If you know anything about fragrances – or, indeed, if you’ve read Patrick Suskind’s cult 1985 novel Perfume – you’ll have heard of Grasse, in the south of France. This attractive little town is the epicentre of the world’s perfume business, surrounded by fragrant fields of jasmine.
Grasse didn’t always smell so great. It was first known for leather tanning, a rather niffy business, before the fashion for perfuming gloves led it to develop a pleasanter sideline that eventually became its entire raison d’être.
Wandering the town’s streets at a suitably somnolent Mediterranean pace, you may come across a 17th century bastide – or manor house – that was once a perfume factory. Its glowing clay-pink walls seem to absorb the warm sunshine. These days, the former factory is known as Les Fontaines Parfumées – or “the fragrant fountains” – and it’s where Louis Vuitton’s resident “nose”, Jacques Cavallier Belletrud, conjures up the house’s fragrances. Not just another day at the office, then.
Jacques Cavallier Belletrud
Vuitton has just released the first five men’s fragrances in its long history. Cavallier Belletrud says they were inspired by his travels and “the spirit of adventure”; but inspiration is also close at hand in Grasse. To step into the old house's garden is to embark on a voyage of the senses. It contains citrus fruits from every cranny of the globe, 20 varieties of mint, roses – and of course jasmine.
That trickling sound you can hear is a stream of spring water that runs through the property, to feed the fountains that give the house its name. Trust me, visit this place (as I did last year as a guest of Dior, whose perfumes are also created here) and you’ll feel like moving in.
Since that’s not a possibility, you can always spritz yourself with a bit of eau de Grasse.
Outside Les Fontaines Parfumées
Vuitton’s five men’s fragrances are called Sur La Route (zesty, lemony), L’Immensité (fiery, athletic) Au Hasard (slinky sandalwood with a dash of spice), Nouveau Monde (rich and tropical, with cocoa) – and my own personal favourite, Orage (“thunderstorm”), which combines iris, patchouli and bergamot and is supposed to smell like hot earth after it’s been dashed with rain.
Packaging has always been an essential element of the perfume experience. As with Vuitton’s women’s fragrances, the bottles here were designed by Marc Newson. They have a luxurious heaviness, a user-friendly magnetic stopper, and the pump – thanks to some technical wizardry – has been rendered invisible.
As the Luxury Society newsletter recently pointed out, luxury brands are keen to "infiltrate" the fragrance market, which is projected to be worth US$70 million globally by 2022. That certainly explains Vuitton's foray into the field.
A new fragrance from a major luxury house is always an event in the niche universe of perfume. Five of them in one go is positively a fiesta.