A Legacy Of Luxury: How Cognac Heir Kilian Hennessy Built His Perfume Empire
Born into the legendary Hennessy cognac empire, who also has a stake in LVMH—the world’s leading luxury products group—Kilian Hennessy is the eighth generation of the Hennessy family. But despite being given the opportunity to work in the family business throughout this youth, Kilian took a different path to forge his own legend.
It all started when Kilian wrote his university thesis on the semantics of scent, which led him to his olfactory training at a “nose school” in Paris—and he was hooked from the first class. After rigorous training with some of the greatest noses in perfumery and working for the likes of Christian Dior, Paco Rabanne, Alexander McQueen and Giorgio Armani, Kilian launched his eponymous brand, KILIAN, in 2007, honouring the Hennessy’s tradition of fine quality and sophistication in the world of luxury fragrance—albeit with his first name.
Not one to compromise on quality, Kilian Hennessy privileges the raw and rare, creating long-lasting accords that recall luxury French fragrances of former eras. Unafraid to break the rules, he is also a pioneer in making perfume visible, by linking his scents, and the stories they tell with objets d‘art, including signature lacquered clutches, engraved travel sprays as well as art deco carafes—not to mention his line of delicately scented makeup, Le Rouge Parfum.
To mark KILIAN'S launch in Hong Kong, Kilian spoke with us about his first scent memory, inspirations and perfume of choice.
See also: My Favourite Things: Kilian Hennessy
What is your first scent memory?
My Madeleine de Proust is the scent of Tuberose as all the women in my family used to wear tuberose based scents! But my most vivid scent memory is the perfume worn by my grandfather: “Eau Sauvage” by Dior. He used to wet his hair with it. The smell of Eau Sauvage mixed with his pipe…that was the scent of my childhood.
When I launched KILIAN back in 2007, I created a tuberose scent called Beyond Love: Prohibited. I guess tuberose will always be a part of my life, since my wife is also a tuberose addict. I created a bespoke tuberose scent with hints of jasmine and daffodil for her as my wedding gift.
Perfume is really a messenger who can open a thousand doors in your memory.
When did you decide that you want to build your own brand?
I always knew I would never join the family business. When I was in my 5th year in college, I wrote a thesis on the semantics of scents. In order to understand what I would be writing about, I did a “nose” school in parallel with my last year in college. On the first day, the second I started smelling essential oils I was hooked! I knew instantly that perfume would become my world. Looking back, I think that it was close enough to the world of cognac to feel comfortable, but far enough from the family to feel free.
When people ask me how I found perfume, I answer that it is perfume that found me. Once I discovered the world of perfume, I dived into it entirely, like an addict seeking for his dose—I always needed more! I learned three thousand raw materials in two years.
What inspires you?
It can be anything from the curve of a flower to the gold decoration of an antique object. But I need my collections to have a solid artistic foundation in order to have this timelessness feel I like. I always start with the writing of the story because I believe that a great perfume is first a great story, long before being a beautiful olfactive harmony. I am a storyteller of universal emotions, such as love, pleasure, temptation or addictions… My aim is to tell olfactive stories that speak to the sensibility of men and women.
What is a fun night out for you?
To go out with my wife and friends in nice restaurants such as Castel, Caviar Kaspia, Hotel Costes, l’Atelier Joel Robuchon or Le Piaf where people end up singing and dancing on the tables.
Do you prefer to wear the same fragrance every day or multiple scents for different moods and occasions?
Personally, I have a wardrobe of scents! It really depends on the season, winter vs. summer; on the way I dress, whether it’s a pair of jeans with a T-shirt or a more formal attire; and of course, on my mood. Sometimes if I want to feel sexy, I will probably wear Straight to Heaven or Black Phantom, and if I want to feel clean and fresh, I will wear Vodka on the rocks or Bamboo Harmony.
I also wear all my ongoing creations to see how they wear on the skin, like Rolling in Love, which smells completely different from a person to another.
To you, how does falling in love smell like?
You know you are falling in love when someone makes your heart skip a bit! For me, love smells like tuberose. That’s why I added this flower in the scent Rolling in Love. But truly, love has the smell of the person you love!
What advice would you give to someone who’s looking to buy his/her first perfume?
Perfume is not an accessory that should be chosen lightly. It says a lot about the person who wears it. The same way some women would hate to go to a gala or a dinner wearing the same dress as another woman. At KILIAN counters, each client is carefully advised on the scents they would wear, depending on their favourite scent bases, their own personality and their expectations.
Discover KILIAN at Lane Crawford and @kilianparis