This story is part of Image Issue 10, “Clarity,” a lively document of how LA radiates its way. Read the full case here.
Every time I went and came back, it was the same. A ritual that felt necessary. As I looked at the downtown skyline—driving north at 110, or coming down to 5 in the south—I would roll out all my car windows, take deep breaths I’ve taken all day, and utter the words: “Smells La”
What, exactly, was I sniffing? The sense of smell and place are intertwined. Los Angeles is such an expanse of diverse geographic regions, microclimates, neighbors, businesses, cultures; The city smells like different things, at different times, in different places, to different people. A person’s home may have a specific odor; Many times, it goes unnoticed from day to day, but some days – when a person returns after a long time, when a friend walks through the door for the first time – the smell announces itself. There is something different about the wind.
It’s not just cleaning products or candles; Smell can trigger memories, thoughts, conversations, specific experiences. Today, when I burn Nag Champa’s incense, my eyes water – and not just the smoke. The scent takes me back to Gardena, the apartment I shared with my best friend eight years ago, and the memory of being on my own for the first time, feeling heartbroken for the first time, feeling free for the first time. It’s hard for me to pinpoint exactly, but there it is: the smell of home.
LA, as a city, has its own version – smells that remind us of where we are.
If you want to create a perfume of L.A. that is present in memory and experience, the top notes will probably include the sour hit of someone’s blunt, when the air is hot and thick, the smoke is left to wrap around you. Is. to hug; Measles smoky on your breath when you’re on your fourth deep conversation of the night; Still water stings at Echo Park Lake.
The heart notes from a peak-season walk with your dog through East Hollywood after sunset will be jasmine; summer fire season; Fresh-cut flowers—or, more specifically, early in the morning while leaving a warehouse party, the sun barely peeks out, and the Flower District walks home. The 24-hour Coin Laundromat at Adams will have a mix of Suvitel wafting and consommé from the LA Berea truck parked right in front of it.
On Base: Runoff from Philips Bar-B-Q at Crenshaw; Cigarette smoke on your friend’s hair when you hug them after saying goodbye; Veggie taco remnants at your fingertips from the Crazy Tacos truck that’s sometimes parked at 9 & Main; late night Korean barbecue; The polarizing stench of Le Labo Santal 33.
Not all L.A. scents are associated with colorful memories of roses, creating a messy night in your 20s. The more insidious smell of this city – the mounds of city sewage; car exhaust attack on the freeway; rotten, wet garbage on the sides of the sidewalk; dusty chalk of various construction sites; The foul-smelling scent that plagued Dominguez Chanel last year, which residents compared to a “smell of death”—all act as alarming warnings.
You wouldn’t like to wear the smell of disrepair or urban collapse or civilization or environmental racism. And you might not want to smell like you stepped out of a grill outside Dodger Stadium. But you can choose to wear a scent that makes you feel like you belong to the story of a place. Maybe you want to wear a scent that empowers you to remake a space as you see fit. Or maybe there’s a return-worthy feeling you’ll want to wear forever.
Louis Vuitton’s new fragrance, City of Stars, is the latest attempt at bottling Los Angeles—the idea of it and what inspires it. It doesn’t smell like structural failures. Nor does it smell like a romantic night of bad decisions. There are no signs of bacon-wrapped hot dogs topped with grilled onions and peppers, no trace of the air lit by fireworks. The City of Stars energy is more aspirational, idealized, clean, but necessary nonetheless. A manufactured scent like perfume can also connect us to the present. And the City of Stars makes you aware of a moment—and, most important, serves as a reminder that it is fleeting.
On the skin – at least on my skin – the City of Stars naturally reacts to the body’s production of the chemical. It develops and manifests just as it should in a day or night in LA: unexpectedly. The scent starts out as one thing and then matures until it’s another smell entirely. There are many variations on the palate to choose from: blood orange, lemon, red mandarin, bergamot and lime with a citrus quintet of Tierre flower and sandalwood. The fragrance infuses you with a heady glow that is sweet and feminine (from citrus and floral), then over time other layers (musk and sandalwood) reveal that are dense, grounded and almost spiritual.
Puberty, or the illusion of a life free from the burden of adult responsibility, has a different punch. It feels celebratory and hopeful, mainly because you have so much in front of you, so much more to experience. In this way, City of Stars captures the romantic lust of hanging out – staying in the parking lot after a date because you don’t want it to end, heading to the aftermath because you’re not ready to step back into the real world. are yet. Let’s celebrate the night, says the city of stars. Or rather, as its creator, Louis Vuitton master perfumer Jacques Cavalier Belletrude explains, “Let’s be together forever.”
The City of Stars box features an image of a lone palm tree set against the Hollywood Hills. The time of day is probably dusk – the sunset burning bright, the city lights twinkling. The cylindrical bottle has a cork top and reflects the sky’s ombre gradient: sprawling magenta, burnt orange, blue and purple melt into one another. The POV is clearly one of being in motion; The view is through your windshield as if you were driving from Mid-City to Hollywood.
The packaging, designed by LA native artist Alex Israel, exudes elegance and understated $30 craft cocktails, dazzling art parties, and TikTok’s “Clean Girl Aesthetic” (neutrals, slicked-back buns, minimal jewelry). This Hollywood Boulevard is less and more Hollywood,
LA is the emotional code for authenticity and calm, to be sure. Many people come here in search of that feeling, along with a sense of limitlessness, freedom, nostalgia and romance. Louis Vuitton reminds us: “In Los Angeles, the City of Stars encapsulates a night of promises, fervent emotions and the tender sensuality of darkness sparkling at the first light of dawn.” This promise is part of what makes City of Stars so attractive.
When I got my hands on it, I wore it every day for weeks. I applied lotion first, then sprayed perfume on my pulse points and hair. Sometimes I spray it in my studio apartment, in my car. I let my friends smear it on me, then spray it on them. I attempted to integrate perfume so deeply into my life that I forgot it was there; I was only reminded of its appearance when someone admired it, noting that I smelled different than I had a month ago.
But did I smell like Los Angeles? As for my nose, I used the suffocating heat of the laundromat, the savory intoxication of birria and the sweet death of a car exhaust—perhaps for the better—but the fact that I wore perfume everywhere created a strange impression: I began Add all these things to the City of Stars. The scent of L.A. overpowered me. I smelled like my own experience in this city. City of Stars complemented the visuals of my immediate existence – the Craftsman homes I saw every day on my street, the hand-painted signs I stopped to take pictures, the colorful mood lighting that caught my attention as it Downtown was pouring out of high-rise windows.
And yet it didn’t make me feel Like I was living in a different city, which is essentially what perfume promises to people who don’t live here. Wearing City of Stars, I felt as connected to LA as ever. Maybe the LA fragrance will become the LA fragrance when someone who lives in LA wears it.
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