So I managed to blag spending half an hour in Harvey Nicholls Restaurant with the wonderful Kilian Hennessy. Just about managed not to descend into a fit of girlish hyperventilation, here are the results:
Bonjour Monsieur Hennessy. So we're here in Harvey Nichols for your first UK launch of your personal brand outside London. It all looks fantastic. Could you talk our readers through the collection and the inspiration behind it?
So the collection's name is“L'oeuvre au noir”, in reference to the book by Marguerite Yourcenar, but if I did a translation it would be “The black artwork”. For me the collection is like a script for a movie director, it has three main chapters. One chapter, it expresses love, one chapter expresses artificial paradises, and one chapter expresses human temptations. So far there are nine scents, and the collection will be completed with ten perfumes. To continue with the same comparison, the name is like a script for a movie director; whom you cannot imagine choosing his actors and actresses without a script, and the same for me. The name is my script, my story, that provokes an emotion and takes you in to a world of that emotion. It is that world that I try to translate into a scent”
Have you always envisaged embarking upon your own story in the perfume world; after being surrounded by the industry growing up, as well as your study in the semantics of scent at La Sorbonne?
No. It has definitely evolved over the years. The semantics is the issue of our industry. Music and colours are the same in any colour, not the same in perfume, We make a reference to the origin of the scent, not to the scent itself. That is our number one issue.
What sets your own personal brand apart from the master perfumers you worked with and learnt from: Giorgio Armarni, Paco Rabanne, Christian Dior and Alexander McQueen, aside from the very significant price difference?
“Really, what I am trying to achieve is to go back to a world of perfume that existed in the late 19th and beginning of the 20th century, a perfume world that now you only witness in museums. The whole ambition was to go back to that level of luxury, but done in a way where it would look and feel and smell contemporary. So everything that you see: the wood boxes, the satin linings, the engraved bottles, the keys, all those details of luxury; that was the normal level of luxury a century ago. Today, by comparison, because everything is disposable, in glass bottles, cardboard boxes and mass produced, that's why it looks so luxurious. Really, what I'm trying to do is perfume as an art, like it was a century ago.
To my surprise, I found the term 'eco-luxe' attributed to your products. These are two terms that mostly seem to unnecessarily contradict each other. In what ways would you claim your range is ecologically-friendly, and is this an issue that you're particularly interested in?
“You can put so much things into 'Eco'. No, really what interests me here is that when luxury is so 'apétit', so finished, when everything offered to a customer is so precious, that the customer feels that everything has a meaning, that becomes to me the ultimate eco-luxe brand: in the sense that the customer doesn't throw anything, therefore there is no waste. The satin lining is removable so the customer can use the box as a jewellery box, the bottle is refillable, the only thing you have to do is go back to the store and we will refill the bottle for you. The refill is less than half the price. So really, it's a great incentive not to throw anything.
You launched in 2007. With the recent poor economic climate, have you found people being less inclined to part with their money for perfume; has the global recession been much of a hindrance?
No. Even in the recession, this would be expensive for a regular perfume bottle, but it is not a regular perfume bottle. Number one: you are getting much more than a disposable, glass bottle with a sticker on it. Number two: it's less than a pair of jeans at Diesel. You can spend £150 on a pair of jeans that you will wear for a couple of months before they go out of style, or you can decide to buy yourself a perfume bottle which will last a lifetime. So again, when you put in it perspective, customers are just spending their money wisely.
At the moment you have the perfumes and the scented candles, would you ever consider going into couture or beauty or is perfume the one true love?
Why are you asking me that? I am actually launching a new category of products at the end of the year.
Can we have any further information on these items, or is all remaining a mystery until then?
I will come back at the end of the year to introduce that. It is not going to be beauty. More fashion, but again with the same spirit, in the sense that what I want to do is piece that are close to art. That it's an art object that you're getting and in that sense, a collectable item, an investment, that in thirty years you can give to your daughter. I would only do something where I feel I can bring something interesting in comparison to what is being offered at the moment, you know? There's categories of products where I wouldn't be able to bring something new, where there are already so many great choices, and I don't see myself proposing anything interesting enough. But there are somethings, example, I can't find it, If I want to offer it for a girlfriend.
So as long as there's the story behind it and it's in tune with the vision of “absolute, uncompromising luxury”?
Yes, as long as there's a story, as long as it's timeless, luxury and modern. I feel very often when things become very luxurious, when they reach a sudden level of price that this immediately means they cater for a more mature customer. What interests me is to do real luxury, but in a contemporary, modern context. Like with the scent: it's luxurious, but it's not super-classic, it has an edge.
And it's very sexy
Ah, yes. That too.
I've also heard you quoted as saying your perfume could be unisex, and not directed exclusively to men or women?
I'd never say unisex in the way of CKONE of anything like that. For me, it's more like Gender-less.
So with By Kilian being such a niche, high-end, uncompromisingly luxurious brand, if your range did expand, along with the demand would you expand your outlets or would you want to retain the exclusivity of your line?
Yes, definitely. I have less than a hundred doors in the world. I want to stay very exclusive so because I want my customers to feel unique; that's why I am interested to offer them more products as well as the perfume in my very exclusive stores.
So you'll be back in a few months to launch the mystery developments you have in store for us?
That's another Harvey Nichols, in Knightsbridge. They will be there November fifteenth. But I'll be back in Manchester after.
Eveything is so beautifully packaged! Even the free-bees.
Indeed, everything should be so, always.