Most material I came across while prepping for my interview with Kilian Hennessy described his disposition as “Byron-esque” and after seeing a few pictures of him, I understood why: he looked like the epitome of tortured poet. He wouldn’t look out of place scribbling furiously away on an unrequited love poem in an attic garret somewhere in the darkness of Paris. But one thing I didn’t count on was his ardent and intense love of fragrance, which I immediately detected from his passionate and sincere replies to my interview questions.
Kilian Hennessy may be a new name in luxury fragrances, but no stranger to luxury– it is entrenched in his bloodlines, as grandson to the founder of the LVMH group. Since his childhood, fragrance has been a huge part of his life. Some of his favorite childhood haunts included the family cellars in Cognac, where the sugar in alcohol and wood of cognac barrels serving as the inspiration of many of his scents today.
He joined the corporate world of perfumery by working for some of the most famous noses in the business like Christian Dior, Giorgio Armani, Paco Rabanne, and Alexander McQueen. With experience like that and a envious luxury pedigree to boot, it would have been easy for him to stick to the corporate path, but Kilian decided to create his own line of fragrances, By Kilian. Read on to get some additional insight into his reason for creating his own line of fragrances, his creative process, and the sexiest place is for a woman to apply her fragrance:
The Daily Obsession: What does a typical day for you consist of? How do you start off your morning, spend your afternoon, and end your night?
Kilian Hennessy (KH): A.M: I wake-up at 7, followed by my kids at 7.30, take breakfast with them, get dressed and drop them to school at 8.30. I arrive in my office at 8.45 and work alone until lunch.
Lunch: usually either with my team or with a journalist …no more than 1 hour (1 hour and a half when with a journalist)
P.M: Work in my office with my team until 8 p.m to be home in time to say good night to my kids and read them a story
Night: I accept 2 dinners a week…the rest of the time I stay home and either work from home or read a book
TDO: What inspired you to leave the corporate world of fragrance and create your own brand?
KH: I was losing faith in what I was doing. Today’s corporate world of fragrance is NOT what I learned when I started in this industry 15 years ago! Perfume was not conceived anymore as an Art…and I started in this world because perfume was for me the perfect balance between Art and Industry. The only salvation for me was to start my own brand…and offer to the world another vision of Perfume…a vision where Perfume would be created like an Art, with the upmost respect for it.
TDO: I understand that a huge part of the inspiration for your fragrances comes from the scent of the sugar in alcohol and cognac barrels, where else do you find inspiration? What particular fragrance notes are attractive to you?
KH: I am inspired by so many notes… everything can potentially inspire me. But the most important to me is that, at the end, my Perfumes do not resemble anything ever created by the past. I want my Perfumes to open new olfactory routes…the only way for me to be a true creation.
TDO: What is your creative process in coming up with a fragrance? How do you come up with the names from your fragrances? Do you find a lot of inspiration from literature?
KH: The creative process happens in 3 steps:
1) I write the story I want to communicate…expressed by the name of the collection…and all the names of all my scents within this collection
2) I design the bottle and the coffret that will visually express the story and the universe of my collection
3) I create the scents that will olfactively express every single name. I don’t create the same scent for a Perfume named “PRELUDE TO LOVE” (the scent should be romantic, light and fresh) or a perfume named “CRUEL INTENTIONS” (the scent should be sexier and darker).
You can see my work almost like a movie director who would also write the script of his movies. Even the best movie director with the best actors will never achieve a great movie with a script of poor quality! Same for me…I need a great story to help me create a great bottle and I need great names to inspire the perfumer.
TDO: Out of all of the Kilian fragrances, which one are you most proud of and why?
KH: Always the last one! Right now I am finishing my 8th scent, it is within the tobacco family, and I love it! It is everything a great scent should be: a unique creation, sexy and elegant, comfortable and long lasting without being to invasive to others.
But I must say that I am very proud of “STRAIGHT TO HEAVEN: WHITE CRISTAL” which is a very rough and sexy scent and that is becoming one of my best sellers!
TDO: An interesting thing about the Kilian website, is that the exact formulation for each of your fragrances is located on the site. What was your reasoning for putting this on the website, especially since most perfumers are very secretive about their fragrance recipes?
KH: Because since the beginning, my main objective is to put Perfume back on its pedestal, recreate Perfume the way it was done 100 years ago and should have never been done in another way, and you can only achieve that by telling the truth about the quality of the raw materials used and in which quantity you are using them. That’s why I decided to be totally transparent with my public and show them the real formula of my scents. I am not afraid to show them because my best protection is the quality of the raw materials I use… their expense alone would inhibit most from being able to re-create them.
TDO: Do you put on cologne first thing in the morning? What kind, how many sprays do you use, and where do you spray it? How many fragrances do you own and put into rotation for use?
KH: Yes! For me, Perfume acts like a shield of protection!!! I feel stronger after I put my Perfume on. That’s why, when I designed the bottle, I engraved Achilles’s shield motif on the sides of my bottle…to convey protection to the wearer.
I spray 5 times all over me…and on my clothes …I love to smell the dry down on my clothes the next day!
I rotate between 3 scents: PRELUDE TO LOVE, A TASTE OF HEAVEN and the one I am creating.
TDO: What scent do you personally find most appealing on a woman? And where do you think a woman should apply her fragrance?
KH: I must say that I love BEYOND LOVE: PROHIBITED on a woman…it is sexy yet, at the same time, incredibly elegant!!!
I think a woman should apply her scent everywhere she likes it…with no restrictions!
TDO: Do you have any perfume pet peeves (ex: when someone applies too much perfume, and the scent is too strong?)
KH: I just find most scents today so cheap that they are not even pleasant for someone sitting next to the wearer
TDO: Do you believe in the idea of unisex fragrances? Do you think that a woman and a man can put on the same fragrance and smell entirely different?
KH: Yes I do believe in the idea that scents do not have a gender. Why would flowers be feminine and woods masculine? Louis XIV (17th century) used Tuberose…and today STRAIGHT TO HEAVEN (which contains no flowers but only woods) is my best seller amongst women at Bergdorf Goodman’s women’s store. For me, giving a gender to scents is just marketing…and very far from the reality behind a creation.
TDO: Apart from your own fragrances, who else’s work do you admire in the scent world? Do you have any icons?
KH: I believe that Serge Lutens has a tremendous talent …
TDO: Who do you see as the Kilian customer? When you create your perfume, do you create it with a specific type of person/personality in mind?
KH: I feel that my customer is someone who is looking for true luxury and unique scents.
TDO: How do you envision your brand growing in the coming years? What is in store next for the Kilian brand?
KH: I have so many ideas in mind…be patient : )
By Kilian is sold at Bergdorf Goodman and can also be found via his website.