Louis Vuitton launches its first fragrance range for men, seeking to tap a ‘new masculinity’ and willingness to experiment
The international fashion house is a latecomer to an already crowded market but believes it has the formula for success, with fragrances that take inspiration from, among other things, the pickled ginger served in sushi restaurants
From its early foray into the Chinese market (it opened its first store in Beijing in 1992) to its pioneering collaborations with artists such as Stephen Sprouse and Takashi Murakami, Louis Vuitton has always been a brand of firsts, touting innovation as its main driving force.
It’s hard to believe, then, that the label was a latecomer in the competitive and overcrowded fragrance market, even more so if you’re aware that its parent company, LVMH, is one of the biggest players in the beauty arena, whether through the thriving cosmetics range of Dior or the success of Sephora.
Although the brand has a history of fragrance creation from its early days as a trunk maker in the first half of the 20th century, Louis Vuitton launched its first fragrance range only in 2016. Aimed at women, the line has been successful not only among loyal clients but also younger consumers who may not necessarily be able to afford the label’s pricey luxury items.
In May the house will unveil its first men’s range, which features five scents that don’t directly target men (you won’t see any Pour Homme inscriptions on the sleek bottles designed by Marc Newson) but, in the words of master perfumer Jacques Cavallier Belletrud, “are perfumes that a woman, or a man, would love to smell on a man”.
Based in Grasse, southern France, the perfume capital of the world, Belletrud is the brains behind each Louis Vuitton fragrance, a fourth-generation perfumer who started his career at the tender age of 16.
He’s been working on the men’s range since 2013, and this launch comes at a time when Louis Vuitton’s “men’s universe” is a big focus at the brand (Off-White designer and Kanye West collaborator Virgil Abloh will unveil his first men’s designs for the label in June).
The men’s market has been growing steadily in recent years, thanks to factors such as the rise of streetwear and the embrace of fashion from athletes and hip-hop artists. Belletrud sees the same happening in his field. “Men are becoming more sophisticated,” he says.
“In the same way they buy interesting shoes and clothes now they do it with perfumes. Those who don’t know still go for the sporty, commercial fragrances, but now more men are not afraid of trying new things and are attracted to what you would have considered feminine fragrances in the past.
“Men worldwide want to achieve sophistication and find a perfume that will be their ambassador in their social life and with lovers.”
For a long time, the stereotype in men’s perfumes was a clean, citrusy scent evoking outdated notions of a victorious or invincible guy, a cliché that Belletrud wanted to avoid.
The five scents include Au Hasard, a subtle blend of ingredients such as sandalwood and cardamom, which will please the most adventurous types, or l’Immensité, a zesty scent inspired by the pickled ginger served at sushi restaurants.
Needless to say, these are not your average colognes. “Perfume is not a commodity,” Belletrud says. “It’s full of emotions, like a dress or a pair of shoes, and addresses the deepest side of your personality because our choice of perfume is based on memory, which is built from when you’re very young.
“If you had a bad experience with rose or vanilla when you were little, you’ll never like those smells. It’s different for everyone. When someone smells jasmine from Japan or China it’s not the same as someone from France.”
This last point is critical as Asia, in spite of its embrace of categories such as skincare and make-up, has never been very receptive to perfumes, especially the strong ones favoured in Europe or the Middle East. Things, however, are changing, according to Belletrud.
“We’ve been very successful in Asia,” he says. “For instance, the Japanese, who are supposed to like light fragrances, have embraced some of our strong ones and I see some change in China also because they probably had enough of smelling the same thing and where there is quality and emotion they see it.”
“They also don’t see the boundaries between men’s and women’s fragrances as much because there’s less association with that so if they like the scent, they just buy it. But it’s true that in China, Singapore or Japan, they don’t like something too strong that doesn’t reflect their personality but something that fits the culture and who they are.”
Belletrud calls this new shift happening among male consumers a “new masculinity”. Louis Vuitton’s pivot to men this year, of which this launch is a very important step, is set to reveal this new vision of menswear at the brand and will be a closely watched move in one of the fastest growing and changing segments of the luxury industry.