It brings a smile to my face that the scion of one of the greatest names in cognac is making perfumes around different liquors. What doesn’t bring a smile to my face is these perfumes are city exclusives. Owner and creative director of By Kilian, Kilian Hennessy, released Apple Brandy for the opening of his New York boutique. This was followed by Vodka on the Rocks for the Moscow store. I liked both of them and they are good takes on the liquor named on the label but I only try to write about city exclusives when I think they are truly exceptional because of their limited availability. The reason you’re reading this is the latest release for Harrod’s in London, Single Malt, is one of the best in the By Kilian line in years.
For much of the last four years M. Hennessy has been broadening his brand by adding in very specific styles of perfumes. At this point in time it is probably safe to say there is a By Kilian perfume that should appeal to anyone. That is good business. What I have been missing over the recent releases has been the deeper slightly dangerous vibe of the original releases. The most recent Addictive State of Mind collection sort of returned to that but Single Malt really feels like the one that hearkens back to the origins of the brand.
For most of the perfumes in the line M. Hennessy has worked with two perfumers. For the olfactory liquor cabinet he turns to one of them Sidonie Lancesseur. Mme Lancesseur has a great understanding of what M. Hennessy wants. It has led to her making some of my favorites in the line. For Single Malt she is constructing a whisky accord from a disparate group of notes. This is another characteristic of some of the best By Kilian scents. I like being able to pick out the individual raw materials and then all of a sudden, like magic, they all snap together to form something that is recognizable.
Single Malt starts off like a typical fruity floral as plum is the first thing I notice. It is a restrained plum not juicy but maybe a day or two from being fully ripe. It is restrained but it is a sweet fruity beginning. What comes next is a rich wheat absolute. This is the core upon which Mme Lancesseur will build her whisky accord. Right away the plum seems to be wrapped up in the wheat and altered. The clean woodiness of cedar and the resinous quality of tolu begin to refine the accord. Then the last piece, vanilla, comes and just like the way a drop of water releases the best single malt the vanilla zips all of this together into the promised whisky accord.
Single Malt has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.
Single Malt is reminiscent of what I think is the best fragrance in the line Back to Black. Where that perfume was all about tobacco this one is all about whisky. Both of them are fascinating studies in the art of capturing an effect. Hopefully this one will eventually be released more widely than just in London. I think it is worth the effort to try and acquire now especially if you are a fan of the early By Kilian releases. I am going to sit back with a glass of Balvenie 12 yr Doublewood and breathe deeply, surrounded by some of my favorite odors in the world.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample I purchased.
Photo via The GoodSmellas blog
Smoke ‘em if you got ’em. Smoke gets in your eyes. Smokin’. The thought of smoke, of all kinds, has saturated pop culture for decades. The swirling, curling tendrils of scent are a natural for a perfume collection. Creative Director Kilian Hennessy of By Kilian is in that frame of mind with his latest collection Addictive State of Mind. There are three debut releases; Light my Fire, Smoke for the Soul, and Intoxicated, in the line each touching on fragrant wisps.
Light my Fire is composed by perfumer Sidonie Lancesseur and is inspired by Monte Cristo cigars. I have to say before trying Light my Fire I thought it was not a good idea to have another tobacco fragrance in a line which contains Back to Black which I think is one of the best tobacco scents ever. Mme Lancesseur works a different angle as her tobacco in the cigar is sweetened with vanilla and honey. It adds a fragrant sweetness to the tobacco to start before eventually ending up on an amber foundation. Light my Fire is a lighter take on tobacco and very different from Back to Black so that I think it will find its fans.
Smoke for the Soul is signed by Fabrice Pellegrin and is inspired by cannabis. Smoke for the Soul get this just right. If you have ever opened up a container with sticky buds of cannabis in it you will know exactly what this smells like. The notes M. Pellegrin used to create the cannabis accord are grapefruit, green cardamom, mate, eucalyptus, and tobacco. This is the cannabis counterpart to Back to Black as M. Pellegrin opens Smoke for the Soul with the cannabis accord in place and over the next few hours it slowly starts to fray and decompose until you are left with a woody base of birch and cashmere woods. Smoke for the Soul is beautifully realized by M. Pellegrin and I enjoyed it immensely.
Intoxicated is formulated by Calice Becker and is inspired by Turkish coffee. Maybe it is because coffee is my choice among these three addictions but Mme Becker’s take on strong dark coffee is my favorite of the three. Mme Becker brews her coffee accord and it comes out redolent and steaming from the first moments and the green cardamom she pairs the coffee with makes an exotic mix that has never been seen in a Starbucks. The lemon tinged spice made more sappy because of the greenness is, as the name promised, intoxicating. From there Mme Becker swirls in some more spices in nutmeg and cinnamon but they are not as interesting as the cardamom. This all rests on a woody foundation at the end.
All three perfumes have 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
The Addicitve State of Mind Series feels like the sequel to the L’Oeuvre Noire series that M. Hennessy started the By Kilian line with. Unlike most sequels these three new fragrances are as good as any in that collection. If you have taken a break from By Kilian because Asian Tales and In the Garden of Good & Evil were different then I suggest you tune back in as I think these three will make you feel like things have returned to the older aesthetic. I am happy to spend some time in Kilian’s Smoke Shoppe and breathe in all of the wonderful smells.
Disclsoure: this review was based on samples provided by By Kilian.
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.
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.
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.