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Kilian Hennessy Talks Love, Tears, Surrender—And So Much More

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Kilian Hennessy’s name precedes him. As the grandson of the famed cognac-producer Kilian Hennessy, he has the rare privilege of being part of the legacy that put the H in LVMH, the world’s foremost luxury conglomerate. The younger Hennessy has steered clear of the family business, though, and instead chosen perfume as his métier. “I found fragrance by luck,” the handsome Frenchman says of his chosen profession, which to date has yielded two fragrance collections (L’Oeuvre Noir and Arabian Nights) and a worldwide fan base that extends from New York to the UAE (he’s huge in Dubai). Putting in time at Firmenich and holding marketing jobs at Dior, PUIG, Gucci Group, and the L’Oréal-owned Armani Fragrances gave Hennessy the olfactory chops to go out on his own, which he did in 2007, when he began working on a collection of ten fragrances that tells a story in three parts: four fragrances correlate to “love and its prohibitions,” three to “the artificial paradises,” and three to “the temptations” category. Love, Tears, Surrender, his ninth offering and the conclusion of his love theme, bows this month. This time around, Kilian played with jasmine, pairing the floral essence with a combination of ylang-ylang and what he calls “beachy notes.” Here, Hennessy discusses the differences between fragrance and cognac, what real luxury is, and why he just may have a future in screenwriting.

How does a cognac heir come into fragrance?

I did a program in college at La Sorbonne that specialized in semantics and literature and I wrote my thesis on the semantics of perfume—I don’t know why. Because I really wanted to understand what I would be writing about, I enrolled at Cinquième Scents to take a nose course. This school educates people who don’t want to be perfumers but want to work in the perfume industry, so it teaches olfactive families, essential oils, synthetic molecules, etc. I did ten crash courses over the course of the year and when I started smelling, it just clicked. I knew instantly that that would be my craft.

Was it a big deal to leave the family business?

Well, Hennessy was no longer a family business—it was LVMH. My grandfather is 103 now, but when he took over Hennessy after WWII he had to open markets to sell product—so everything I’m doing now, he did 60 years ago. We have the same name so whenever I see him he says, “How am I doing?” asking about my business. His favorite fragrance is A Taste of Heaven.

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