Q&A: Kilian Hennessy


PORTRAIT With his latest collection, Addictive State of Mind, bold young French parfumeur Kilian Hennessy has created a trio of unforgettable perfumes designed to challenge and inspire (read my review here). Over the past three years, I've watched this brand flourish and grow. Now, By Kilian is one of the few select perfume houses included in Harrods' prestigious fragrance eyrie, the newly opened Salon de Parfums, a showcase for the world’s finest and rarest scents. I speak to Kilian about the development of Addictive State of Mind and the process behind creating a new scent.

Bel: Tobacco, coffee and cannabis are unusual choices for fragrances. Who are you hoping the scents will appeal to? Kilian: I usually don’t create scents for someone in particular. This collection is maybe my most personal collection as every scent is an accord that I created originally for me, accords that no one explored before me, olfactive harmonies that are really unique: Montecristo cigar leaves, Turkish Coffee, Canabis. As for the inspiration, my collections are always inspired by a mix of different things from sculpture to music to movies or poems. They are all pieces of the emotion I am trying to convey, the story I am trying to tell. Here, with Addictive State of Mind, I wanted to work on addictions, some that are mine, some that may be yours.

Bel: How do you create a new fragrance? Kilian: Everything starts with a story. First, I create story boards where I pin words and images -photos, design inspirations, lyrics, fabrics, names intentions - until they create, like pieces of a puzzle, a story that talks to my senses. Some storyboards can be very emotional but they don't smell! And that's the key. At one point, my story has to smell its own time. Then and only then do I share the story with my perfumer to try to translate the emotion carried by the names of my scents into a perfume. And now starts the longest process of founding a melody that no one has ever smelled before and creating a perfume around it. That can take up to two years.

Bel: How do you choose which fragrance you want to wear each day? Kilian: I have a wardrobe of scents: I use A Taste of Heaven, Absinthe Verte or my latest scent Light My Fire when I go to work. I use either Back to Black, Aphrodisiac or Amber Oud when I go out at night. I use Bamboo Harmony or Smoke for the Soul on weekends when I am more casual.

Bel: Do you feel people have become more knowledgeable about fragrance? Kilian: Absolutely! Brands like mine would have never emerged otherwise. I witness it each time I am doing Personal Appearances in the stores.

Bel: The concept of the scent that can be worn by both sexes is important to you. Why? Kilian: I believe that nature is genderless. I don't understand why lavender or geranium should be more masculine but rose or jasmine feminine. I believe in breaking the moulds that lock creativity. If you tell me you can't do a rose for men, I will become obsessed in creating a rose for men. If you don't write ‘for men’ or ‘for women’ on the packaging, you realize that people choose ONLY according to the emotion they feel when they have the perfume on their skin.

Bel: Are there other parfumeurs you admire? Kilian: Of course! So many! I will always have the utmost respect with the perfumer who taught me everything I know: Jacques Cavallier, today the in-house perfumer of Louis Vuitton. I can’t wait to discover his creations for LV.

Bel: Is the creation of fragrance an emotional process? Kilian: It is - yet it requires an incredible knowledge. Otherwise, you don’t know if your creation brings something new to the market. My scents are very autobiographical. They are created with the most sincere sensibility. I absolutely love when people really "get" what emotion I was trying to express. But what matters to me most is that not one of my scents resembles a scent already created by someone else.