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What Does L.A. Smell Like? Alex Israel and Louis Vuitton Bottle It Up

Celia Ellenberg
Les Parfums Louis Vuitton explores the freshness of eau de cologne against the backdrop of Alex Israel’s Los Angeles.

Inside Alex Israel’s Mid-City studio in Los Angeles—a former furniture warehouse that houses the original American Idol sign, which the pop artist rescued from Hollywood- backlot obsolescence—whitewashed walls showcase new work. But rather than discuss his recognizable Self-Portraits series, acrylic and bondo representations of his facial features (an aquiline nose, short sideburns), or Freeway sunglasses, the art project–turned–eyewear brand that Israel launched in 2010, the 36-year-old is focused on another recent undertaking. He is displaying a small, Louis Vuitton–monogrammed flaconnier, emblazoned on both sides with screen prints of his pieces. “And then you open it . . .” he says, presenting the three colorful perfume bottles inside.

The storied brand’s leather accessories have been reimagined by Yayoi Kusama, Jeff Koons, and the late Stephen Sprouse. But collaborating with someone like Israel is a first for the French house’s revived fragrance arm, which relaunched in 2016 and counts a total of fifteen different distillations, all created by master in-house perfumer Jacques Cavallier Belletrud. Now Cavallier Belletrud is introducing Les Colognes Louis Vuitton, a trio of riffs on classic citrus scents that are inspired by California—the sun-drenched, celebrity-splashed iconography of Los Angeles, more specifically, which has long informed Israel’s multimedia practice as well.

So, what does L.A. smell like?

“The Santa Ana wind—warm air and salt air and dust, and orange . . . like home,” explains Israel, a native Angeleno who is admittedly new to this whole perfume thing. But he does understand its power. “Fragrance is really similar to making art. Hopefully it sticks in someone’s memory, and the way they think about it, and the way it makes them think about everything else, evolves as a result.” That sentiment is certainly true of Cactus Garden, Cavallier Belletrud’s unique spin on cologne’s bergamot note, which has been rendered anew with a surprising hint of earthy yerba mate and a box featuring Israel’s 2015 Desperado, a sculpture of a convertible in the shadow of a saguaro. Sun Song, a musk-infused citron, is packaged with a scaled-down version of his yellow plexiglass piece Lens, while Afternoon Swim, an aquatic-tinged Sicilian orange eau, proved the perfect match for one of Israel’s newer Wave illustrations.

“The colors came out perfectly,” he says, touting Louis Vuitton as a “high-fashion dream factory.” As for the Hollywood dream factory, Israel offers just the right amount of its starry-eyed aspiration. When approached by two fans in search of a selfie, he obliges, unflinchingly reaching into the pocket of his Vuitton blazer. “Just let me put on my sunglasses first.”

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