The History of the Hero: Kilian Love, Don't Be Shy

kilian love, don't be shy
TheHistory of the Hero: Kilian Love, Don't Be Shy Courtesy

Kilian Hennessy has no interest in playing it safe. Inspired by the heady aromas of years spent in Cognac, the perfumer creates scents that encapsulate sex appeal.

Sixteen years since its launch, the Kilian family is now peppered with cult heroes – the kind of perfumes that fragrance heads keep close to their chest. But there’s one in particular that is drawing in the masses today, thanks in no small part to a certain celebrity endorsement.

When it was revealed (reportedly much to her outrage) that Rihanna’s famously good signature scent was in fact Kilian’s Love, Don’t Be Shy – a heady trail that celebrates the all-consuming emotion of passionate love – a whole new generation discovered the game-changing gourmand perfume for the first time, 15 years after its debut as one of the fragrance house's first five launches. In fact, it's not unusual for Rihanna's star power to send demand for a scent surging: Maison Francis Kurkdjian's Baccarat Rouge 540 has been enjoying a similar resurgence since she gave it her seal of approval.

While Hennessy is thrilled by the enduring success (and discreetly confirms that Rihanna indeed “smells delicious”) he never intended for Love, Don’t Be Shy to become a scent for younger women – in fact, creating a gourmand that felt truly mature was his dedicated (and decidedly tricky) aim.

“I needed Love, Don’t Be Shy to be a gourmand, because I want the skin to smell sweet,” says Hennessy. “But my biggest focus was to do a gourmand without using the structure invented by [Mugler's] Angel, which is the original gourmand. For me, that was the greatest creation of the 20th century, because it invented its own family – there was no gourmand before Angel. It was done using an accord of red berries on a new molecule called ethyl maltol, which is very fluid: it doesn’t have consistency. So the genius of the perfumer was to back it up with a very structured material: patchouli.” Today, this patchouli-maltol accord is the formula for almost every gourmand scent in the world.

Hennessy challenged perfumer Calice Becker to create something entirely new, working with ethyl maltol but not with patchouli. “We tried many woods and florals to give consistency to the maltol, but nothing was working. But one day, Calice was making marshmallow using her grandmother’s recipe. She looked at the ingredients – preoccupied with the accord we were trying to build – and she had it.”

Love, Don’t Be Shy can be defined by three important notes: that foamy, sugar-high marshmallow, the deep floral orange blossom, and the labdanum in the drydown. “The reason why the queen flower is orange blossom is because, back in the days when you made marshmallow, you would pour orange blossom on top,” explains Hennessy.

The central three notes combine to make something impactful, but it’s the underlying complexity that makes the fragrance so unrivalled. “We started adding more flowers – there are beautiful qualities of iris and rose – and the result was pretty, but it wasn’t sexy. It felt almost like a perfume for teenagers: and this is not supposed to be a game for 16 year olds. So we thought about adding a leathery, more animalic accord, the labdanum, which is what gives it the sexier, more mature feel.”

A gourmand like no other, Love, Don’t Be Shy successfully shakes off the saccharine nostalgia of its olfactive cousins, offering something darker and sultrier with powerful sillage and a long-lasting trail. ‘Intoxicating’ is an overused word in perfumery, but it feels genuinely apt here.

In fact, you can categorise spritzing any Kilian scent as a truly inebriating affair. Hennessy deliberately shies away from lighter, brighter scents, preferring to work with the sexier stems: orange blossom, tuberose, jasmine. “I don’t do the light flowers because frankly, I feel the market is oversaturated with them, and I find it much harder to create something with them that appeals to my heart, my taste. Indeed, while fresh bouquets of lily and rose might be a commercially safe move, women don’t turn to Kilian for safety.

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