An Absinthe Fragrance by a Cognac Heir

Surveying the scant amount of information available online about Kilian Hennessy, founder of the niche fragrance brand By Kilian, he does not seem very likeable: he comes across as an arrogant playboy who makes too many canned references to French poets. And it’s hard not to be wary of expensive luxury products that declare so boldly their “exclusivity” and expense. Fortunately, his fragrances can speak for themselves—most of them are excellent.

Kilian Hennessy started his career at LVMH’s Dior and has worked in marketing at The Puig Group (Paco Rabanne), Gucci Group (Alexander McQueen), and L’Oreal (Giorgio Armani), always in fragrances. He started his own company about three years ago with six fragrances.

If his name sounds familiar, it’s because he’s the H in LVMH. Kilian Hennessy is an heir to the Hennessy cognac fortune. Hennessy merged its cognac business with the Moët champagne company in 1971. In 1987, Moët-Hennessy and Louis Vuitton merged to created LVMH, the gigantic luxury conglomerate that has tentacles in all things alcohol, fragrance, apparel and accessories. (In the fragrance category, LVMH owns Guerlain, Dior, Givenchy, Kenzo, Fresh, and Acqua di Parma, among other brands, along with the retailer Sephora. It owns much of the champagne world: Moët & Chandon, Dom Pérignon, Veuve Clicquot, Krug, and others. It owns Hennessy cognac, Glenmorangie scotch, and Belvedere vodka. It is huge.)

Hennessy was at the SoHo apothecary MiN New York last night meeting customers over Moët champagne and taking them through his growing collection. The evening got off to a slow start—Hennessy was over an hour late and he spent his first hour there one-on-one with a few lucky people—but the champagne helped. And once his team of publicists began to work the room, all attention shifted to the fragrances.

Each fragrance, with the exception of the super-expensive “Arabian Nights” collection, has two names: a fanciful phrase and a more descriptive subtitle. My favorite is A Taste of Heaven—Absinthe Verte, a powerful blend of lavender and vanilla. The lavender comes on strong, but not in the hippy essential oil sense. I sensed the affect of the vanilla (warming, complementary) before I could identify it. In this fragrance it seems like a novel pairing (although it’s been done before in Caron’s Pour un Homme) if only because the two main notes are so wonderfully evident while still creating something that is more than their sum.

One of the things I like most about By Kilian as a company is that they publish their fragrance recipes, complete with measurements, online. A Taste of Heaven’s is as follows:

Fresh Note
Bergamot Calabria Oil (350g)

Floral Notes
Geranium Bourbon Oil (20g)
Orange Flower Absolute (5g)
Rose Turkish Absolute (5g)
Green Absinthe Oil (5g)
Lavender Barreme Oil (80g)
Lavendin Abrialis Oil (300g)
Lavendin Green Absolute (100g)
Lavendin Green Concrete (20g)

Amber Notes
Patchouli Indonesian Oil (10g)
Oak Moss Extract (10g)
Costus Oil @ 1% (10g)
Ambrarome (10g)
Vanilla Beans Absolute (50g)
Tonka Beans Hyper Essence (25g)

It’s fascinating to see an ingredient list, rather than just a list of notes. This wouldn’t be an exact key to recreating the fragrance, but it comes closer to revealing the steps a perfumer takes to make a great scent, more like reading a cocktail recipe than a cocktail menu. On another cocktail note, I’m intriguied to see absinthe here, not just as the subtitle, but as an ingredient. Elsewhere, it’s listed as wormwood.

The perfumer for A Taste of Heaven is the talented Calice Becker, who did six other fragrances in By Kilian’s main collection, plus the two in the Arabian Nights collection, Pure Oud and Rose Oud (which my girlfriend says may be the best perfume she’s ever smelled). She’s also known for Christian Dior J’Adore from 1999 (was this where Hennessy met her?) and the celebrated floral Estee Lauder Beyond Paradise.

A Taste of Heaven, like the others in By Kilian’s main collection, costs like sin. The 50ml/1.7oz. bottle is $225 (compare this to the Becker’s Beyond Paradise, which sells for $49.99 for the same size). A travel set that comes with four quarter-ounce vials and a small atomizer is $135. If you don’t want that atomizer, the four vial refill set is $70, the most economical way to buy this fragrance. I was lucky enough to get a couple of tiny sample vials from a publicist.

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