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Exclusive: Artist Alex Israel On His (California) Dream Collab With Louis Vuitton

The buzzy pop culture-influenced, candy colour-loving multimedia artist Alex Israel has made his hometown of Los Angeles both his muse and subject. Last year, he got to apply his dreamy vision to fragrance packaging when Louis Vuitton introduced cologne perfumes, a triptych of evocative scents inspired by America's golden state. As the brand continues the tie-up with a fourth scent, California Dream, revealed this month, we get the exclusive from Israel on his perennial love affair with LA – and evolving one with perfumes and collaborations.

On the importance of scents   “Scent for me has always been tied to memory and memory is hugely important to how I work from a first-person point of view to narrate the story of my life and times. Scent is also a means towards activating one’s imagination.”   On why he was drawn to this collaboration   “When I was approached by Louis Vuitton to do this, I saw the opportunity as both a challenge and a means to learn something new. I had never worked with fragrances and I’ve grown to appreciate them so much through this project. I was surprised to learn about what goes into making each scent unique. (California Dream, for example, blends fresh, sprightly notes like mandarin with mellower ones like ambrette and benzoin.) Working with Louis Vuitton, of course, also introduced me and my work to a whole new audience.”
On teaming up with a luxury giant   “Louis Vuitton was focused on Southern California as the inspiration for this suite of perfumes. Familiar with my work, Delphine Arnault (the brand’s executive vice- president) found my practice to be aligned with the moods and feelings that the company was hoping to translate through these scents: a highlighting of certain facets of the beauty and humour of LA culture… It was a very natural and easy collaboration because it all sort of made perfect sense once I met the Louis Vuitton team and smelled the fragrances. (Louis Vuitton master perfumer) Jacques Cavallier Belletrud truly put Los Angeles and the California spirit into them.”
On translating a scent into something visual   “The materials for California Dream began with the LA sky at sunset, which was the inspiration for the scent itself. Created by Jacques, it was sent to my studio in its early stages and inspired everything else: the fragrance’s name, the decision to apply a colour gradient to the bottle, the packaging involving my Sky Backdrop imagery (one of Israel’s most famous series depicting the sky through airbrushed gradient colours), the design of in-store displays, the product photography, online content, promotional materials and events. I was involved in all of it. Immediately after smelling the perfume, I worked closely with the team at Louis Vuitton on a regular basis over the course of a year to bring the product to life… I think of it as a translation of my work into the medium of branded fragrance.”
On how Sky Backdrop, his work that’s been adapted for the packaging of California Dream, came to be   “I sourced the colours and cloud patterns for these paintings directly from the sky above my hometown of Los Angeles. Its colours are specific to LA and remind me of home… In a city as sprawling and horizontal as LA – sandwiched between desert and sea – the sky exists as a kind of infinitely expansive canvas. For me, it represents open-ended possibility, optimism and positivity.”
On the similarities between perfume and art   “Jacques likes to say that when you put fragrance on skin, it changes over time. This is really like making art. When I make an artwork, I hope that it sticks in someone’s memory and how this person thinks about it evolves. I believe that both fragrance and art can impact one over time and I like the parallel between these two worlds.”
On how fragrances can inspire creativity   “Every scent can evoke experiences of one’s past, specific places and moments. This uncanny deja vu can certainly open up one’s thinking and refocus one’s creative energy.”
On his personal connection to sunset, the inspiration for the scent   “Sunset Boulevard is my favourite street in LA; I live right above the Sunset Strip. Sunset is also my favourite time of day. It’s when I feel most connected to nature and when, no matter what I’m doing, I always stop and take a deep breath and feel grateful. That deep breath, that expansive field of colour above, and that freedom and excitement that’s associated with life on the West Coast – that’s what this perfume is meant to capture.”
On why a scent that evokes Los Angeles is relevant   “LA represents the American dream, freedom, and the possibility of fantasy and reality coexisting side by side in the exact same time and space. Perfume is fantasy and your body is reality, and as these realms are brought together through this fragrance, Los Angeles is conjured not only in scent but also in spirit. In a way, the fragrance is almost an allegory for fragrance itself and I think that makes it truly unique.”
On why Los Angeles has such a profound influence on his work   “It’s my home, the thing I know best and a place of immense creative output, which emanates outwards to inform and entertain the rest of the world.”   On being an artist based in Los Angeles   “It’s inspiring!”