Newspaper article International New York Times

Scents of Opportunity ; in Grasse, Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior Bet on Fragrant Initiatives

Newspaper article International New York Times

Scents of Opportunity ; in Grasse, Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior Bet on Fragrant Initiatives

Article excerpt

In Grasse, Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior are embarking on two fragrant -- and one highly secretive -- initiatives.

"Perfume today has lost its soul. It is far too mass and too marketed, lacking in personality."

That was Michael Burke, the chairman and chief executive officer of Louis Vuitton, talking last month about why, after 70 years, the French luxury house has been plotting a high-profile return to the global fine fragrance market.

"We see a big growth opportunity in offering artisanal fragrance that harks back to the ways they used to be conceived of and purchased," he said. "But that means doing things the right way, and the right way takes time."

It also takes, apparently, a new home base in Grasse, a picturesque town nestled amid fields of roses, lavender, jasmine and tuberose in the sun-soaked hills above the French Riviera -- and the perfume capital of the world.

That's where, in 2013, Vuitton bought Les Fontaines Parfumees, a terra-cotta hued 17th-century perfumery surrounded by lush lawns, fountains and more than 350 species of flowers and plants.

The estate had spent much of the 20th century in a state of disrepair, having opened its doors as a perfumery in 1640. Vuitton renovated it and installed a state-of-the-art laboratory on its top floor, with Jacques Cavallier-Belletrud, a third-generation Grasse- born perfumer and industry supremo, at its helm.

Mr. Cavallier-Belletrud, 54, was given free rein: "No brief, no budget," he said in New York in July.

What scents have blossomed from these hefty investments remain highly confidential. The expectation is that there will be seven new perfumes, infused with notes that include leather, tuberose and other florals, contained in crystal bottles designed by Marc Newson and unveiled this September in Vuitton's 473 boutiques.

"We cannot share exactly what will be inside these bottles with more than a handful of people before they arrive in the stores," said Mr. Cavallier-Belletrud, who is known for creations like L'Eau d'Issey by Issey Miyake, Midnight Poison by Christian Dior and Stella by Stella McCartney. "At the highest end of the market, perfume is a world based on secrets."

"The best noses in the world are based in these hills, but there are deep, deep rivalries in Grasse, as well as in the wider sector," he said at the perfumery, framed by sun-soaked droplets of color from a restored Art Deco stained-glass window. "What we are doing here is not just chemistry. It is alchemy. We keep our cards close to our chest."

He held a bottle of jasmine extract in his hand. Valued at about 120,000 euros, or more than $130,000, for a 35-ounce bottle, he said, the contents were three times more expensive than gold.

Across the hall from Mr. Cavallier-Bellutrud's office is Francois Demachy's, the perfumer for Parfums Christian Dior, which is also owned by Vuitton's parent company, LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton. …

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