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.]