Kilian Hennessy shared key learnings.
“For me, a great perfume is a great story long before being a beautiful olfactive harmony,” said the founder of fragrance brand By Kilian. “What’s important is that since the origin of perfumery, there has always been a triangle between the name, the bottle and the juice, and the three of them respond and echo each other.”
He confided: “That’s why all my names are long. For me what was important was really to create an emotion.”
Hennessy explained that when he started his line’s production in 2007, its cost of goods had increased over the cost objective by 300 percent, so he was obliged to retail By Kilian fragrances at a price two times higher than the most expensive perfumes on the market.
“But that gave me two great lessons. Number one is that if the product feels [luxurious], then the price has to follow,” he said.
Hennessy added that if his was going to be a true luxury product it should and could not be disposable. So from the outset, By Kilian bottles were refillable, like perfume decanters of yesteryear.
You May Also Like
“The last element that was very important to me when I started the creation of the brand was to be honest with the customer,” he continued.
Hennessy’s objective with the line was to place perfumery on a pedestal again, like it was a century ago, but with contemporary olfactive and aesthetic takes.
As for the subject of what keeps him awake at night, Hennessy said with a grin: “Well, if you talk to my wife, considering the fact that I am up at 5 [a.m.], the industry is really having too many issues for me.”
More seriously, he ticked off subjects like — first and foremost — how to stay relevant. To illustrate the point, he played a video of “Gangnam Style,” the blockbuster single by Psy that garnered 2.5 billion views at launch four years ago.
“Who knows the name of his last creation?” Hennessy scanned the audience. “No one.”
To avoid being a one-hit wonder, the executive said he built his brand not on one aesthetic, but on a series of collections that would allow him to “keep my finger on the pulse of the moment.”
Another question weighing on Hennessy is how to increased the perceived value of perfume. He reminisced on the price of Levi’s jeans 30 years ago — $50.
“When I hear that my perfume is expensive at $260, and I compare it to a pair of jeans [today] at $350 it makes me wonder. It makes me question what the jeans industry has done in order to increase so significantly the perceived value of the product,” he said, adding an answer is creativity.
Hennessy also ponders about how to build brand awareness. He explained that while coverage in top magazines remains important, there are also blogger relationships necessary in markets such as the U.S., for instance.
“When you are a young brand built on one person and you have to be connected with all those people times 40 countries and you still have to do your job – I just can’t wait for cloning to happen,” he joked.
Lastly, following By Kilian’s acquisition by the Estée Lauder Cos. Inc. in February, Hennessy has been mulling how his label can remain grounded by its roots, keep its DNA intact yet still fly.
“We are going to continue to build, to invent new things,” he said.