Perfumer Kilian Hennessy hails from a storied lineage of luxury (his family is the “H” in LVMH), so it’s no wonder he inherited an innate understanding of entrepreneurship and taste. Under his fragrance label By Kilian, founded in 2007, Hennessy is combining the quality presentation of turn-of-the-century parfums with a visionary approach to the craft.
BY PAIGE REDDINGER
What’s your backstory?
I’ve been in the industry for almost 20 years. I started at Dior and then Paco Rabanne. I stayed there for four years until I resigned to join Gucci Group. I worked on Alexander McQueen’s first perfume, Kingdom, for almost three years until I resigned again to join the L’Oréal group to work on Giorgio Armani. After three years, I left to start my own company.
What was your concept?
Something that no longer existed. The ’70s and ’80s were great times in the perfume industry, and those big brands were in the hands of presidents who knew perfume culture. The launch of a fragrance would be a very important moment in the life of the company, and that was done by the president of a company within these big groups, directly with the president of a big perfume house.
How have things changed?
The new generation that has taken over consists of more marketing-minded people who usually come from Procter & Gamble or Unilever.
Which retailer launched your brand?
Bergdorf Goodman. I ended up dating the buyer, so it went really well! [laughs] Elisabeth [Noel Jones] and I got married in Paris this summer.
What’s your signature scent?
Most of the time it’s the perfume I’m working on, but when I go out at night, I wear Back to Black Aphrodisiac and Amber Oud. On weekends, when I want to feel more casual, I wear Bamboo Harmony, Imperial Tea, Prelude to Love, and three of our new scents that are coming out in October.
New scents? Tell us more.
I was thinking about how addictions can translate into the world of perfume. Light My Fire has cigar notes—not tobacco. Intoxicated was inspired by my travels in the Middle East and a coffee I adore that’s scented with cardamom seeds. The third scent is about addiction to cannabis; I call it Smoke for the Soul. If you’re arrested, you can show your bottle and say, “Not me! It’s Kilian’s fault!”
We’ll keep that in mind. Why are your scents unisex?
I don’t feel like scents should be gendered. What interests me is the link or the olfactory translation of the emotion carried by the name.
You just launched a scented jewelry line. How does that work?
I always had the ambition to make perfume visible. The world we live in is so image-driven; whatever cannot be shown in an image doesn’t exist. I started with a clutch—chances are, if she’s wearing my clutch, she’s also wearing one of the perfumes in the collection. But the industry has been offering the same products for the past 100 years. We have not invented anything—it’s still a bottle with a pump and a spray. So we started with necklaces that have a hidden vial, but people have been doing that since the 1920s. Now there’s a new revolution in the scenting process. It’s called micro-encapsulation, which allows you to encapsulate a scent into a microcapsule that can be injected in the fabric itself. In the jewelry collection, the silk cords and leather bracelets are micro-encapsulated. The scent will last for about a year.
Wow. What are the other aesthetic signatures?
Every metal piece has a cage element, and inside is a ceramic piece that captures the scent. Once you have chosen the style you like, you can pick one of my 26 scents to put into the ceramic piece. Whenever you feel like it’s not smelling, you can just re-spray the ceramic.
What’s your approach to packaging?
One night, after dinner at the Baccarat restaurant in Paris, I went by the Baccarat museum, which is on the same floor. Lucky me, the exhibition covered 100 years of perfume bottles. You would see those wood coffers, satin bedding, keys, and tassels, and I thought, this is exactly what I want to do. I want to go back to what felt right, what felt beautiful, what felt luxury.
Why don’t you make lotions?
Perfume is an art, and I find no art in shower gel. Luxury should not be disposable. Everything we create has the ultimate purpose of lasting a lifetime. That’s why all our bottles are refillable—even our travel spray—and our boxes are meant to be reusable. I cannot do that with a shower gel or a body cream.
What does your bespoke offering entail?
It’s a luxury offering for customers who want to create their own scent with me. During the first meeting, I try to understand what it is in the world that you would like. Maybe you love orange blossom, but you don’t like the scents on the market.
Chic! May we ask the price?
$30,000. I just finished one for a husband and wife in Hungary. I finished one for a Saudi Arabian princess, and I am working on another for a customer from New York City.
On October 1 we’re unveiling the new Addictive Scent of Mind collection; candles come out in November. In 2015, I’m launching another big category: home. We’re opening five stores between now and the end of the month, and by the end of the year, we’ll have eight.