Belonging to a family that’s pioneered the concept of luxury cognac since the 18th century, master perfumer Kilian Hennessy embodies opulence and sensuality. He says his intoxicating perfumes and his brand, By Kilian, strive “to place perfumery back on its pedestal.” L’Etage recently sat down with Mr. Hennessy during his cocktail party hosted by Saks Fifth Avenue Bal Harbour and Trillionaire Magazine at the Ritz-Carlton Bal Harbour where he dished about what drew him to perfumery, his new collection The Garden of Good and Evil and the fragrances he wears himself.
You have worked with fragrance houses such as Alexander McQueen, Armani, and Dior. What influences have each house had on your own personal style? How did you learn to make your own designs unique and distinct?
I learned different things from each house. I loved the way Alexander McQueen built collections with words, images, and fabric, and how little by little the image took and came alive. And that is exactly the way I build my collections today. At Armani, I learned business, how to make a business plan and how to build a profitable company. This really helped me and we’ve been comfortable since our second year in business.
Now how to make a brand distinct and unique, is by far the most important thing. I work to understanding the perfume culture and have studied with perfumers. I did that in order to be able to compose creations that I know don’t resemble anything that has done in the past.
Tell me about your 5th-anniversary collection “In The Garden of Good and Evil”. What inspired the direction and concept for the line?
The Garden of Good and Evil collection is a contemporary metaphor for the garden of Adam and Eve. The whole ambition was to work on the mist of the original sin, the sin of flesh, the biblical temptation. Every perfume in the collection is a chapter that unveils a part of the story: Good Girl Gone Bad is a metaphor for Eve who bit the apple, so she went bad. Forbidden Games is about the forbidden fruit, playing with the devil, and Voulez-Vous Coucher Avec Moi is the sin of flesh itself.
From a brand perspective, are there any types of scents you specifically stay away from when creating a new scent?
I’m really well known for very detailed and deep scents. I try to do light and citrus, but I guess I’m not that good at that. Jo Malone is perfect if you are looking for a fresh citrus scent. This is not what I’m good at and I don’t think this is what customers expect from me, they expect deep sensual sexy scents.
Do you wear your own fragrances?
Yeah, yeah, tonight I’m wearing Intoxicated. Intoxicated is the perfume that won Best Perfume and Best Packaging at the Fragrance Foundation Awards this year. At other times, I wear Back to Black, Aphrodisiac, Amber Oud or Light My Fire. I really use them as a wardrobe depending on the weather, on mood, on the day.
Does the season or time of year affect the types of scents that are most popular or sought after in the market?
In winter, you don’t want something light you want something warm and deep and cocooning. In summer, you don’t want something too heavy. At night, you want something sexier than when you go to work. At least when I go to work I’m not too much into sexy mode but in the evening I am.
There is an element of romance, something enchanting about your brand. What compelled you to want to “place perfumery back on its pedestal” and add a level of luxury back to the fragrance industry?
I was at L’Oréal and I was actually ready to leave the world of perfume. I was going to do interviews with Tom Ford and go work in fashion. Then one night in Paris I was having dinner at the Baccarat Restaurant and in the same building there is the Baccarat Museum. That night they were exhibiting one century of Baccarat perfume bottles. And when I realized what was created at the greatest time of perfumery, I had such a shock, such a visual shock, that I left the museum and the next day I gave in my resignation. I was convinced that customers deserve a perfumery that will go back to that level of luxury and that attention to detail.
Photo credit: Romain Maurice
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