By Kilian – Worth it, or not?

I whined about these scents being “soooo expennnnnsiiiiive” for a long, long time. The ad copy was annoyingly pretentious, the packaging even more so. I eschewed trying them. I rolled my eyes every time somebody praised one of them. I said to myself, “There is no reason for you to go off the deep end over something so ridiculously overpriced, whether they’re good or not.”

But, see, the thing is, the By Kilians are good. Really good. I still don’t feel that I need one of them fancy-pants black bottles in a locking box, not for $225 a pop, and I probably don’t need a refill bottle for $175, either. (Probably not.) But the travel bottles (7.5ml) are slightly less ridiculously-priced.

Thanks to a generous giveaway from Musette at Perfume Posse in November, and to a promotion involving By Kilian’s Facebook page, I have recently had the opportunity to try several others from this brand. Like most houses, it’s a mixed bag for me – some of them are terrific, some merely competent. There were two that I didn’t like at all and wouldn’t wear. All of them are clearly composed of some good stuff, which at least justifies, to some degree, the crazy price point.

By Kilian has at this stage two series of fragrances – the first set is called L’Oeuvre Noire (“Black Masterpiece”), and the second is called Arabian Nights. L’Oeuvre Noire consists of the following: Prelude to Love (invitation), Love (don’t be shy), Beyond Love (prohibited), Love and Tears (surrender), A Taste of Heaven (absinthe verte), Straight to Heaven (white cristal), Back to Black (aphrodisiac), Liaisons Dangereuses (typical me), Cruel Intentions (tempt me), and Sweet Redemption (the end). Arabian Nights consists of Incense Oud, Pure Oud, Rose Oud, and the new scent Amber Oud.

I reviewed Beyond Love (prohibited) here, for the Tuberose Series, back in 2010. I have since swapped my small travel bottle, with at least 5ml remaining in it, for something else, upon finding that while I enjoyed Beyond Love, I didn’t really feel like wearing it often. I might agree with Perfumes: The Guide in its assertion that Beyond Love is the Best Tuberose Soliflore EVER. However, it seems that I prefer wearing Vamp a NY (that vanilla-spice-myrrh take on sultry tuberose), or Carnal Flower (greengreen juicy satiny flower oomph).

I reviewed Sweet Redemption (the end) here, remarking that I was very surprised to have found an orange blossom fragrance that didn’t veer soapy on me. I now have a small travel bottle of it, and I enjoy wearing it very much. Oddly, it’s not listed in the “fragrances” section of the By Kilian website, where you can “discover the perfumer’s formula.” It smells of orange blossom, sugar, vanilla, and myrrh, and is both sweet and deep.

The rest of L’Oeuvre Noire Collection:

Love (don’t be shy) – this thing has a long list of ingredients, from bergamot through coriander seed, from honeysuckle through orange flower to jasmine and rose absolutes, all the way to civet (!), vanilla, musk and labdanum – but all I really smell here is the “caramelised sugar accord,” along with a hint of jasmine. It smells like flowery marshmallows. It is very very foody, and I do not really enjoy it. Sigh.

Taste of Heaven (absinthe verte) – Okay, I’ll cop to it: I’ve never tasted absinthe. I am familiar with the smell, though, its close relation to anise and its bitter-green slant. But you take one look at its ingredients list and you see what this one’s really about: the lavender. Despite containing bergamot, geranium bourbon, orange flower, green absinthe oil, turkish rose, patchouli, oakmoss, amber and vanilla, what Taste of Heaven smells most like is, yep, lavender. Headache city for me. I mean, it’s nice lavender. (It certainly ought to be, given the price point and what seems to be BK’s insistence on using excellent raw materials.) It smells nice. I just have issues with linalool, apparently.

Straight to Heaven (white cristal) – I was wary of this one because I had it mixed up in my mind with Taste of Heaven’s lavender. I was wrong: this one’s based on spiced rum, with accords of rum, dried fruits, nutmeg, cedar, patchouli, ambergris, vanilla and musk. This is really good stuff, interesting and pleasant, and yet it’s another I don’t love.

Love and Tears (surrender) – another long long list of good stuff (bergamot, petitgrain, galbanum, ylang, daffodil, cedar, styrax, oakmoss), but again, I mostly smell a single accord of jasmine. It’s excellent jasmine, with enough restrained quiet woody stuff underneath that the jasmine is carried for a long time by its base. I, however, am not a big jasmine fan, so I am left unmoved.

Back to Black (aphrodisiac) – this one gets a lotta love from perfumistas (Tobacco! Honey! Wow!), especially now that Amy Winehouse, its inspiration, has left us behind. But it did nothing for me. Honey, cedar, patchouli, benzoin, cistus, tonka, vanilla, raspberry, tobacco – yep, it smells of all those things. It smells good. It smells like pipe tobacco. It does not contain the musty accord that made Chergui nearly unbearable for me. However, it sits there on my skin not doing anything, and to my mind is considerably less interesting than L’Artisan’s Havana Vanille (now renamed Vanille Absolument). I liked Tom Ford’s pleasant-but-dull Tobacco Vanille better than Back to Black, too. If I want tobacco, I’m going for SSS Tabac Aurea.

Liaisons Dangereuses (typical me) – a deliciously jammy rose-plum accord, almost edible but not quite. Rather sweet-fruity-spicy with notes of plum, peach, cinnamon, but still quite floral with damask rose and geranium. The drydown maintains a rosy hint atop its woody-moss-vetiver-vanilla accord. I love the first hour; but after that it makes me faintly queasy. I’m not sure what the disturbing note is because, as in the Lauder fragrances, I can’t actually smell it. This one reminded me a little of Sonoma Scent Studio Vintage Rose, which is another rose-plum accord and one that I similarly feel nauseated while wearing. After about four hours, the queasy stuff wears off and it’s a dry, woody scent, quite comfortable. I just don’t feel like suffering through those miserable three hours in the middle.

(Is it the plum that’s bothering me? I like the plum in Lyric Woman, and in Femme. I don’t know. And you know that I absolutely adore Mary Greenwell Plum, but I admit that the “plum” note in MG Plum is very different than the one in Femme.)

Prelude to Love (invitation) and Cruel Intentions (tempt me) I did not receive samples of, and haven’t tried. Judging by the notes listed on the By Kilian website, I don’t feel particularly deprived the way I would have if I hadn’t received a sample of, for example, Liaisons Dangereuses, which appealed to me very much in terms of notes.

The Arabian Nights Collection:

Amber Oud – I was surprised to like this one as much as I do. I’m not a huge amber fan, and oud I tend to like only as a small accent, but this is a warm amber-wood with a spicy heart – I swear there’s clove in here! – and a lovely silky feel, like whipped cream. It’s somehow airy and smooth at the same time, which is a feat given the raw materials involved. It wears fairly close to the skin, though it lasts a long time.

Incense Oud – I tend to like my incense as an accent, and often find incense-heavy fragrances overly dry. This is the case here; my favorite part of Incense Oud was the top, where you smell the oud most strongly. After that, it’s sour like wet ashes, all dry and uncompromising. It’s supposedly composed of incense, oud, rose, cardamom and labdanum, and you’d think that the rose and labdanum would sweeten it up a little, but no. Fans of dry incenses might like this, and I know at least a few perfumistas who love it – but not me. I managed not to scrub.

Pure Oud – cypriol, gaiac wood, saffron and oud. Wow, this thing is smoky and dark. There are aspects of leather and ink and a body-musk thing that smells sort of appropriate to this composition but nevertheless is not easy for me to wear. For some reason, this fragrance clings closer to skin than I expected from an oud scent; it radiates even less than Amber Oud. I don’t do well with these moody, Gothic-leaning scents, and I’m sure you’re not surprised to hear that this is just Not My Sort of Thing. There are alllll kinds of people on Basenotes whining about Pure Oud being just a more expensive version of Montale Aoud Original. I cannot address the matter, having avoided most of the Montale scents that do not involve rose. Which brings us to…

Rose Oud – Seems like rose and oud has been done to death, particularly by Montale, who has a long long line of fragrances focusing on variations of that accord. Now, first I should tell you that I rather like Montale’s infamously medicinal, band-aidy oud, and the rose is often very pretty (my favorite Montale oud-rose scent is Aoud Roses Petals, though Oud Queen Roses and White Aoud are nice too). Then there’s Epic Woman and Czech & Speake Dark Rose, both of which I like. And I know that there are a number of traditional Middle Eastern perfumery blends that tackle rose and oud, to the point that this accord is wearing grooves in the perfume counter, so to speak.

So I started out with Rose Oud, thinking that it would be just another pleasant rose-oud fragrance. I mean, you know, It’s Been Done. Been there, smelled that. Cliché. And then there are those ridiculous By Kilian prices! I was ready to say, “Yeah, nicey-nicey, so what? I ain’t spendin’ $8 per milliliter on this thang.”

But. This oud is smooth, almost honeyed, extremely pleasant. There’s a hint of saffron and some vague woody notes, but mostly Rose Oud is all about the rose – and it is a truly lovely rose. It reminds me of the rose note in Frederic Malle Une Rose, which I find gorgeous for fifteen minutes before the woody-amber starts acting like the Terminator (I literally feel hunted, chased, when wearing Une Rose). The rose in Rose Oud is beautifully smooth, sheer, delicate. In fact, the whole fragrance is sheer and delicate, with a silken texture that simply delighted me, all the more so because I wasn’t expecting such a lovely experience from the cliché accord. The CEO particularly enjoyed Rose Oud, even going so far as to offer to buy me a bottle. (It was fun telling him how much it cost, just to watch his head snap back in shock!)

I have not often, or at least not deliberately, explored most of the offerings of any particular house. It’s an instructive experience to do so, and I found it interesting to compare the fragrances to each other and look at them as part of a story. Exploring the By Kilians this way has given me an appreciation of the brand that I heretofore lacked. I had, as I explained, dismissed the house as being aspirational and unnecessarily concerned with fancy packaging, and if I’m being honest, some reverse snobbery played a part in my eye-rolling whenever someone mentioned By Kilian. Particularly when someone mentioned how cute Kilian Hennessy is. Because, really, I care so darn much about how attractive the people who make my perfume are. (Note to Dr. Sheldon Cooper: That was sarcasm.)

I’m still a little annoyed by the price schedule, though mollified to some degree by the availability of plain-bottle refills and travel bottles at lower prices. In the plain bottles, By Kilian is not out of the usual niche perfumery price range, and I must plainly admit that the quality ingredients show through. Likewise, BK is not skimping on hiring excellent noses; Calice Becker composed several of these fragrances, and I imagine she’s in enough demand that she doesn’t need to accept just any old assignment these days.

The fragrances smell very natural, especially in the case of florals, and the staying power is very good, at least on my normally scent-eating skin. I typically get at least four hours, and usually more like seven or eight, out of each of these scents, even the lighter florals. Clearly, there must be synthetic ingredients involved in these as well as the naturals, but they don’t smell like a chem lab. I also notice that the projection is not very wide; that is, people will not smell you coming down the hall but will notice your fragrance when inside your personal space. “Discreet” is my favorite type of sillage, and this aspect of these fragrances suits me very well. If you’re a big-sillage bombshell yourself, you might be disappointed. Beyond Love and Back to Black have the most noticeable wafts, in my opinion, even with my usual restrained application, but as I said, are not noticeable from across the room.

Another point about these fragrances is that they’re not wildly innovative. As I described in my review of Rose Oud, they’ve Been Done. There are many jasmine fragrances on the marketplace, many tuberoses, many rose-ouds, many honeyed tobaccos. What distinguishes the By Kilians is the excellent quality apparent in each. Sometimes the particular genre may not move you emotionally, but I think all of these are worth smelling. They are rarely difficult to wear, as are some of Guerlain’s and many of Serge Lutens’ perfumes.

M. Hennessy, for the quality of the perfumes, I forgive you all the over-elaborate packaging and the purple prose of the website and the commercialism of the offerings. Keep making these lovely, winsome, wearable fragrances, and (I beg) keep presenting them in the customer’s choice of plain or fancy packaging. I especially appreciate the generous sample set and the way your Facebook page is meticulously maintained, with news and samples made available to those who’ve demonstrated an interest. Thanks, and good luck to you.

If you’re still waffling over whether or not to try any By Kilians, let me urge you to give them a skin test. One of them may sing to you, all unexpected. I think it’s best not to dodge opportunities for joy, whether they come in the form of coffee with a friend or a little bit of heaven in a bottle.


44 thoughts on “By Kilian – Worth it, or not?”

  1. I really love this line — they just have an unusually high ratio of “Pretty!!!!” to “Meh”/”Ugh,” I think, even next to comparably expensive lines. There are more scents in the Frederic Malle line that don’t work for me, for example. (Either way, I’m not shelling out for full bottles.)

    I think very few lines are truly innovative, so I care more about consistent quality and some kind of signature style — and I do think BK has one, probably because so many of them are by Calice Becker.

    1. I was surprised to find most of the BKs so wearable. I have probably tested fewer Malles (note to self: go check that!), but have had fairly good luck with those as well but they seem… bolder? more unusual in composition? And the Malles I do love, I really love.

      I agree on the signature style of the line, and that these are consistently well done.

      1. I found the whole Malle line really striking at first, but the more times I went back to smell, the more I realized that most of them just aren’t really me. I do love Carnal Flower, but there are many other tuberose perfumes I love as well. Portrait of a Lady is also very nice, but again, not enough to kick all my other rose loves out of bed.

        1. Carnal Flower is at the top of my tubey love list. And I love love love Iris Poudre. LT can make fun of it all he wants, but it smells like an angora sweater to me, and nothing else even comes close.

          The rest of them? Eh. PoaL is great, but there’s that Youth Dew thing in the bottom; ditto Noir Epices. En Passant is, you know, passant. Lys Med is really great, but I have my DK Gold. Don’t like Lipstick Rose, don’t like the Bigarades, Une Rose skeered the pants off me. Fleur de Cassie and Parfum de Therese are just… weird.

  2. I agree: By Kilian has equal parts of aspirational presentation (and pricing), good quality formulas, well known accords… With the occasional little twist. I tested the line when it first came out, in a lavender and boozy fragrance quest: when I asked for taste of heaven and straight to heaven samples I was given a generous bunch of vials: almost the whole l’oevre noire.
    I hated the taste and straight (of/to heaven), scrubbed off ferociously prelude to love (white musks attack), didn’t dare to try the marshmallow… and was unexpectedly hooked by Beyond Love. I discovered my love for florals and tuberose through BL (and Fracas)! I wear it in summer, and really enjoy it. I also like Sweet Redemption and Love And Tears very very much!
    I think the line has something to offer for (almost) everyone, also price-wise, with the budget friendly option of the travel set refills. The spray holder is gorgeous, by the way… The full bottle+locked coffin packaging is soooo least for me.

    1. I remember your love for Beyond Love! I do think it is wonderful, one of my favorites from BK as well.

      And the company has been very generous with getting samples out into the hands of people who will talk about the fragrances, and possibly buy them – which is a smart business move, in my opinion. Regarding the packaging, I think it is attractive but since I am usually unmoved by packaging, a pretty bottle doesn’t motivate me to open my wallet. Those travel set refills are pretty darn cool.

    1. Ooh, all of them! A real fan speaks… well, they’re worthy of admiration, I say. It annoys me a little to have to eat my words about not ever testing anything I couldn’t buy a bottle of, but not enough to ruin my enjoyment of the fragrances.

  3. Interesting. We have virtually the same take on all the fragrances in this line. I actually haven’t completely worked my way through my sample set, though I need to. One minor peeve I have with this line is that half the fragrances have “Love” in the name and I can’t freaking remember which is which. Beyond Love and Liaisons Dangereuses are my two favorites so far… Yet, I agree, none of these are absolutely must-buys for me… I don’t HAVE to have them, even though I nearly love LD (there’s something amiss in the drydown for me too – I think it’s just too generic musky/woodsy… are you anosmic to any musks?).

    So far I have liked everything I’ve tried except Taste of Heaven (lavender… blech). But I do appreciate how the florals in these smell real. I think I wish they were just a TAD more edgy. Ok, enough rambling.

    1. That is interesting on our preferences, isn’t it? The names can be confusing (I mixed up the Heavens, and without looking at the vial I couldn’t remember if I had a sample of Love or Prelude to it).

      I did HAVE to have some Sweet Redemption, but that was because it moved me emotionally. It felt so tender. I just want (as opposed to “need”) a bit of Rose Oud, but I’ll get by without it. Maybe I’ll do some wheeler-dealer fancy stuff and see if I can snag a couple more samples of it, because that would probably soothe my urge. It is the florals which I love best from the line, which is probably not surprising – like I say, they’re not groundbreaking, but they smell lovely.

    1. We can’t have everything, can we? I need to do some more testing of the Serge Lutens fragrances, but so far that line has been less successful for me. MUCH less successful, in fact: I’ve uncovered only one True Love, and a few more that I enjoyed on the level that I enjoyed these. And there are about three times more perfumes in the SL inventory than Kilian’s presented.

  4. I have never had an opinion on the Kilians. Whatever they smell like, and how ever they are packaged, they are just too expensive for me. Simple. (And in order to simplify my life even further, I have ditched my Facebook account. So that’s that.) I’m glad to know that quality like this exists though. Thanks for your reviews.

    1. I understand. I had said that about the BKs for some time, only breaking that rule when the opportunity came to snag a travel bottle of Beyond Love for a very reduced price. It was tuberose! How could I resist? And then all of these were samples won in a drawing or sent me by the company. I was gratified to find that behind the hideous prices is, at least, good-quality material.

      (You wait… some evil fairy godmother will send you samples, and then you’ll have to make a further decision: try them or not?)

      1. Oh man! How will I cope? I’m testing Artelier Cologne and Parfum d’Empire, so I already have moer lemmings than I can cope with!

  5. Liaisons Dangereuses is currently my absolute favorite in my perfume drawer! I’m convinced it wears much greener (i.e. less sweet) than it does on other people. I first tried a sample on New Years day when I was visiting my parents and TX. I had already decided I loved it very quickly, then my Mom said “oh, you smell like your great grandmother!” – I was HOOKED! This also makes me wonder, “what kind of perfume did my grandmother wear!?!?!?” I bought the travel spray when I was recently at Aedes in NYC. The price for that made my heart hurt, but I just love it so freaking much!

    1. If you’re going to spend the money, best do it on something you just can’t live without, right?

      And I wonder with you, what did your granny wear? LD does smell… not vintage, exactly, but it’s Proper Perfume, with the depth and complexity of an old fashioned scent.

      1. I REALLY want to know, as she and I are apparently soul sisters! I have a hunch is may be my mother’s memory of her perfume + the flowers she kept in her house + whatever other fragrant smells were going on. I’ll just have to wait for the afterlife or get a Ouija board….

        1. I really love the fragrances in BK perfumes, I adore them,but they don’t last on the skin, and it is not that I like overpowering scents,but for the price I paid I was expecting a perfume that lasted at least a couple of hours!

    2. Interesting that you say that, Kathleen. The rose stage of Liaisons Dangereuses wears quite green on me, too. Most of the reviews I read emphasize the plummy-rose-jam aspect, but to me, the rose is super-green. So I don’t think you’re alone. Maybe we just have special skin. 😉

      1. I don’t get green out of LD, but then I’m a huuuge greenie fan, so it might just not be at the level where I pick up on it.

      2. Special skin it the best skin! *waves hands in the air in celebratory fashion*: Yay special skin. I mean, I still go get the rose-jam aspect, but I wouldn’t want to put this rose-jam on yummy toast or anything. I get a hint of something mintish in there too.

        More information on my “special skin”: It drinks in Prada Candy to wear you’d think I was wearing sugar water and nothing else.

        1. Do you like green fragrances? I haven’t gotten a handle yet on your usual tastes…

          I believe you about Candy. It is quite sweet, but I did get the buttery-woody bits too, and without them, Candy would be pretty much all sugar.

          1. Not things that are ALL green. I like a good balance. Flip side, not in love with things that are sugar coated either. My tastes are really still evolving… the more I sniff and the more really good stuff I sniff, I feel thinks in my taste profile morphing. Sorry, so obtuse! 🙂

  6. Worth it. Not that I can afford it, but worth it. 😉 I am so impressed with BK fragrances, even the several that didn’t work for me. But the ones that do (Rose Oud, Amber Oud, Straight To Heaven, to name a few) are glorious.

    1. The couple of thoughts that come up for me regarding the BKs:
      1) they are truly spendy
      2) they are not wildly original
      BUT 3) the quality is there, either in raw mats or composition or both.

      I do love Sweet Redemption, and Rose Oud is an amazingly beautiful rose.

  7. I think they’re really high-quality, smell natural, and are wearable, but I don’t really like many of them except for Love and Dangerous Liaisons. And even those I don’t love. Not enough to buy a full bottle.

    1. Ehhhh… there’s too much to love elsewhere to worry about it, you know? I feel the same way about Serge Lutens (ssshh!).

  8. So much for your stinky candles that burn black as soon as you light them. Tried cutting wick you name it. As for the staff at Saks that sold it to me (attractive but super obnoxious male) should be better trained at selling his products as he obviously does not know what he is talking about neither about the fragrances nor your ridiculous candles.

    1. Sami, I’m sorry your experience was less than positive. I’m not at all familiar with candles from this brand, and to be honest I’m a little confused by the way you say “your candles.” I hope it’s clear that I’m a private consumer, not a representative for Kilian Hennessey’s line, and I reviewed these fragrances from samples.

    1. Um. Okay, good for you. Not sure what that has to do with By Kilian, but this isn’t an obvious spam comment so I approved it.

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