Everyone has a sense of smell, but that doesn't mean that everyone can make a fragrance. Jacques Cavallier Belletrud -- the mastermind behind Acqua Di Gio for men, and more than 80 perfumes bearing his fingerprint -- clearly can. The fourth-generation perfumer likens his education, at his father's side, to that of Picasso, forced by his old man to copy great masters over and over again. "It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child," the artist famously said. Like Picasso, Cavallier Belletrud learned his craft young, but today he's more interested in retaining the spontaneity of a kid. "The important thing is to keep the freshness," he says. "When you become old you think too much."
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On a rainy day in Grasse -- fragrance capital of France, and therefore, the world -- we are dressed in white coats and standing in a gleaming laboratory in Cavallier Belletrud's workplace, a beautiful old mansion that is the nerve center for Louis Vuitton's fragrance operation. Two years ago, the venerable luxury fashion house launched a collection of women's perfumes, its first in 70 years. Now the brand is following that up with five men's fragrances, each inspired by a different emotion. For Cavallier Belletrud, creation usually begins with a memory, from a walk in Grasse under the spring sun to an epic Central American journey. If you want to know what an afternoon spent drinking hot chocolate in Guatemala smells like, you might find the answer in Nouveau Au Monde, one of Louis Vuitton's new men's fragrances that synthesizes natural cocoa resin with the spikiness of saffron and the pungent, peppery scent of oud -- a resin extracted from a rot-infected wood, first popularized in the Middle East. Oud is so expensive that most perfumers favor a synthetic substitute. Cavallier Belletrud is not one of them. "Natural materials bring a complexity that is impossible to realize with synthetics," he says. "If you look at patchouli it's like a kaleidoscope with a lot of different facets, and you will smell it differently at different times of the day -- you cannot create that with synthetics."
Not that synthetic molecules aren't useful -- sometimes, indeed, they are essential, and often more expensive than natural ingredients. When you smell Lily of the Valley, for example, be it in soap or an expensive fragrance, you are probably responding to hydroxycitronellal pentylcyclohexene carboxaldehyde -- but don't be too sniffy. Lily of the Valley is too fragile to harvest -- and the creation of a chemical proxy is considered a marvel of science. That is the perfumer's art: re-creating in a lab what nature has spent millennia crafting.
Although inventing a new fragrance follows certain ground rules -- there is always a top note, a half note, and a climb down -- the biggest risk in making perfume, says Cavallier Belletrud, is in not taking risks. "I'm very in favor of breaking with trends, in being disruptive, but being disruptive in perfumery today is maybe creating something that is very old in a modern style. The revolution is always an evolution."
The collection is available in select Louis Vuitton stores starting today--and retail for $240 for 100ml and $350 for 200ml.