Celebrating Kilian Paris, the Fragrance House Synonymous With Playful Seduction

We spoke with Kilian Hennessy about his storied roots, liquors, the fragrance industry and his brand’s enduring appeal

June 28, 2024 10:16 am
Kilian Paris Angels Share Fragrance
Kilian Paris Angels Share Fragrance
Kilian Paris

Kilian Hennessy doesn’t often play by the standard olfactory rules, but what visionary hasn’t ruffled some feathers? As the founder of Kilian Paris, Hennessy has been creating fragrances on his terms for more than 15 years and influencing the industry along the way. A globetrotting and debonair Frenchman with fragrance in his DNA, Hennessy has made Kilian Paris synonymous with luxury and innovation since its inception in 2007. By blending traditional perfumery with a modern appeal, he draws from his heritage in the Hennessy cognac family and the cultural zeitgeist — the fragrances embody nightlife, seduction and elegance. And though sometimes divisive, the scents are signature Kilian, a trait many fragrance houses would like to replicate.

Hennessy began training under master perfumer Jacques Cavallier, absorbing the nuances of more than 3,000 raw materials. His career blossomed with stints at prominent fragrance houses like Alexander McQueen and Giorgio Armani. Hennessy’s philosophy centers on creating fragrances as seductive tools and protective shields against life’s challenges. This vision manifested in a diverse collection of more than 34 unisex fragrances, each telling a story inspired by Hennessy’s olfactive memories. Among these are the now iconic Love, Don’t Be Shy, the rich and complex Angels’ Share, the mysterious Black Phantom and the playful I Don’t Need A Prince To Be A Princess. All showcase dedication to the craft while maintaining a lighthearted yet seductive approach, having fun and smelling great while doing so.

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While many perfumers dance around notes like florals and citrus, Kilian explores the darker and sexier undertones of these classics. Deep, earthy, almost dirty (in a good way), scents are lurking in the indie niche fragrance world, and Kilian was a trailblazer in this sense. He takes tuberose and turns it on its head with heavy musk or labdanum, fuses neroli with marshmallow or amber, and creates unique takes on classic gourmands with rum, coffee and vetiver. Devotees range from Bad Bunny to Beyoncé to Rihanna, who are attracted to the intoxicating, playful and unique aromas.

Kilian Hennessy Profile
Kilian Hennessy
Kilian Paris

Kilian Paris is not just about luxury innovation but also sustainability and minimizing its environmental footprint. The brand’s belief in the timelessness of fine fragrances is reflected in its refillable perfume bottles, which encourage a culture of reuse. It also prioritizes eco-friendly practices, using FSC-certified paper labels and continuously improving the recyclability of its packaging. 

Most recently, Kilian Paris launched three new fragrances. Smoking Hot is a bold and spicy scent for colder months. Born To Be Unforgettable is a unique cola scent with lime, cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla notes. Sunkissed Goddess is a limited-edition fragrance featuring ylang-ylang, tiare Flower and coconut, and it conjures the mood of a sultry beach soiree. As the house celebrates another anniversary, we spoke with Kilian about his history, inspirations, perfume today and what we can look forward to.

Kilian Paris Smoking Hot Fragrance
Kilian Paris Smoking Hot Fragrance
Kilian Paris

InsideHook: You come from a family with a storied history in the world of cognac. How did growing up in this environment influence your early interests and aspirations in perfumery and your desire to start Kilian Paris fragrances?

Kilian Hennessy: I believe there are many similarities between creating a fine perfume and a fine cognac. They are both complex creations, with many layers, each of which develops over time—be it in a barrel or on the skin. It is true that, in some way, my fragrances carry my childhood memories of the sugar, alcohol, and wood of the cognac barrels.

What are the defining characteristics of Kilian Paris fragrances?

Heritage, nightlife and eco-luxury. Heritage because of the olfactive memories I carry from my personal life and Cognac heritage, which are expressed into all my creations, making them unique in a way. When you enter a Kilian Paris boutique, you’re welcomed to step into the Kilian Bar.

Nightlife vibes and music are driving the brand spirit. The Kilian Paris motto Don’t be shy! perfectly embraces the brand mood reflected in all product creations and campaigns. Finally, the eco-lux engagement has been going on since the first day. I believe that True luxury should last forever. That’s why I made all my bottles refillable. The bottle you buy is the bottle you keep for a lifetime. By doing that, we are at the forefront of sustainability, creating less waste for the environment while creating true luxury objects of desire.

Kilian Paris Apple Brandy Fragrance
Kilian Paris Apple Brandy Fragrance
Kilian Paris

How do you develop the unique names through the creation process?

Because a great perfume is a great story long before becoming a beautiful olfactive harmony. For me, it all starts with the name, the same way it all starts with the script for a movie director. The name expresses the emotion I want to convey, and then I choose the ingredients accordingly.

I am interested in creating olfactive stories that are meaningful to me. Looking carefully at the names, you will realize that they are more autobiographical than you would imagine! I guess one day, you will know everything you have to know about me through my scents.

Florals are a note often considered more feminine today, but they were very popular with French male nobility in the 1700s. In the current landscape, where most fragrances are gender-fluid, do you think some scents are inherently more masculine or feminine?

When I work with perfumers on a new scent, they often ask me, ” Do you want to create a feminine or a masculine perfume?” My answer always remains the same: “I want to create a great perfume that opens a new olfactive territory.” That’s why all Kilian Paris’s fragrances are unisex. 

I don’t believe scents should have a gender, as Nature doesn’t have a gender. If you don’t write “for men” or “for women” anymore on the packaging, you will realize that people choose only according to the emotion they feel when they have the perfume on their skin.

During the past decade, there has been an explosion of niche and artisanal fragrance brands. Kilian has some of that in its DNA, along with the luxury component. Where do you see Kilian fitting in this movement? What are some common themes you share, and what is unique to you?

Never compromising on the quality of raw materials is the criterion for leading Kilian Paris to be part of the Niche fragrance industry. One thing that makes it very unique from all other brands in this category is the fragrances’ names. Contrary to many niche or artisanal fragrance brands, I don’t name my scents with an ingredient name because I believe a great perfume is a great story long before being a beautiful olfactive harmony. Honestly, I don’t know what an amazing story or emotion “Rose” or “Santal” can express. I find it much more inspiring to name my scent Sacred Wood when I create a Santal accord.

How do you choose the visual elements to complement your fragrances, particularly in your bottles?

There are five main olfactive families at Kilian Paris:

  • The Fresh that come in a deep blue (the color of the sea at night) bottle with metal hardware
  • The Narcotics Florals that come in a white bottle with Golden hardware
  • The Cellars that come in a black bottle with Golden hardware
  • The Smokes that come in a black bottle with gunmetal hardware
  • The Liquors that come in a different bottle that echoes a tumbler glass.

Is there a particular scent that holds a special place in your life and evokes a particular memory?

Angels’ Share is my most personal fragrance creation yet, inspired by my olfactive memory of the Hennessy Cognac cellars that I used to visit as a child. The «angels’ share» is what the House of Hennessy calls the percentage of Eau de Vie that evaporates from the Oak barrels, like an offering to the gods.

Kilian Paris Angels Share Fragrance
Kilian Paris Angels Share Fragrance
Kilian Paris

Tell us more about Sunkissed Goddess. What inspired you to create this fantastic, unique scent?

Sunkissed Goddess is my interpretation of a fragrance of monoi oil that I keep from my olfactive memories: the scent of summer back in my teenage years when I went to the beach. Created in collaboration with perfumer Calice Becker, the fragrance opens with its main, opulent accord of creamy white Tiara Flowers and sensual Ylang-Ylang essence. It leads into the accord’s heart, a full and warm body of Coconut and Vanilla, finishing with notes of Guaiac Wood and Cistus Labdanum.

Kilian Paris Sunkissed Goddess Fragrance
Kilian Paris Sunkissed Goddess Fragrance
Kilian Paris

Can you please give our audience a sneak peek at what’s in store for Kilian this fall?

This fall, I will launch my olfactive interpretation of a sublime Scottish Whiskey.

The fragrance opens with its main, opulent accord of creamy white Tiare Flowers and sensual Ylang-Ylang essence. It leads into the accord’s heart, a full and warm body of Coconut and Vanilla, finishing with notes of Guaiac Wood and Cistus Labdanum – both olfactive signatures of Kilian Paris for their resinous, deeply vibrant, and long-lasting appeal.

On turbulent seas, an inescapably transient pirate ship braves black waters, leagues deep in mystery. Black Phantom “Memento Mori” reveals its hidden treasures to the curious nose in waves. Cellars – Woods in all their forms – from sandalwood to cedarwood, from patchouli to Vetyver – but always with a Kilian twist: rum, coffee, cacao, cognac, whisky, as a reminder of Kilian Hennessy’s heritage.

The fragrance recreates the incredible complexity of this raw material, drawing an olfactive loop around its spicy, woodsy and milky facets making it a cult ingredient in modern perfumery and ancient Eastern ritual. Opening with Ambrette Seed Absolute and Carrot Seed Oil for a touch of earth and spice, the fragrance unfolds into a deep sandalwood accord: Amyris Oil, a powerful woody note blends with Cedarwood. Myrrh and Copahu Balsam Oil add warmth as well as a balmy aspect, a malted milk vapor lifting the senses like incense.

The perfume opens to a lighter composition of the iconic floral bouquet and marshmallow accord. The exaggeration of Neroli from North Africa et Petit Grain from Paraguay bring freshness and delicacy to this gourmand scent.

Kologne, Shield of protection takes a classic out to party. With luminous citrus notes throughout, Kologne, Shield of protection is a splash of freshness. The fragrance debuts with refreshing notes of green mandarin, bitter orange and mint leading into a heart of rosemary and neroli. A woodsy drydown is built around cedarwood, cashmeran and and a unique “sap” accord of green vegetal notes. Created as a shield of protection, it is a fragrance to spray around oneself like an aura of purity and vitality.

Much like a Master Perfumer who crafts accords and essences in a perfume, a Master Blender combines the eaux-de-vie in perfect proportions for an exceptional cognac. Angels’ Share contains the essence of Cognac derived from the liquor to lend it a natural caramel color. Opening with cognac oil, upon a blend of oak absolute, cinnamon essence and Tonka bean absolute, the scent’s long-lasting notes of sandalwood, praline and vanilla make for a delicious finish, a rare concoction only angels should experience.

DARK LORD ‘EX TENEBRIS LUX’ is a gentleman of the night. Meet him in the most surprising of circumstances and his mystery slowly unfolds: A head-twisting mix of shadows and light, it seduces in seconds with its elegant, long-lasting accords of leather and strong vetiver, its jasmine drenched in rum, and a dandyish entrance of bergamot and pepper. From darkness, into light.

The accord opens with a kick of fresh lime that leads into a signature blend of Cinnamon, Nutmeg and Vanilla to craft the cola sensation. The fragrance then leads into round and full-bodied Cedarwood notes of long-lasting impact.

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