If Nancy Mitford was to invent, in 2016, an elegant French aristocratic hero, he would probably uncannily resemble Kilian Hennessy. Born into the Irish-French Cognac family (NB they’re the ‘H’ in LVMH, the world’s biggest luxury goods empire), Kilian is almost impossibly handsome, groomed to within an inch of his life, and racily wears his hand-made shirts a button or two more open than the norm.
Kilian has, however, always worked hard for a living – first in design and marketing, within the luxury world (Dior, McQueen, Armani), before being led by his nose into the world of perfumery. For his Ph.D, he chose the subject: ‘Semantics of Odours: In Search of Languages Common to Gods and Mortals.’ It led him to perfume studies at Paris’s Cinquième Sens perfume school (also alma mater to Lyn Harris, among others).
Jacques Cavallier (L’Eau d’Issey, Stella McCartney Stella and YSL Nu are just some of his scent credits) became Kilian’s Mentor, spurring him onwards to create his own fragrance house, which launched in 2007 with the aim of showcasing ‘perfume as an art – putting it back on a pedestal.’
Fast-forward to now: Kilian is celebrating the opening of his debut London boutique, which joins New York, Paris, Moscow, Lugano and Doha on his scent-map. Black and white, inspired by the geometry of Art Deco (and interior designed by Chahan Minassian), it showcases not only his fragrances but the scented jewels Kilian is becoming known for: a swish of the head, a turn of the body, and the special ceramics tucked inside a ring, an earring or necklace gently waft the fragrance that’s been absorbed. The jewellery is, he explains, ‘a way you can enjoy your fragrance all day long. When you wear scent jewellery, your nose doesn’t “switch off” in the same way as it does on the skin.’
Perfumers working with Kilian include Alberto Morillas, Sidonie Lancesseur, Fabrice Pellegrin and Calice Becker, but one thing that sets Kilian apart is the refillability of absolutely everything – a path we wish more perfume houses would follow. Candles can be refilled, sleek, handbag-sized atomisers enable you to switch between scents by changing the vial (and replenishing, without having to swing for a new outer case).
So if you’re torn between, say, coffee-and-rose addiction of Intoxicated, the honeyed, narcotic white floral Good Girl Gone Bad – or maybe Regent Leather, with tea notes beckoning you towards powdery heliotrope and animalic leather – no worries: just switch vials. And you can make your mind up at your leisure: upstairs is a comfortable sofa, in an airy room with the sort of peaceful vibe which allows you to tune in to what your nostrils are telling you. (None of those appeal? As you might expect, Kilian can also create bespoke fragrances.)
To celebrate the opening, Kilian cut a swathe through Mayfair, hosting a fascinating art-meets-scent event at Loulou’s nightclub with Hikari Yokoyama (followed by beats from Amber Le Bon). And while here, as is our wont – because these mini-interviews can be very revealing!) – we asked Kilian to share his five favourite smells…
1. Tuberose – the scent of my mother, my grandmother, my aunt. My mother wore Fracas, then Le Galion Tuberose, then Caron‘s, then mine. (Beyond Love by Kilian). Tuberose is the only cut flower I have at home.
2. A combination of Eau Sauvage mixed with pipe smoke – if tuberose is the scent of my grandmother, this is my grandfather. I grew up in Cognac; my grandparents lived in the big house and basically we lived in the stable! (A converted stable, of course.) I would always wake up very early and walk down to the chateau, where my grandfather would have wetted his hair with Dior Eau Sauvage and be smoking a pipe with Reine Claude tobacco; the mixture is amazing. (I find it sad you never really smell pipe smoke any more, by the way…)
3. Ink – real ink. I would like to create a scent with an ink note alongside costus and castoreum, two very animalic notes, but it’s not easy. I have a Waterman, a Shaeffer and a Mont Blanc pen and I love the smell when using them.
4. Old books – my grandfather had a library; when I get a whiff of old books I can almost feel the stillness and see the tiny specks of dust in the air. Old paper has a wonderful scent.
5. Shoe polish – I love having my shoes shined: that feeling of being so neat and chic. (Conveniently, Burlington Arcade has a shoe-shiner!) I also adore the smell of a particular glue whose name I’ve forgotten (which takes me right back to the innocence of being young), and Sharpie pens when you write on a whiteboard. Some of my choices sound rather urban, but I also love the smell of the dirt when it rains. There are really a lot of great smells in the world…
Kilian London, 26 Burlington Arcade, 51 Piccadilly, London W1J 0QJ/020-7491 9236
Written by Jo Fairley