the beauty of it all

This Perfumer Thinks the World Could Use Less Vanity

Photo: Rankin

Voulez-vous coucher avec moi? Maybe you’ve smelled like it and it’s all thanks to perfumer Kilian Hennessy. With fragrances like Love Don’t Be Shy and Good Girl Gone Bad, he’s crafted a scented world of intrigue, specifically sexy intrigue.

Hennessy is the eighth generation of the storied Hennessy cognac family (they’re the “H” in LVMH). Some of his earliest memories hark back to the scent of sugar in cognac’s alcohol and the woods of their barrels (both of which are pervasive in many of his fragrances). Still, he knew he didn’t want to work for the family brand.

A thesis in college about the semantics of scent led him to connect cognac with fragrance, and he knew what he wanted to do. After graduating from Celsa Sorbonne Universite, he worked with several noses designing scents for a number of brands, including Dior, Alexander McQueen, and Armani, but he never felt completely satisfied.

With one foot out the door, headed toward fashion design, a visit to the Baccarat Museum steered him back to perfumery. “They were exhibiting one century of perfume, and that’s when I realized the level of perfume craftsmanship: the attention to detail, the little metal plaque and enamel — it was gorgeous,” he remembers. “It just felt so right in terms of a luxury feel. This is what the customer should deserve.”

In 2007, he launched his eponymous brand, creating scents whose designs were directed by narratives. “For me, a great perfume must be at first a great story, long before being a beautiful olfactory harmony. Each scent is the beginning of a personal story, one that has yet to be told,” he explains.

In 2017, the Estée Lauder companies brought Kilian into their fold, and late last year, Hennessy took his first step into color cosmetics with Le Rouge Parfum, a collection of perfumed lipsticks. Hennessy spoke with the Cut about his favorite color, his disdain for carbonation and why he’s not a fan of automatic transmissions.

Bath or shower?
Bath in Paris, shower in NYC. I just have a bath with a hand shower in Paris, and in NYC I have a rain head and hammam shower. It fits my rhythm of work as well: I love relaxing in a bath in Paris before going to bed, but in NYC I usually wake up very early and go straight to the gym and take a shower before heading out of the house. Kilian Black Phantom Shower Gel and Dove unscented soap are always in there.

Shampoo/Conditioner of choice:
Klorane shampoo with oat milk.

Did you ever go through a long hair phase?
Oh, yes! From 15 to 18.

Who cuts your hair?
Guillaume M cuts my hair at home, but he works at PRIVÉ By Laurent D.

Facial cleanser of choice:
Clarins Exfoliating cleanser with orange extract.

Moisturizer of choice:
La Mer.

Fragrance of choice (at least, currently):
Kilian Black Phantom.

What, if anything, is usually on your lips?
Amilab chapstick.

What beauty look on a woman do you love?
Red lips / Black Mascara.

Whose suits do you wear?
I don’t wear suits. Only Tuxedo jackets with black jeans, both by Tom Ford or Saint Laurent. And bespoke shirts by JLR PARIS.

Netflix and chill outfit:
Blue jeans and T-shirt.

Fashion item you would never wear:

What do you splurge on?
Michelin star restaurants.

Bed linens of choice:
Frette white sheets with black trim.

Sweet or savory?

Still or sparkling?
Still … I am not a fan of anything with bubbles.

Stick or automatic?
Stick! Automatic feels so lazy … except in traffic jams!

What could we use more of?

Less of?

Favorite podcast:
Au Coeur de l’histoire with Franck Ferrand.

What phrase or word are you known for saying?
“We play with the tools God gave us.”

Last great book you read?
Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari.

Jetlag cure:
Going out the first night.

Cold cure:
A glass of Hennessy.

Headache cure:
Thirty minutes with my osteopath.

Sadness cure:
Staying in bed with my wife.

What do you wish you had invented?
The smell of cut grass.

What would you still like to invent?
A new olfactive family.

Favorite meal and where:
Escargots @ L’ami Louis.

Favorite piece of furniture in your home?
Gold-leafed disc from Anish Kapoor.

What do you foresee as the top beauty trends in 2019?
Back to the essentials: creams that truly hydrate, fragrances built on simpler harmonies, yet with more beautiful ingredients.

What product is currently your favorite (understanding that this could change all the time):
Kilian Black Phantom. It is such a unique accord of rum/coffee/bitter almond and I get SO many compliments when I wear it!

Which fragrance in your stable was the most challenging to create?
The creation process of a new fragrance is always a challenge as I always try to open a new olfactory route … creating a melody that was never created before me. I would probably say Woman in Gold was the most challenging because of the difficult balance between the roses and the tonka bean.

If you won the Power Ball tomorrow, what are the first five things you would do? (after, of course, donating the majority of it to your top charities…)
Fund my wife’s new business, secure our kids’ funds for college, take my family on a private cruise in Europe, learn cooking to be my own private chef, and start a golf clinic to become a scratch player.

This Perfumer Thinks the World Could Use Less Vanity