and we worked from there because I had to protect my nose. My assistant was blending formulas and ideas and my daughter was collecting samples. We left the house for around 20 minutes only per day and we were very careful. I have some friends who are perfumers who did have COVID-19, and they lost their sense of smell, and it modified their perception of scents so that was a great worry for me. In general, when I have a cold, I feel depressed because I cannot smell, so I cannot imagine losing it for weeks and weeks. So, we were very careful, maybe too careful, but it was not worth taking chances. I was lucky enough to be able to work at home in The South of France at my personal office. We worked with a lot of discipline, and we created a routine. We couldn’t physically travel so the power of imagination was fantastic. Sometimes it’s even better to dream of things than to experience them in reality. I was of course scared for my family, for myself, for my nose, but we were lucky to be locked down in our beautiful house. It was a good reset and a unique experience. We worked and we created quite a lot, so for me, it was overall a positive experience.
So the new scent was an output from this time?
I was dreaming about flowers and how to mix them and bring them together without being too overpowering. I wanted to add enough oud but not so much that it was dominating, and with the addition of amber, creating a centrality, inspired by the mineral world. So this challenging time took me on a journey to the desert. I wanted to create the feeling of being in the desert and reaching out to touch the sky. That feeling that the world was created just a few minutes ago. So, we added the symbol of the flowers: jasmine, rose and orange flower all flowers that originated in the desert. My grandmother used to prepare food with orange flower water, and it reminds me of that time. So, there is a feeling of myself in this perfume. I wanted to create something sensual, yet mysterious, but not too heavy or dark. It is for me, more complete and more faceted than the regular oud scents.
Your scents are wearable and genderless – how do you find the right balance or realise that you have found the perfect recipe for a perfume?
I always say that ‘to create is to decide.’ At some point, you must decide what works, and I’m not saying that’s it’s simple, but in fact, you know in your heart that there is a moment when you are modifying something you are working on and there is no result. If you adapt the perfume and you are the only one to notice the difference, then it is not working. My feeling is that the client will see the difference and notice what my modification brings, whether it’s freshness, something more sensual, more volume – and then I must realise if it’s positive or not. Often, I go back to the fragrance we loved at the beginning, and this is the one. There are two very important moments in the creation: the beginning and the end. For this fragrance, I had the image and the idea in my mind, and I wanted to find a bouquet of flowers from the desert that meant bringing life or freshness to a very dry world.
As one of the very few that has this unique gift, as the world changes and many of the processes become mechanical, what challenges do you foresee coming in what you do?
That is the border between luxury and mass. All the so-called luxury brands that are making these changes will not succeed. But the brands that will make their offering higher and higher will survive. It’s very simple, it’s like you are comparing McDonald’s with a three-star Michelin restaurant. McDonald’s can have the best ingredients, but it will always remain as junk/fast food. Don’t get me wrong, I go to McDonald’s sometimes, but what I mean is that you can’t compare the two. And this is exactly what I want to do at Louis Vuitton and I have the freedom to do it. I’m free to produce whatever I want, to have no marketing pressure, no business pressure and I’m working directly with Delphine Arnault, Director and Executive Vice President and Michael Burke, CEO of Louis Vuitton. Michael is a genius, and he is fully supportive of me and believes in me and so I feel very responsible for what I’m doing. For me to create a collection that’s a tribute to the origins of perfumery, is something that I have always wanted to do. To work with the best materials and more than that to produce emotions is truly incredible, and this is the vision of Louis Vuitton.
The biggest mistake that brands make today is that they produce perfumes like they are commodities. A perfume is not a commodity it is an emotion. When you remove your clothes only your perfume is left, and it illustrates the secret part of your personality. It leaves a trail of you even when you leave the room. This philosophy of luxury at Louis Vuitton is the real philosophy of luxury. They have this in mind, and they know how to treat people and we are very successful, and to have a perfumer at a luxury brand is something unique. I am currently building an area at the HQ with a winter garden so visitors can escape into the world of perfume. This will be ready in the summer and will offer a totally immersive experience to our guests. We all lack a lot of emotions and feel depressed post-COVID, so for me, being creative is very optimistic. I have the chance to work with the best materials, price is not an issue, I don’t have the pressure of being on the shelves next to other fragrances, I’m not making cheap things, I’m working with what I consider to be good quality as a perfume, and the best compliments I can receive are things like ‘I love your perfume because I’ve had so many comments about it’.
Tell us about the offering of perfumes at Louis Vuitton?
We have quite a lot of perfumes, but I want to offer choice to our clients. Some clients may not like floral fragrances, and some may not like the oriental style, so they can have a fresh note. I will soon be opening a special atelier just for bespoke perfumes because this is what clients are looking for and I think it’s so chic. We have clients from all around the world that we are making bespoke fragrances for and it’s very difficult. It’s harder to make a fragrance for just one person than for millions because it is a very psychological experience. But I’m the man of secrets and it’s a very exciting challenge! And this is the true power of luxury in fragrances. To produce emotions is very difficult but I love it. To see someone, smile and their eyes light up when they smell a perfume, I have created makes my day. I’m very curious about what makes people who they are, and this is a very interesting part of my job.
What can you tell us about the differences between what men and women are looking for from fragrance?
I’m curious about what makes a woman a woman and what makes a man a man, everyone is talking about this concept of ‘no gender’, but for me, this is a marketing concept. From my experience the inspiration for men and women is different. I try to take the best of both and mix them together. I do however put a lot of female influences into my men’s perfumes, and I put the strength of men’s perfumes into my women’s fragrances. I think this is clever to do because the inspiration is never the same. It is the same as what Virgil Abloh was doing with the Louis Vuitton men’s fashion collections. He was adding colours that are usually seen as being feminine into men’s clothing. In perfume, we do this too, especially in fragrances for the younger generations.
You have created so many iconic perfumes over the years – in your opinion, what do you think makes a perfume a classic?
In perfume, it is extremely difficult to make a classic. When you are creating it you don’t know that it’s going to be a classic, but 20 years after, if it’s still modern, that’s what makes it a classic. I created L’Eau d’Issey for Issey Miyake in 1996, for example, and that has continued to be a hit until now. I created Jean Paul Gaultier Classique in 1992 and that continues to be a classic 20 years later. I am proud but more than that I’m just happy to smell these fragrances on young ladies. But the point is when you are creating these things, you don’t know at the time what you are doing, it is the clients that show you what you have done over the years. For me, it is a pleasure to invent and to have this chance of being at Louis Vuitton and being alone in a domain that is 100 per cent dedicated to the creation of perfumes is a pleasure. I will be going to Paris next week to see Michael and Delphine where I will share my ideas for the coming years, and this is a pleasure for me. I know the opportunities that I have compared with many perfumers, and this is special.
You have the right balance between storytelling and relevance…
Yes, but the perfume is a story itself. It’s a love affair. I love to put emotions into the bottle like it’s a magic potion. And then, people can decide if they like it or not. But if you like it, you will love it.