Lifetime Achievement Perfumer: Jacques Cavallier-Belletrud

Jacques Cavallier-Belletrud was born in Grasse into something of a fragrance dynasty—his father and grandfather were master perfumers, and his mother worked for legendary master perfumer Edmond Roudnitska—but it was not a given that he would become a scent creator himself. “When, at eight years old, I told my father that I wanted to be a perfumer, he told me that I would have to be prepared to work very hard, and that I would need to have true passion in order to succeed,” he says. Every night, his father would arrange blotters scented with raw materials on his desk, and each morning young Cavallier-Belletrud would sniff them and take notes. “It was like a game,” he says, “but it helped me, step by step, learn the language of perfume.” 

When Cavallier-Belletrud heard that he had been awarded TFF Lifetime Achievement Perfumer, he says, his first thought was how thrilled his parents would be. “My mother passed away a few months ago, and so I could not help but feel nostalgia. I owe everything I am to my parents, especially in terms of being free as a creator. As the small guy I was when I started in this business and the small guy I am today, I would never have dreamed of such an honor. And now, having my daughter—who is also a perfumer—with me, I feel very proud to show her that everything is possible in life.” 

Over the course of his storied career, Cavallier-Belletrud has created acclaimed fragrances for the likes of Christian Dior, Givenchy, Issey Miyake, Yves Saint Laurent, Giorgio Armani, and Lancôme. Now with LVMH, he has been the in-house perfumer for Louis Vuitton since 2012 and has been for almost thirty years the creator behind many of Bvlgari’s most beloved fragrances, from the iconic Pour Homme in 1995 to the BVLGARI LE GEMME and the BVLGARI ALLEGRA collection. When we speak, Cavallier-Belletrud is in what he calls his “smelling room” at Les Fontaines Parfumées in Grasse. With blotters scattered across his desk and gentle light streaming through the windows, he reflects upon his career, his legacy, and a few of his favorite things. 

What is it like for you to work with your daughter, Camille, as a perfumer? 

She is the first woman in the family to become a perfumer in 500 years, so… no pressure! When she was about 12 years old, she came to my mother and said, ‘I want to do what papa is doing.’ We discussed it and I said, we can start the same way I started with my father: smelling raw materials, so that you can understand that perfumery is more than just ingredients, it is also emotions. My job was to teach her how to memorize raw materials and how to approach projects, but also to help her express her creative personality as a woman. This job is a lot of work, a lot of commitment, and you need a lot of love for others and for the brands you are working with. You will sometimes be surrounded by doubts, but you will always return to enthusiasm and positivity. When I am depressed, I smell jasmine from Grasse or bergamot from Italy, and I recover my joy. 

You are known for your trailblazing use of the ingredient Calone. When you first used it, did you suspect it would make such a splash in the perfume world? 

My story with Calone goes very far back. When I was young, working with my father, I went to get an ingredient out of the fridge and the door was stuck. I pulled very dynamically and some of the bottles fell down and spilled. Immediately this scent of freshness came to me that was really incredible. I looked at the bottle, and it said Calone—which was a material I did not know. The next day, the floor still smelled amazingly fresh. When my father came into the lab he said, ‘Who is the idiot who used such a powerful ingredient?’ That was around 1979. Over the years, I forgot this material, until I began working on L’Eau de Issey in the early 1990s. The brief was: If water had a smell, what would it be? Immediately I remembered this scent, Calone, in the laboratory. I started the project with Calone, surrounded it with flowers and woods, and three weeks later it was done. 

Frankly, I did not expect such success. And it’s good because if you are trying to create trend, it will never happen. But I did know that something was happening, because before the launch my wife wore the fragrance out to dinner in Paris, and a couple who had been staring at us approached and said, ‘Can you tell us the name of your perfume? Because since you arrived there has been a scent in the room that is fantastic, and like nothing else we have ever smelled.” 

What do you think defines a truly great perfume? 

It’s like people: Character makes you unforgettable. All the great successes have unique personalities. You recognize them everywhere. Perfume is not a commodity. It is more than an accessory. It translates a very secret part of your personality, connecting with your childhood, with your inner self, with who you are. That is why it must have personality itself to be great. 

 What do you like to do when you are not working? 

I love to be at home, because I have a huge garden and I love to connect to nature. But I also love to travel, and I love to visit cities and see what artists are doing. I love to have a good meal with friends. I enjoy beauty and I celebrate the beauty of life. It is important to remember what a miracle it is. 

I also love to shop, which is perhaps unusual for a man. I can spend a whole day shopping. I do it frequently. I enjoy going to new stores and seeing different concepts. I like the classic things and the very disruptive things. For me it’s really a pleasure just to look and to try products. It’s all about discovery. 

What would your perfect day involve? 

I have many perfect days here in Grasse. I wake at quarter to five the morning. The perfect day is in spring or in summer, having coffee in my garden, looking at the Bay of Cannes and waiting for the sunrise. I love all the scents of the garden, in every season. Today it’s raining and yesterday it was warm, so there is a scent in the air of earthy notes, but also roots, leaves, and the orange flowers that are blooming. I believe the best perfumer in the world is the wind, because it carries these fantastic scents—and it is always different. 

Then I take care of my dogs—I have three—spend time with my wife, and go to the office. To get there I drive a special road where you have all the views of the French Riviera, with mountains and blue sky. It is the perfect environment for inspiration. At the office we start with a half day of smelling the work we have done the day before, then have a big lunch in the garden if the weather is good. In the afternoon there is more smelling, more work, more meetings and calls. On a perfect day I have a lot of energy and a lot of ideas and I love this because ideas bring more ideas. What I really love is to create. I wake in the morning and look at the sea and dream of many things and tell myself that whatever I do, I will start with a hope of making something good. 

More in 2024 Honorees