Refillable bottles have been the epitome of Kilian Paris since the beginning. Mr Hennessy is transported to a memory of his grandmother refilling her initial engraved perfume bottle – and shares his vision on the perfumery market
Kilian Hennessy Paris
Since Kilian Paris’ inception, refillable bottles have been the epitome of the brand identity. Drawing from the traditional design practices of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Kilian Hennessy and his team have brought back to life the high-quality experience of a niche perfume. It was the founder’s visit to a perfume exhibition in Paris that made him realize he had to take back its essence. «When I saw the standard of luxury from a century ago, I wondered why I couldn’t offer the same to our customers?», the founder shares, whenever he thinks of perfume packaging. He is transported to a memory of his grandmother refilling her large, initial engraved perfume bottle. «It’s nothing new, I’m just going back in time. Brands and the industry have forgotten in favor of economic and profitable reasons. A true luxury product cannot be disposable».
By using recyclable materials, screwable necks for their bottles, and manufacturing in Europe only – where their factory is located – the label’s products are sustainable, cut out wastage and instill an equal value achieved when buying other luxury items like a Chanel suit or a Prada purse. Kilian, Paris’s quality and prestige vie for the ability to stay alive for generations. When it comes to the fragrance itself, Hennessy explains that these days, companies opt for easier formulas– that don’t last on the skin– to guarantee sales. As is well known, perfumes encompass three main components: top notes, what you smell when you first apply the perfume which only lasts a few minutes; middle notes, the most volatile of scent molecules evaporate for the middle notes to arise – it is referred to as the ‘heart’ of the fragrance that lasts up to an hour; base notes, which are revealed when the middle notes dissipate. The base notes are also known as the dry-down period, where the final fragrance leaks out its true scent which lasts for several hours. According to Hennessy, back in the day, the perfume dry-down made up 60-70% of a formula whereas today, the top notes hold a 70% majority in a formula. He says, «The challenging composition process became my obsession. That’s why people say ‘whenever I put on your perfume, it lasts all day’».
The creative process and natural ingredients
When Hennessy creates a new scent, he starts with the name first. He describes creating a perfume as creating a film; the name is his script; he is the director, and; his perfumer is the actor. He works with his perfumer to convey the emotion of a concept. He doesn’t always work with the same perfumers because each perfumer has their own skill, some work well with detailed formulas, some are straight to the point with shorter ones. After a 6 month-long process the perfume is complete but, how does he know when it is finished? «It feels like putting down the last piece of a large puzzle. After 5000 pieces, you find the last piece and everything takes shape. It just clicks». Discovery through travel is a vital part of Hennessy’s life. «Our materials come from everywhere, whether it be from Brazil, Canada, Turkey, or Bulgaria. For one of our latest perfumes launching in September 2022, we traveled to the Spanish region of Wilbur to smell the seed labdanum, and form the gum labdanum. The ceased essence can be used in fifteen different products. The sourcing and smelling of products in their habitat is a plus».
A Kilian, Paris signature involves the use of natural scents. Hennessy says it is incomparable to synthetic ones because natural perfumes have a scent composition of their own, «when you do a chromatography analysis, a drop of natural essential oil, for example, will produce an abundant amount of spikes because every spike equates to one component. If you use synthetic oils, on the other hand, it’s just one spike. The one spike occurs at a very specific moment of the note’s evaporation. With natural, it occurs multiple times. Natural is what gives our perfumes their quality. It’s like being wrapped in a cashmere blanket. Synthetic brings modernity but natural brings quality. Once you feel cashmere, you will not go back to wool». When it comes to the specific scents, Hennessy favors every structure aside from the Chypre structure. Chypre utilizes top notes of citrus, a cistus labdanum middle note center, and a mossy set of base notes derived from oakmoss. Chypre can include modifier notes of leather, florals, fruits, and amber. His personal favorites are cedarwood, vanilla, and floral scents like tuberose.
Making perfume visible through wearables
In the 17th century, fragrant jewelry was designed to be aesthetically pleasing and practical. Solid perfumed balms filled segmented chambers of necklaces made with gold, silver, and other precious metals. These fragrant jewelry developed into earrings, lockets, bracelets, and rings, each designed with portability in mind. Today, these scents have been replaced with liquid perfume packaged in glass bottles. Kilian, Paris has reintroduced fragrance jewelry in a unique and modern way. The brand’s attitude values nuance as well as historical storytelling. To create pieces that are both aesthetically pleasing and serve the olfactory needs, they use ceramic, a neutral scented material that can be molded into an endless array of shapes.
Fragrance as a shield: Kilian Hennessy
Fragrance is a form of expression. Hennessy likens scents to experiencing an opera, a movie, a song, or art. He talks about the different olfactive signatures of the Middle Eastern woman who applies seven layers of scent through her body wash, shampoo, lotions, perfume, oud, and a second perfume to complete. Usually with a musk base. Noting these points, Hennessy created Musk Butterfly, as requested by the culture. «In the Middle East, most women wear Niqābs and are dressed the same way. The one thing they can personalize aside from jewelry, bags, and shoes is their fragrance. I was creating a bespoke perfume for Saudia Arabian princess and she told me, ‘you know, Kilian, for us a perfume is much more important than a dress’».
When asked whether there has been a shift in people’s sense of smell since the Covid-19 pandemic, Hennessy divulges his latest concept which is slated for mid-2022: the yet-to-be-named Kilian, Paris cologne. Hennessy was quarantined in New York when borders reopened. Making his way back to Paris by air, the perfume enthusiast was confronted by a huge bottle of cologne in the airplane toilet. «I remember splashing my hands, disinfecting them with this cologne. I couldn’t get enough. I was almost bathing in it». That’s when it hit him, cologne was created in the 17th century amidst a mass outbreak of disease. The people believed infectious diseases were caused by noxious smells. So, to solve these problems they created cologne with 98% alcohol to act as an antiseptic to kill germs but also, to get rid of unpleasant smells. The word ‘perfume’ actually comes from the same root as the word ‘fumigate’. During this time, decomposing bodies were splayed all over the cities, and cologne was hailed as the ultimate disinfectant. Henessy agrees that semantically, «Cologne is the ultimate shield». He had been creating a cologne for two years but it wasn’t going anywhere because, at the time, they didn’t understand the need for it but after the experience on the plane, Henessy called his colleagues and said «tomorrow I’m coming to the office, we have to finalize this cologne. I want a Kilian cologne now. I need a cologne. I need it right now». When applying his perfume in the morning, he feels like he is being wrapped in a protective cloud, a shield against the outside world. «I recommend, when you close your eyes and you spray your perfume in the morning, observe how it makes you feel. I feel shielded and that’s why when you look at my bottles, I have engraved a shield on the glass».
Two New Scents: ‘Apple Brandy on the Rocks’ & ‘L’Heure Verte by Kilian’
Kilian, Paris’ two newest fragrances are inspired by Hennessy’s two most frequented and favorite cities, New York City and Paris. Apple Brandy on the Rocks and L’Heure Verte by Kilian equip their wearers with a nightlife-ready scent, just in time for the world’s slow reopening since the Covid-19 pandemic. Apple Brandy on the Rocks pays homage to the big apple while L’Heure Verte by Kilian is a nod to the Parisian liquor classic, absinthe. Hennessy says L’Heure Verte by Kilian was inspired by the slowed-down 1920s rendition of the “happy hour” where one would wait nearly forty-five minutes to enjoy a shot of absinthe. Apple Brandy on the other hand is a reworking of his earlier fragrance, Apple Brandy. The new version swaps smoky tones for an icy freshness that is blended with bergamot, pineapple, and cardamom. «The launch depicts our happy moments; one American and one French». Speaking on the differences between American and French scent etiquette, Hennessy says the American customer base is into freshness where the French are not. However, when it comes to female fragrances, he believes there are not as many differences.
In the pursuit of the ultimate luxury, Kilian, Paris offers an invigorating vision of fragrances. Inspired by the founder Kilian Hennessy’s own life, each creation documents a story of history and is housed in one of five olfactory families – The Fresh, The Narcotics, The Cellars, The Smokes and, The Liquors.
In 2007, Kilian Hennessy embarked on a scent journey. Though he was born into a family of Cognac connoisseurs, he feels perfume was his destiny. During his fifth year of college, he discovered the differences between synthetic and natural fragrance notes. For eleven years, Hennessy worked at perfume houses like Paco Rabanne, Alexander McQueen, and Giorgio Armani before starting his namesake label Kilian, Paris. It was not his initial plan to use his name but he says it ensures that he would never launch a product unless he is «2000% sure of it». For the past fifteen years, Hennessy has been conveying the essence of elegance through crafted perfumes inspired by travel, his everyday life, and his belief system. Each scent, ingredient, and bottle in the Kilian, Paris collection reveals the process of manifesting a concept and place by paying homage to the traditional definition of ‘opulence’ and ‘quality’.