By Kilian 101- Five to Get You Started

There was a real inflection point for niche perfume in the years 2005-2008. There were several fully realized brands which sprang up during that time. The successful formula consisted of a consistent vision, beautiful packaging; in some cases, luxury pricing and if you could get it a personable spokesperson. One of the brands which checked off all of these boxes was By Kilian. Fronted by the scion of a famous cognac family, Kilian Hennessy, By Kilian led with a luxurious vibe. M. Hennessy also had a vision of deeper fragrant experiences which has played out throughout most of the collection. One reason for that coherence is he has worked with a small roster of perfumers and one, Calice Becker, has been a de facto in-house perfumer for the brand. Many of her best perfumes reside within the By Kilian collection. She has done such excellent work that all five of the perfumes I am recommending as starting points below are composed by Mme Becker.

Kilian Hennessy

From the initial collection of six perfumes the one which exemplifies the brand best is Love: Don’t Be Shy. One of the hallmarks of the brand is unique gourmand fragrances. Love set that in motion right from the start. Mme Becker recreated an accord of rose water infused marshmallow. Redolent of orange blossom in the heart before tailing off into a sensual caramel and musk finish.

Another hallmark is the use of oud resulting in a series of multiple oud fragrances. The second one released, Rose Oud, is the easiest to start with. Mme Becker takes the classic rose and oud pairing breathing new life into it by using an oud accord of cedar, cypriol, and saffron. By using an accord, it allows for a more approachable oud experience. Spicing it up with cardamom and cinnamon before allowing a Bulgarian rose to capture the oud accord makes this one of the most easygoing oud perfumes out there.

Calice Becker

The perfume which I think is the modern masterpiece within the collection is Back to Black. As with the oud in Rose Oud in Back to Black Mme Becker constructs an exquisite tobacco accord. In the early going you can detect the individual blocks as things like chamomile, cardamom, and coriander begin to be enveloped by other notes until like a magic trick a rich honeyed tobacco appears and stays for hours. Then over the last few hours it deconstructs on the skin leaving an amber and vanilla base as the final memory.

A return to the gourmand comes in Intoxicated. The off-beat gourmand is on display as Mme Becker takes a Tuurkish coffee accord of cinnamon, nutmeg, and spun sugar over coffee and adds in a sticky green cardamom. It makes this an exotic coffee perfume.

There is also a collection which was meant to appeal to Eastern tastes. It was more austere and simply constructed than the rest of the line. Most of the time it concentrates on a single raw material. Sacred Wood is the best of these as Mme Becker again uses a Mysore sandalwood which she surrounds with carrot, cumin, elemi, and a hot milk accord. That latter piece truly makes the sandalwood creamy in every sense of the word.

By Kilian is a brand which has broken out of the niche pack by staying true to its vision, The five fragrances above are a good introduction to that.

Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review By Kilian Sacred Wood & Imperial Tea- Mysore Sandalwood and Jasmine Tea Simulations


It seems like it was only a few days after I editorialized about the failure of perfume lines at cracking the Eastern aesthetic that I received the two latest attempts from By Kilian. I was not a fan of the three previous Asian Tales fragrances and will admit I was expecting more watered down ideas masquerading as perfume. They say there is an exception to every generality and it seems as if Sacred Wood and Imperial Tea are going to make me eat some of my words as perfumer Calice Becker takes on sandalwood and tea, respectively.

calice becker

Calice Becker

One of the assumptions is that Asian tastes want fragrances similar to their architecture with clean lines and simple construction. If you are going to work in that direction there are probably few better choices to take as a focal point than sandalwood and that is what Mme Becker chooses as the wood in Sacred Wood.

All of the great sandalwood perfumes of the past contained a version of sandalwood from the Indian region of Mysore. Unfortunately human nature and developing nation economics led to the over-harvesting of Mysore sandalwood and there is no longer anymore being produced from Mysore. As a result perfumers have searched for more renewable sources of sandalwood but none of those had the complexities of Mysore sandalwood. Which has then caused the perfumers to take these newer sandalwood sources and try to “Mysore” them up by trying to add in what is missing. It is from Mme Becker’s attempts to do this that Sacred Wood sprung to life. It was her intent to create a sandalwood base she could use on her perfumer’s palette that would allow her to add her engineered Mysore sandalwood to anything she was working on. Except when she was done she realized it was pretty good all on its own and creative director Kilian Hennessy agreed.

Sacred Wood is kin to other sandalwood “soliflores” like Diptyque Tam Dao but here the effect is to take it and allow the character of the sandalwood to slowly erode down to its most basic nature. On top Mme Becker adds a steamed milk accord to create the characteristic creamy quality of Mysore sandalwood. In the real thing that never leaves but in Sacred Wood it persists for a while. Carrot and elemi turn the cream into sweet but not sugar sweet. This is a sweetness of wood and vegetable; it works very well together. For me one of the hallmark characteristics of Mysore sandalwood is what I describe as an “ashy” quality in the heart of it. It smells to my nose like it has been through a fire and this is the remains of it. I think Mme Becker also smells this and so she uses cumin to add that quality to Sacred Wood. In the end cedar with all of its very straightforwardness turns Sacred Wood to just wood over the final few hours.


Kilian Hennessy

Mme Becker’s very first signed fragrance was Tommy Girl and the combination of tea and florals was groundbreaking in 1996. Eighteen years later it is a little more common but Mme Becker wanted to create her version of a definitive tea fragrance. She chose jasmine tea as the target for her to create a perfume simulacrum of. My experience with jasmine tea is as dragon pearls where these tightly wound balls of tea unfurl upon exposure to hot water into floral looking blooms which release the tea within. It is this tea which is the sole reason we own a clear tea pot so I can watch the languid opening of the pearls as the tea steeps. This tea also has a fantastic smell of the jasmine rising through the humidity of the steaming liquid. In Imperial Tea Mme Becker has created that jasmine tea effect.

The key to Imperial Tea is using the right source of jasmine as the core. Mme Becker uses a lightly indolic version of jasmine sambac. It is absolutely the right choice. A clean non-indolic jasmine would have been too clean. A heavier indolic jasmine would have been jarring and lacked serenity. The jasmine sambac here is kept feather light. Mate provides the base of the tea and it is kept from being too grassy by the inclusion of guaiac to keep it more towards the tea side. There is a great violet note to prop up the jasmine and that is really it. Imperial Tea is as light as the steeped tea it is re-creating and that lightness might not be, ahem, everyone’s cup of tea. In my opinion it has to be this light and it is what allows it to succeed so well.

Sacred Wood has all day longevity and modest sillage.

Imperial Tea has 4-6 hour longevity and modest sillage.

Every generality needs a contradiction and in Sacred Wood and Imperial Tea By Kilian proves to me that a fragrance targeted to the Eastern markets doesn’t have to be uninspiring. As both sandalwood and tea fragrances they stand among the upper echelon in each of those categories.

Disclosure: This review was based on press samples provided by By Kilian PR in the US.

Mark Behnke