This story is part of Image Issue 10, “Clarity,” a living document of how LA radiates in its own way. Read the full issue here.
The number of times I left was the same. A ritual that felt necessary. As soon as I see the Downtown Skyline – driving north at 110, or coming down at South 5 – I roll down all the windows of my car, I take deep breaths all day and utter the words: “Smell LA”
Was it really, I was smelling? Smell and sense of place are intertwined. Los Angeles is such an extension of diverse geography, subtle climate, neighborhood, business, culture; The smell of the city comes to different people at different times, in different places, like very different things. A person’s home may have a specific odor; Sometimes, it disappears day by day, but some days – when a person returns a long time later, when a friend walks through the door for the first time – the smell declares itself. There is something different in the air.
It doesn’t just clean the product or the candle; Smell can trigger memories, thoughts, conversations, specific experiences. Today, when I burn Nag Champa incense, tears come to my eyes – not only from the smoke. The fragrance takes me to the garden, to the apartment I shared eight years ago with my best friend, and to the first time I was alone, the first time I was heartbroken, the first time I felt free. It’s hard to tell for sure, but it’s there: the smell of the house.
LA, as a city, has its own version – the smell reminds us of where we are.
If you were to create an existing LA perfume in memory and experience, the top notes would probably include a sour hit of someone’s blunt on a day when the air is hot and thick, like smoke billowing around you. Hug; The smoke of mezcal in the breath when you are in your fourth deep conversation of the night; Standing water body in Echo Park Lake.
After sunset East Hollywood will be jasmine with heart notes walking the peak-season with your dog; Summer fire season; Freshly cut flowers – or, more specifically, getting out of the warehouse party early in the morning, barely looking out in the sun, and walking home through the Flower District. The Adams will have a mix of Suvitel coming out of the 24-hour coin laundromat and consoles from an LA Biria truck parked right in front of it.
Base: Runoff from Philips Bar-B-Q in Cranshama; Cigarette smoke in your friend’s hair as you say goodbye after the rave; Remains of the tacos sent from the Crazy Tacos truck at your fingertips that are sometimes parked on the 9th and main; Late night Korean barbecue; The polarizing smell of Le Labo Santal 33.
Not all LA scents are associated with rose-colored memories that can awaken a messy night in your 20s. The more insidious fragrance of this city – the downtown of the mall; Car exhaust attack on freeway; Rotten, soaked garbage in the sidewalk chair; Dust chucks of various construction sites; The scent that permeated the Dominguez Channel last year, which residents compared to the “stench of death” – serves as a warning to all.
You will not choose to smell the stench of urban decay or environmental racism. And you don’t want to smell like coming from the grill outside Dodger Stadium. But you can choose a perfume that makes you feel related to the story of the place. Maybe you want to apply a fragrance that will enable you to recreate the place you saw fit. Or maybe there’s a sense of worth coming back that you want to wear forever.
Lewis Vuitton’s new fragrance, City of Stars, is the latest attempt to bottle up Los Angeles – its idea and what inspires it. It doesn’t smell like structural failure. Nor does it smell like a romantic night of bad decisions. Grilled onions and peppers with no sign of hot bacon wrapped in bacon on top, no trace of fire from the fireworks. City energy of stars is more ambitious, ideal, clean, but necessary. Fragrances like perfume can also anchor us nowadays. And the City of Stars gives you a moment’s awareness – and, most importantly, a reminder that it’s fleeting.
On the skin – at least on my skin – the city of stars naturally reacts to the body’s chemical production. It develops and manifests the same way day or night in LA: unexpectedly. Fragrance begins as one thing and matures completely until another fragrance. There are many variations to choose from on the palate: blood orange, lemon, red mandarin, bergamot and citrus quince with tier flowers and sandalwood. The fragrance hits you with a sweet and feminine (from citrus and flowers) glow, then over time other layers (musk and sandalwood) appear that are dense, ground and almost spiritual.
The illusion of a life free from the stress of youth, or adult responsibility, is a different matter. It feels festive and optimistic, mainly because there is so much in front of you, so much to experience. In this way, City of Stars captures the romantic lust of hanging out – getting stuck in the parking lot after a date because you don’t want to end it, going backwards because you’re not ready to go back to the real world. Still. Let’s celebrate the night, says the city of stars. Or rather, as its creator, Jack Cavalier Belletrud, the master perfumer of Louis Vuitton, explains, “Let us live together like this forever.”
The City of Stars Box features a lone palm tree opposite the Hollywood Hills. The time of day is probably evening – the sunset is bright, the city lights are shining. The cylindrical bottle has a cork top and mirrors the ombre gradient of the sky: scattered magenta, burnt orange, blue and purple melting into each other. POV is clearly one in motion; The scene looks through your windshield as if you are driving from Mid-City to Hollywood.
The packaging, designed by LA native artist Alex Israel, includes underlined elegance and $ 30 craft cocktails, glitzy art parties and Tiktak’s “Clean Girl Aesthetic” (neutrals, slicked-back buns, minimal jewelry). It’s less Hollywood Boulevard and more Hollywood.
LA is the emotional code for authenticity and goodness, to be sure. Many come here seeking that feeling of infinity, freedom, nostalgia and romance. Lewis Vuitton reminds us: “In a joyous Los Angeles, the city of stars remembers the night of promises, the intense emotion and the soft sensuality of darkness in the first light of morning.” This promise is part of what makes the City of Stars so attractive.
When I got it in my hand, I applied it every day for a week. I applied lotion first, then sprayed perfume on my pulse points and hair. Sometimes I sprayed it in my studio apartment, in my car. I smelled my friends, then sprayed them. I tried to connect the perfume so deeply in my life that I forgot it was there; I only remember its presence when someone praised it, I was smelling different than a month ago.
But did I smell like Los Angeles? On my nose, I noticed the suffocating warmth of the lundromats, the delicious intoxication of the beriria, and the sweet death of the car exhaust – perhaps for the better – but the fact that I smelled perfume everywhere created a strange effect: I started. Connect the city of stars with all these things. The fragrance of LA conquered my own. It smelled like my experience in this city. The City of Stars complemented the scenes of my immediate existence – the sculptural houses I saw every day on my street, the hand-painted signs that I had stopped to photograph, the colorful mood lighting that caught my attention when it came out of the tall windows. Downtown.
And yet it has not made me Feel Like I was living in a different city, which inevitably promises perfume to those who don’t live here. Wearing a city of stars, I felt connected to LA as always. Maybe an LA fragrance becomes an LA fragrance when someone living in LA wears it.
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