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Alex Israel’s surfboard for Louis Vuitton, courtesy of Louis Vuitton.
Jacques Cavallier Belletrud, portrait courtesy of Louis Vuitton.
City of Stars, courtesy of Louis Vuitton.
The launch event for City of Stars in Los Angeles, photo courtesy of Louis Vuitton.
Courtesy of Louis Vuitton.
Whitewall's Summer 2022 Impact Issue cover featuring Alex Israel's bespoke artwork for Les Parfums Louis Vuitton.
Alex Israel, portrait courtesy of Louis Vuitton.
Alex Israel bespoke artwork for Les Parfums Louis Vuitton.
Alex Israel, portrait courtesy of Louis Vuitton.
Lifestyle

Alex Israel Captures the City of Stars in a Bottle with Louis Vuitton

By Katy Donoghue

July 7, 2022

This spring in Los Angeles, Louis Vuitton debuted its newest fragrance, City of Stars. The brightly scented perfume, created by Master Perfumer Jacques Cavallier Belletrud in collaboration with the artist Alex Israel, was unveiled atop the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures to a group of select guests.

As the sun set over the Los Angeles skyline, Cavallier Belletrud shared details behind the making of City of Stars, a process he described as a quest for freshness. With raw materials sourced from Italy, Mexico, and beyond, it is composed of a blend of five citruses (including lime—a first for Louis Vuitton), tiare, and sandalwood.

Open Gallery

The launch event for City of Stars in Los Angeles, photo courtesy of Louis Vuitton.

Los Angeles holds an important place for Cavallier Belletrud, who is drawn to its energy, positivity, and similarities to the South of France, where he resides. “There is something special that is a mix of connecting with nature, connecting with people, and of course, there is the sun,” he told Whitewall. In thinking of the city at night, he called to mind the memory of that moment when you return from a day at the beach, the smell of sea and sunscreen still on the skin as you get ready for a dinner that evening. “What I do is I capture an atmosphere, and I put it in the bottle. The magic and the poetry of a place you can describe in a book, in a poem, and you can describe in a perfume, too. It’s a matter of feelings,” he told us.

Israel agrees, saying in L.A. at the debut of City of Stars, “I think that the greatest thing a luxury product can do is create an illusion of time slowing down . . . and I think happens when you smell these fragrances. It really takes you out of this moment and into some other space where you can think and reflect.”

City of Stars marks the fourth year of Louis Vuitton partnering with the Los Angeles–based artist Israel, joining fragrances like On the Beach and California Dream. In discussions with Cavallier Belletrud, the pair arrived at the inspiration of the star-filled city at night. Israel shared that for him as an artist, a fragrance is so much more than a scent—it’s about the atmosphere, the name, the packaging, the total experience. He sees fragrance as an accessory to performance, and the city of Los Angeles as the ultimate embodiment of performance. With that in mind, he created a gradient bottle design of orange, pink, and purple, as well as packaging and a special carrying case complete with an original artwork depicting palm trees silhouetting the city at dusk.

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Whitewall's Summer 2022 Impact Issue cover featuring Alex Israel's bespoke artwork for Les Parfums Louis Vuitton.

The work of Israel, a native to the city, is intrinsically linked to Los Angeles. His studio is on the Warner Brothers Studio backlot, where he makes paintings with the artists who professionally paint movie backdrops. His signature profile self-portrait is inspired by Hitchcock’s, and he has collaborated with the quintessential L.A. writer Brett Easton Ellis. He has interviewed celebrities for his Access Cable–esque talk show

“As It Lays” and appreciates the art and excess of fame, even in genres like reality TV (as we imagine, Andy Warhol would, too). With City of Stars, he celebrates the real stars of Los Angeles—not those in the sky at night but those populating its streets, studios, and Hollywood Hills. They are the stars with the brightest twinkle, full of dreams, some realized and some yet to be achieved.

Whitewall spoke with Israel about capturing Hollywood’s stardust in a bottle.

WHITEWALL: How would you describe City of Stars?

ALEX ISRAEL: A magical night out on the town in Los Angeles, but in a bottle.

WW: What is it like collaborating with Master Perfumer Jacques Cavallier Belletrud?

AI: Jacques is an alchemical poet in a league of his own; working with him is very educational and super inspiring. And he has a great sense of humor.

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Jacques Cavallier Belletrud, portrait courtesy of Louis Vuitton.

WW: You’ve described L.A. as a city of skins, and said you’re devoted to the history and meaning of where you’re from. What is it like then to work together on something made for the skin?

AI: It makes a lot of sense. L.A. is a city of skins and surfaces, and also a city defined by performance—the performances of its stars, the daily performances of the many people who move here to reinvent themselves, and even the performance of the city itself: a backdrop that has become a character in the collective subconscious. Fragrance is an accessory to skin, but it is also an accessory to performance.

WW: You are no stranger to collaboration when it comes to your multidisciplinary practice. As an artist, how does collaboration inform your practice?

AI: Collaboration is a way for me to keep learning new things— something that’s always been important to me and that makes me happy. It’s also a way of reaching new audiences, which is equally important to me. I’ve never felt comfortable making things solely for the art context. I’m particularly interested in reaching younger and teenage audiences, and the collaborations have helped me to both think and work outside the white cube, and ultimately to achieve that goal.

WW: You wrote in a wonderful essay for Garage Magazine that we are the brands, the products, the Campbell’s Soups, and Marilyn Monroes of today. As a brand yourself, what makes another brand compelling for you?

AI: Branding is like storytelling, and brands are like stories or movies unfolding across longer stretches of time. When we self-brand, we turn our lives into Instagram stories and TikTok movies. Some brands remind us of sweeping studio epics, others are like independent festival darlings, and then there’s everything in between. And I guess some stories are just more entertaining than others.

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City of Stars, courtesy of Louis Vuitton.

WW: You’ve said that making things that are in-between or art-adjacent can be incredibly freeing and inspiring. How so? How does that experience bleed back to the studio?

AI: Not everything needs to be art. It seems like such an obvious statement, but we’ve inherited a world in which anything can be art, and many artists have tended to overuse the label. A dinner party, a nightclub, and even a charity venture can be deemed “Art,” and sometimes the trend

can feel unnecessary and exhausting. When I first made my sunglasses, even if this all happened right alongside my art practice, I was clear in my intention that they would just be sunglasses. Bucking a trend is always a bit freeing, don’t you think?

WW: City of Stars, more so than earlier fragrances, refers to Hollywood. And you’ve said that you hope the stardust of Hollywood, “that magical, metaphysical ingredient that incites our basic human desire to suspend disbelief,” might rub off on your art. Do you think it has?

AI: Stardust is invisible and immeasurable, but yes, I do have a feeling that it’s there. I make my art within the Hollywood system, literally—all of my paintings are made on the Warner Brothers Studio backlot. There’s a lot of stardust floating around on that lot, and certainly some of it, some residue, ends up in and around my work . . . at least I hope it does.

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Alex Israel bespoke artwork for Les Parfums Louis Vuitton.

WW: You’ve written about stars, and engaged with them in projects like “As It Lays.” While you challenge the binary structures of the art world, what do you think about the role of art stars? Do they have that same magic?

AI: The art star system is so much smaller in scale than the Hollywood star system. While not impossible, it’s extremely rare for an artist to reach the celebrity status of a movie star. That said, magic is unpredictable and I’d highly recommend that you take it wherever you find it!

WW: Your work is so embedded in the culture of Hollywood and film. Having made a feature-length film, has that changed the way you think about the industry? Do you have a desire to make another film?

AI: Directing a movie is a lot harder than I could ever have predicted. You have to manage so many elements and collaborate with so many creative people while staying on course to achieve your vision, and it’s totally exhilarating but also an enormous challenge. I definitely want to do it again.

WW: What keeps you entranced with Los Angeles, your city of stars?

AI: The weather never gets old, and the city’s so big that there’s always something new to discover. And maybe, more importantly, there’s this pursuit of fame and fortune and influence that never seems to end here. The dreamers keep hopping off the planes at LAX in their cardigans, and for some of them, the dreams actually come true. And so long as the dream is alive and well in Los Angeles, I’m sticking around to watch.

Open Gallery

Courtesy of Louis Vuitton.

Open Gallery

Alex Israel’s surfboard for Louis Vuitton, courtesy of Louis Vuitton.
Alex IsraelJacques Cavallier BelletrudLouis VuittonSummer 2022 Impact Issue

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