A sumptuous ‘May Gray’ marine layer unrolls like a thick carpet off the Pacific Ocean and laps at the foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains’ ruggedly stretched, infinity-pointed coastline. Wildflowers, courtesy this winters’ record-breaking rainfall, smother Malibu like butter to baguette. And Jacques Cavallier-Belletrud, Louis Vuitton Master Perfumer, is chilling on a couch, taking it all in, while Fleetwood Mac groovily wafts through the stylish Cali Mod-nodded home’s sound system.
Mr. Cavallier-Belletrud is here in the ‘Bu to toast his latest fragrance collaboration with contemporary LA-based artist, Alex Israel. The installation features every Cali-centric bottle iteration previous, on pedestals near the pool. The most generous visual consideration is paid to the new grassy-green, sea spray-blue hued effort, which, when coaxed, emotes carrot, grapefruit, blackcurrant, and a certain coastal ephemerality, a detoxing desire. It’s called Pacific Chill. The fragrance is boldly unique, refreshing,and elicits a precisely nurtured dualism that is both decompressing and invigorating.
There is some guided breath work for the on site editors and scribes (like they need a breather?), and a stirring sound bath (get it?) that is complemented by the odd espresso pull, not quite out of auditory reach, being readied for the Paris-based Cologne Perfumes team that has descended onto LA to elevate this special moment, to ease it into the sea of olfactory memory and foamy ocean sentience.
And that it does. Mr. Israel, never one to shy from LA mythology and motif, arrives in his usual eyewear plus muted luxury ensemble. He remarks to the intimate seated audience that the goal of his ongoing practice of sculpture and painting—the latter expression found itself grafted onto the Pacific Chill bottle and packaging, the original canvas propped against the ocean near him and Mr. Cavallier-Belletrud—is to provide joy, much like special fragrances. These mediums, these cross-collaborations, aren’t solving the many crisis’ that abound, the artists will attest—they’re helping to smooth the prickly edges. Mr. Cavallier-Belletrud cracks a couple of philosophical funnies about Vladimir Lenin, as well as the imperative of light/dark tension in one’s spiritual pursuit and artistic practice, and everyone leaves somewhat lighter, despite the nutrient-rich avocado slices they’ve necked by the dozens since arrival.
Thus, the love affair that Louis Vuitton has enjoyed so robustly with LA in recent memory strides elegantly forward. But let’s be clear. This is not a ‘smash and grab’ approach we’ve been warned about on the local news, or that witnessed of late from others in the luxury sector. This is slow burn appreciation. A willingness to downshift, to find the groovy cruising speed. An unabashed embrace for the sometimes maddening complexity that underpins this place’s seemingly silky smooth ride.
And why not? Mr. Cavallier-Belletrud illustrates: the circumstances of living in recent years have perhaps tipped a bit more toward trying than they have to that of calm. Thus, to pursue joy, to cherish the fragile balance of maintaining the internal and external ecosystem, is perhaps more an imperative than ever. Oh, and to chill. Because to chill, as he’ll share in our conversation below, is not so much a behavioral extension, but a cerebral one. And surely one that can’t hurt when that marine layer burns off, and we’re met with the ever insistent, blazing sun and all its eagerness. Relax, inhale, it’s gonna be alright.
What do you feel is most misunderstood about your expertise, your profession?
Sometimes, we are viewed like technicians that pretend to be real artists. So this aspect of art is really misunderstood. People think that we are chemists, or like a chef. No. I’m a real artist because I’m translating emotions, and I put all those emotions in a bottle. Like a painting, or sculpture.
What about Los Angeles continues to intrigue you?
Los Angeles is an endless spirit for me—the city is magical. Each time I come here, and I come here quite often, I understand the feeling that something new has been created. The mood of the people is of this creative pressure, seeking something different. For a long time, a very long time, there’s these traditions where people come here and decided to establish a town...millions of people. And this connection with nature is also very interesting for me, because it’s a balance that asks: what is civilization today or tomorrow? In LA, I feel that I’m already in tomorrow, compared to Europe. That’s why I love to be here—I’m in the future here.
And do you relate to the sort of self-mythologizing that connects to LA?
Those sort of archetypes? Yes. Because at the same time, it’s a kind of introspection of what we are, from where we come, and more importantly where we go. And it’s also very difficult for me, because it’s Los Angeles, and California more so—it is a kind of sample of the world. Lots of people, different religions, different origins, living together or next to each other. And they share a passion for living strongly and taking care of themselves, and sometimes to others. But more than that, they’re avoiding the many, many heavy traditions—things that we have to quit. It’s not a coincidence that minorities are so present.
That feels different than Europe?
Yes, that, I appreciate. Because in many countries, especially in Europe, we don’t know how to handle it. And so I like this, I love this freedom. Because it should not be a subject anymore. For an artist like me, I feel this freedom, and it’s making me much more creative. I’m convinced of it.
Let’s talk about Pacific Chill. It reminds me of the fruit trees around LA.
During the past show [City of Stars], I was sharing a lunch with Alex and we were discussing the inspiration. And for him it was still kind of a mystery—for a perfumer, what kind of inspiration do you have in LA? And I say, well, that’s very simple. It can be being in front of the ocean in Malibu, and just looking at the ocean, imagining Asia in the distance. You can point to Asia—they are all other people of civilization. And I love the idea of connecting sensations. And so this inspiration was the beach. For “California Dream” it was the sunrise, for “City of Stars” it was the sunset. Well, I was drinking this juice for four days every morning. I say, ‘Well, this is the capital of well-being for 70 years, and it’s also the capital of all the excesses.’ I love this kind of contrast. Because in my art, I like these contrasts, associating the darkness with the light. We were surrounded by the trees, and I was smelling like blackcurrant. And I say, ‘Well, that’s it. I’m drinking something that I’ve appreciated for four days.’ And I’m thinking, ‘How can I associate carrot with orange, and with the start of blackcurrant? I think it’s a perfume.’
And Pacific Chill is born. How do you define ‘chill’? What does chill mean to you?
Well, ‘chill’ is complicated in French. I think chill is to be relaxed, but knowing what you really enjoy. To chill for me is a kind of mindset, you know. So it’s not only feeling well, it’s psychological. It’s being in a kind of mind without any drugs
Still Life by Kenji Toma.
Portraiture by Jonathan Hedrick.
Image Courtesy Louis Vuitton.
Written by Matthew Bedard