23 marzo 2011
Incense Oud: an interview with Kilian Hennessy
And once again I found myself confronted with my prejudices, because all the marketing stuff (beauty, elegance, etc) moved to the background when I saw, in his eyes, a burning passion for what he does. Passion that somehow resonated with mine. We talked frankly, I even felt a tinge of anxiety when I started asking "nasty" questions, and that made him more real, and so, much more intriguiging.
So, forget all the pictures you've seen, because they give a mistaken view of him: Kilian “live” is much more interesting, lively, multifaceted. And above all, fun.
Kilian, is perfume art, in your opinion?
- Yes it is! (big smile, eyes widening)
Why did you choose to work "L'Oeuvre Noire" with Calice Becker?
- Because I admired her, she is one of three composers to whom I addressed when I decided to start my brand. And of the three, she is the one that came immediately in line with the project, she understood exactly what I was talking about and was immediately involved in it.
And how is working with her like?
- Fantastic, first of all because she’s a real sweetheart, and besides that, she’s extremely good.
How does the idea of a new perfume come to you?
- For me, perfumes are mostly novels. I studied literature at the Sorbonne and I’m fascinated by stories. So I generally start from there.
And then? How do you and Calice work at it?
- When I get the concept, or central idea (that is the kind of emotion I want to recreate), I try to figure out also the notes I’ll use. We go to the lab and Calice makes me smell all kinds of raw materials related to the notes I chose (eg, in "Beyond Love" I wanted jasmine to stand out clearly, so she made me try every possible jasmine note, to find exactly the one I had in mind). Then we focus on what has been done in the past around that note: to continue with "Beyond Love" example, my aim was not to recreate "Joy", "Jasmin de Nuit," or something similar to other jasmine-based fragrances, I want L’Oeuvre Noire perfumes to be recognizably different from any others. So, with a clear view on what I don’t want, Calice starts exploring different directions, and then presents me her drafts.
Ok, now the difficult questions, and there’s one I feel compelled to ask. Your family is part of LVMH (owning Guerlain, Dior etc..), a Company whose market strategies attract criticism from many of us perfume lovers. You… And here he stops me, politely but firmly; he perfectly understands the point in question and focuses on making his intentions completely understood.
- My brand is not part of LVMH group. My work is mine alone. That is, I’m the one who takes decisions, and I decided to stay away from that market. If I wanted, I could sell my fragrances at Sephora’s or Marionnaud, but I chose not to.
And what do they think?
- Well… nothing, it’s my business!
Yes, but then let me understand: with your huge professional background (Kilian worked in the marketing dept. at Dior, Armani, Paco Rabanne, McQueen, etc.), and with a family like yours behind, where does this super niche-choice come from?
- After working for years in those companies I got tired of matching names, packaging, and everything else to this or that new fragrance. In the end, I was feeling it like a bit of a soulless job. And I was already 35, I felt it was time to start doing what I really liked, and that if I hadn’t done so then, I wouldn’t have made it at 50! So I got out of there and started my own line. It was like giving myself a second chance.
And now, are you happy?
- Yes, now I thoroughly enjoy what I'm doing. My life is more stressful, more tiring, but I can say I’m happy.
Some people, when start talking about happiness, lose their form and come out more “real”. Kilian, for example loses aplomb, collapses into his sofa chair, takes a deep sigh and relaxes. Then we exchange our favorites in the line: mine is Absinthe, which is one of his favourites, too.
Which is the best part of your job?
- Composition may seem the most fun, but it’s actually the most difficult one. Until the fragrance doesn’t sound like the one I’ve in mind, that is until it “clicks”, I’m restless, I can’t think of anything else, it’s true torment. Then, after many trials and changes, it clicks and everything slows down. The path of composition is only pleasant when you look at it post: while you live it, it's simply exhausting! Then I like travelling, staying in different places, meeting new people, even journalists. Especially when I realize they’re really interested in what I have to say (and here he’s being nice to me). It’s not particularly enjoyable, when you feel that you could just give them a press kit!
And because I ask him of his new fragrance, Incense Oud, he makes me smell it.
After wearing Pure Oud, an animal blast so warm, earthy and carnal it almost hurts, (I love it), and Rose Oud, just as warm and animal but with a refined, sensuous Rose in the heart, I imagined an expanded Oud incense, possibly even "too loud" to wear. In fact, Oud is warm and intense, but incense instead of reinforcing it, sort of purifies it. Ambivalent feeling among brothel and stoup, a lot intriguing. I am still studying it, because it gently fades over time, is by no means excessive or extreme, it’s very wearable (but it requires a certain amount of personality, however).
- For “Incense Oud” I worked with Sidonie Lancesseur (Cruel Intentions and Straight to Heaven), and it took me two years to create because incense is such a tricky note. Something goes out of control and you're immediately in a church!
Well, congratulations, then: here you aren’t in a Church, rather… in a bed!
- (Surprised and amused) Well, all my fragrances in one way or another relate to love and what surrounds it: the approach, the seduction... I'm glad you seized this aspect!
ou recently worked to the creation of "La Petite Mort" for Mark Atlan in collaboration with Bertrand Duchaufour, right?
- Wrong! Indeed thank you because you give me chance to clarify a misconception that many journalists have taken over the web. That work is the result of Mark’s and Bertrand’s creativity, I want to emphasize it for respect towards them. I've only made equipment and laboratory available, nothing more.
At this point we’re called down in the garden because the cocktail party is beginning. But I hope we will have other opportunities, because it was an extremely enjoyable meeting for me. Thanks for your time and passion, Kilian, I enjoy it when someone surprises me like you did! :-)
And thank you, once again, to my friends of Campomarzio70 (Roma) who invited me to the "Gotha-Party" organized last Friday for the opening of their new retail store in Via Vittoria.
By Kilian's Website: click here