Photo by Karen Sterling
Three of the industry’s top talents lit up the Park Hyatt’s glittering Onyx Room on Wednesday morning. Calice Becker (gracious as ever) and Kilian Hennessy (spirited, as usual) spoke in a conversation moderated by Ann Gottlieb in the second installment of the Fragrance Foundation’s Creatives forum. Topics ranged from luxury packaging and olfactive chemistry to the American predilection for sweet-smelling scents in a discussion peppered with laughter. These three know how to play to a room.
Fragrance Foundation president Elizabeth Musmanno welcomed the audience, and Felix Mayr-Harting, Global Head of Fine Fragrance at Givaudan (the morning’s sponsor) provided opening remarks before Gottlieb introduced Becker and Hennessy, giving a quick precis of their “professional love affair.” Becker, who is VP of Perfumery at Givaudan, has developed 20 of Kilian’s 30 fragrances over the past ten years, including Back to Black, Aphrodisiac, and Rose Oud.
They spoke at length about their collaborative creative process. In the beginning, Hennessy wrote Becker “an email every day telling me what he thought of my fragrances,” and the perfumer says that now “we understand each other, like siblings. He’s still sending me texts.” When asked to describe his scent preferences, Hennessy said he likes to evoke “the ‘50s and ‘60s, a very heavy dry down — wood, vanilla, amber. A bit like the sugar in the barrels of cognac, a sort of woody sweetness.” (If you hadn’t guessed, he’s one of those Hennessys).
When asked about changes in the industry, Becker was quick to assert that the work itself has stayed the same: “creating a formula is still creating a formula,” but the demand for faster turnarounds has led to longer hours. Here, she hopes advances in technology will help ease the development processes. “We are in the early stages still of finding out why people like a scent,” she says. “Right now we are still like witches,” she added, pretending to whip up a potion.
Another focus was luxury packaging — something by Kilian, with its elegant lacquered boxes and inlaid bottles — is especially known for. To Hennessy, prioritizing high-end materials has a double function: first, his chic, refillable bottles help reduce the waste caused from single-use flacons. Second, they drive home his commitment to the finer things: “”Real luxury is not disposable,” he said.
The two also mused over the primacy of sweet-smelling, gourmand fragrances on the market today. Why do customers love them so much? Becker’s theory seems on the money, particularly given today’s political climate: “I think the amount of sugar is to compensate for anxiety. It’s like getting the sweetness without the calories. It makes them more comfortable.” Hennessy concurs, “All my top sellers have a sweetness to them. It’s a world everyone can understand.”
Becker also hit an important note when asked how she deals with the competing priorities of clients and internal colleagues. “They’re there to help, their energy is useful and necessary,” she said, “but at the end of the day, you have to be alone to create the magic.” The room burst into applause, not for the first (or last) time that day.
– Jon Roth for The Fragrance Foundation