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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Encountering Kilian: On Pretension and Back to Black Aphrodisiac

By Alyssa

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 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.

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Blogger popcarts said...

Oh, hat me please! I'm dying to be disappointed by BtB!

Hilarious and wonderful review, BTW. I can relate ;)

12:28 AM EST  
Blogger tmp00 said...


I'm with you; I wanted to hate them on GP (The copy! The casks! The Crust!!) but I couldn't. I couldn't love them either. They just kind of missed on me.

Love the review; no need to enter me in the draw, thanks..

1:58 AM EST  
Blogger Tama said...

I kinda fell for B2B, but I want to smell some of the other ones now, too. Thank heaven for the travel sets.
I'd love what's left of your sample. :-)

2:24 AM EST  
Anonymous zeram1 said...

Sorry to hear that it didn't totally work for you. Please enter me in the drawing as well.

3:25 AM EST  
Anonymous lady jane grey said...

Oh, you mean Edward and Kilian they're not the Scissorhands-brothers? I thought they are...
I liked the name "Back to Black" (I'm not an Amy W. fan, I just love Black) and was expecting something dramatic from the perfume, suiting to my black & dark grey clothes - but it was too sweet to be dramatic (for me).

4:28 AM EST  
Blogger Momlady said...

I'm talking and I can't shut I know that song. I sing it on a semi regular basis. Then to have to explain, you win. Too bad the BtB didn't work out for you but good for the rest of us..or should I say one lucky one of us. Please add me to your draw list. Thanks.

6:40 AM EST  
Blogger krnszn said...

Great post, Alyssa! I caved on the Liaisons Dangereuses travel spray. But it was my birthday, so I justified it. Didn't care for BtB - smelled like tobacco and honey to me. I also didn't care for Love - too sweet. Haven't tried any of the others, but LD is really wonderful. And I'm not regretting my purchase. :-)

7:42 AM EST  
Blogger lutefisk said...

Oh, how I would love to be able to try this. I have been tempted numerous times to putchase something online, but always wanted to sample part of the collection first.

8:23 AM EST  
Blogger chayaruchama said...

You are a very wicked girl ;-)

Many of the scents are very well done; I simply find all the 'extra' off-putting, too.

I enjoyed BtB, but I have more tobacco scents than most people in their 'right mind' require ALREADY !

8:29 AM EST  
Blogger Mals86 said...

Please toss my name into the hat. I have felt exactly the same way about the By Kilians: the company has put itself right out of my consideration with its pricing scale and its You Can't Touch This vibe. (I have the same attitude toward the Tom Ford Private Blends and ELd'O.) I swore not to even test anything, because I knew I couldn't afford a bottle.

But I came across a barely-used travel bottle of Beyond Love for $20 recently and snapped it up. And, you know? that's some good stuff. I'm renouncing my vow. Decants are always available here and there.

I think you're right on the pale, sensitive, chiseled look - Bess and Scissorhands and Heathcliff and all... I find it oddly compelling, but then I'm a sucker for doomed love stories.

8:47 AM EST  
Blogger queen_cupcake said...

As a relative newbie to niche perfumes, I am ready to stupidly stumble into anything! Please enter me in the draw. Maybe I will love it. I seem to love anything smelly as long as it is expensive. ;-)

9:21 AM EST  
Blogger Dink said...

I loved the comments about talking too much. I felt myself getting red as I relived your discomfort. Please include me in your draw.

9:33 AM EST  
Blogger Lorelie said...

The reference to the Yankee Candle did it for me--I'm still laughing-hilarious! But of course, I'm not going to pass up a frees sniff:) Toss my hat in this one! Is he really 'tiny?' --he looks pretty hot to me. Did you happen to get a sniff of him being in such close proximity?

9:51 AM EST  
Blogger Janet said...

I do love this. I wish I could afford it!
Great story.

10:07 AM EST  
Blogger Alyssa said...

Carter--you're in! And thanks for saying you can relate.

Tom--see, if I'd been wise like you and hadn't gotten all worked up in the first place then there would be no risk of Love later on. I know that's the proper way. But not much in character for me, I'm afraid.

11:18 AM EST  
Blogger Alyssa said...

Tama and Zeram1 -- you are both in the draw!

11:19 AM EST  
Blogger Alyssa said...

Lady Jane--Oh thank goodness, I'm not the only one who thinks so!

11:21 AM EST  
Blogger Alyssa said...

Momlady--you're in! And yes, la, la, la, la, la --'tis one of the hazards of being navigating the world with my mouth open, I suppose.

11:22 AM EST  
Blogger Cynthia said...

No need to enter me in the drawing, as I've already given in and bought the travel set.

I also resisted the whole line until glowing reviews for B2B tested my resolve and a lovely SA sent me samples of the entire line when they got the new B2B samples in.

Still, even after sampling and loving it, I just could not pay full price for packaging that I didn't want. Fortunately, I discovered that Saks would let me buy the travel set refills - throw in free shipping and a 10% discount and I scored 30ml of B2B for $62.00. Using our new math - that's FREE.

I still think the whole line is over-the-top pretentious, but all of the SAs seem to be super-nice and, since I can buy the refills without being forced to buy the original bottle - I'm in.

11:26 AM EST  
Blogger Alyssa said...

Karin--tobacco and honey are exactly what BtB smells like to me. Apparently lots of folks, including me, find that combo sexy. This particular version just didn't work for me. (And Love smells like marshmallows to me. Which is not what I think of when I think of love...) Glad LD worked for you!

11:30 AM EST  
Blogger StyleSpy said...

This review (which I thoroughly enjoyed, by the way) sent me scurryin to my sample bag to see if I had any of the stuff, which I don't. So hat me up, if you will!

11:32 AM EST  
Blogger Alyssa said...

Lutefisk--you're in! (And love your screen name.)

Chaya--oh, not so wicked as all that. Just silly! I wish I were a little more wicked, in fact. And yes, I have all sorts of tobacco and honey scents as well.

Mals--you're in! And whoah, $20 is a great deal. Beyond Love is the only other one Kilian I know well, and you're right, it is great.

11:38 AM EST  
Blogger Alyssa said...

queen-cupcake--Obviously the willingness to stupidly stumbe doesn't end once one leaves the newbie stage. You're in!

Dink--I hope your discomfort was only momentary! You're in!

11:41 AM EST  
Blogger Alyssa said...

Lorelie--really, really tiny. I'm 5' 4" and a smidge and he was, if I remember correctly, shorter than me, and as slim as skinny-boy rockstar, with fine hands and features to match. (Now someone will write in and tell me that he's actually 5' 7" or 6' 2" or something.)

I didn't get close enough to sniff him--wish I had a better report on that front!

11:47 AM EST  
Blogger Alyssa said...

Janet--well, at least the draw is free, and you're in!

Cynthia--yep. My SA was really lovely, too. It makes such a huge difference, doesn't it?

11:49 AM EST  
Blogger Alyssa said...

StyleSpy--Thanks for the compliment, I'm a fan of your blog (and a fellow Austin resident). You are in the hat!

11:52 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just hilarious! I can just see you trying to explain yourself to he european woman. pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeease! put me in the draw!

12:19 PM EST  
Blogger Ducks said...

That was hilarious! I needed the smile this morning.

I would love to try this one.

12:28 PM EST  
Blogger Alyssa said...

Anonymous and Ducks -- glad to oblige with the smiles, and you're both in!

12:32 PM EST  
Blogger Alyssa said...

Natalie--glad you could relate! I seem to be anosmic to the Pure Oud--I simply couldn't smell it at all. I suppose I should be glad to avoid that particular high-priced lemming.

12:38 PM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I laughed and cringed all the way through this review. I have those "why the hell won't I just SHUT UP?!" moments all the time.

The only Kilian I've tried is Beyond Love, which is a great tuberose, but not really my thing.

B to B sounds interesting(mmmm, tabacco...) I would love to be in the draw, thank you!

Karen G

12:55 PM EST  
Blogger Alyssa said...

Karen G -- you're in!

3:53 PM EST  
Anonymous Flora said...

ROTFLMAO - Great post, Alyssa! I can see ME doing exactly the same thing! Open mouth, insert foot, repeat as needed. :-D

I scored some small samps of several BKs on eBay, and I really liked 100% Love and Beyond Love, especially the latter, White Floral Queen/freak that I am. If I had the means I might consider buying it, except that I also just fell in love with vintage Balenciaga Michelle, which is now my tuberose obsession du jour. How I missed THAT the first time around I will never know!

HOWEVER - last week I cracked open Liaisons Dangereuses and Cruel Intentions and they were both pretty horrifying on me, I almost had to scrub. I will try again, but only with the doors closed and the windows sealed so as not to frighten the animals.

No need to enter me in the draw. Thanks for the chuckle though!

(He is cute, isn't he? I have a thing for that type, and I could probably carry him off under one arm How convenient...)

4:02 PM EST  
Blogger Balutakat said...

If you can forgive me for being an old Goth who just found the price tag revolting, not the packaging...I'd love to be in the draw, please. Your nervous chatter moment had me in tears of laughter and self-recognition, it's happened to me so many times overseas that it fell to me to have to "explain" something uncomfortable to an ESL speaker, and I can't say the word "erotic" without blushing beet red. :) Hurrah to you for rising to the occasion!

4:09 PM EST  
Blogger Alyssa said...

Flora -- oooh, that Balenciaga sounds delicious, I will have to keep an eye out. And you have me laughing as well, envisioning you coming along to put the inimitable KH in your pocket.

4:49 PM EST  
Blogger Alyssa said...

Balutakat, you are in the draw! And, oh yes, the ESL thing. I have a good friend who is Chinese and not shy with the questions. She has trained me well!

4:51 PM EST  
Blogger elle said...

"I might as well be walking around with a huge, overscented candle in my purse." What a brilliant analogy! And that is indeed what happens when I wear it. I'm sure there are plenty of people w/ the right BtB skin chemistry out there, but on my skin it doesn't produce magic. :-( Thanks for this hilarious and excellent review!

5:49 PM EST  
Anonymous Tara C said...

Bwahahaha... that was a hilarious post, thank you! I found the first round of Kilians easy to resist, as I didn't care for any of them, but I really loved BtB and Pure Oud, so I sprang for the obscenely overpackaged bottles and damn the expense. I do really enjoy the bottles, although I couldn't care less for the box/key/falderal. No need to enter me in the drawing since I already own a bottle.

6:19 PM EST  
Blogger Alyssa said...

Elle--It's that waxiness, I think.

Tara--I'm sure they smell absolutely fantastic on you. Wear them in good health!

6:33 PM EST  
Blogger bevfred said...

I have to admit I rather like some of Killian's scents. I tried a suirt of BtB and I can't get it out of my mind.
Please enter me in the draw.
By the way I can totally relate to the foot-in-mouthitis.

7:00 PM EST  
Blogger Alyssa said...

bevfred--you're in!

7:42 PM EST  
Blogger Tammy said...

Such a darling review! I can SO relate to foot-in-mouth disease!

For some reason, Killian strikes me personally as being able to pull the whole thing off; to me, he is not pretentious in the way that Clive is....expensive for the sake of saying he produces the most expensive scent in the world, etc.

Killian semms to be a man who loves fragrance, has a very unique personal aesthetic and had the means to bring his vision in to being.

I didn't care much for any of his perfumes (pretty, but my skin turned them all leamon-y) til I made the mistake of trying his oud, and someday, somehow, I will definitely be buying it...I dislike ouds as a rule, but his is amazing, and if it takes me two years, I'll save enough to get it.

And I fully admit to looking forward to all the over-the-top packaging, especially the box and key!

No need to enter me in the draw, but thanks for a wonderful review!

10:11 AM EST  
Blogger Lorelie said...

After reading so many comments about Killian Pure Oud I've been searching for a 'free' sample, perhaps from BG or Nordstrom---they don't carry the pure oud. Any suggestions? I could just start blabbing, insert my foot deep into mouth about how badly I want to try something unsniffed, in spite of over the top prices, packaging...

10:25 AM EST  
Blogger Alyssa said...

Tammy -- thanks, glad you enjoyed it! I do think Kilian is genuinely passionate about perfume.

Lorelie -- it's my understanding that the Oud is a special case. Much more expensive, only available in a few places. I certainly didn't get a sample (mine was for Back to Black)and haven't heard of anyone who has unless they purchased one from Luckyscent or some such source.
But you can certainly try my "technique" if you think it will help...

10:44 AM EST  
Blogger Lorelie said...

Thanks for the info, Alyssa. Liaisons Dangereuses is what I ordered from Luckyscent-they don't have the oud, didn't want to pay $10 @ TPC for unsniffed. This will give me an idea- the reviews at Luckyscent taunted me. I'm still smiling about your too funny face would have been blooming red!

11:17 AM EST  
Blogger Lorelie said...

Natalie---I did it! I called and talked w the SA-she's the one Alyssa mentioned. She was amazingly kind and said she'd make it up & send! I'm off the walls! Thanx for the tip!! She wanted to know your name so I gave it to her. Too bad I live in a tiny hamlet in PA....too bad Robin from NST isn't my neighbor--I'd love to peek in her vault:)

1:03 PM EST  
Blogger Lorelie said...

Alyssa, just thought you'd like to know that I just spoke w Bukurije Bardhoshi and she remembered you from Sniffapalooza--that you were a lovely woman, and wanted to know which blog was yours. Then she asked which samples I would like..... it's becoming a beautiful day!

1:11 PM EST  
Blogger Alyssa said...

Yay, Bukurije! So glad you're getting your sample Lorelie, and thanks very much for coming back to report!

The funny thing is, though it's true that Sniffa was that same week, I wasn't actually there for Sniffapalooza, so I wonder if she's got the right person. Hard to believe TWO people would stick their foot in their mouths in precisely the same way... ;-) I never mention the blog when I'm out and about.

1:20 PM EST  
Blogger Lorelie said...

What she actually asked was who referred me to BG Killian and I said Alyssa from PST. I even spelled it for her, she was quiet for a moment and then said, I think I have met her at Sniffapalooza. I hardly think she remembers you as you viewed yourself. I think when situations like this happen people don't see it as we do (we feel the smelly foot in mouth). She was probably thrilled to intro u to the man himself....I think she's going home tonight and will sift through this blog:) and then she'll smile and remember what a lovely lady u were.

1:30 PM EST  
Blogger Ari Weinberg said...

Alyssa, I met Edward Bess once at Bergdorf Goodman and I know EXACTLY what you are talking about, lol. He was lovely but I really and truly did think that he was a woman for the first minute or so. He just seemed too pretty to be a man! I have never tried the By Kilians because I am a college student and these are far enough out of my budget as to be laughable. You make them sound very appealing, though.

2:59 PM EST  
Blogger Alyssa said...

Ari--hee, hee! Well, I have loved those pretty vampire types for a long time, albeit platonically (usually the best thing with vampires, anyway).

3:24 PM EST  
Anonymous Chris G said...

What a crazy story and how awwwkward! That said, I'd love to be entered in the draw.

2:16 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I bought a sample of b2b as soon as they were available on LuckyScent,thinking I would love it...loved it and then bought a decant spray. The top note turned out to be too cloying for me when sprayed rather than dabbed; however, I layered it with Fumerie Turque, and love it that way. Doubt that I'll spend the dough to buy a fb that has to be layered to be liked.

1:04 PM EST  
Anonymous Sarah said...

Hugely relieved to read your review :) I got a sample of this one and was heart broken - I love leather based scents but this one smelled like someone had emptied an old pub ashtray and a pot of honey over me, ick! And boy is it tenacious.

Please don't enter me in the draw!

That said, I'll go back and try the other perfumes because as you say the packaging may be pretentious but he is serious about what he does (and the travel sizes aren't quite so insanely expensive ;) ).

1:57 PM EST  
Blogger Lorelie said...

Sarah, I had to comment-still reeling w laughter....honey and pub ashtrays? Now I'm not so sure I'm excited as I was earlier this week. But as we all know, smell really is different on everyone. The SA Alyssa mentioned at BG that b2b is her very favorite, but the blogs I read all have very differing opinions about it. I love honey and I adore English pubs....hopefully, I will like my samples which BG is sending.

2:23 PM EST  
Blogger Alyssa said...

Sarah--Ha! But see, I would totally be up for honey and ashtrays. *she says, gazing lovingly at her full bottle of Jasmin et Cigarette*

2:35 PM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

LOL! It's comforting to see that I'm not the only one who suffers from occasional foot-in-mouth disease!
Please add me to the draw!

9:13 AM EST  
Blogger Gator Grad said...

I have a sample of this already and I like it--- but I mostly wanted to say that this was my favorite perfume blog post in months. I totally get your frustrations, your discomfort in the store, and your feelings about the fragrances.

I really love Straight to Heaven from this line, and I thought B2B was really good. His fragrances are BIG things, and I almost EXPECT a big frag for the price tag. But at the same time, though they are a large and impossible-to-ignore experience, they don't always meld well with me and my skin. They almost feel more like a lovely fragrant experience rather than a perfume...

9:56 AM EST  
Blogger Alyssa said...

Sue--you're in!

Gator Grad--thanks! And yes, I know what you mean about the melding...perhaps we don't have Kilian Kemistry.

3:56 PM EST  
Blogger Netto said...

OOOOh I want to sniff! Please enter me in the drawing

2:58 PM EST  
Anonymous sheshop said...

I love your review! The only difference is Kilian is very handsome and edward bess is just scary! lol

8:08 PM EST  

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