Courtesy of Kilian Paris

Nestled in the Cedarwood forests of Ifran, Morocco, the smell of oud fills the air. It’s been 10 years since Kilian Paris launched its first iteration of Rose Oud and Sacred Oud, a uniquely spicy blend of cumin, sandalwood, and cedar that’s enough to make even the most daring of palettes crave something a little more divisive. And now, as the brand’s 15th anniversary approaches, founder and modern master of fragrance Kilian Hennessy tells GRAZIA why the oud’s 2022 reintroduction to the market is here to make people rethink their relationship with scent.

Courtesy of Kilian Paris

GRAZIA: Why did you decide to relaunch Sacred Oud and Rose Oud?

KILIAN: These are creations from ten years ago and I found it beautiful in a way to relaunch them for the brand’s 15th anniversary. They are two scents that I feel maybe were too advanced ten years ago. They were more for the connoisseur and not for everyone. It’s like a Soulages painting. Not everyone is going to say I love Soulages. But if you get close to a Soulages and start looking at it from different angles and see how his lines allow light to come in then you start to appreciate the painting. These two scents are very complex. They are also the only two creations of which I have received compliments from other perfumers, which, I have to tell you, it’s beyond rare for competitors to congratulate you. In the case of Rose Oud, I wanted to take the classic tree of the Middle East, which is saffron, and blend it with rose and oud but to build a more Western scent. In a way, it’s a homage to the Middle East but without trying to copy what already exists in the region, because there are already thousands of rose oud scents. So the idea was to have a fusion of both the Arab and French world.

GRAZIA: What is it about the Middle East that inspires you when it comes to fragrance?

KILIAN: Men and women in the Middle East are a much more sophisticated customer. They know more about perfumes because it’s so entrenched in their culture. The way Middle Eastern women and men approach perfume is always 20-50 years ahead of the rest of the world, the way they combine scents, the way they create a unique olfactory identity – they want to smell unique. There’s not one person in the Western world who thinks like that. So, it’s very exciting for me because it means I can push my creativity, because you know this customer is going to understand it.

GRAZIA: What do you think it is about the Kilian brand that Arab women love? 

KILIAN: I think the brand is audacious. I think the brand tries to live up to its motto, ‘Don’t Be Shy’. When I was in Riyadh, the perfume that actually everyone was talking to me about was ‘Dark Lord’, which is a spicy, vetiver scent. It didn’t sell well in the rest of the world but Saudi Arabia was one of my top sellers. I think Arab women understand that one of the things Kilian offers is absolute quality, so much so that we don’t resemble any other fragrance brand on the market.

GRAZIA: Tell us more about your ‘Don’t Be Shy’ motto… 

KILIAN: I think that perfume can act as a way to express parts of your personality that when you’re shy you wouldn’t express as easily. If I take the ‘Good Girl Gone Bad’ fragrance, not every girl can be a good girl gone bad. But, let’s say you go on a date and the man says, “you smell so good”, you have two options: you can say it’s a Kilian perfume, or you can say “I wear ‘Good Girl Gone Bad’.” You know? As a man, if a woman says that then it’s, like, wow, that’s the beginning of a story. I think men and women enjoy being a little flirtatious with life.

GRAZIA: When was the moment you knew that your future was in fragrance?

KILIAN: It was the first day at nose school when I started smelling the raw materials, essential oils, and synthetic nodes. I fell in love immediately and I knew instantly that perfume was going to become my world.

GRAZIA: Kilian is all about bringing true luxury back into fragrance. But what does “true luxury” to you?

KILIAN: Luxury is, quite frankly, on every level, the quality and concentration of ingredients. You can have quality ingredients, but without the right concentration you don’t have the right end product. Packaging is also important. The bottle of the fragrance might seem very simple, but all the sides are carved in glass, all names are engraved on the metal plaque, and the inside of the engraving is filled manually with a syringe with enamels. The bottles are refillable, too. It’s all the little details that you add one by one that creates the feeling of a luxury product, and in the end, I don’t think you can fool the customer.

GRAZIASpeaking of the refillable bottles, by offering consumers refillable bottles you’re saying that luxury is not disposal, which is an ethos we live by at GRAZIA. Why is sustainability an important part of luxury?

KILIAN: There are two different approaches. Firstly, a true luxury product is more sustainable because it lasts longer. If every bag you buy breaks after six or nine months, you’ll keep throwing it out and buying another one, therefore creating more waste for the environment. However if you buy a bag that lasts because the quality of the materials are higher, then that’s more sustainable. It’s the entire supply chain that you have to look at. At Kilian, every year we try to make each product better for the environment. The glass bottle contains 20% of recycled glass. My dream eventually to make products made from 100% recycled glass, but I can only go as fast as the industry can move. But our cardboard bags, shopping bags, tissue papers, gift ribbons and all that it is all made out of recycled material.

GRAZIA: Do you have a favourite fragrance of yours that you’ve created?

KILIAN: ‘Angels’ Share’. It is my most personal because the smokiness and the leather reminds me of the wood used in Hennessy cognac making. The evaporation of whisky during its storage in barrels, is called “Angels’ Share”.

GRAZIA: So, apart from your big 15th anniversary, what else do you have in the pipeline?

KILIAN: I’m launching a new scent in February for Valentine’s Day. And in two years time we’re also planning to launch makeup in a big way. It was a sustainability element because everything will be refillable.