22 marzo 2011

A coffee in Rome with Kilian Hennessy

Kilian Hennessy, for the first time in Italy to speak about his fragrances By Kilian in the new roman Campomarzio 70 store, waits me in a quite corner to sit for a smoking cup of coffee and to satisfy my curiosity.
What comes up immediately to the eyes is his class, the real one, the one of people that gets your attention showing a natural grace even in the most banal move of drinking a coffee. Kilian, delicate features almost like a second Dorian Gray, exudes charme and also the naturalness that makes people comfortable, speaking with calm voice and direct look of who takes life with passion.
Talking to him I understand it's just passion that driven him not to live in the shadow of his family name. So he's been curious about smell since his teenage and made significant experiences in communication for the perfume industry later. Moreover he dug deeper into the olfactory know-how and translated finally his way to live this passion into his frances line L'oeuvre noire featuring a stunning black eco-compatible packaging (bottles can be refilled) to which he recently added the Arabian Nights ouds collection.

E: Hi Kilian, you worked a lot in the fragrance industry for Dior, Paco Rabanne, McQueen, Armani just to name a few before starting your own brand. What's good from that experience you wanted to bring in and what absolutely you didn't want to bring in creating your own perfumes?
K: I understand I worked for all these brands for many years, for 15 years. It’s a trouble business industry in a way than what we’re doing here today. In a way you can compare us with the movie industry: there’s Blockbuster industry and then there’s the Sundance film festival. When you are in the Blockbuster people are putting a lot of money behind the movies with some big actors and you have some good and bad and expect fame and you have to do millions and millions and millions of entries to cover all the expenses. When you work for Armani, that’s the second big perfume company in the world behind Chanel, so when you launch a perfume for Armani you expect at minimum 100 million dollars, at minimum.

So it’s a lot of expectation and because you have to do that you have to create the perfume that will be understandable, that will be liked by all cultures in the world. It’ll have to be liked by middle-eastern, by the Asians, by the European and European put a lot of business concept, by Americans, south-americans. From one point it is difficult to make some good product in one single chance, one single name that is going to appeal immediately, immediately, because the success is up to two weeks otherwise the product jumps out of the shelves, the distributor cuts your face and there’s no more chance for success, so it’s a very different job, you know. I didn’t like that because when you have to do a success in two weeks it has to be easy to understand, names are very short, very poor, you know, black blue, aqua for man very very basic, I didn’t want that.
What I wanted when I thought at my company is something that would be very meaningful, strong names, names that tell a story. For me a great perfume is a great story long before being a perfume, first for me is the name. I write the name all the names for my collection and when the names are written and I like the story, like a book, when the book is finished I go to the perfumer I said ok, how do you express for example Don’t be shy. When I say the emotion I want to express, don’t be shy I want to express the passion in a relationship a moment of love with the partner you just want to keep alive. So I wanted something sweet but not sweet like Angel, it has been done and well done and I don’t want to do a copy, I want to do my own in my family. So when we invented Love, she came one day with the reconstruction of a marshmallow accord she found in an old cream recipe, a cooking book, and we coupled it with a bouquet of flowers, jasmine, iris, orange blossom, and that’s what is don’t be shy, that what’s interesting.
There’s a lot of perfumes but the ones I made are very successful as they have a lot of character and for me, I love them but I never thought that so many people would have loved them like Straight to heaven.
Straight to heaven is one of my top sellers, there is no citrus, no flowers, no food, it’s rum, patchouli, cedar, amber, animalic, I mean it’s dark, it’s straightforward, it’s a short formula, there’s no sweetness in it, it’s typically me, typically comfortable, the perfume has been perfect for the name.
Every week I’ve been receiving letters of people telling me how they feel when they wear straight to heaven, I know for example that some people get stopped by the road. One day a company owner was sitting in a restaurant and a women smelled the perfume and she never met him before, she loved the patchouli so much she licked the neck of the man, she went straight to heaven and this cannot happen with something called blue.

E: In many interviews you said you have no idea about who is your typical customer. Which is the idea you’d like your customers think exudes from the packaging, the fragrances, the notes inside them?
K: I don’t want to know, I’m not interested about that. When I always think to all the companies that is the question they was up to "what is the customer we’re targetting?" we in the concept board said bla bla bla let’s do a lots of tests to see what is the customer standard. This doesn’t interest me. What interests me is to do a beautiful collections with lots of meaning before, with a story behind, with interesting references, with literature references, artistic references. I put a lot of things that I think, I am more clever in a way: the pieces are on the table but I don’t want to put them together, you have to do that. I don’t want you to think what I want, I let you do it with your mind, I just give you the pieces and you put them together the way you like. 

E: Your "L’Oeuvre noire" has strong literary reference to Marguerite Yourcenar and "les poètes maudits" works. You also realized special limited edition bottles featuring artworks and named a scent in connection with music. Where does your last creation "Love and tears" takes inspiration from?
K: Oh something very different. Love and tears, is the forth chapter of the Love series. In the Love series there’s Prelude to love: invitation, that’s meant to express the beginning of a relationship, then Love: don’t be shy, passion of a relationship, then Beyond love: prohibited it is when you may be tempted by prohibited games in a relationship, and Love and tears: surrender that’s the idea of the end of a love relationship but also the idea of surrending to a new love that was exactly what I was living at that time because I was divorcing from my first wedding while I was loving someone else.
E: So you put a piece of your story inside it…
K: Correct, but in the end everybody see. L’oevre noire is about life, I mean, everybody has surrender to love, passion, forbidden, tears and love, everybody has been tempted by liaisons dangereuses, everybody has cruel intentions sometimes or tried artificial paradises. You know, for me the collection is really about life so it’s a lot about a piece of me but I think a lot of people will find their pieces, because everybody has felt the same emotions.

E: On your website instead of classic pyramids, you found an original way giving the recipe of your perfumes. How did you have such a smart idea?
K: Everything I try to do is I try to put perfumery back to the tell the truth. one of the major issues about perfumery is that people are telling so many lies about perfumes, the producers of perfumes are all telling lies I mean, perfumes contain flowers and woods and oud and so, I heard everything. One of the companies say "Oh we made a perfume with a flower growing in the Himalaya mountain between the months of march and the month of may". We needed to tell the truth to the customers: the truth is very simple that the perfume is a cooking recipe. Perfumer is like a chef and the materials are all the same, the talent is not in the kind of materials, the chef is not working with a new animal or a new fish, or a new vegetable. The vegetables, fish, meat are the same for everyone, the talent is in the way you do the recipe. That’s the thing about perfumes and the product we’re trying to do. And that’s the thing the customer realizes, and help them to say "There’s a lot of lavender now I understand" And help them to say "Oh this is what’s inside"

E: So more true to the perfume?
K: True to the perfume, exact.

E: What’s the recipe for a good perfume?
K: If I’d have it I would sell it for millions!

We both laugh, nice line, I'd do the same, so I go on with the last question

E:What’s next in the By Kilian collection?
K: We will lauch in September the last perfume of L’oeuvre noire that will be the end of the collection and the next year we will launch a new collection
E: Any anticipation about the new launch?
K: Oh It will sum up everything

E: So you want to be mysterious…
K: Oh well, you will have to wait just a couple of months more I guess.

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