California often feels like a series of idyllic vignettes: lounging poolside in the brilliant sun, ordering up a cold-pressed juice, Instagramming some cacti craning skyward. But for Jacques Cavallier Belletrud, Louis Vuitton’s master perfumer, visits to the Golden State involve interpreting those distinctive vibes in a different way through his legendary sense of smell.
“California is very intense,” says the 57-year-old Frenchman, who drew inspiration for the house’s new collection, Les Colognes Louis Vuitton, on olfactory missions that ranged all over the state, from Joshua Tree to the Huntington Botanical Gardens in Pasadena. “You have the strength of the light, the ocean, the desert,” he says. “All those big contrasts you cannot find elsewhere.”
The luxury brand’s latest collection of perfumes is an homage to the Southern California lifestyle; it includes three fragrances that are airy, floral, and ripe with citrus. This scent range, released in April, is the fourth offering from the French fashion house, and in keeping with Left Coast progressivism, Les Colognes Louis Vuitton aren’t gender-specific––the line is their first to be outwardly positioned as unisex.
Belletrud took his first trip to California over two decades ago, but an attempt to bottle the place required a true immersion. He traveled from San Diego up to Sacramento, from Malibu to downtown L.A., drinking daily cucumber-carrot-orange juices and walking the beach in the morning. After absorbing the full California experience, he packed up some souvenirs––cacti, various seeds, almonds, lemons, and grapefruit—and returned to the Louis Vuitton fragrance labs in his hometown of Grasse, France.
The result is a trio of scents: There’s Sun Song, a musky, neroli-and-orange-flower tribute to California’s perfect weather that’s intended to be like “skin after the sun...very clean, but tender.” Cactus Garden, the most herbaceous, is a blend of smoky maté and sliced cactus with notes of lemongrass. And Afternoon Swim, which is crisp and effervescent, features Sicilian oranges, mandarin, and bergamot; Belletrud calls it “a cascade of freshness.”
“Five years ago, Cactus Garden would have been considered a women’s fragrance,” says Belletrud. But after learning that men were wearing scents from LV’s first women’s collection, the house decided to eschew traditional men’s and women’s labeling. (“Freshness,” Belletrud says, “is not a gendered concept.”)
To compliment this sunshine in a bottle, packaging was designed by artist and filmmaker Alex Israel, who is known for his 1980s-feeling, neon-bright paintings. He adorned the boxes and a limited edition carrying case with cartoonish waves, succulent-studded desert motifs, and a lone sunglass lens. “We took these artworks out of my world and put them onto this world that Jacques has created,” he says. “Once I sat down and smelled the fragrances, it all made sense. It’s all L.A. right here, two worlds colliding.”
Because all vacations must end, the new fragrances promise a sensory way to revisit California––or a least a particular olfactory impression of it. “I’m like a painter,” Belletrud says. “I keep it in my memory, and I want to put all those feelings and moments in a bottle.”