Grasse, the famous epicentre of the perfume industry, is a sort of mythical land to me. Somewhere I’ve read about extensively, most notably of course in Patrick Suskind’s novel about a scent-mad serial killer, but have never had the chance to visit because I’m not technically a beauty journalist.   Nor am I by any means an expert on the perfume industry.   Its relation to fashion though is more than obvious. In many cases, its revenue dwarfs that of ready to wear and accessories.  The launch of a perfume has catapulted a fashion house into stratospheric levels, giving a brand household stats.

In the case of Louis Vuitton though, the order is somewhat unusual.  First of course came the luggage – the outfitting of the privileged for their travel needs on the waters, by rail and road and eventually by plane.  Then its foray into fragrance and cosmetics with crystal perfume bottles called ‘Editions d’Art’ and then their first scent in 1927 entitled Heures d’Absence, followed by Je Tu II in 1928 and then Réminiscences and Eau de Voyage in 1946.  This buried fragrance history of Louis Vuitton was something which I only learnt about in last year’s Volez, Voguez Voyagez exhibition held at the Grand Palais. Sadly no traces of those original perfumes – its physical form or formulae – exist anymore because of an archival fire in the 1970s.  And so Louis Vuitton – the perfume – as a project was shelved for decades.  Until about four years ago, when Jacques Cavallier Belletrud was hired to become the official Louis Vuitton “nose” or more formally, their Master in-house perfumer.  As a third generation perfumer, Belletrud has architected many award winning perfumes such as Giorgio Armani Acqua di Gio and Issey Miyake’s L’Eau D’Issey.

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He began to go on a journey, collating experience and artefacts from around the world to come up with what would form Louis Vuitton’s collection of Les Parfums.   Why seven?  There wasn’t a specific number in the brief and Belletrud had the tough task of whittling it down from an initial batch of ninety.  It was perhaps too difficult to compress Belletrud’s research into one singular scent.  Or on a more practical level, having seven very diverse (yet unified by their idiosyncrasy) fragrances mirrors our perfume shelves for both men and women.  In our household, Steve has about four or five in steady rotation and I normally grab from a selection of about seven or eight depending on mood, occasion and even what sort of clothes I’m wearing.   You’ll gravitate towards specific scents in the Louis Vuitton’s Les Parfums but equally, three or four of them might take your fancy, hence why they have produced miniature sets comprising of all seven as well as travel atomisers that allow you to switch around.

To begin this journey of LV’s Les Parfums, after Paris Fashion Week, I flew to Nice to experience Grasse and more specifically, a dream of a fragrance laboratory for Louis Vuitton and Parfums Christianne Dior, known as Les Fontaines Parfumées.  Housed in a former tannery that harks back to Grasse’s roots as a centre of leather goods dating back to the 12th century, Belletrud has a pretty idyllic setting to experiment, create and explore.  The perfume project for Louis Vuitton of course is an ongoing one, which is why we got not just a presentation of the now released parfums but an insight into the working life of Belletrud.

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But this initial seven is what we came to discover.  Nestled in a recreation of a flower-filled trunk known as the Malle Fleur, which Louis Vuitton once sent to clients as a token of goodwill, are the chosen seven fragrances that form Les Parfums encased in the French-made flacons designed by Marc Newson.  As we smelled each one, it was clear there was definitely a strategic thinking behind the diversity.  The journey begins in Grasse’s field of roses where Rose des Vents was born.  The distinctive smell of lily-of-the-valley continues that floral wave in Apogée.  For fans of sweeter fragrances, you have the heady Madagascan and Tahitian vanilla of Contre Moi.  The intensity of tuberose is worked into Turbulences along with a jasmine native to Grasse.  Naturally leather would somehow be involved.  The tanned leather used at Vuitton’s Asnieres workshop is incorporated with two kinds of jasmine and narcissus in Dans la Peau.  Upon seeing a raspberry leather at the workshop, Belletrud also managed to weave in the contrasting scents of leather and raspberry into Mille Feux.  My personal favourite is Matière Noire, perhaps the most masculine of scents with its notes of agarwood, contrasted with an intense mix of blackcurrant and jasmine.

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In Belletrud’s office, a custom made Louis Vuitton trunk houses the myriads of scents that form the tools to a craft that is difficult to illustrate in words and pictures and yet evocative to see. We went one step further and got to sit in Belletrud’s laboratory space where the delicate and scientific task of mixing up a fragrance is done. Working with milligram scale, pipettes and precise formula, we got an idea of mixing our very own perfumes. Going for a woody scent, it was up to us how much of the key components named ‘Coeur Floral’ and ‘Bois Moderne’ would go into our fragrances.   The result?  Something that probably smelt quite crude and common to Belletrud’s fine nose but for me wasn’t a bad fragrance to tote around when travelling.

The simplicity of the fragrances we created of course pale in comparison with what Belletrud has achieved with Louis Vuitton.  By the time you’ve had a whiff of all of Les Parfums, the combination lingers like a storied voyage around the world, where different places leave their olfactory traces on your skin.  Belletrud doesn’t have a prescriptive method of mixing Les Parfums.   “It’s not my property anymore,” he says with a shrug.  Meaning you do with the seven bottles as you will.   Just don’t spritz the perfume and rub furiously into your wrists, which kills the perfume.  That’s apparently the equivalent of trampling all over a bed of flowers with your feet.  Duly noted Jacques.  Duly noted.

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0e5a0217Wearing Molly Goddard dress, J Brand trousers, Missoni x Converse slip-ons and Off-White bag

Having previously lamented about the lack of summer in the UK (although it’s turning up right about now), I thought I’d roll back time to when I was in the Tuscan hills, taking in the spiritual home of Emilio Pucci.  It’s rare that I get to go see the roots of Italian powerhouses unlike their French counterparts.  Either they’re remote stable secrets or they’re not open to the likes of me.  Pucci, though being part of the LVMH Group was a participant of the “Les Journées Particulières” programme, where for a weekend back in May, they threw the doors open to the Villa Granaiolo, forty minutes outside of Florence, so that they could learn about Pucci’s heritage and history.  This idyllic Renaissance-era Tuscan villa has been in the Pucci family since the 16th century, and it was one of Emilio Pucci’s favourite residences, which is why his daughter Laudomia decided to transfer some of the house’s archives here to create a private museum as well as creating a dedicated space to training students in the ways of print design.

Whilst I was in Florence for Pitti, Pucci were kind enough to extend the opening of this special exhibition so that we could take in the splendour of the villa itself – and inhale some of that slowed-down Tuscan pace that in some ways is related to Pucci’s associations with the sun-worshipping jet set, as well as an exhibition that delves into the elements that make Pucci’s aesthetic so distinctive, whether it’s the original prints by Emilio, or by subsequent successors like Matthew Williamson, Peter Dundas and now of course, Massimo Giorgetti.

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Before we began to delve into the exhibition, we got to take in the most Pucci pieces of furniture I think there is.  An outdoor arrangement of oversized padded seating covered in a swirl of Neapolitan-esque pink and yellow.  It’s the sort of furniture that naturally invites you to lounge about in the sort of printed caftans, stretch fabric swimwear and towelling jumpsuits that Emilio pioneered.  Wrapping around the main house is a cleverly proportioned staircase lawn, designed by Niccolo Grassi, mirroring the geometric lines of some of Pucci’s archive prints.  From here you can catch a glimpse of a delicious looking swimming pool that again, ties in with that Pucci lifestyle. 

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The exhibition though revealed to me aspects of Pucci’s history unbeknownst to me.  Curated by historian Maria Luisa Frisa.  It bears reminding the innovative nature of Pucci’s history in that he successfully exported an Italian aesthetic abroad on a large scale, by its ability to create ready-made sizes in a plethora of colour and print variations.  The first things you see in the exhibition space are the glass fronted wardrobes of colour-arranged capri trousers in shades that are custom Pantone colours with at least thirty shades of “Rosa” pink.  Laid out in sections of ‘Forms’, ‘Materials’ and ‘Patterns’, you can explore Pucci’s universe from its mid-20th century beginnings to the present day with Giorgetti taking on the modern Prince of Prints mantle.

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There’s of course the scarf tops/tunics and jumpsuits that make up the ‘Forms’ sections, ranging from the fluid to the structured.  There’s the distinctly Pucci materials such as the stretch jerseys, silks and towelling and chenille fabrics.  Across ready to wear and accessories, Pucci’s prints of course come to the fore, exploring thematic umbrellas such as monochrome, optical, orientalist and landscapes.  There’s also an intriguing display of Pucci accessories from across the decades that include splendid oddities such as a papal-esque velvet printed hat or a pair of calcio Florentino (a historic form of football) canvas shoes.  The links across the house’s numerous designers can clearly be seen in the exuberance of everything.  Behind the mannequins, lies the bulk of Pucci’s archives hanging on wardrobes.  It’s the rail rifling of dreams for any print enthusiast, which is why Villa Granaiolo is regularly open to students from Central Saint Martins, Polimoda and ECAL in Lausanne to come and explore the archives and work on their own projects in the attached ‘Talent Centre’.

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As the Villa isn’t strictly speaking open to the public outside of the Journées Particulières programme, it felt like a privilege to come by this tucked away Pucci-world (or Pucci-verse).  It’s hard to look at this curated display of buoyant clothes and not away thoughts of sun-drenched days.  They’re somewhere around the corner.

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Two of my tweets last Thursday afternoon might seem completely unrelated to some but in my head, I’ve since been trying to connect them.  I congratulated Grace Wales Bonner upon winning the LVMH Prize, marking the third successive British-based winner of this prestigious and necessary funding. Two minutes later upon reading about the shooting of Labour MP Jo Cox in Yorkshire, and about the possibility (now all but affirmed…) that the shooting was in any way politically-motivated in amidst the debate about Brexit, I tweeted that this wasn’t a Great Britain I recognised anymore. It scaled from elation about a deserved designer – a rising star in the London fashion industry, to utter despair about a side to Britain that I won’t/don’t connect with.

It’s difficult to wade into politics on a fashion blog without being told that you’re not qualified to speak or you don’t have your facts straight.  Or indeed, that your privilege makes your voice less valid. Framing the EU debate within a fashion context might not seem immediately obvious either but the fashion industry has clearly made a stand.  Key players have made their position on the debate clear by standing by Remain, with the likes of Alexandra Shulman of Vogue UK, Dame Vivienne Westwood and Imran Amed of Business of Fashion having signed a letter to keep Britain in the EU.  The argument?  “Britain leaving the EU would mean uncertainty for our firms, less trade with Europe and fewer jobs.  Britain remaining in the EU would mean the opposite – more certainty, more trade and more jobs.  EU membership is good for business and good for British jobs.”  The economic uncertainties post potential Brexit is the main thrust being put forward.

untitled-article-1465301184-body-image-1465301450Steve Salter (aka my other half)

But we all know that the EU referendum goes far beyond facts, figures and statistics.  When experts are being “dismissed” and emotions are riding high, threats of imminent recession, loss of jobs and a plummeting £ all seem to be falling upon deaf ears. People are going to vote with an idealised vision of this country in their head and sadly many have built a battleline in their head where they are “us” and everyone else is the “other” or “them”.  And so it is with ideology that I vote for Remain at the polling booth tomorrow morning. Because the Great Britain of my reality is one where we celebrate and cooperate with the “other”, not merely tolerate it.

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IMG_3421Wales Bonner S/S 17 

When it was announced that Wales-Bonner had won the coveted EUR300,000, prize I thought about her eye-opening, mind-expanding ideas that have led to us to ponder the idea of black male sexuality and masculinity.  Her borders span far and wide as for her S/S 17 collection, she was looking at the crowning of Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia in 1930.  Her influences have long been concerned with the black male diaspora, spread across expanses of Africa, the Caribbean, India and Europe.  They’re both real and imagined journeys, resulting in clothes that whilst rooted to certain geographies and histories, are also original in its inspired ceremonial pomp for the 21st century.  As a British-born half English, half Jamaican designer, Wales-Bonner isn’t necessarily directly related to the EU conversation, but the fluidity of borders expounded in her work, feels pertinent somehow.  That Britain can foster designers like her make you somehow hopeful that fashion as a creative outlet still is an outward-looking and progressive beacon.

And then those thoughts were quashed by a disturbed man who reportedly yelled “Britain First” or “Put Britain first!” before firing shots at a woman, who had spent her entire working life thinking about the bigger picture – one filled with compassion.  The horror.  The despair.  At the time, I was preparing to go out and see the Raf Simons show in Florence but found myself crying uncontrollably in my hotel room.  This quote from Cox’s maiden speech, has since taken on a memorable significance: “We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.”  Then why is it that within communities, we’re finding ourselves with self-imposing divides placed in amongst us.

As the rolling news played out, I then thought about fashion as a facilitator of open-mindedness and freethinking creativity.  At least, that’s the fashion that I fell in love with as a young teenager, when hemmed in by pressures to perform well academically and to be “normal” or “attractive” by society.  I thought about free movement being more than just people moving from one country to another for economic and benefits gain (although whilst we’re at it, it bears repeating that immigrants to the UK put in more than they take out).  It’s also about a movement and exposure to cultures, ideas and ways of thinking.

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If Brexiters can deduce immigration to “those bloody Polish shelves in Tesco’s” then I am free to equate Remain with values of openness, tolerance and partnership.  When applied to fashion, this is in evidence not just in the designers that we have come to call our own, whose origins are in the EU – Mary Katrantzou, Marios Schwab, Faustine Steinmetz, Astrid Andersen, Marques Almeida, Marta Jakubowski and Peter Jensen to name but a few, but also in the countless graduates, stylists, photographers and make-up and hair artists that benefit from free movement and ability to ply their much-needed trade in this country.  The result?  A richer, more diverse and creative industry that thrives on collaboration.  The flow of ideas in the British fashion industry has never been so vibrant, even amidst talk of a tumultuous industry in flux or a shrinking social mobility in fashion education impeded not by the EU… but by our own government.

And that’s just the peeps from the EU contingent. London’s fashion community has of course become home to many from outside of Europe and that’s where it becomes scarily problematic. Who’s to say that Leave voters’ fear about immigration doesn’t just stop at the borders of the EU. That they want England for English people only (people polled through various BBC Breakfast/Today programmes – their words, not mine), defined in the only way they see fit. Leavers will say they are not tainted by racism and xenophobia, but why is it that the rhetoric being heard on the streets, on social media and even from the official Leave camp people (*cough* Nigel Farage), is dangerously designed to inspire hate and ire against “them foreigners”.

untitled-article-1465301184-body-image-1465301502Stephen Isaac-Wilson

I echo Polly Toynbee’s thoughts as she gives her final boost of belief towards Remain. “I don’t believe those politics of isolation will win on Thursday. I can’t and won’t believe it – and if I’m wrong then being wrong is the least of the despair I shall feel.”  Because say what you want, a post-Brexit Britain will inevitably project the idea to the world, that British people are inward-looking self-interested little Englanders, even if that isn’t necessarily the case.  That creative to-and-fro flow, a bi-directional conversation between Great Britain and continental Europe, that we have taken for granted for the last forty years, will stutter, splutter and maybe even slowly ebb away, as students from the EU are deterred from studying in the UK and visa impositions will make working/living here much more difficult.

This will inevitably read like wishy washy twaddle spewed by a media “luvvy” but it’s an opinion that’s no less valid than the woman in Solihull telling foreigners to get out, as she drags her shopping trolley on the high street.  The so-called “Project Fear” levied at the Remain camp isn’t just about economic-based projections, but it’s the fear of a country slipping into an abyss of no return.

All EU Remain Straight Ups photographed by Holly Falconer for i-D

When Alessandro Michele presented that first menswear collection under what were tension-filled and uncertain circumstances back in January last year, reportedly it was the British press who were cheering the hardest when it came to the finale.  They were natural cheerleaders for the rejection of Gucci’s conventional gloss and the two fingers up at what was the Gucci status quo.  It’s somehow wired into (let’s say most…) British fashion industry folk to root for the subversive, the ironic and the unabashedly OTT.    Therefore, a year and a half later, after the complete and utter transformation of Gucci, to be able to witness a ninety-four looks stuffed show dedicated to Michele’s spiritual happy place of England, or more specifically London – in the cloisters of Westminster Abbey no less – didn’t feel like a strategically devised market-driven ‘destination’ cruise show.  It felt more like a genuine gesture of gratitude on Michele’s part, as backstage after the show, he paid tribute to British sub cultures or in his words “You can be a punk and drink tea.”

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When you travel around the world, almost a representative of your country’s style, you often get asked to trot out with defined nutshells describing a country’s style.  However eye-wincing it is to fall into generalising guff, there are a few things that you can’t run away from and Michele hit them on the head in this show, by honing in on stereotypes and maximising them until there is no more maximising to be done.  Punk, as gestated on King’s Road by Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood, and later repeatedly refracted and filtered down in wider culture.  Check.  Almost jingoistic signifiers of royalty – the pearls of Elizabeth I (who Michele cited as the “original rockstar” of her day) to headscarves and appliquéd corgis of the present day Queen.  Check.  Eclecticism as displayed in the clashes between Oxford boaters, glam rock metallics, Buffalo-esque rainbow platforms and debutante gowns.  Check.  LOLz irony in the form of real/fake Gucci hoodies and t-shirts that reclaims ownership of the much counterfeited logo.  Check.  The loudness.  The naffness.  The poshness.  The madness.  All there pulled together into an astonishingly long show that pushed every button of polite taste.

In the styling, there was something deliberately brasher about the collection.  The Siouxsie Soux lace leggings.  The turbans shiner.  The earrings larger and more gem-tastic.  The sunnies zanier with their flip-up double shades.  All the better to contrast with staunchly traditional garments like kilts, trench coats, collegiate-nodding cardigans and Victoriana blouses.

The setting may have been elevated with the tombstones and memorials of Chaucer, Shakespeare and countless English monarchs nearby but the point was to bring Michele’s natural vintage-scouring, magpie maving and history-revering sensibilities to the city, where they were nurtured.  Is there a danger in an intrinsically Italian house like Gucci waving the flag so enthusiastically for the UK (literally the flag was flown in the form of a Union Jack jumper and metallic brothel creeper shoes)?  Those aforementioned Brit-style attributes of course aren’t exclusive to this country alone.  They’ve had a century plus to spread their wings around the globe through various machinations.  Like English punk that has found itself a third life in Japan, thrashed out in an altogether different sub-cultural genre.  Or the Scottish kilt that is less a code of national dress but more a signifier of rebellion-laced preppiness.  The English eccentric has crossed the borders and exported itself as a genre for any would-be fashion mavens to adopt, which is precisely why Michele has unlocked a goldmine for Gucci.  Anything, something, one thing will take your fancy as everything you see below will be produced, made and hang on the racks.

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The afterparty at 106 Piccadilly similarly had 1950s rock ‘n’ roll playing on one floor and Italo disco on another with the modern day equivalent of club kids and posh girls in frocks mixing it up.  No wonder the British press contingent were such early fan girl/boy adoptors of Michele.  They could already see the good times that lay ahead.

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IMG_9629Wearing Gucci dress, Miu Miu shoes and J.W. Anderson bag