Kilian Hennessy is someone who truly understands luxury. You could even say that it’s in his blood. He is the grandson of the founder of LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy, the luxury goods conglomerate). However By Kilian is an independent company started by Kilian who studied the semantics of scent at the Sorbonne and did his apprenticeship at Christian Dior before working at Armani, McQueen and Paco Rabanne among others. He started his own perfume house six years ago and By Kilian now has 200 doors (points of sale) worldwide.
Here, we speak to the man himself at the Paris Gallery outlet in Dubai Mall
ParfumPlus (PP) : Your background precedes you for sure whenever you are introduced. Considering that it’s something that most don’t or can’t have, would it be fair to say that none can claim to know luxury the way you do?
Kilian Hennessy (KH) : I would say that it’s a wrong perception of me. I didn’t grow up in a family with luxury. Because my grandfather founded LVMH, there’s always this aura around me but the truth is that I had a balanced upbringing.
My grandfather grew up in a country house and he liked it that way. He didn’t buy art or travel in helicopter. He kept a very low profile way of life. My grandmother, she was very chic, very stylish and a great seducer. She came from an aristocratic Spanish family. She and my mother taught me elegance and luxury. My family is a merchant family from my father’s side and from my mothers side it was more about beauty. A commercial merged with beauty upbringing is how I would describe it… but I wouldn’t refer to it as a luxury upbringing.
PP : That’s very modest of you. But, does this ‘legacy’ of refined taste reflect in your
creation of perfumes?
KH : My grand father partnered with Fred Chandon, owner and President of Moët&Chandon and together they founded Moët Hennessy in 1972. After that, they bought Christian Dior Perfumes in 1982, which was the beginning of the LVMH that we know of. My grandfather devoured Dior perfumes. He would have huge bottles of Eau Sauvage from Dior and would literally pour perfume from his hands on his hair till his hair were wet with the perfume. So I grew up in a family where perfumes was part of the culture, where we would use perfumes and where Dior was the normal perfume to wear. So that, I guess in some ways will always reflect in my perfumes.
PP : Perfumes, we know, can be interpreted in a million ways. What does it mean to you, Kilian Hennessy?
KH : Wow. That’s almost philosophical. To me, personally, perfume is a great story. Long before being a beautiful olfactive harmony, a great perfume is a great story first. Like every great movie has a script first, so do perfumes. Then we choose the best people to express the script and express the emotions carried by the name into the perfume. It’s similar to how a director would choose his actors & actresses to best perform the roles that the script demands.
PP : You compare perfume creation to ‘weaving of a story’. You’ve already begun 4 stories and these stories seem to be continuing. Do you intend to grow these stories or start newer ones?
KH : Both. L’Oeuvre Noire and Arabian Nights are stories that are complete. Asian Tales will be completed next year with two new scents: Imperial Tea and Sacred Wood. And In The Garden of Good & Evil is still to be continued, while a new story will be launched in September 2014.
PP : Would you say that old school conventions where natural ingredients should outweigh synthetics does not hold good anymore?
KH : It’s a difficult question. Natural oils give elegance and chic-ness to a perfume. Synthetics allow perfumes to modernize an accord otherwise we’d go back to 300 ingredients. They are both equally important.
You need synthetics to bring in that touch of color, novelty and modernity to the composition. So it’s always a balance. You need both but at the end what matters is the feeling in the air. Do you feel like you are wearing a beautiful, sophisticated and elegant perfume or does it feel chemical? It’s the feeling that matters, nothing else! Synthetics in perfumes can be compared to new colors being discovered for a painters palette. Imagine if new colours were added – the painter would not say “I’m sticking to the old natural colors”.
PP : What is your opinion about Middle East and its distinct olfactory identity.
KH : It’s a very important part of my business. But I think we can do much better. We are planning to open our own retail shops and we are going to create exclusive products for our shops in this region. I think right now everything resembles everything and I am a little tired of it. Wherever you travel in the world, you see the same products in the same designed stores. So I plan to create
some novelties for the local people, products that will be created with their tastes in mind of course (and we all know they like the Bakhoor and Oudh) but I want to give them my vision of it!
PP : Can Oriental fragrance and French perfumers meet?
KH : Of course. Why not? That’s what I have done with my Arabian Nights collection. It’s my idea of a fusion between Oriental and French fragrances. And it’s been well received. So it’s not just possible, I would say it’s working for us.
PP : Almost everyone is looking to be niche today by limiting the number of doors. But that’s not all that it takes, is it? Is there a mantra to maintain exclusivity like you do?
KH : In french ‘niche’ means a house of dogs. So you see I don’t really enjoy the term. Being ‘niche’ means nothing to me and I couldn’t care less about it. What I am trying to do is build a prestige perfume brand — the most high end luxury perfume brand that exists. For me it’s not about limiting the number of doors but it’s about opening the right doors. Doors where I can display my collections of products in a very luxury way and offer an impeccable level of service! And you can’t expect there to offer that in 15000 doors. It just doesn’t exist. So then you have the choice of selling it to perfumeries but then you can’t control it.
What we do is different…we know each and every door. We follow and track each door that we are present in. We travel and train and expect every guideline to be followed. We are very hands on. And that’s possible because we are present in 200 doors only. If we were to be at 5000 doors it would have been impossible. And that’s the difference for me.
PP : What’s your ‘eco-luxury’ philosophy?
KH : I believe that real luxury cannot be disposable. When you are done with your Creed bottle you just throw it… your Guerlain bottle you just throw it… you are done with your Chanel No 5 you throw it. In our case, every bottle is refillable so the bottle you buy is the bottle you keep for all your life. And every time you want more you just buy a refill and the refill is half the price. And if you look at the box from the In The Garden of Good & Evil collection you will see how it can be used as a clutch.
PP : Is the ‘clutch’ from the ‘In The Garden of Good & Evil’ an indication of you moving on from perfumes to creating other products?
KH : Maybe. (Smiling) You never know.
PP : You mentioned that you are going to “invent new categories of perfume and new products to allow you to wear perfume in a new way.’’ What do you mean ‘wearing perfume in a new way’?
KH : It’s too early to disclose at this point. We are planning the launch this new category in one year.
PP : Any hints?
KH : I am in the business of creating beautiful sophisticated objects that are scented. That’s all I can say.
PP : Thanks for your time Mr Kilian Hennessy. We are sure everyone’s looking forward to your version of ‘wearing perfumes in a new way’.