Making Scents

With creativity that knows no bounds, Christian Louboutin’s foray into the fragrance world is nothing short of spectacular Writer Stephanie Shiu

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

With creativity that knows no bounds, Christian Louboutin’s foray into the fragrance world is nothing short of spectacular Writer Stephanie Shiu

My Reading Room
My Reading Room

“Look, it’s Christian!” squeals a member of our press group from the red tram, pointing to the king of the red sole, dressed casually, inconspicuous under a panama hat. He could easily be mistaken for tourist, blending into the crowd with an ice lolly in hand. He doesn’t see us, but a surprise glimpse of the legend has just made the tour even more eventful. He’s the reason we’re here after all, 25 journalists flown from all around the globe to glorious Lisbon for his highly anticipated fragrance first.

The iconic tram, protagonist of many a Lisbon postcard, is filled with editors and Christian Louboutin PR reps, all appropriately soled and toting fierce studded handbags. As we traverse the classic route through cobble stone streets, our private trolley stops to let on a beautiful girl in a chiffon green dress, who air kisses the driver before flouncing to the back of the gondola, hopping off minutes later before disappearing into the crowd, her basket and red soles a blur – hang on a minute…

It’s the first of many coincidences. At the charming Casa Do Leao famed for its breathtaking view of the Alfama, and one of Louboutin’s favourite lunch spots, a devastatingly attractive couple quarrel heatedly in front of the restaurant window. It looks like a scene from a black and white film, the woman’s coiffed mane and vampy red lips looking a little too polished. That evening at the Palácio Belmonte cocktail party, a statuesque siren draped in an embellished kaftan makes her way through the crowd, striking enough to turn heads and bring conversation to a complete standstill as she slinks onto the terrace.

We discover the next day that they are actors – each embodying a different kind of woman in Louboutin’s imagination. And the distinct personality of each has been expressed through the collection of fragrances. We arrive at the magnificent Palace of the Marquesses of Fronteira Villa, owned by a close friend of his, and each of them appears again in a sprawling manicured garden, staying in character all the while.

From Left to Right: Bikini Questa Sera, Tornade Blonde and Trouble in Heaven
From Left to Right: Bikini Questa Sera, Tornade Blonde and Trouble in Heaven

“Fragrance is a way to reveal part of you, or it could give you extra confidence”


The intricate plot sheds some insight into Louboutin’s commitment to storytelling, and how no expense has been spared to make this seemingly straightforward product reveal an epic mystery. Bikini Questa Sera is the raven-haired goddess from the party who chases the heat of the sun on her skin; Tornade Blonde the energetic girl who disappeared as quickly as she appeared in a haze of excitement, and Trouble in Heaven the self-assured girlfriend who owns her power and sensuality.

The thought of debuting with just one fragrance debut was simply not an option. “I cannot limit myself to one person, so why should I limit myself to one scent? In the morning you may feel one way, and in the afternoon, another. One person is many people.” In the same way Louboutin creates personas through his shoes, he wants fragrance to be another tool with which women create their own destiny, through man-made beauty, a topic which fascinates him.

“In everything I do, it starts with an attitude. Shoes are not just a pair of shoes. It’s the way we walk. A bag animates the upper body and shoulders. With fragrance it’s a very strong evocation or suggestion.” One of his most memorable anecdotes to bring this to life was while waiting for the elevator in New York. As the doors opened, he caught a whiff of a heady fragrance he was certain belonged to someone overly sexual; he pictured an Asian woman with a thick mane of glossy black hair. When he waited to see whom the aroma belonged to – Margaret Thatcher emerged. “It was shocking and not what I was expecting, so it’s a side of a person you don’t necessarily know.”

An element of surprise often defines Louboutin’s work, with his edgy beauty offerings no exception. The celebrated red sole of his shoes was inspired by watching an assistant painting her nails in his workshop. Transfixed by the bold red shade, he took the polish and began painting the underside of a pair of heels – a spontaneous decision which changed his career forever. “When entering a vast category like beauty with so much to be done in a beautiful way, I started with a small object which has been so important for me – which is the red. I wanted to be legitimate to my own story.”

Louboutinand Thomas Heatherwick collaborate on the fragrance bottles that double as objet d’art
Louboutinand Thomas Heatherwick collaborate on the fragrance bottles that double as objet d’art

Staying true to himself meant tackling the creative process in a unique way. The self-professed fragrance “virgin” felt that he lacked eloquence speaking about a domain in which he was not an expert. To express his wish for the fragrances to linger, rather than finishing abruptly, Louboutin used the analogy of a musical note. The ‘ping’ of a piano key became the point of reference conversing with his group of advisory Noses, which echoes in the same way he wanted the scent to peter off gradually.

First and foremost, Louboutin wanted to create an aroma that was different, and that he loved. When briefing his seasoned team of noses, he reminded them to put egos to the side and focus not on an elaborate product, but simply a fragrance they loved. He told them, “Something you would like for yourself, for your wife or girlfriend. Something you would not just be proud of, but that you would want to have around you.”

In quintessential Louboutin style, the grand unveil of the product was prolonged, to be heighten the suspense and keep the media on their toes for as long as possible. Our first glimpse was not of the bottle, but a piano piece called The Ping penned especially for the launch, composed by Portuguese pianist Rui Caetano to convey how the vibration of the note creates an aura that reverberates as a single scent, rather than changing over time, with an achingly beautiful melody. And this was no ordinary press conference. We were taken to the Mae de Agua Lisbon Aqueduct, meaning ‘Mother of Water’ in Portuguese – a cavernous structure supported by enormous columns, which was chosen to represent water as an essential life force, in the same way the perfume had been designed to encourage constant movement.

Louboutin handpicked the 18th-century water museum, as with each of the venues on the two-day trip, to share his thought process and inspiration for the three fragrances. “There are few places with a beautiful echo – high mountains, churches – which are too religious – this is literally a water tank with a dome. The reflection really provides an impact, but also the crystalline water is like an echo back and forth. I thought it was a nice place to express the kind of language I tried to put into the fragrances.”


This language Louboutin speaks of can be wildly different depending on the end user. He remembers vividly two women, seemingly polar opposites, trying on the same pair of sky-high pumps. The first was svelte, elegant and classic, declaring “Oh my god. These are so sexy, I look like a tart!” gleefully when looking in the mirror. The other, voluptuous and overtly sexy, exclaimed in contrast “I look really chic” at her reflection. He was fascinated by how the same shoes seemed to add an aspect of their personality that called to be amplified.

The idea that a woman wears the same shoes five years later tickles Louboutin, as they have imprinted part of their personality on them. “Beauty has to empower women, it’s really about adding your own identity. You no longer look at the shoes, it’s really the woman who has appropriated herself, and this element belongs to her,” he explains.

With a mission to equip women with the tools to change their destiny, it’s no surprise that he regards confidence as a gateway to poise.

But it’s not the most appealing quality for Louboutin. He says, “Intelligence is the most attractive thing in a woman. I don’t think that a beautiful woman is necessarily intelligent, but perennial beauty is always linked to intelligence, otherwise you get bored. You can be insecure and smart. Vulnerability has a lot of charm too – it’s not black and white.”

For this reason, Louboutin wanted the trio of perfumes to reflect the fluidity of a person. His preferences change according to the light, season and mood, making it paramount these factors were taken into account when creating the scents. “Everyone sees a part of themselves that you may not, or that others do not know. Fragrance is a way to reveal a part of you, or it could give you extra confidence about something you want to keep close to you.” Designing the perfume as a secret for its wearer is testament that Louboutin may know women better than they even know themselves.

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