This summer, KENZO presents the new version of its iconic fragrance FLOWER BY KENZO L’Absolue. For this occasion, the House has chosen a committed ambassador: Masami Charlotte Lavault.
“Flowers are the luxury of nature”
In 2013, after working for more than ten years as an industrial designer in London, this French-Japanese woman decided to leave everything behind to return to Paris and set up the first flower farm in the heart of the capital.
Her leitmotiv: to grow flowers in a sustainable way and to transmit her passion to as many people as possible.
Far from imagining the success she would achieve with her project, Masami Charlotte Lavault is now the ambassador of the new fragrance FLOWER BY KENZO L’Absolue, designed by Alberti Morillas. About to open her second farm and her “School Flower” with the help of the House of KENZO, she is also the face of the new Kenzo image “for a more beautiful world”.
Meeting with a passionate woman, at the crossroads of luxury and environmental preservation
To begin with, could you tell us about your background and the birth of your project for a flower farm in the heart of Paris?
My name is Masami Charlotte Lavault, my name is half French, half Chinese.
10 years ago, I was an industrial designer for cars, glasses, and other objects that surround us. What we were doing was fast-design – we had to work very fast, very badly, and there was no consideration at all for ecology, which made me very sad.
Very often, when we ask questions about reconversion, people have a very gentle and happy vision of this change of direction, but in my case, we are mostly in a rather negative situation. So all of a sudden, I decided to stop.
Within three weeks I resigned from all my jobs – I was freelancing so it wasn’t really a problem – and decided to go and work on farms. This turnaround happened in 2013, I went to work on farms in Morocco, England and Japan. It took me about a year and a half.
Then I came back to Paris, my hometown, thinking very naively that I was going to succeed in setting up my own farm there. It was quite positive to be super naive because if I had been more aware of the difficulties, I don’t know if I would have stuck with it. was a long journey: three years before I found my first place and then five years ago I finally found my final place: the farm in Belleville.
For me farming is creation in a way because from dispersed ingredients, we got something that wasn’t there before. It is from the earth, a seed, the sun, water and human energy that plants emerge that were not there before
At the beginning, for me, design was that : for a ceramic object for example – from soil, water, human energy and fire – we got a plate or a cup.
The difference in farming as I practice it today is that the importance is to preserve resources and this was not a central concern in design as I practiced it then. To me, farming seemed very logical as being the best of design with all the disadvantages that computer life imposes – sitting in offices all the time, locked in studios.
These days I always live outside – there are other disadvantages but it is quite invigorating and I left behind/free myself from this life where you’re always inside.
Why did you choose to stay in Paris ?
I don’t really have a connection with rural France. . I’ve always lived in Paris, I didn’t know many people in France after almost 10 years away and the only French people I’d kept in touch with were in Paris. So I said to myself, “Go back home” and home is Paris!
Having worked on farms, I immediately perceived – and it’s not hard to see – the huge economic and mental burden of being a farmer and especially of having your own farm. So I said to myself, “Don’t go and isolate yourself in a place where you don’t know anyone. Setting up in a rural area would have added a social constraint but would have relieved me of the difficulties of farming in an urban area.
Franco japanese, you seem to embody the KENZO image and heritage to perfection, could you tell us about your vision for the brand?
If fact, this is quite cute. When we were teenagers, my sister Akira was wearing the perfume that I embody the image today. This is a quite old olfactory memory for me.
Kenzo Takada arrived in France 15 or 20 years before my mother, but for me he represented the world of Japanese people who lived in Paris in the 1980s. He evoked my mother, all her artist and musician friends. KIt was a rather particular universe that has changed a lot today because there are many more Japanese people living here, in a completely different way.
At the time, the communities were quite marked and much less mixed. People like us, the “half and half”, there weren’t that many, it was really a very small community that I found in what Kenzo Takada was.
You seem to have been surprised to be approached by KENZO to represent this new fragrance. Yet this meeting seemed to be an obvious choice… Could you tell us more about this collaboration?
For me, it was completely unimaginable. At first I was very surprised, I hesitated a lot because I thought that luxury was not my world at all and my conception of the world of luxury was rather the opposite of what I experienced in my farming. That’s what’s interesting.
What appealed to me, more because it moved me, was that when we were growing up in France, the Flower by KENZO ad was the only campaign I saw where there was an Asian woman who was portrayed and who was not a cook for a Chinese restaurant or a rice picker in rice fields. I remember it very well. Just for the representation, I thought it was great that it made afull circleand that I was the one who, 20 years later, embodied that image. Today, we still need to see more diverse images of what beauty is, what is worth looking at, what is considered beautiful.
I thought it was a great proposal coming from a brand like that because we see that in the smaller brands but when the big brands do that, I think it has a very strong impact. That’s what I like about KENZO: it’s a small company within the big LVMH group but it’s a company that really wants to change the idea of luxury.
What I also like about this collaboration is that it’s not just about the image. Beyond being a communication campaign, it is also a real commitment that they have sealed with me. Indeed, they are going to help me develop the farm project and their ecological commitment was for me the sine qua none condition of any common work.
There is therefore a collusion of image but also a collusion of values.
On their own, they asked me what would allow my farm or my agricultural work to progress and evolve thanks to them. And this is really long-term because a farm cannot be built in three days. So we started a partnership around the new farm that I am setting up in the suburbs of Rambouillet, in Sonchamp. It will be a flower farm called “Des fleurs de Sonchamp”, like what I have in Paris except that it will be 5 hectares – 50 times bigger. This farm will be a flower production farm and there will also be an educational component, so it will also be a farm-school that KENZO calls “The Flower School”. It will be a place where you learn to grow flowers responsibly. It took me 10 years to learn how to do this job and I’m happy that we’ll be able to pass it on to others quickly.
How can we succeed in making consumers aware of “a more beautiful world”, without adopting a punitive discourse or, on the contrary, being only a marketing image?
Without wishing to preach, I find that flowers are a great medium for this. Flowers are quite luxurious in themselves, they are the luxury of nature. The beauty of flowers also lies in the fact that they are free: they are a gift.
There’s a very nice sentence that says that “flowers are the smile of plants” and that’s it: flowers are a smile of nature that tells us “look how pretty it is”. Flowers have many biological functions and remind us to look at life as it goes by.
In my opinion, raising people’s awareness of ecology is done through seduction rather than through punishment and reproach. I think it’s great to be able to invite people, to take them by the hand and say “come and look at some flowers”. And it works! A lot of women write to me saying “I read an article about you and it makes me want to quit my job!
When I started, I was 1000 leagues away from thinking that it would work. And now we’ve reached a point where we have to open a school to welcome people who show interest in the project.
The poppy, which has been present at KENZO since 2000, has become a real emblem for the House. Do you have a special connection with this flower?
First of all, what I like about the poppy is the fact that it is a wasteland flower – often urban wasteland. Biologically speaking, it’s a flower that arrives when the soil has been disturbed, depleted or turned over. It is content with very dry soil, where other plants would not be able to establish themselves at all. Poppies therefore have a very impressive form of botanical courage.
They are very resilient plants, so from a purely anthropomorphic point of view, when we model our emotions on poppies, it’s quite beautiful.
Secondly, what I love is that poppies are one of those flowers that bloom very quickly, and also die very quickly.
Their ephemeral nature makes them carry the following message: “Live, now, because it will stop very quickly”.
I grew poppies in my field in Paris. To be able to harvest poppies – something we don’t usually do because poppies are notorious for not holding up – I used to make quite big bunches, and I used to say to people, “Look, it’s going to be a bit like telepoppy: you’re going to be able to see, in real time and with the naked eye, the flower blooming and a day later it’ll be dead, but there’ll be others that will follow, and it’s a real spectacle to watch at home.
What relationship do you have with perfume ?
Perfume is very present in my environment because I am surrounded by flowers that exalt a whole bunch of smells – more or less pleasant, by the way.
However, I very rarely wear them. It’s really a festive gesture, something exceptional. I don’t wear perfume every day.
Occasionally, when I’m out of the picture, that’s the only time I have the luxury of wearing perfume.
Similarly, I refuse to listen to music when I am working in the field because I like to be able to hear what the field is saying. It’s the same with perfume: I like to have a kind of olfactory silence on me so that I can smell what’s happening in my field every day.
Finally, at Icon-Icon, we are interested in iconic products, places, expériences, is there a smell, a memory, a place or even an object that you can’t live without or that has marked your life and you want to share it with us ?
When I did my retraining, I worked on farms. On one of the farms in England, I was often in charge of watering the plants in the nursery. Nurseries have a very special smell because there is wet soil and the plants breathe a lot. That smell of chlorophyll and soil stayed in my nostrils. A few years later, when I had my own farm, I had my own nursery and I found the smell of my own nursery.
Every day, when I come in this place for me, there is the smell of accomplishing my dream, this is the smell of pride.
FLOWER BY KENZO L’Absolue, will be available on June 20th.
Interview by Sébastien Girard, President of Icon-Icon and Sasjia Blanc