Tuesday, May 1, 2012

A Short Visit with Kilian Hennessy of By Kilian and the Asian Tales Collection, Water Calligraphy and Bamboo Harmony

One wonderful Saturday this month, Kilian Hennessy, made a personal appearance at Saks Fifth Avenue at Tysons Galleria. I was one of the lucky customers who was given a 15-minute appointment to chat with him. I don't really think I spent a whole 15 minutes.  There were many people lined up to chat with him, and he was signing By Kilian fragrance bottles for customers even as we spoke. That day - and I suspect every day Kilian makes an appearance - he was the star attraction in the mall.

If you don't know who Kilian Hennessy is, you should. 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.

His newest collection, Asian Tales, was first conceived as a spiritual journey, with significance and relevance behind the meanings of symbols and words. As the first two creations, Water Calligraphy and Bamboo Harmony, took shape,"every detail was placed with careful attention and with the intent to pay homage to this great culture.”

Kilian confirmed for me that both fragrances were developed to appeal to an Asian aesthetic that includes a preference for light fragrances. Those who want their fragrances to announce their presence in a room and leave a trail behind them probably won't like the new By Kilian scents. I love them! I appreciate a light, perfectly crafted harmony of notes that's personal. I don't want others to smell me from four feet away. I'm looking for a more intimate connection with fragrance. I want to enjoy it, and I'm happy if anyone within a few feet of me can enjoy it. I may overuse the term "office-friendly," but Water Calligraphy and Bamboo Harmony are office-friendly.

As a member of the Kilian Club on Facebook, I had received samples of both fragrances in the mail. Kilian's sampling program is a first, I think. He sends out samples of his new introductions to thousands of customers - from France! It's an exciting day at my house when a By Kilian envelope arrives.

Water Calligraphy Eau de Parfum ($225) is an "olfactive impression of an aquatic flower sitting next to a pond of water lilies...a moment of delicacy. A harmonious duo of sparking grapefruit zest and reseda blossom underlined by dewy water lily awaken the senses. In the heart, the majestic jasmine sambac enhances the evanescent magnolia, giving an impression of quiet water sliding over cardamon and vetiver, like Chinese ink slides on rice paper."

Bamboo Harmony Eau de Parfum ($225) wears an aura of subtle sips of white tea taken in the heart of a bamboo grove, "a moment of spirituality." "Bamboo Harmony opens with luminous notes of bergamot, bigarade, and neroli. It evolves through a comforting heart combining white tea leaves and mimosa, highlighted with a very light touch of spices. The character of the trail is given a rare mate essence interlaced with sensual fig leaves and oak moss." Like Water Calligraphy, Bamboo Harmony is light, but long-lasting on my skin.

These fragrances are as delectable as they "read." I would be hard pressed to select a favorite. Instead, I am alternating them, wearing them to work or out to dinner, feeling pretty. Because I had the privilege of purchasing them at the event, my bottles were signed for me by Kilian himself. They look almost too pretty to touch.

All By Kilian fragrances are presented in beautiful black lacquer box. The box is nestled in a velvet sleeve with the K logo. The box with a lock (to its secret?) comes with a key attached by a ribbon and the story - in this case Asian Tales - printed elegantly as a loose-leaf memento. The black bottle is nestled into a silk bed, redolent of luxurious silk sheets. They would make an elegant gift - for yourself or someone you love.

The Asian Tales Collection will ultimately be composed of five fragrances, four inspired by four Asian Tales and one as a homage to the great art that gave birth to these tales, calligraphy. I'm afraid we'll have to wait a year for the third to be released. In the meantime, Kilian will launch a collection inspired by John Milton's Paradise Lost and the knowledge of good and evil. Both Kilian and his lovely CEO and partner, Elisabeth Noel Jones, described the next collection as being fruit-based. We talked about the forbidden apple and how hard it is to create an elegant apple scent. That one may be the last to be launched in the upcoming collection.

We covered a lot of ground during our short chat. Having already read much of his background, I asked him some zany questions. Is there an angels' share with fragrance. No, we take care that it does not evaporate. It's stored in temperature-controlled warehouses between the time it is made and the time it ships to retailers. Does he think fragrance can improve with time as some vintage fragrance lovers believe? No, it spoils. Keep your treasures in the refrigerator or wine cooler. His favorite cognac? No comment, but he does like XO on ice. Kilian is beyond charming. He answered my crazy questions with a smile - always speaking with his eyes.

For now, if you are interested in giving Water Calligraphy or Bamboo Harmony a whiff, you can order samples at MiN New York (call (212) 206-6366) or Luckyscent (although I don't see samples listed at the latter). Saks Fifth Avenue By Kilian counters should have them too. You can purchase these wonderful new fragrances at the same sources. I'd recommend MiN.

Plus, the wonderful folks at MiN New York just offered us a giveaway. Check back on Sunday!

Photo at top by Best Things in Beauty; fragrance photo courtesy of MiN New York; bamboo grove photo courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org; calligraphy courtesy of chinapage.com


Anonymous said...

I also had the pleasure of interviewing Mr. Hennessy on the same day. He was incredibly charming and gracious. I just wish I would have had more time to speak to him. I also think we had the same picture taken with him... LOL! Would love to see more perfumers come to the DC area. Thanks for the fun read.

Charlestongirl said...

Hey thanks, Scentedhound! Wish we could have met up. Now that we are in the comments section...isn't he a drop-dead gorgeous charmer?

I want to see Kurkdjian next. I want to find out when he's coming here.

Anonymous said...

Look at those two gorgeous people!! I'd love to meet him! I just got my sample and an in LOVE with Water Calligraphy. I will be getting the full size for sure!
Loved reading this!

Charlestongirl said...

Thanks, Tracy! I had so much fun. Imagine spending 15 minutes with such a nice guy, then getting to spend another 15 with his lovely partner, Elisabeth.

Anonymous said...

Would love it if FK would come to DC. Actually wearing Absolue Pour Le Soir today. I rarely use it during the day, but I knew that it was going to be a rough day at work and would need something with lots of oomph! And yes KH is a charmer with that European sophistication that we across the pond can dream of :)

Eileen said...

What a lovely opportunity to talk to the creator of such intriguing scents! By the way, he's not the only beautiful person in your picture. You look gorgeous, Charlestongirl.

A few months ago I ordered the sample set of all ten fragrances that make up his Œuvre Noire (Black Masterpiece); beginning with Prelude to Love and culminating in Sweet Redemption. I wanted to experience the "story" that the scents supposedly told. And, although I wouldn't necessarily wear all of them, it was revelatory to follow his scent plot line.

Judith DM said...

Mr. Kilian will be in Beverly Hills at Saks on May 12th. I have been invited and asked if I would like an appointment. As I am not a blogger or perfume writer, I would be at a loss as to what to talk to him about. I have three of his fragrances Sweet Redemption, Back to Black (my true Kilian love) and Amber Oud. I am not much attracted to his new collection, as I do tend toward sweet, gourmand, Amber, and always Vanilla. I have much more to explore in his existing scents, but think I will not be able to resist going just to say Hello and tell him how much I appreciate his fragrances. The sales associates at Saks Kilian are simply amazing gentlemen! It is a pleasure to shop Kilian. They, too, are always generous with samples!

Larie said...

This sounds like an amazing experience! What a charming person.

lovethescents said...

How exciting! I haven't smelled either of these new ones but they sound like they'll be sheer and delightful for the summer time.

Mary Ann said...

Very nice picture, how lucky you were
to meet him! I tend to like sweeter fragrances, but will try samples of the new ones. I received sample of rose oud when I purchased Back to Black and it is very pretty. Thanks for sharing your visit.

The Beauty Bug said...

"Office Friendly" is the key word, there are so many "sensitive noses" in the word, I have just about given up on fragrance. Great post. Thanks Charleston Girl!

Charlestongirl said...

Hi Eileen,

Thanks! I also love the plot line. I purchased about 3/4 of that collection. The florals in particular appealed to me - even A Taste of Heaven, which many consider a men's fragrance.

MiN sometimes has sales, and I picked up a few of the solids too. They are wonderful for throwing in my handbag when I'll be out for many hours.

Charlestongirl said...

Judith, GO!!! I'm sure you can think of questions. He is so easy to chat with. Don't pass up that wonderful opportunity.

If you are totally stumped, ask him about his two children and their favorite activities.

Charlestongirl said...

Hi Larie,

"Charming" doesn't even go far enough in describing this gentleman. He focuses on people, a trait that's not all that common anymore.

Charlestongirl said...

Hi Lovethescents,

For those who categorize their fragrances by season, yes, these will be fabulous summer scents! :)

Charlestongirl said...

Hi Mary Ann,

Then you are going to LOVE Water Calligraphy. Let us know, please.

Charlestongirl said...

Thanks, Beauty Bug! People have become so weird about fragrance that they complain in office environments in which one person leaves a trail of scent in his or her wake. Actually, I can be uncomfortable being around a man (or woman) who has doused in a strong scent.

I had a diffuser in my office about a year ago. Everyone loved it and said they came in my office for the fresh floral smell. One woman who sat nearby complained to me that my diffuser was the cause of her allergy flare-up. So I took it away, and she came back and complained that her allergies were still bad. At that point, I said, "Isn't that interesting. Maybe you should look closer to your desk because the diffuser is at my house." :)