Photo: Kristian Schuller

Yes, I’m waiting for Léa Seydoux in a bathroom. To be fair, it is a lush one, with a large claw-foot tub, a vase of billowy pink roses, and a low table flanked by two velvet-covered armchairs. More the type of place where women go to share confidences than to get up to no good, which is just as well, since it’s the only place on the set of our Paris photo shoot quiet enough to do an interview. We’re here to discuss her role as the face of Louis Vuitton‘s new fragrance collection, and Seydoux, until moments ago smoldering and fleshy as the star of the shoot, has returned to off-duty in an oversize black-and-white houndstooth sweater and a pair of slim khakis, her hair pulled back in a half ponytail, the makeup all washed away. As much as Seydoux can be an avatar of contemporary red-carpet chic, when she’s in civilian mode, blink and you might not recognize France’s next great hope for a film star with global impact. “Sometimes I look at myself and think, God, I’m such a boyish girl,” the actress says. “But then I can be really, really a woman. The fact of being an actress has revealed my own femininity to me. I love to tell stories of femininity through myself, and I feel I’ve incarnated so many forms of it in my work. Every role is a redefinition of femininity.”

Her latest project, somewhat different from her day job, is fronting one of the most hotly anticipated fragrance launches in recent memory, for Louis Vuitton. “It’s a house I feel good with, it being French, and me being French,” says Seydoux. “I love that they do events all over the world. It’s not just fashion.” Her role in the parent company, LVMH, is growing too. In June, together with Marc Jacobs, Karl Lagerfeld, Phoebe Philo, Nicolas Ghesquière, and Riccardo Tisci, she presented the $331,000 LVMH Prize to designer Grace Wales Bonner.

Louis Vuitton clothing and accessories. Photo: Kristian Schuller

Now, try to think of a fashion house, or any recognizable person or brand these days, that doesn’t have its own perfume. The opportunity to get under people’s skin by getting on it, and to capture some of the industry’s estimated $30 billion–a–year revenue stream, has created a bumper crop of scents. Which is why people who pay attention to such things have been wondering for years what Louis Vuitton was waiting for.

The house, founded in 1854 as a packer of women’s fashions and then a trunk-maker for sophisticated travelers, had dipped its toe into the sandbox before. In the 1920s, Vuitton’s free-spending and increasingly mobile clientele requested something to fill the crystal flacons Vuitton had already been crafting for the intricate nécessaire de voyage train cases they took on their transatlantic trips. And so fragrances like Je, Tu, Il (“I, You, He”) and Eau de Voyage were born. The endeavor ended in the late ’40s, and it would be more than 60 years before Vuitton got back in the game, discreetly. The first rumbling was in 2012, when the company hired Jacques Cavallier-Belletrud, the man behind such category killers as L’Eau d’Issey and Jean Paul Gaultier Classique, to come in-house full-time. His arrival was followed by dead silence—until now when, under Beyoncé-level security conditions, the house finally launches not one but seven scents, with Seydoux out in front. “It takes time to make perfume,” says Delphine Arnault, Vuitton’s executive vice president since 2013, who assumed her position after the project’s development kicked off. According to Arnault, there was no rush: “The luxury is to be able to take that time and do it right.”

For me, the rose is the symbol of femininity. It embodies mystery and sensuality,”says Seydoux of Vuitton’s Rose Des Vents scent.

Vuitton has done it right. Les Parfums Louis Vuitton are serious, more resembling niche perfumery, like Chanel’s Les Exclusifs or the Hermessence of Hermès, than the flashier, more accessibly priced fashion fragrances that fill department stores; their high quality is apparent from the first spritz to the long dry-down. Marc Newson designed the bottle—a minimalist, heavy glass version of an apothecary flacon, whose LV-emblazoned metal cap snaps shut with a satisfying magnetic clack. Of more than 80 possibilities, seven scents made the cut, because “seven is one of my lucky numbers, and it made more sense than 10,” says Cavallier-Belletrud, a native of Grasse, the historic capital of perfume on the Côte d’Azur, who is “superstitious, like everyone from the South,” he says with a laugh. ä In hiring him, and building him a state-of-the-art laboratory-temple out of a renovated Grasse mansion that had been the seat of a perfume house established in 1640, Vuitton is in step with what other luxury maisons like Hermès, Chanel, and Dior have already done, endowing its fragrances with the same creative authority and sense of authorship its fashion has had under Marc Jacobs, Kim Jones, and Nicolas Ghesquière.

Louis Vuitton clothing and accessories. Photo: Kristian Schuller

With Cavallier-Belletrud’s magnificent seven, Vuitton has at once established a house style that’s unabashedly feminine. “All my work is a tribute to flowers,” says Cavallier-Belletrud. These scents are particularly indulgent ones, rendered into curious blends with abstract names like Mille Feux (“A Thousand Lights”) and Contre Moi (“Close To Me”), meant to evoke emotional narratives more than ingredients. The anchor scent for the collection is Rose Des Vents, or “Rose of the Winds,” a sparkling floral that develops a delicate spice over time. It’s also Seydoux’s favorite. “I love the strong, dominant rose,” she says. “For me, the rose is the symbol of femininity. It embodies mystery and sensuality.” Among the three rose species is the complex May rose, special to Grasse. Perfumers normally extract the essential oils with alcohol, but Cavallier-Belletrud used a method he pioneered while employed at the Swiss perfume powerhouse Firmenich, a carbon dioxide extraction previously used to decaffeinate coffee. “Now we get all the delicacy, like we’re smelling the flower itself,” he says without exaggeration.

On choosing Seydoux as the face of Les Parfums Louis Vuitton, Delphine Arnault, Vuitton’s executive vice president, describes her as “one of the most talented actresses of her generation.”

Grasse jasmine, another signature bloom of the region, benefits from the same treatment in Apogée, a delicate floral, and again in Turbulences, heady with a rich dose of tuberose but brought down to earth by musk. “Contrast” is a word Cavallier-Belletrud uses a lot, and it is best on display in Matière Noire, or “Black Matter,” a chimeric puzzle that combines agarwood and patchouli with transparent cyclamen. It’s almost masculine to begin with but changes completely after a few hours on the skin, mellowing into a sunny, velvety glow, without being “bizarre, which doesn’t work in perfumery,” he says. Mille Feux is the occasion for another innovation, Cavallier-Belletrud’s leather accord, the first time the popular note, usually a compound of woods and musk that mimics tanned animal skin, has been made from the real thing. He had scraps of Vuitton’s handbag and trim leather shipped to Grasse from the house’s atelier in Asnières, then macerated them in alcohol, checking every few hours until the right smoky note was created. (The infusion appears once more in the leathery floral Dans La Peau.)

In an era of gender-neutral and unisex scents, it’s worth repeating how richly feminine these perfumes all are. This direction was a no-brainer for Cavallier-Belletrud. “Women are the ones who choose; they’re the ones who decide in life,” he says, noting that his wife road-tests all his work. For this launch, “it was impossible for me to do something other than a women’s fragrance.” With time he will surely cook something up for men—interestingly, Vuitton has just re-trademarked Je, Tu, Il, although no one will give any further details. Still, for Cavallier-Belletrud, “this is a feminine house.”

Louis Vuitton clothing and accessories. Photo: Kristian Schuller

And, of course, Léa Seydoux’s presence settles any question. Seydoux is a rare combination of pure carnality and sparkly braininess. Just a few days before, she made the rounds at Cannes, promoting Xavier Dolan’s It’s Only the End of the World, which went on to win the Grand Prix. The festival has been kind to her: In 2013, along with costar Adèle Exarchopoulos, Seydoux shared its highest honor, the Palme d’Or, with the director of Blue Is the Warmest Color, a gut-wrenching indie about a lesbian relationship—a first in Cannes’s history. (Nothing to be ashamed of if it’s easier to place Seydoux opposite Daniel Craig in his most recent, and last, Bond movie, Spectre.) Arnault calls her “one of the most talented actresses of her generation, daring in her choice of material.”

Seydoux is at once French to her core and intrepidly cosmopolitan—much like Louis Vuitton. “I chose my job for the adventure of it,” she says, “maybe even just so I could travel.” At the moment, though, Seydoux has “more time for myself, nothing in particular but a normal life. Here in Paris I hang with my friends, go to restaurants. It’s nice to be home.” Losing herself in a role is the best kind of journey for her. “It’s a journey both interior and exterior. You don’t have to go far to be on a trip.” In her latest role, she has seven muses. Let’s see where they all go from here.

Les Parfums Louis Vuitton: Rose Des Vents, Turbulences, Dans La Peau, Apogée, Contre Moi, Matière Noire, and Mille Feux, $240 each,

See a behind-the-scenes look at the photoshoot below:

This article originally appeared in the October 2016 issue of Harper’s BAZAAR Singapore.