“Oud is a gorgeous raw material” – By Kilian’s Kilian Hennessy
Putting perfumery back on its pedestal
B y Kilian is built on unique accords, natural essential oils and an all-enveloping desire to create a fragrance house that is as unique as it is Arabian. Here Farouk Chekoufi speaks to Kilian Hennessy, the nose behind the perfume brand and the heir to the Hennessy empire...
How did your career in perfumes start?
During my last year at Paris IV Sorbonne, I wrote a thesis on the semantics of scents. In order to understand what I would be writing about, I went to a "nose" school. The minute I started smelling raw materials, I was hooked. I knew immediately, back then, that perfume would become my world.
Can you tell us about your love story with Arabian oud?
When I created my collection, Arabian Nights, my ambition was to create a collection of oud based scents that wouldn't resemble any other oud scent already created. What I wanted to achieve was the perfect balance between the traditional art of French perfume and the sensual facet conveyed by oud. Then, in order to bring real novelty to the overcrowded market of oud scents, I built the Arabian Night collection not on the essence of oud but on the reconstitution of the smell of Bakhoor — that smell of oud wood burning in the air.
What are your thoughts on oud as an ingredient in fragrances?
Oud is a gorgeous raw material that was forbidden for use by western perfumers, until a few years ago. Now that this raw material has been released and is available to perfumers internationally, it's now being used almost as if you were to give a new colour to a painter. Perfumers are excited to have a note that is halfway between a wood and a animalistic note.
What's your ultimate ingredient?
I don't have one ingredient. I use several ingredients and several typology of ingredients depending of the emotions I am trying to convey with the scents. Vanilla is for the sensuality it brings into a composition; woods (clear or dark) are for character; and florals (essence and absolute, not synthetic) are for quality, beauty and uniqueness.
Which perfumes do you wear?
I have a wardrobe of scents! I wear either Straight to Heaven or Light My Fire most days. I wear either Back to Black or Gold Knight (my newest creation) to go out at night. Then I usually wear Bamboo Harmony at the weekend when I'm dressed casually or when I travel.
What's your first olfactive memory?
My Madeleine fragrance is the scent of tuberose, the floral all of the women in my family used to wear. But my most vivid scent memory is the perfume worn by my grandfather, Eau Sauvage. He used to wet his hair with it. The smell of Eau Savage mixed with the tobacco of his pipe, that was the scent of my childhood.
What is the By Kilian approach to fragrances today?
My scents are very autobiographical. They are created with the utmost sincerity. I absolutely love it when people really get the emotion I was trying to express. I go back to the origins of perfume, to the truth about perfume but I do it in a contemporary way.
PerfumeS Have a great story. just like every great movie has a script, so do perfumes...
How many ingredients are in your oud fragarnces?
There are 37 ingredients in Rose Oud and in Pure Oud there are 42 ingredients.
Are By Kilian stores still essential to the luxury experience?
Yes! We have more luxury products available exclusively in a By Kilian store and it's also where we display our collaborations. I did a capsule collection with Fleur du Mal to create a line of scented lingerie. Because I control the complete experience in my store, I go much further in terms of creativity and luxury.
What is your idea of success?
For me, success is to create a brand that will last for eternity.
What's the most extravagant detail you've added to a fragrance?
In the perfume Black Phantom I included an accord reminiscent to cyanide to express the deadly pirate emotion.
Where did you draw inspiration for each perfume?
In a general way, I want to put perfumery back on its pedestal by going back to the truth about perfume; back to the way perfume was made in the late 19th and the early 20th century, but I want to add a contemporary twist at the same time.
What is your first memory of oud?
I traveled to the Middle East, to Abu Dhabi and Jeddah actually, back in 2008! I was immediately shocked, in a good way, by the strength of the scent in the air.
What is your next project for the Middle East?
I've just launched a collection of Bahkoor, with its own specific Mabkara, and it has been so successful that we will expend this collection.
Now, read about how Oud became a part of the perfumer's palette, the same way roses and sandalwood did.
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