Friday, 17 April 2015

Persolaise Review: Smoke For The Soul from Kilian (Fabrice Pellegrin; 2014)

I've always thought there was something hollow at the heart of the Kilian brand. It goes without saying that it certainly isn't the only perfume house which tries to seduce people with style rather than substance, but its attempts have always struck me as particularly unsavoury, reeking of the worst sort of cynicism. Give people a bit of bling and they won't realise that the product you're selling them is, at best, passable. That seems to have been the company's motto for a few years now. But it reaches a new, problematic level with the release of Fabrice Pellegrin's Smoke For The Soul.

Why problematic? Well, because the scent itself isn't bad; it's when you view it against its context that the trouble starts. If I had to assess it in what you might call 'blind' terms - divorced from external attachments - I'd call it a fairly interesting take on smoke and vetivert. Using camphoraceous, herbal and sulphuric elements (courtesy of materials such as eucalyptus and grapefruit) Pellegrin has fashioned a vetivert notable for its acerbic, bitter dryness. From its parched, verbena-like opening, to the charred embers in its base, it is a rendition of thin, pale wisps of smoke, shot through with droplets of acid rain.

Like so many scents in this genre, it can't stop the burnt facets from hogging the drydown and, as it progresses, it does descend into familiarity. However, its tarry, leathery elements succeed in adding a compelling darkness to proceedings every now and then, although this effect is discernible only if you get right up close.

Smoke For The Soul also features - as has been well documented - a marijuana note. At this point, the context comes crashing back in. And, sadly, it's impossible to ignore. The weed facet is lucid and distinct, but not especially dominant; its acrid, pinprick sweetness radiates in all directions at the start, then gradually fades away. But the very fact that its presence is deemed noteworthy by the marketing baggage (the scent is part of a sub-range called Addictive State Of Mind; the Kilian website cites "psychotropic tobacco" as one of its notes) is a cause for groans of disdain.

It's difficult to work out precisely what Kilian intends by this reference to the smell of a thousand student apartments. Is it meant to be read as transgressive? Is it designed to evoke notions of spirituality? Is it simply meant to induce titters? Whatever the case, it doesn't convince. In fact, it comes across as puerile, childish and embarrassingly desperate. But then this is a brand which has always tried too hard to play the 'cool' card. Its blinged-up serpent bottles are like props left over from a hideous episode of Dynasty (and that's really saying something). Its oh-so-arty photos of Kilian Hennessy are more painful to look at than a grown man wearing spray-on jeans better suited to the legs of a twelve-year-old. And now, Smoke For The Soul feels like the cringe-making silence that suffocates a room after someone has cracked a wholly inappropriate joke. As I said, somewhere beyond the advertising claptrap lies Pellegrin's well-constructed perfume. But it's obscured by a pretentiousness which yanks the scent way beyond the territory of the merely laughable and drops it straight into the realms of the utterly pathetic. Shame.

[Review based on a sample of eau de parfum obtained by the author in 2015.]



  1. Pretentiousness is a quality not to be cultivated in any walk of life as in the end the truth will out and by the sound of will only appeal to folk who have more money than sense! I've never liked any of the By Killian that I've sniffed "in the shop" as it were - just not enought substance really. Anyway I'm new to this site and I like the sound of it......honest evaluations written with humour - not too much - but with an inegrity that is rare in this conditioned consumer ridden society that we live in.

    1. Anon, thanks very much indeed for taking the time to comment.

      As I'm sure you're aware, the Kilian brand has many fans and I wouldn't wish to belittle their enjoyment of it. However, I'd be flat-out lying if I said I was impressed with their perfumes. And my blog is a No Fib Zone ;-)

  2. Dear Mr Persolaise Your last post is exactly the reason why I enjoy your blog so much; I have never been attracted to the Killian line despite some very positive reviews from Luca Turin ( but by now, we all know he is in love with Calice Becker ). I could not exactly point my finger at what was wrong but you just did it so eloquently. With so much offering on the perfume markets, mass and niche , it is healthy to remain critical and to keep praising true quality.

    1. Anon, thanks for your comment.

      I love a lot of Becker's work too... just not any of the stuff she's done for Kilian. In fact, a few days ago, I managed to find a sealed bottle of her Cuir for Lancome. I snapped it up with no hesitation whatsoever :-)


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