If you don't know who Kilian Hennessy is, you should - if you care at all about fragrances. Heir to a long line of cognac makers and grandson of the founder of LVMH (a luxury conglomerate that owns too many brands and labels to list here), Kilian Hennessy has continued his family's luxurious traditions with his own line of fragrances, By Kilian.
Can you imagine a childhood running around in world-famous cognac cellars? Clearly Kilian had a privileged upbringing. He studied at The School of Higher Studies in Information and Communication Sciences at the Sorbonne. He wrote his thesis on "the semantics of odors, in search of a language common to gods and mortals. In search of the angels' share, he encountered the world of perfumery." The "angels' share" is what the House of Hennessy calls the percentage of cognac that inexplicably evaporates from the cellars, like an offering to the gods. After he graduated, he trained with some of the finest noses in the fragrance industry and most prestigious perfume houses.
Kilian's Web site says that his fragrances are redolent of the sugar in alcohol and the wood in cognac barrels. We all draw from our histories, but his was surely rich in the experiences of taste and smell.
Last year, I discovered that Saks Fifth Avenue at Tysons Galleria had the By Kilian line, and I bought my first bottle from his L'Oeuvre Noir (The Black Masterpiece) series. My second purchase was Sweet Redemption, which I featured here. My third purchase was A Taste of Heaven, a fragrance intended for men, but clearly appealing to both sexes - one so unlike me and my tastes in fragrances, I am intrigued by how quickly it snagged me.
A Taste of Heaven, subtitled absinthe verte, was inspired by Absinthe, bittersweet nectar of poets. It was created by Perfumer Calice Asancheyev-Becker, the nose for some of Hennessy's other fragrances. It belongs to the "sub-series" of two fragrances called The Artificial Paradises.
Inspired by Absinthe, bittersweet nectar of poets, this fragrance gives an initial burst of Orange Blossom then blossoms into a heart of Turkish Rose. Then swirling woody notes of Patchouli and Oak Moss join with lascivious Amber. The fragrance beckons one to enjoy a Garden of Delights, an astonishing olfactory oxymoron combining the freshness of Lavender from southern France and the warmth of Bourbon Vanilla.
None of its provenance mattered after I received a sample in a set from Kilian, offered to his Facebook friends and eagerly accepted by me (and, apparently, thousands of others). After wearing the sample a few times, I knew I had to own a bottle of this exquisite potion. I marched straight into Saks and told Ban Aljazrawi, the By Kilian representative at Saks, that I had come for A Taste of Heaven. They guy standing there buying three bottles (for himself, I think) got a chuckle out of that. (I was actually quite jealous. Even though Ban is extremely generous with samples, she gave him a little candle because he purchased three bottles that day. I couldn't buy a third because I'd already purchased two new bottles of CREED earlier and I'm worried that my credit card is going to vaporize).
The notes, listed here, won't explain A Taste of Heaven's appeal. Even so, you should know the complex components that make A Taste of Heaven unlike any other fragrance I own. Rather than list notes as top, heart, and base, By Kilian lists them by scent families (and by strength at counters and online, which is amazingly transparent in the secretive world of juice compositions).
Bergamot Calabria Oil
Geranium Bourbon Oil
Orange Flower Absolute
Rose Turkish Absolute
Green Absinthe Oil
Lavender Barreme Oil
Lavandin Abrialis Oil
Lavandin Green Absolute
Lavandin Green Concrete
Patchouli Indonesian Oil
Oak Moss Extract
Costus Oil at 1%
Vanilla Beans Absolute
Tonka Beans Hyper Essence
How does this all translate to me? Like a fragrance that has turned my traditional way of thinking about top notes and base notes topsy turvy. A Taste of Heaven opens with a blast of herbs and lavender. It's demands attention. It's only masculine if you associate lavender with men.
Most of the reviews I've read in the last week point to its huge lavender opening. The fragrance appeals to lavender lovers. It has a huge opening, and for a lavender lover, it's like rolling in a field of it, smelling the relaxing scent of the flowers, but equally enjoying the herby green essence of the whole plant. It's intoxicating to me. I'm reminded of a neighborhood cat who decimated a catnip plant I once grew. He rolled in it so many times, he crushed it to death ("I love you to death.") The lavender stays with me for many hours, giving me more lasting lavender pleasure than any other fragrance I own.
As A Taste of Heaven dries down, it morphs almost entirely, becoming a soft floral, one that sticks around for 12-24 hours. I smell orange blossoms and rose, softened by amber and a nearby glass of vanilla bourbon. I imagine sitting at tea, with a beautiful floral centerpiece, eating tea sandwiches with candied violets on the side, sipping a fine, smooth bourbon ever so slowly. Sometimes I catch a whiff of the lavender eight hours after I've applied A Taste of Heaven; sometimes I don't. That adds to the scent's mystery.
Here's what I don't smell: patchouli (there's none of that hippie dippy stink bomb apparent to me) or absinthe. The anise-flavored spirit appears to be a concept for the scent, rather than a main character, which works for me. The Bohemian lifestyle, Green Fairy scene, and super-strong alcohol straight with a sugar cube never captured my tastes or imagination.
Why does A Taste of Heaven challenge my assumptions? I'm accustomed to florals taking center stage, opening fragrances and then tip-toeing off at dry-down. A Taste of Heaven offers me no hint of the florals to come during its first few hours. It's a green lavender field. Then, after a few hours of lavender ecstasy, I slip off to high tea, the memory of the trip lingering as I move into another world I love. It doesn't get better than that!
A Taste of Heaven is available in a refillable spray, solid perfume, and candle. I want that candle next. I could live with By Kilian's rapture.
In the U.S., you can purchase By Kilian fragrances at the company Web site, LuckyScent, MiN New York, and at select Saks Fifth Avenue locations. Check out By Kilian's Facebook page to learn more.
Photos courtesy of By Kilian, W, winemag.com, and iStock