FOR AS LONG as I can remember, the letter A has always been red, D yellow, E purple, H burnt sienna. Certain sounds can cause my mind to visualize a Monet-like flurry of shapeless blobs or pulsating orbs, like a James Turrell installation. I also have an incredibly vivid sense of smell, oftentimes tasting whatever scent wafts through the air on the tip of my tongue. These tastes are usually more of a 1-to-1 correlation, but it’s something I’ve never been able to fully explain. As I get older, my best guess is that I am part of a vastly growing number of individuals with very mild yet highly common forms of synesthesia: a phenomenon where your brain connects one type of sensory stimulus to a completely different sense. A few years ago, this was a somewhat trendy, even eye-roll-inducing condition that a slew of artists and musicians claimed to experience extreme versions of. But it’s actually fairly common and can manifest in many different ways.
Having synesthesia means that things like perfume can trigger some pretty far-out scenarios, and a specific smell can dredge up all manner of memories. The right fragrance can literally transport me to the Amalfi Coast, where lemon-scented cerulean waves crash at my feet. But the wrong eau de parfum can leave me feeling like I just licked the dashboard on the cream-leather interior of an old Cadillac.
I’ve always wondered whether this sensory condition is experienced by certain perfumers. City of Stars, Louis Vuitton’s latest edition to their unisex fragrance line, is one of those scents that is so conceptual and masterfully curated that the emotions and imagery it evokes are an actual feast for the senses. Dedicated to the city of Los Angeles, it is crafted by master perfumer Jacques Cavallier Belletrud. Like the three previous scents in the series (California Dream, Afternoon Swim, On the Beach), which are inspired by different times of day, City of Stars is an homage to twilight and the realm of possibility that awaits you once night falls. According to Belletrud, “It’s a more extroverted eau than its predecessors. It’s radically focused on the special, shimmering atmosphere of a night in Los Angeles, when the singular setting sun gives way to the city’s lights and spotlights that traverse the sky.”
In many ways, the scent can be seen as a love letter to Los Angeles, with Belletrud’s romanticized view of the unpredictable city present across each element contained in this summery cocktail’s formula. At its core is tiaré flower and blood orange, which make City of Stars more sugary sweet than acidic, which is common in other perfumes with citrus notes. It’s topped off with freshly squeezed lemon, red mandarin, bergamot, sandalwood oil, monoi oil, musk, and a thirst-quenching hint of lime inspired by Belletrud's love of Coca-Cola. To some people, this candy-like combination of smells might be reminiscent of a more elevated version of DIY eau de toilette combos they devised in high school. But to me — now that I’ve been exploring the fragrance for a few months — it’s a tad more reminiscent of vermillion orange, and nostalgic feelings of home.
Even the packaging for City of Stars, designed by local multimedia artist Alex Israel, perfectly depicts LA’s highly Instagrammable hypercolored sunsets — the kind of fiery ombre blaze that always seems to engulf the sky following a long, hot day at the beach. The visuals alone elicit flashes of mulberry purple, along with fond memories of driving back east with all the windows down, the scent of jasmine from the hilly through streets drifting in through the sunroof as it fuses with the aroma of sweat and sunscreen blanketing the interior. “The greatest thing a luxury product can do is create the illusion of time slowing down so you can appreciate it and feel like you have a little bit more,” explains Israel — which is exactly what City of Stars accomplishes. Simply put, its essence smells (and to me, tastes) like the seduction of youth in a bottle, and the summertime nights you’ll want to remember forever.
Annette Lamothe-Ramos Writer
Annette Lamothe-Ramos is the visuals director of Departures. A native New Yorker now based in Los Angeles, she is a multidisciplinary artist and creative consultant working in online media, print, and film. Formerly the creative director and fashion editor at Vice, she has also created original documentary shorts and series for several major streaming platforms.
Ahonen & Lamberg Illustrator
Ahonen & Lamberg is a multidisciplinary design studio based in Paris. Founded in 2006 by Finnish designers Anna Ahonen and Katariina Lamberg, the studio concentrates on art direction, creative consultancy, and graphic design.