Louis Vuitton releasing fragrances by master perfumer Jacques Cavallier-Belletrud

Luxury brand back on familiar ground after acquiring French estate in return to scent business

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 12 June, 2016, 3:03pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 12 June, 2016, 9:40pm

Louis Vuitton is one of those sprawling luxury megabrands that has most things covered. Men’s and women’s ready-to-wear, shoes, bags, sunglasses, watches and jewellery, and various artistic projects under Foundation Louis Vuitton make one of the world’s biggest luxury names one of its most active. And this year the brand is embarking on another territory: perfume.

Vuitton is not one to do things by halves, so when the house that made its name with travelling trunks finally unveiled the secret it had been guarding, it was a fascinating story.

In an intimate gathering in Grasse, Provence, in the south of France, the new headquarters of Louis Vuitton Parfums, the brand revealed that master perfumer Jacques Cavallier-Belletrud has created the scents, which are to be launched in September.

“It’s not just about unveiling a perfume; the first step is really about acquiring a savoir faire, a trade,” says Michael Burke, Louis Vuitton chief executive and chairman. “Perfume is a trade in itself and back in the 1920s and ’30s, Vuitton was very active – the brand came up with four different perfumes between 1927 and 1946 – so we wanted to reacquire this trade.”

However, the perfume sector today is as crowded as can be, and it seems that every fashion/lifestyle brand and celebrity from Britney Spears to Justin Bieber has pushed out their own fragrances. It’s no secret in the industry that perfume can provide a nifty entry-level product for middle-class consumers to buy into luxury, all the while amping up company profits.

However, Vuitton is setting its bar high in terms of price and product and by acquiring the Grasse property, a heritage perfumer dating back to the 17th century and famed for its elegant scents. During the 19th century, Les Fontaines Parfumées, as it became known, was the most famous establishment in town.

In the wake of those glory days, the estate had become a dilapidated grande dame, but once acquired by the Vuitton brand in 2013, restoring it to its former and future glory became a passion project for LVMH’s chief executive and chairman, Bernard Arnault. Last week, the modern Les Fontaines Parfumées officially opened. The result: the renovated property, technology installed and perfumes created, all feel rather charming and special.

“We did here what we did when we went into other sectors; we acquired the knowledge of the trade from the ground up,” Burke explains. “And this is why Grasse, this is why Les Fontaines Parfumées. It’s not a marketing exercise or another way to communicate.”

Crucial to this game is the jovial Belletrud, third-generation perfumer and director of this new creative LV atelier with accompanying gardens filled with herbs and flowers and a collection of raw materials for experimentation. As the new olfactory creative centre for the whole LVMH group, it means Christian Dior (which is owned by LVMH) will shortly be moving its master perfumer Francois Demachy to this Grasse property, too.

It’s been a smart and interesting move for Vuitton. We could talk about heritage, of both the estate and the brand’s own play with perfumes generations ago, but Burke prefers the word “provenance”.

“When we went into shoe making we went to the Veneto, the most famous shoemaking district in the world; that was no innocent choice. When we did a watchmaking atelier, we did it in Geneva. We have to adopt and acquire a new trade – in a humble way … that’s what makes us different.”