Encountering Kilian: On Pretension and Back to Black Aphrodisiac
Long, long, ago, back around, oh, 2007 or so, a young man by the name of Kilian took his gothic complexion, a killer pair of cheekbones and a modest portion of his inherited fortune and invested them all in a perfume company. And we laughed. Remember that? Remember the Le Prix Eau Faux-inspiring introductory sales copy re-uniting Baudelaire and Snoop Dogg at long last? Then there was the accompanying press photo (see above) featuring said complexion and cheekbones, and reminding one ever so slightly of Edward Scissorhands or, more recently, of pretty teenage vampires.* We laughed some more. When we were not laughing we were outraged. The prices! The ridiculous packaging! (Lacquered boxes! A key for god’s sakes!) The sheer pretension of it all!
And then, well, damn it if some of the perfume wasn’t pretty good. So some of us laughed a little less. And some of us, like me, raged a little more, and refused to smell the stuff on principle. (The principle of saving my money for other perfume.) But then Denyse wrote one of her patented perfumerotica** reviews of Back to Black and Pure Oud over on Grain de Musc, and Patti over on Perfume Posse agreed, and when I came across the By Kilian counter in Bergdorf Goodman’s on recent trip to New York I found myself walking over with a sheepish grin to ask for a sniff or two.
“Are you familiar with our line?” asked the beautiful young SA, blonde and gracious, with an Eastern European accent I couldn’t quite place.
I hemmed and hawed. Yes, I said, I knew of the line, but no, I hadn’t actually smelled much of it up until now because, well… Then came one of those moments in my life, of which there are rather too many, when I hear myself talking and wonder when on earth I will stop. Because, with much awkward laughter, and no doubt blushing, too, I was explaining that it had taken me a long time to explore the line because of my initial reaction to copy/price/ packaging etc. Somewhere in there, I used the word “posturing.”
“But what is this ‘posturing’?” said the SA, puzzled, but not unfriendly. “I am Albanian. Perhaps I do not understand the English. Posture is a good thing, yes? It means to stand up straight?”
Oh god, could this get any more awkward? Now I had to explain my rudeness. “Well,” I managed, “some of us”—not just me, really!—“found the ad copy a little pretentious. Posturing as in posing. Striking a pose. Being false.”
“But I am not posing!” she cried, horrified.
“Oh, no, no, no, no” I hastened to reassure her. “This is not about you. You don’t have anything to do with how the line is marketed! That’s all up to the PR people. And to Kilian himself, I assume.”
“Ah, I see,” she said. “But Kilian is very nice!”
Apparently it could get more awkward.
“Ah, I see,” I repeated back to her. “You’ve met him.”
“Oh, yes!” she said. “He comes to visit me every now and then.”
And then she said, with what I swear was a twinkle in her eye:
“Would you like to meet him? He is standing right over there.”
And that, dear friends, is how I met Kilian Hennessy (who is tiny, but otherwise looks exactly like his photo, and who really is very nice, though a little tetchy about the whole Amy Winehouse/Back to Black connection, which must be a question he gets a lot). It is also how I made my New Year’s Resolution to keep my own posturing to a minimum—or at least as private as possible— in 2010. And last, but not least, it is how I met the lovely Bukurije Bardhoshi, who has an excellent sense of humor in addition to her own set of killer cheekbones and who very graciously gave me a sample of Back to Black after I was done talking to Mr. H. Please. Someone out there on the verge of buying something Kilian, go buy it from her, and tell her I sent you.
Because I cannot. Buy something, that is. It would be true justice and the best ending to this story to say it was love at first sniff between me and BtB and I’m on my way to get my very own lacquered box. In fact, I’ve been holding on to this post, testing and re-testing, waiting for Aphrodisiac to reveal its magic so I could have that ending. (Maybe when it’s colder? Maybe on a rainy day? Maybe when I’m in a different mood?) I expected to love it. And I smell in it many bits of things I already love: the honeyed, apple-pie opening of Ambre Narguile (though BtB has rather more tobacco), the pipe tobacco and mysterious smoky syrup of Fumerie Turque (though BtB is sweeter, and not so dark), the raw-honey and vanilla of Botrytis, some of the waxy fruitiness that opens Bois de Paradis, a bit of the dusky phase (imortelle?) from Songes, and even a touch of the unbeloved (by me) but fascinating funky hawthorn from Miel de Bois. Alas, Back to Black does not, as those perfumes do, meld with my skin and surround me in a warm glow that makes comfort a sexy thing. Instead, it just sits there, ignoring me. I might as well be walking around with a huge, overscented candle in my purse. And, heresy of heresies, there are moments when BtB’s waxiness veers perilously close to vanilla Yankee Candle. I also regret to say that on the mornings after I apply—it lasts forever—I often detect something bitter and slightly chemical behind the sweetness. So. More for the rest of you who find it purring and stretching and doing all kinds of other unspeakably delicious things on your skin—just drop a note in the comments if you’d like to be in the draw for my sample. I’m holding out for some more Bois des Iles in parfum. Vintage please, if you’ve got it.
*Has anyone noticed that make-up wunderkind Edward Bess is working exactly the same pretty vampire look? Or is it just me?
**Update: until this post went up I was unaware that fellow PST contributor Beth Gehring had been using the term "perfumerotica" since last May as the title of her beautiful blog over on www.perfumerotica.com. Beth writes that she is also "hard at work on a magazine, book and lifestyle store of the same name" where she will make "beautiful, luxuiant and passionate items" available to all. Stay tuned to her blog for future info!
Image © By Kilian. Available via German Vogue and half-a-zillion other places around the internet. The one that used to be on the NST announcement post has disappeared.