When one thinks of Louis Vuitton, they may associate the brand with its iconic "LV"-printed luggage. Since its inception in 1854, the French fashion house has aimed to elevate the art of travel, whether through its duffel bags, accessories, or fragrances.
The latter has inspired several Louis Vuitton launches, including its most recent addition: City of Stars.
Inspired by a summer night in Los Angeles, Master Perfumer Jacques Cavallier Belletrud created a unisex fragrance made to inspire, seduce, and as collaborator Alex Israel said at the launch event, it was made to give us the biggest luxury of all: time.
Set up on the roof of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, Cavallier Belletrud and Israel stood up in front of a crowd to present the collaboration. Each wearing head-to-toe black with the Hollywood sign behind them, helicopters swirling around, and the sun lazily setting as time went by, they presented City of Stars in a setting that seemed like it could be a movie scene — typical LA.
Save for the helicopters, that was exactly their plan. City of Stars marks Louis Vuitton's fourth Los Angeles-inspired fragrance. California Dream, On The Beach, and Afternoon Swim take wearers through the mornings and afternoons of this iconic city with popular daytime fragrance notes, such as Yuzu, sweet orange, and mandarin. Now, for the house's nighttime perfume, Cavallier Belletrud gave LA a nocturnal scent.
"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," he said in a statement. "The light comes from the explosion of a citrus quintet: blood orange, lemon, red mandarin, bergamot, and lime. It blends those different flashes, showcasing their spontaneity in a swirling melody that envelops and caresses the senses."
On stage, Cavallier Belletrud explained his ongoing quest to capture the essence of freshness and translate emotions into fragrance. "The magic and the poetry should be in the control, and at Louis Vuitton, that's our philosophy," he told us in his thick, French accent, moving his hands around as if he were waving a wand.
Emotions ran high during the creation of this perfume. He and Israel collaborated over Zoom during the pandemic to bring City of Stars to life. The master perfumer explains that the duo had to work together virtually due to lockdowns in both the U.S. and Europe, but that working on this invigorating project filled them with joy, despite feeling frustrated with the state of the world.
As such, everything about City of Stars is the expression of love and joy. "Fragrance isn't just about scent. It's about the atmosphere, the color of the bottle, it's about the name, the packaging. What's so great about Jacques is he has this totally expansive definition of fragrance," Israel said, turning to his collaborator. I think about fragrance as an accessory to performance, and I think about Los Angeles as a city of performance." For the pair, bringing both concepts together was serendipitous yet inevitable.
Israel, who is a Los Angeles native and lauded multimedia artist, The bottle is reminiscent of a lazy California sunset — subtly transitioning from a dusty pink to a watery periwinkle, as if the sun were being put to bed by the sleepy Pacific. The artwork for the travel case and luggage, an original by Israel, was made intentionally to translate how he and Cavallier Belletrud view the fragrance and its connection to LA.
"I had this idea of showing the city at night from this amazing view," he told the crowd. "There are no stars in the sky, the stars are down in the city, and that was a decision I made to shift your idea on what stars are and where they may be. The city is native to stars — it's the people who are the stars."
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One whiff of the scent will make you feel like one, too. At first, the citrus quintet comes to life with the powerful mixture of blood orange — which Cavallier Belletrud points out is less acidy than soft orange and is more long-lasting on the skin — lime — which he said was inspired by his love for Coca-Cola — bergamot, lemon, and red mandarin. Once it settles in, a veil of Tiare flower accord washes over. Then, after City of Stars has fully melted into the skin, a swirling melody of sandalwood oil, monoi oil, and powdery musk bring it to completion.
The result is an addictive olfactory experience. There's a sparkling element to it as if the perfume were glistening as the ocean does when the sun sets in Los Angeles. It smells like the beginning of an adrenaline-fueled fling, when your heart beats fast, citrusy cocktails take up the table, and the first drops of sweat run down the back of your neck. If we were to paint a picture of the feelings this perfume inspires, that would be it, but Israel has another take that adds to this experience.
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"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, and that happens when you appreciate artistry, and that certainly happens when you smell this fragrance," he said, now standing in the crowd looking up at Cavallier Belletrud. "It takes you out of this moment and into some other space where you get to think and reflect. It slows down breathing."
When you think about those first moments of falling in love or lust, your pupils expanding as you lay eyes on the person of your desire, you may recall time slowing down as you took it in. If a scent can recreate that, as City of Stars does, then that truly accomplishes what Louis Vuitton has always intended to do: marry poetry, experience, and luxury.