Perfumer Kilian Hennessy’s favourite notes
Kilian Hennessy is a Paris-based perfumer who created his niche luxury fragrance brand By Kilian in 2007 inspired the beauty and craftsmanship of Baccarat crystal and 1930s artists. A descendant of the famed French cognac-making family, he was at the forefront of the niche perfumery trend that celebrates artistry and quality and recently extended his product range to include scented jewellery and makeup delicately scented with vanilla and neroli notes.
Fragrange Lodge recently sat down with the charming perfumer to talk fragrance notes – more specifically which ingredients he most loves working with. His answers may surprise you.
Kilian Hennessy: In his own words
“When I first started in the industry, I had a private school with Jacques Cavalier (a famous perfumer who has worked with Issey Miyake, Dior, Lancome and Yves Saint Laurent.) I went to interview him for my university thesis on the semantics of fragrance. We got along very well and I convinced him to take me on as a mentor. He taught be everything about perfumery – all the technical aspects of how to construct a fragrance. First I went to a nose school where I learned maybe 500 to 600 notes. But with Jacques, I went from 500 to 3,000 Then I learned to compose with rose, how to compose with jasmine, how to compose with tuberose. ”
“I do have notes that are my favourite to work with: tuberose, osmanthus, cedar, vanilla and rose.
I don’t precisely love rose notes, but when you add them in a composition they make your perfume bloom in a way that is spectacular. The rose is a very chameleon-like flower. Very often you can have a lot of rose in a fragrance and not even smell it. For example, L’Eau d’Issey is a rose scent but you’d never know it. They really blend with their habitat. Jasmine on the other hand doesn’t blend at all. You put a trace of jasmine in a composition and immediately you smell it. It smells animalic. There is no way around jasmine.”
“Tuberose: all the women in my family used to wear tuberose. My mother, my grandmother, my mother’s sister, my cousin, So for me, the scent of tuberose is comforting but I love everything about it – even the flowers. I always have a bouquet of tuberose flowers at home. I don’t think there is one fragrance on the market that comes close to the natural scent of the tuberose flower. There is something about it that is enchanting.”
“Sometimes flowers are good in the air but not on skin. There is a flower called the Queen of the Night. Like a very sweet jasmine. I used to spend all my holidays in Spain at the house of my grandparents. They had all these flowers where you enter. So I wanted to create a scent using it. I love it in the air. But I discovered it is unwearable on skin.”
“Vanilla is very comforting. It’s sweet. You just want to take a bite out of the person wearing vanilla. The way Thierry Wasser (Guerlain’s inhouse perfumer) uses vanilla in Guerlain fragrances is completely different with how I use it. With two different constructions of perfume, vanilla doesn’t resemble each other. Vanilla is also an interesting note culturally. Back in the 1970s and 80s, vanilla was almost a traditional way of finishing every perfume. Always. It’s the way we use musk today. You look at your formula and you add 170 g of white musk. It’s the way of finishing your scent. Back in the day, it was always vanilla. And I think customers are very, very used to smelling vanilla. It’s familiar and comforting to them.”
“Perfume houses have different levels of quality ingredients depending on your budget. So if you work on a perfume for say a small retail brand, you don’t have the same budget for ingredients than say if you work for a luxury brand. One could be $35 and the other $200. There are all different levels of quality. At Givaudan for example, the highest quality is called “Pure Gold” then there are many qualities in between.”
“Balance is incredibly important in a fragrance composition. Changing it even .1 grams can make it smell completely different. It’s crazy. I’m always amazed because a perfume contains a lot of ingredients. We are not talking citrus or bergamot or even vanilla. Those won’t make a difference at 0.1 grams. But some floral notes, when it is right we say ‘don’t touch it” By changing a formula .1 grams suddenly one note that was too difficult is hidden Or when something is too opaque, suddenly the notes around it to bloom. I’m always amazed by that. I could create two formulas where you would look at them and say “oh, those are exactly the same” but when you smell them not at all. Completely different. “