A Journey of Les Parfums

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.

0e5a0058

0e5a0090

0e5a0072

0e5a0067

0e5a0073

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.

0e5a0075

0e5a0122

0e5a0082

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.

0e5a0094

0e5a0106

0e5a0098

0e5a0099

0e5a0087

0e5a0112

0e5a0117

0e5a0119

0e5a0121

0e5a0143

0e5a0196

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.

0e5a0136

0e5a0140

0e5a0141

0e5a0148

0e5a0151

0e5a0164

0e5a0166

0e5a0180

0e5a0172

0e5a0186

0e5a0204

0e5a0220

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

Gucci 4 Rooms

“You’re going to Tokyo… straight after fashion month… and you’re six months pregnant….”

I didn’t consider the madness of that sentence until someone strung it together in that way, in addition to the raised eyebrows that went with it.  Under any other normal circumstances, I don’t really need a rhyming reason to go to Tokyo.  It is my happy place, where the simple act of going into a convenience store instantly lifts my spirits.  Therefore I saw a three day jaunt to Tokyo as my last random trip hurrah, before I really have to nest up and wait for the pending arrival of Lau-Salter sprog.  

I have to thank Gucci for giving me this condensed opportunity to see my favourite city one last time as a pre-motherhood freedling – or as a child at heart that is about to have a child of her own.  What was the occasion?  Gucci were celebrating the debut of Gucci 4 Rooms, an immersive installation featuring four artists that get carte blanche to interpret the codes of Alessandro Michele’s Gucci at their flagship store in Ginza as well as in the window of Dover Street Market nearby.

Tokyo as a location for Gucci 4 Rooms is of course a natural one, given that the current AW16 ad campaign was shot in the city amongst a backdrop of pachinko machines and dens of iniquity in Shibuya.  It’s also an important market that accounts for 10% of Gucci’s revenue and it’s easy to see why.  All those wonderfully adorned surfaces that Michele has been creating with their animal motifs, prints, textures and accumulative we candy fall perfectly in line with the Japanese penchant for the kawaii – I don’t mean the  ‘cute’ definition of the word but more a general aesthetic that favours anything that is instantly eye-catching.  

When Gucci’s CEO Marco Bizzari gave his speech to introduce the exhibition, he talked about the need for a luxury house like Gucci to take risks and to look at their agenda from different angles in order to move forward.  And so Gucci 4 Rooms was conceived initially as a digital only project that then became a physical one.  Four artists.  Four rooms.  And you can experience the true essence of each artist’s intent online in the form of slick mini films and animated visuals.  Guests that happened to catch the exhibition in Tokyo get the bonus backdrop of the city of course.

0e5a0553

The Tokyo-based contemporary artist known as Mr. ‘s Gucci Garden is perhaps the most ostensibly ‘Japanese’ of all the installations as the artist Mr. is fascinated with placing the geeky otaku world within an art context.  And so anime character heads roll around in amongst a manga interpretation of Gucci flora and fauna.  It’s more of an urban jungle than garden as graffiti and apocalyptic messages like “Stay with me absent Tokyo-minded’ are scrawled across the walls. 

0e5a0500

0e5a0484

0e5a0493

0e5a0487

0e5a0502

0e5a0488

0e5a0491

0e5a0498

0e5a0516

0e5a0552

Berlin-based Japanese artist Chiharu Shiota’s trapping of the Gucci Herbarium print in the form of toile de jouy covered bed and matching accessories is a mind bending maze of luminous red thread.  It’s as if a game of cat’s cradle has been enlarged and engulfs anything that comes into its twine-based path.  Superficially it makes for an impressive backdrop to our Gucci outfit antics, in particular the coat I wore to the party, which blended right in.

0e5a0513

0e5a0541

0e5a0539

0e5a0538

0e5a0540

untitled-2

img_0601

Gucci Words by Daito Manabe is an interactive experience where viewers can play pinball with Gucci pieces hanging on the wall, melding seamlessly with a digital backdrop.  The ball pings around hitting bags and jackets, causing them to spin, reminiscent of the clanging noise of the arcades of Tokyo.  Japanese literature on love inspired by Michele’s slogan of L’Aveugle Par Amour forms the backdrop to this surreal pinball game. 

0e5a0528

0e5a0525

0e5a0523

0e5a0521

Brooklyn artist Trevor Andrew otherwise known as Trouble Andrew, of course is by now no stranger to all things Gucci as his graffitied GG and Gucci Ghost take over the window of Dover Street Market Ginza in the Elephant Room, housing an installation of his lo-fi films, Gucci Ghost accoutrements and all the accompanying merch that debuted in the AW16 collection.  I in turn, got my chance to be Trouble Andrew GG’d by pretending to be a Gucci baller on not one but two nights, wearing both graffitied denim jacket and the orange fur coat for the trip. 

0e5a0562

0e5a0564

0e5a0565

0e5a0566

0e5a0577

0e5a0570

0e5a0579

0e5a0571

The bits in between the serious business of appreciating the art were padded out by hanging out with my real life bezzies Bryan and Tina in Tokyo.  They’re the peeps to rely on when one wants to sing karaoke in a Kigu animal suit, eat ramen AND fried chicken at 3am in the morning or go hunting for second hand Comme.

As Gucci feted their 4 Rooms with a rave-ish party at the store that was all UV walls, laser lights and glitched up video installations, which later morphed into an after party at Shibuya’s legendary Trump Rooms, Tina and Bryan were also on hand to provide the sort of japes and hi-jinx, that perhaps I’ll tell Baby Bubble about when she’s a bit older.  All that remains to be said is… Tokyo, you still slay me.  I’ve loved you every time I’ve seen you.  Even a three day trip is a fix worth having.  Next time, I will be back with a new addition.  And you’ll feel completely different. 

Gucci 4 Rooms on until November 27th at Gucci Ginza 7th Floor

img_4505Arrangement of some Gucci-appropriate garms in the Peninsula Hotel where we were staying

img_0402Dame Edna eyes courtesy of Gucci glasses

img_0425Draping a Gucci chain mailed hand across a course of kaiseki dinner

img_0437

img_0445

img_0453Karaoke is defo more fun with a) animal suits and b) a mic booth that lights up

img_0476

img_0478

img_3739Getting Gucci Real at the official Gucci 4 Rooms party held at the Gucci Ginza store

img_0614

untitled-1

img_0653

img_0634

img_0643

img_0635

img_0647Tina in the Gucci Ghost UV universe at the party

img_0661

img_0611

img_0665

img_0669Playing Mannequin outside the Gucci Ginza windows

img_0671

img_0679Ending the night as most fashion parties do in Tokyo… in Trump Room

A Prada Pairing

Pre note: Realise it’s Fashion Month and I haven’t fashion month-ed posted yet.  You can read a bit of me here and here

She.  He.  Her.  Him.  Feminine.  Masculine.  Femme.  Homme.  These are the conventional ways of categorising fragrance that are also normally accompanied by pink hued curved glass bottles for women and impossibly deep voices on television adverts for men.   However, when Prada presented their olfactory interpretations of these gender constructs, it was striking that there was more of a to-and-fro dialogue between the two fragrances, simply entitled La Femme Prada and L’Homme Prada.  Just before the Prada SS17 menswear show in June in Milan, guests were invited to experience the two fragrances concurrently in a digital installation with projections of imagined conversations between a couple, where you can’t quite tell who’s the he and who’s the she.

The same can almost be said for the fragrances that line up together in half semi-circular bottles covered in black and white saffiano leather.  As a pairing, they almost invite you to dab a bit of both depending on how you want to mix things up.  I’m a bit rubbish at describing scent notes so in emotive Prada terms, the fragrances are “designed to take the wearer on a voyage through place, memory and time, somehow there appears a sensual meeting point for these distinct female and male fragrances to consummate an aesthetic relationship through experimentation and tradition.”  Solid, layered and complex is how I’d personally describe both fragrances with notes of frangipani and ylang-ylang in the La Femme Prada and iris and amber in the L’Homme Prada anchoring them.  Alternating between the two feels natural just as Prada’s menswear and womenswear can often go hand in hand in mood, spirit and aesthetics. 

So who is my male Prada counterpart?  Why it’s none other than Bryan Boy – a dear friend in real life and a fellow Prada aficionado.  We were excited to create these images to celebrate the launch of the Prada fragrances.  Shot at the Grafton Building of the University Luigi Bocconi in our matching AW16 sailor hats and Christophe Chemin print shirts, we attempted to bring that La Femme and L’Homme Prada spirit to life.  It’s certainly not the girl-finds-boy, boy-finds-girl sensual love tales of perfume marketing narratives.  Then again, Prada’s coupling in fragrance form doesn’t adhere to that stereotypical dynamic.  Hurrah for that.

prada_fragrance_BBSB-2

prada_fragrance_BBSB-5

prada_fragrance_BBSB-8

prada_fragrance_BBSB-13

prada_fragrance_BBSB-11

prada_fragrance_BBSB-12

prada_fragrance_BBSB-14

prada_fragrance_BBSB-15

prada_fragrance_BBSB-19

prada_fragrance_BBSB-21

A Modest Free for All

We’re finally experiencing some semblance of a scorching summer in London.  Which means in my current child-carrying state, I’m approximately ten degrees hotter than everyone else.  On the tube, whilst I’m desperate to spread my legs wide and fan my nether regions with a giant palm frond, I’m refraining because of this little thing called modesty loitering in the back of my mind. 

childmeFavouring all things buttoned-up right from the get-go

Incidentally the word modesty has been making headlines, primarily instigated by the furore that has erupted in France over the regional banning of “ostentatiously religious dress” to avoid “trouble to public order”.  The wording in the original bylaw is not in reference to a Catholic nun’s habit or an Orthodox Jewish woman’s four piece swimsuit (who else think this is kind of chic?).  There goes the French principle of supposed laïcité (secularism).  It’s pointedly targeted at the burqini, created in 2004 by Aheda Zanetti to enable her niece to play netball.  In an opinion piece for the Guardian, she has responded to the bans vehemently.  You’ve taken a product that symbolised happiness and joyfulness and fitness, and turned it into a product of hatred.”

IMG_8241In We are Handsome in Yosemite

It’s an ideological battleground that has piqued my interest because pregnancy-induced sweaty spells aside, I’m personally an advocate of keeping public flesh exposure to the minimum.  Not because of religion.  Not because of a stern patriarchal overlord policing my attire.  Simply because of choice.  Ever since I could remember, I’ve been TeamSwimsuit vs. TeamBikini.  What began as a teenage embarrassment over what I perceived to be a soft rice pillow, non-worked out belly, eventually developed into a present day acceptance that I generally feel more comfortable and jollier in a garment that isn’t precariously held together with spaghetti straps.  Burqini critics have pointed out the practicality of a garment that physically makes you hot in the sun, and adds drag in the sea.  Speaking as someone who regularly dons, leggings and long sleeved swim tops on the beach, mental comfort easily overrides this argument.  FEELing comfortable often has nothing to do with body temperatures or physical coverage of the skin. 

usopensurfIn amongst the beach bods back in 2011 on Huntington Beach

Early Style Bubble readers might remember this one hilarious shot of me descending into California for the first time, clothed in not one but three layers, looking decidedly out of place at the US Open of Surf on Huntington Beach.  A few stares came my way from the bronzed young things in their tie- dye bikinis, denim cut-offs and body painted booty calls.  Sure,  I was a few degrees hotter but also felt free to wander without the feeling that eyes are prying into my prickly-heat-rashed skin.   

bigsurMinus the hood, this Lesia Paramonova printed leggings and bodysuit plus Nike x Sacai skirt could be an elaborate burqini ensemble

What I’m trying to say is that modesty, isn’t a concept purely restricted to a single religion, or sex for that matter.  And it’s not necessarily invoked by the need to subjugate to a male cleric either.  It’s a sunburn prone man feeling like he doesn’t want to end up lobster red, with a long sleeved tee over his swim trunks.  It’s women like my mother, who after her mastectomy, didn’t have the confidence to wear a regular swimsuit and actually investigated the option of buying a burqini (in the end on our Californian trip, she wore a long-sleeved swim top and a DIY swim suit, padded out on one side of the chest).  It’s people like me who can’t shake the feeling that a bikini immediately puts your body centre stage in an appearance-conscious world in a way that I’m personally not comfortable with.  This summer, a banned campaign demanding women to be “beach-ready” is just one example of the flip side to this coin, where women routinely face societal pressures to look a certain way, and the volume of fabric worn somehow determines whether you’re “beach-ready” in the eyes of others.  And it goes without saying that I have much love for the bikini in all its forms worn by others.  To each their own, that’s the question at hand here.  

palmspringsTried and tested vintage Vivienne Westwood swimsuit

That’s perhaps an internalised demon that points to my own body-related insecurities, but to witness the asserted removal of something as innocent as a long sleeved top, is to needlessly eliminate an alternative approach towards beach attire that mentally enables more women to enjoy the beach at their leisure.  It’s the loss of autonomy over what we wear that irks me. 

The counter argument goes that it’s rich to talk of autonomy where Islam women are concerned, given that modesty is foisted and forced upon them.  To that I would say that it is simply impossible to assume that EVERY woman that dons a burqini is wearing one under duress.  If anything, a ban pushes women previously unable to enjoy pools and the beach, back under the shade of a male-dominated umbrella.  By the same logic, you could question the bikini as a symbol of female oppression.   Can we 100% guarantee that every single woman wearing a bikini isn’t under some sort of pressure to do so to gain the material approval of their peers or the opposite sex.  Both are implausible assumptions to immediately deduce on first appearances. 

vantagenewsFrom VantageNews.com

The language employed by French politicians is also disconcerting.  The burkini has the same logic as the burqa: hide women’s bodies in order to control them, “ said Laurence Rossignol, the French minister for women’s rights.  “The burkina is not compatible with the values of the French republic,” says prime minister Manuel Valls.  “We don’t imprison women behind fabric,” says president hopeful Nicolas Sarkozy.  There’s a narrative emerging that to uphold Western, or specifically French notions of freedom is to place the female body on show – forcibly, in the case of the woman who was photographed on the beach removing her top (not a burqini) to prove she was wearing a swimsuit underneath.  That’s a dodgy line pursue once you peer into the wormhole of the murky world of female sexploitation. 

mjmjtop

By the French politicians’ black-and-white assertions, both my mother and I should be freeing our flesh, shaking off those fabric-based shackles.  But of course, down in Nice, Cannes or any number of those towns, no police officer would bother us.  I could well have purchased a burqini for my mum and she’d be free to bathe away, in her lycra-covered limbs.  And I too can wear my Marc by Marc Jacobs long sleeved swim top with a pair of Nike skirted leggings with a floppy sunhat.  Our ethnicity frees us from suspicions.  And so the garment in question is merely a smokescreen for latent Islamaphobia.  It’s not the actual fabric that is the problem, but the visual signals that a headscarf + long-sleeved garments and covered legs on a visibly Muslim person sends out to the casual onlooker.  We can’t prevent extremists from ploughing through promenades with trucks, but we can keep any visible signifiers of Islam out of the public eye, lest they provoke their ire in what is a tension-filled atmosphere.  The Conseil D’Etat has overturned the ban on Friday but Sarkozy and the rightwing like continue to campaign for a nationwide ban and no doubt as France’s presidential campaign picks up pace, it’s an issue that won’t die down just yet.  Funny how it’s fallen upon an innocuous seamed wetsuit – a garment that in itself is fit for purpose across all religions and ethnicities –  to hash out the weight of this political tumult. 

IMG_0179