The inhabitants of Paris have sent out a search party — they want their city back. “It used to be right around here,” they say, pointing to a storefront that was formerly a smoky nightclub that now sells take-away sandwiches. “Or maybe it was there?” they say, nodding in the dir­ection of a bistro where not a word of French is heard. Some, like fashion designer Christian Lacroix, imbibe their “real” Paris in the working-class environs of the 20th arrondissement, but others have taken a more active role in bringing sexy Paris back. And what could be more seductive than hot French actor Vincent Cassel in a black tuxedo, descending the steps of the Grand Palais while several alluring models aim to slow him down?

Cassel is the face of the new Yves Saint Laurent fragrance for men, La Nuit de l’Homme. And on the night of the fragrance launch, appropriately set at the Musée de l’Homme in Paris, there was an audible gasp from normally jaded fashion editors as the perfume commercial was shown. Shot by Cassel’s friend Gaspar Noé, the video perfectly captures a city in which people aren’t too tired to have sex. More than once. A day. Taken a bit by surprise by the guests’ reaction to his unconventional sex appeal, Cassel remarked: “This video refers to the Paris touch, which is a good thing. You can be louche, as long as you do it with style and elegance!”

Yet another French paradox, this play of opposites — of “doing something forbidden but with a touch of lightness,” as Cassel says — is captured in the composition of the fragrance: three accords of contrasting raw materials. Created by three different perfumers — Dominique Ropion, Anne Flipo and Pierre Wargnye — the “fresh/oriental” is meant to convey a new kind of masculinity that is riskier and more playful. The top notes are an accord of cardamom and bergamot, the heart notes are composed of cedar and lavender and the base note is a blend of vetiver and coumarin.

The following morning, Cassel is holding court at Hôtel Fouquet’s Barrière at Avenue Georges V and Champs-Élysées. He has traded his tuxedo for a heavy, cream-coloured cable-knit turtleneck and corduroy slacks. Looking a bit windblown, he pours himself a coffee with milk, takes a few quick gulps and settles down to talk about the fine art of seduction. Cassel has lived with Italian actress and all-around bombshell Monica Bellucci for 14 years. The best way for a man to seduce a woman, he says, is “to keep a bit of distance but, at the same time, have a straightforward attitude.” And the secret to his long-lived relationship? “Freedom — and don’t take things too seriously.”

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