In an exciting cultural and historic decision, the Houses of Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior are returning to the perfumed foothills of Grasse. The town, known globally as the ‘cradle of perfume’ for its revolutionary development of the art between the 16th and 20th centuries, will not only benefit hugely in economic terms, but the move also places the region firmly back on the map as the beating heart of haute parfumerie.
The olfactory doyennes of Louis Vuitton and Dior, flagship brands of the Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy group, are to work side-by-side in the Fontaines Parfumées estate in the centre of the town, which has been entirely redeveloped as a hi-tech laboratory of creative and scientific development. Here, cutting-edge modernity will stand next to Grasse’s innate knowledge and savoir-faire of perfumery. It is an emotional move for many, not least for Louis Vuitton’s acclaimed chief perfumer Jacques Cavallier Belletrud and Dior’s François Demachy, who were both born and raised on the fragrances of the fields of Grasse.
Les Fontaines Parfumées
The restoration of the Fontaines Parfumées - so named for its naturally scented waters - was an arduous task given that the property was almost derelict and had been forgotten for much of the latter 20th century despite its historic importance in the perfume industry. Over the four years following the purchase of the estate, the Architectes des Bâtiments de France and a raft of local artisans and craftspeople worked tirelessly to restore the building using the traditional techniques of the region. It was a colossal effort that has ensured that the Fontaines Parfumées is a stunningly authentic representation of its former glory. It has even been rumoured that the estate’s 1920s fountain that flowed with waters imbued with the seasonal scents of the flowers in bloom will be resurrected for visitors, allowing them to once again fill their bottles with the delicately fragranced eau!
Le Château de la Colle Noire
A few kilometres to the west in the Pays de Fayence, the former home of Christian Dior himself and the geographical inspiration for some of Dior’s most prosperous perfumes, Le Château de la Colle Noire, has also undergone renovations to become a place of welcome and for events. Purchased by the great couturier-perfumer in 1951 following a love affair with Provence that began in the 1930s, Dior has accredited the beautiful bastide with having inspired him to create some of the brand’s most signature fragrances: Miss Dior, Eau Fraîche, Diorama, Diorissimo and Eau Sauvage. The property has been entirely restored to Dior’s original plans inside and out, which he made in the years before his death in 1957. Landscape architect Philippe Deliau worked closely with Dior’s leading perfurmer Demachy when redesigning the overgrown gardens. A plethora of Grasse’s ambrosial flowers were planted from the famous rose de mai - May rose - to Dior’s favourite lily of the valley. It has been described as a place of ‘quintessential Grasse bloom’ with Demachy wistfully calling the final creation a ‘tribute to what was Christian Dior’s final dream’.
In addition to using the town as its new fragrance division headquarters, LVMH is also expected initiate exclusive partnerships with local producers, growers and nurseries in Grasse and its neighbouring villes.
Grasse masters create new, bespoke fragrances
Commercially, both luxury goods brands are to release new perfumes in conjunction with their return to the south of France.
Following a 70-year hiatus, Louis Vuitton is making a much anticipated return to the scene of perfume with a carte blanche for its inspired collection and it is no surprise that Grasse native and the maison’s haut parfumeur Cavallier Belletrud is behind the sensuous seven scents.
Each perfume ‘guided by the spirit of travel and a passion for discovery’, the collection led Cavallier Belletrud on a five continent voyage. Rose des Vents celebrates a trio of Turkish, Bulgarian and Centifolia rose; aromas of tuberose arise in Turbulences; Dans la Peau harks back to Grasse’s dual heritage in leatherwork and perfumery with infusion of natural cowhide and flora; Apogée connotes the innocence of lily of the valley; the popular scent of vanilla is revived in Contre Moi; Matière Noire is of a sultry, mysterious nature with notes of Laos’ agarwood; and the finale of Mille Feux is evocative with leather and raspberry. The set will be available for purchase in its entirety and individually in all Louis Vuitton boutiques from September as a travel spray, 100ml and 200ml. The maison has also created a bespoke, monogrammed case reminiscent of the vanity cases used by gentlewomen in the early 20th century that can safely store three bottles when travelling.
For Dior, the brand’s newest perfume is deeply rooted in its unique attachment to Provence and in particular to Le Château de la Colle Noire, which has given its moniker to the newly released perfume. La Colle Noire by Demachy employs Grasse’s floral pillar, the rose de mai, as its main note. Demachy drew his personal inspiration from the ideas of ‘life, pleasure and light’ at the stone château to create a perfume characterised by its elegance, spice and modernity.