As I drive my car to the largest Shopping Mall in the world – The Dubai Mall – I think about my upcoming task: I’m about to sit down with Ms. Shams Al Albadri, Team Manager at the incredibly luxurious Louis Vuitton Boutique located at Fashion Avenue. I am very excited for this particualr meeting. The House is finally launching its own fragrance collection and I want to learn all about it.
I’ve prepared some questions, things my readers would love to know mixed with my own curiosity. Louis Vuitton will forever breath luxury to me; a destination where not everyone feels completely “at home”; or at least that’s what you might think before actually stepping inside the store.
My personal experience with this store is that everyone is welcome in. Maybe it is due to the fact that many tourists visit The Dubai Mall, but no one would ever look twice at you for wandering around the boutique in shorts and a polo shirt, the greeting is warm and immediate.
I get offered a beverage, orange juice seems like a good idea, and Shams is arranging a table for me to write at. We sink down on a lush ottoman and I can tell by her face that she is as excited as I am. A very petite woman, perfectly groomed, all dressed in black and wearing red lipstick she looks so incredibly french. Her eyes though – sparkling, curious and looking like they holds some kind of secret joke makes me feel at ease, she looks delighted and delightful – and ready to tell me all about the fragrances.
“It all started back in 2012 really, when the House hired Master Perfumer Jaques Cavallier-Belletrud to be our in-house, fully dedicated perfumer” Shams explains. Not many brands have that luxury and dedication when it comes to producing their own fragrances. Although it’s not the first time LV carries a fragrance in its range, this time it is different.
“The first perfume by LV, Heures d’Absences launched 1927 as an accessory to the beauty trunks that were designed to be fitted inside the larger, iconic LV-trunks and the year after, in 1928 the scent Je, tu, il, came out”.
As I have read up on the history of the House I agree that wartimes has made an impact on what they decided to produce and where to expand. The heritage of the House has always been the need for, and passion about travels. As Louis Vuitton himself started the business only focusing on the stackable trunks that followed the rich and famous all over the globe, the brand has crossed all oceans, been on all continents, traveled by train and later air planes. Seeing all of the world and what it has to offer is in the brand’s DNA and Shams explain that Jaques Cavallier (I will simply call him Jaques) has focused on that. “This has been an ongoing project for four years, where Jaques has been visiting places from China to South Africa. It is a journey of fragrances, travels for our senses”.
By summer of 2016 it was finally time to reveal the collection for some well chosen press, influencers and LV-staff. It was all kept Top secret.
Shams got to travel to Grasse, the home town of Jaques and the centre of perfume making in the world to meet with him, spend time together with him and see the collection being revealed for the very first time!
By this time, I’m having a hard time to decide if I should take notes, use my recorder or just simply sit back and listen. Shams is fascinating when she talks because she remembers every little detail and I’m soft-hearted for detail oriented personalities.
“So, the latest fragrance launch that the House had seen was back in 1946 when they released Eau de Voyage. Basically, this collection is the first perfumes by LV in 70 years! Why only release one, when you can have seven?” she laughs. Apparently, seven is Jaques lucky number and as he explained to them back in Grasse, it made sense: not too few and not too many.
I ask her what her impression of Jaques is and she just beams. “Very human, approachable and kind. Easy to understand and follow, with a huge and natural passion for fragrances as he was born into a family of perfumers, following in his Grand father and fathers footsteps”. It is clear to me that the 4 days she got to spend in Grasse made quite and impact on her and gave her a personal connection to the collection. Shams went there to gather information to post on the brands internal platform, LV Live, as a part of educating the staff internally about what was coming. I think for myself that I would have loved to have her as my Manager ahead of a new launch as she can answer all questions with interest and dept.
back then, in July, they were 70 people from around the world gathered in Grasse and I ask her if she thinks that Jaques was nervous about revealing the collection? After all, if you work on something so intensely for four years, it must hold your heart and soul.
“No, he didn’t seem nervous at all, just incredibly excited to see all of our reactions I think” she smiles as she tells me that she knows that I’m all about focusing on the ingredients, but the collection is actually built up with the intent to NOT focus on the scents or ingredients that we usually like, but to smell them all, find the journey and see what we personally connect with. I can tell you right now, that if she would have presented all the ingredients first I would have chosen the bottle, which I in the end enjoyed the least….so much for thinking that I knew what I liked and disliked!
“Jaques looked as overwhelmed as all of us were, when it was time for us to discover the scents, one by one. It is important to say right here that these scents are not labeled unisex, nor are there anyone that is strictly male”, she glances over to the perfume display where we can see both ladies and gentlemen testing out the range. “They are seven emotional journeys, divided into three families: Florals (3), Sweet (2) and Intense (2). All of them holds a touch of floral elements though, as that is in Jaques way of creating.”
I agree, as I’ve seen somewhere in an interview Jaques saying that floral notes equal femininity and he thinks that the range is indeed feminine although there are scents suitable for men to wear as well. It all depend on how you as an individual connects with the notes, what memories and wishes they evokes.
I want to know more about each perfume and Shams leads the way as she starts to explain. There are seven ceramic keys for me to smell, apparently they let the perfume show the scent it would give out while wearing it, not only what it smells like freshly sprayed. Obviously, each scent changes with a persons skin and body temperature but I still think the store-set up is well organised and smart. “As you can see, everything within LV is highly geometric, starting with our trunks. When designer Marc Newson, a family friend of the Vuitton’s designed the bottle, it came as a surprise that it ended up being rounded! Inspired by old times apothecary bottles and with its clean and soft design, it is not at all a typical LV- bottle” Shams says as I gets to hold one. It is heavy, decadent. I feels expensive and looks lush. Personally I LOVE the design and think it will look great as a part of the interior in any home.
We start with Rose des Vents (Rose of the Winds) as it is the core of the collection. Part of the Florals it holds everything you can ever wish for rose-wise: “it is an ode to the rose, to femininity and elegance. There are both Turkish and Bulgarian roses inside, but also the rare Mai Rose which only grows in a small part of Grasse. It is clearly a part of Jaques heritage and heart.” I smell it and my mind says that it reminds me a bit of the original Estée Lauder Pleasures, a my first perfume that I got when I was a teenager. I love it as it brings me back to those years of youth and freshness. “My favourite moment professionally during the trip was in day 2 when we finally got to experience the perfumes the way you’re doing now” she looks so excited as she hands me perfume number two: Turbulences, also a part of the Florals.
I can tell you right now that I’ve got three favourites from the collection – and it is impossible to range them in descending order as they are triggering such different feelings within me.
Now, Turbulences being one of them! “Once again a part of Grasse” Shams says, pointing at the special Jasmine from Grasse that’s been mixed with Tuberose. “Jaques told us about this time when he was a little boy and walked the gardens together with his father at night. One one side, there was a field of Jasmine and on the opposite side one of Tuberose, both of which blooms at night. Ever since then, he knew he needed to, at some point, try to recreate that scent from that special childhood memory” she says. As I sniff on the ceramic key I can see that small boy before my eyes and thinks that it must be so extraordinary to be one of the few people in the world with knowledge on how to recreate a childhood memory by scent; I feel respectful.
Moving on to Dans La Peau (Under the Skin) a part of the Intense family I sniff it without knowing anything about the ingredients. That’s the game we are playing, Shams wants me to focus on what I feel and see before me rather on what’s inside the bottle. I draw it in and feel so happy. The first thing I say is that it reminds me of a luxury spread in a glossy interior magazine; maybe a wonderful livingroom area with a fire lit and flower arrangements with elegant details and soft lightning. It smells like the place where I would die happy living! Shams looks very pleased indeed. “You are correct! Inspired by real cowhide leather, the ones we use in our bags, and found in the workshop at LV, Jaques wanted to capture that scent of the original tanning process and so it took him 2 years, with adding chestnut and mimosa to the mix, to extract the essence of leather. This perfume holds Jasmine and pure Leather infusion.”
Guys, what can I say. It is just amazing and as the name says, Dans La Peau really goes under my skin. I feel like home when wearing this. Happy and safe. I simply must have it!
So Shams has told me about her favourite professional moment of the trip, but also reveals the favourite personal moment: walking together with Jaques, he turns to her and asks if she is wearing Addict by Dior, as he immediately recognises the scent on her! “It shown how well he knew the notes and other fragrances in the industry”.
I start on fragrance number four, Apogée. Yes, this is the way they are being displayed, but I ask Shams if it is also the order in which they were made. She answers: “I wouldn’t necessarily believe so as he made over 80 fragrances and these 7 made it to the finish line”. It’s quite unique that you get free hands for four years to work on a project like this, but if your are going to do it, you might as well do it properly.
Back to Apogée. The last one of the Florals, close to nature, with Lily of the Valley and Magnolia this is where I surprise myself. I LOVE Lily of the Valley. Always have. And yet, I smell the perfume and immediately say “no” while Shams looks pleased as ever. This proves her point.
While she tells me about the notes we can clearly see that my mind is set on other scents. “I see this every day now with our customers. They come into the store, looking for a specific scent or even asking for ‘the bestseller’ without any regards to personal and private emotional journeys. I try to make them sit down and take their time with the range. Many of them leave with a complete different bottle than what they came looking for”.
If I’m not mistaken, the next perfume, Contre Moi (Close to me) is the one that Shams is wearing. A part of the Sweet ones, this is my third beloved one. I connect with it instantly, it speaks to me and reminds me of many happy occasions with my husband. “This is the dating perfume, right?” Shams says, “it’s perfect to apply before dating as it is so innocent and fresh. Three types of Vanilla (from Madagascar, Tahiti and New Guinea) are pared with wonderful Orange blossom”. There is no doubt about the fact that the two of us seem to enjoy the same bottles, we both connect with Turbulences as well.
What about the last two fragrances then? Matière Noir (Dark Matter) is absolutely too dark for me. It is sexy and positively provocative, but in a good way! With Agar wood, Patchouli and Jasmine from Grasse I can see some of my friends who would look so perfect wearing it, almost like a second skin. I personally think it takes a certain poise to make it justice. But then again, it might just mean something completely different to somebody else.
The last one is my husband’s favourite. (He fell head over heels with it, when we got a chance to test them all out together). I would say I totally understand why as I like it on him. Mille Feux (A thousand lights) is just so incredibly interesting! Once again, I’m presented with the unique Leather infusion and Osmantis. But. And here comes the cool part: Mille Feux mixes leather with Raspberry! It really needs to be experienced. It is not a typical male scent, none of them are, but it smells like my husband hahahaha. I ask Shams as she sits there looking so Paris chic, if she thinks that the collection is a Parisian Collection?
“Well, yes and no. Obviously, the notes and ingredients are sourced from Jaques’ travels all over the planet, but on the other hand, LV is very French and positively Parisian, and the collection reflects its heritage with travels, French leather bags, all floral notes and so on. As it ‘smells like our House’ then yes, it might be a typical Parisian collection after all”. The whole collection starts with Rose des Vents and fronting the campaign for the launch is up and coming, stunningly beautiful Parisian actress Léa Seydoux. I must say, that when I saw the first pictures of her, and the apothecary designed bottles, I couldn’t think of anything other than Paris and French Pharmacies (the very best in the world!).
The time with Shams is about to end. The store is getting busy and my head is spinning with information and perfume. She introduces me to some of her colleagues and again it strikes me as if the staff in the store like each other and their customers. It feels equally welcoming to be there while doing my job as it has felt those times when we have visited as private persons. The first two weeks after the launch, LV built a huge pop-up shop the look of a shell, with all the bottles displayed in the middle as a round formation (reminding us of the pearl within the shell) and a wave to the region’s heritage with fishing for pearls. It was an amazing display for sure, but now when I see the dedicated area inside the store full with visitors eagerly testing out the beautiful range, I think it is equally gorgeous but much more practical. If you can’t choose what scent you like the most, there is also a cute set of seven minis. Maybe a decadent Christmas gift? Shams says that they might even get some special Christmas packaging for the scents and I really hope so, as I’ve got three of them up on that list!
While I leave the store for a quite place to re-write my notes, Shams continues her day and I feel lucky for the customers as they are in for a treat! I smile about her attention to, and passion for the small details, that everything shall be correct (grown up in London, maybe you become that way? hahaha) and yes, it doesn’t take long before I get a message from her with the exact spelling and dates of the earlier perfumes of the House. Everything in order. I hope that you are as pleased with this as I am thankful for Sham’s and Louis Vuitton The Dubai Mall’s hospitality. ♥