In 2003, the self-proclaimed "pink sheep” of the family debuted his most controversial fragrance, Kingdom, which was not so much a fragrance, but more akin to his design sensibility: a revolution. I purchased a bottle for $60 and...it smelled like unwashed skin, actually, like my unwashed armpits. It reeked of cumin - sweaty, raw, unwearable - and I never sprayed it again.
I hated it.
Within a year, it was discontinued and appeared with regularity on perfume discount sites for 37.99.
Fast-forward four years. In 2007, Kilian Hennessy introduces his own "controversial" line, by kilian, which quickly develops a cult following among perfumistos. During a breakfast interview at the Mandarin Oriental in New York, Kilian told me he had "worked" on Kingdom while at the Gucci Group, and left it at that, focusing instead his various upcoming projects.
But I could have sworn he spoke about a pyramid, which follows next:
By 2005, there was a vogue for niche perfumery, in particular, anything un-pretty; the olfactive pyramid was being challenged by a daring few. Kingdom inverted the traditional “olfactive pyramid” (top notes, heart notes, base notes), first with barely perceptible top notes of Calabrian bergamot, Sicilian mandarin, and orange. It further turned conventional wisdom inside-out by exposing the heart of cumin, ginger, and, although it's not listed, civet(?!); this beating third-world human heart came through, as if I was walking through a Middle Eastern bazaar, crowded stalls manned by unwashed sellers. "I am going to take you on journeys you’ve never dreamed were possible," the designer once remarked. "There is no way back for me now."
After my conversation with Kilian, I smelled Kingdom again… and this time, I "got it."
It was Joli-laid, a French term which literally means "beautiful-ugly." (A pundit on a prominent fragrance site likened it to an unwashed whore wearing ripped fishnet stockings...I think Alexander McQueen would like that ☺.) Slightly familiar, it brought to mind Rochas Femme which was created by the renowned Edmond Roudnitska and which both my grandmother and my mother wore, until it was reformulated in 1989 into a more palatable "modern" scent. How unfortunate that it has taken Alexander’s McQueen’s passing to renew interest in this radical ground-breaking fragrance, which broke every rule.
Who killed Kingdom? In all likelihood, the ubiquitous fruity florals and "fresh" & clean commercial men's fragrances that dominated the mainstream market when McQueen (bravely) chose to launch Kingdom. Blame it on Big Fragrance.
And now, like vultures, anyone with a bottle is going to sell, sell, sell….and help jack up prices. The original 1.6 oz I bought for $60 as of a week ago is now selling for 189.95 on Amazon.com (through independent sellers); however, it is still more reasonably priced on eBay, so BUY IT NOW.
And Kilian, a question…perhaps for our next interview: was Kingdom an inspiration for your new best selling series, Arabian Nights….?
Top: Calabrian bergamot, Sicilian mandarin, orange, Tunisian neroli
Middle: rose, Indian jasmine, cumin, ginger
Base: French vanilla, Indonesian myrrh
- Michelyn Camen, Editor at Large
(Kilian Hennessy photo via The Orange County Register)
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