By Kilian – Imperial Tea

After the astoundingly uninspired and unoriginal duo of Bamboo Harmony and Water Calligraphy (insipid, watered-down, semi-floral nothingness – if you own a bottle you should pour away the juice and use the bottle as a flower vase instead) were released at the launch of By Kilian‘s Asian Tales line, and after the pleasant but still rather non-descript Flower of Immortality (Immortal? Really? The osmanthus-peach accord fades after an hour on skin), I had to steel myself before spraying on the latest release, Imperial Tea, while paying a visit to the By Kilian counter at Harvey Nichols London. You see, as someone who comes from Singapore, and who thus has lived in Asia for over twenty years, I take offence at the reductionistic view that Asia smells… boring, a view that is probably held by the messrs who create ‘Asian-inspired’ perfumes based on the to some extent true assumption that many East Asians prefer clean, fresh smells à la L’Eau d’Issey. Never mind that Asia consists of far more countries than China – I suppose By Kilian was trying to appeal to the burgeoning bourgeoisie in China, who have mountains of 元 to spare with nowhere else to spend it. However, despite China’s increasing importance in the global sphere, it is a mistake to think that the olfactory palette of, and consequently olfactory inspiration derived from an entire country can be reduced to a few bamboo sticks and water, for goodness’ sake! How would you like if I created a line called ‘Western Tales’ and proceeded to bottle the smell of a Big Mac from McDonalds, because, well, that’s what I think the West smells like? In fact, if one really wanted to capture the smell of China, the best representation of it would be the pollutive smog that blankets the whole of Beijing. Now that would be a work of art – pollution in a bottle!

By Kilian Imperial Tea

All that ranting above was really my way of showing, by means of contrast, just how spectacular Imperial Tea really is. The moment I sprayed it on, I was greeted with a bitter, smoky oolong tea infused with sweet, fragrant jasmine flowers and rounded off with a smooth and creamy milk. YES! I dare say I swooned and went into convulsions of pleasure there on the marbled floors of Harvey Nichols. Paying homage to historical and cultural heritage? Check. Creating the perfect blend of tea and flower? Check. Not Lipton tea? Check. Originality? Check check check check check. It’s been such a long time since any fragrance has tickled my cerebral fancy whilst moving me emotionally AND satisfying my ‘wearability-on-a-long-term-basis’ criterion. Imperial Tea does all that and then more, and thankfully never veers in the direction of the sticky, syrupy, sickly sweet jasmine marshmallow concoction that is also known as Love by the very same brand. It is sweet, alright, but the sweetness is much more tempered down and offset by the bitter tannins of the tea. The lovely staff at the By Kilian counter cleverly passed me a sample upon witnessing my very visceral reaction, which I promptly took home to explore and enjoy further. Having worn it a few more times now, I can state, in full confidence, that the opening thirty minutes continue to leave me in slack-jawed amazement.

There isn’t much development in Imperial Tea, aside from a fading of the initial bitterness of the tea and sweetness of the jasmine, a dialing down of the volume. You’ve inhaled the glorious aroma of your tea and you’ve reveled in the complex sensations as you tasted it and drank it. And now you’re left with the aftertaste of those beautiful moments, and you are still, quiet and meditative. Perfect.

I rarely quote what other bloggers have said about a fragrance on my blog, but I felt that Denyse of Grain de Musc captured it almost perfectly in her recent post on her favourite spring fragrances:

“Tannic is the new fresh. I’m still swooning over Jean-Claude Ellena’s impeccable demonstration of this inEau de Narcisse Bleu. Calice Becker’s hyper-realistic rendition of jasmine tea is another. Don’t expect the scent to be long-lasting: getting the fragrance just right meant foregoing the usual tricks to extend its life on skin. But it would have been a crime to tweak it: Imperial Tea combines the pleasure of a “wow, that’s exactly it” moment with the refreshing sensation of a cologne, the tannic bitterness of the tea cutting through the lovely jasmine steam. A pleasure-giving brew that could be dedicated to Guanyin, the Chinese goddess of mercy.”

I wouldn’t agree with Denyse that the scent is a hyper-realistic rendition of jasmine tea – jasmine tea doesn’t come across as strongly, nor is the jasmine necessarily paired with oolong (you could have jasmine green tea, for example) and it isn’t generally this creamy or milky, but she is absolutely spot-on about everything else, managing to condense in a short, precise paragraph all that I’ve tried to describe in a long, rambling post. Perhaps brevity is a skill I ought to learn and demonstrate in my writing. Denyse is also right in saying that the scent isn’t long-lasting, and I agree with her wholeheartedly when she says that ‘getting the fragrance just right meant foregoing the usual tricks to extend its life on skin’. Imperial Tea doesn’t last beyond 3 or 4 hours on my skin, and just keeps becoming softer and softer until it fades away completely.

I’m not sure if By Kilian can outdo themselves on Imperial Tea, but if they do, I hope they find inspiration in the diverse smells that can be found throughout Asia. I’m already drooling to think that there might be a scent that captures Thai mango sticky rice (mango, rice and coconut notes would drive me crazy), or even a variation on the jasmine theme by drawing inspiration from the jasmine gajra that adorns the hair of a beautiful Indian bride after she has had her ceremonial bath in milk, turmeric and sandalwood powder.

Sadly, I’ve finished using up my sample, so I can’t pass it on to anyone to try, and will have to save up my pennies before I can spring for a full bottle of Imperial Tea. In the meantime, I shall pine, mourn and comfort myself by drinking some jasmine tea.

Imperial Tea is available on the!/perfumes/asian-tales/imperial-tea/cat_95 and retails for €185 for 50ml if you get it in its original bottle, €80 for the 50ml refill, or €105 for the 30ml travel spray. Why packaging should ever cost €105 extra befuddles my mind, but that’s how it is. US Readers can find it in select department stores or on Lucky Scent for $245/$145/$155 respectively. UK readers can find it retailing for £155 for 50ml at Harvey Nichols; I know they stock the refill as well, but the price has somehow slipped my mind.

~ The Smelly Vagabond


11 thoughts on “By Kilian – Imperial Tea

  1. Beautiful. I went nuts over this one as well and am delighted to have my suspicions confirmed that this is in fact a fabulous fragrance, sense exciting and vivid.

    Love the Big Mac idea – now wouldn’t that be foul?

  2. Right then, I have to try this. As a tea merchant I constantly bemoan the fact that I have never yet smelled a tea perfume that I feel really smells like tea. Jasmine Silver Needle tea is my absolute favorite and I have been looking for a fragrance to capture that beauty. Perhaps this would come close? Thanks for this wonderful review.

    I too loathe the sweeping generalizations people make about entire regions or race of people, so I entirely sympathize with your rant. A fume that smells like Big Macs! Perhaps there should be one to capture us Brits – fish and chips maybe? …

    • Dear SallyM,

      Oooh you’ve got me all jelly about your being a tea merchant – I love tea! Although I suspect I might not be so good at the merchant part of tea merchant. And by golly my favourite tea is Silver Needle too! Too bad I can’t afford the Silver Needle from Mariage Frères at Selfridges, it’s £70 for 100g… Imperial Tea does oolong very well but doesn’t come close to Silver Needle, unfortunately. Also, I think the smell of fish and chips would just be frying oil! 😀

  3. Bottled Beijing smog… that sounds lethal. 😀 Me being Asian, I often cringe when some marketing teams produce the image of Asia. Very often it’s so superficial and stereotypical.
    I still love to try Imperial Tea but creamy jasmine tea… Hmmmm.

    • Dearest Magpie,
      Aha, a fellow Asian! I fear there is a dearth of Asian perspectives in the blogosphere, although I do know that there are superbly dedicated Chinese bloggers who write reviews in Mandarin. I am, unfortunately, more of a ‘banana’, being in possession of only rudimentary levels of Mandarin.

      You are right, though. The image of Asia that is portrayed often irks me.

  4. Pingback: By Kilian Imperial Tea Kafkaesque

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