On screen, the legendary German actor Klaus Kinski (18 October 1926 - 23 November 1991) was best known for his collaborations with director Werner Herzog, including the classics Aguirre, Wrath of God (1972), Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979) and Fitzcarraldo (1982), a trilogy which pushed performance to the brink of all-consuming madness.

In real life, Kinski was often equally electrifying. According to Peter Geyer, head of Kinski Productions, which manages the actor’s legacy, his name came to stand for “leadership in extravagantly non-conformist thought,” a polite way of describing a man whose hell-raising scandalized even his most free-thinking peers. How do you go about creating a fragrance to capture the character of such a complicated man?

Geyer took on that challenge to mark the 20th anniversary of Kinski’s death. He wasn’t interested in simply merchandising the actor’s name. Nor did he want any gimmicky association with the idea of “smelling like KIaus Kinski”. Instead, he wanted a luxury product that would convey a rare, precious, arcane personality. So he sought out Berlin-based perfumer Geza Schoen, who has earned a worldwide reputation for precisely those qualities with the Escentric Molecules range of fragrances. Kinski Productions has licensed the team behind Escentric – Schoen and Me Company – to shepherd KINSKI the fragrance into being.

KINSKI is an ingenious olfactory homage to a man whose complex personality enthralled and appalled a generation. It is a richly decadent, textured scent with heady top notes including cassis, juniper and castoreum; a heart with oceanic notes inspired by Kinski’s love of the sea; and a base of animalic and woody notes that reflect his own almost feral sensuality. “The ingredients list for KINSKI comes into its own when you look at his lifestyle,” says Schoen. “It was excessive, exuberant, debauched. So I instantly thought of something animalic, dirty…yet with me, there is always something clean too. It perfectly fits with this ambivalent thing that Kinski had. It’s an old cliche that there is a fine line between genius and madness. In Kinski’s case, it was a knife edge, and he danced along it his whole life. He was part international sophisticate, part idiot savant. And that kind of tension means that KINSKI is a perfect fit with our odd portfolio of fine conceptual fragrances.”

The “portfolio” Schoen is referring to is the six members of the Escentric family, plus A Beautiful Mind, the new series he is working on with Me Company. With each of those products, their appearance has been an integral part of their appeal because of Me Company’s haunting design work. KINSKI is no exception. “Kinski was partly famous for his manic eyes, the staring eyes of the true outsider,” says Me Co.’s Paul White. “I found a black-and-white image of Kinski as a young man, possibly a passport photo from the late 40s, but with that same mesmerizing gaze. But for me to be able to use this image, I had to find a way to bridge an old photograph and a contemporary fragrance.” In a masterful marriage of shadowy film noir mood and contemporary experimental method, White cropped the original image to the eyes, distorted it with a custom-built virtual 3-D screen, and glazed it with gold. The result is an expressionistic rendering of the actor’s face, splintered and filtered through the decadent 70s, the decade when Kinski’s life and art combined to create the cult-ish magic that still grips audiences today.

Geyer is thrilled with KINSKI the fragrance, and he is convinced Kinski the man would have been too. “He would have loved to be used as a luxury brand,” says Geyer. “Plus, he was addicted to the idea of using perfumes long before the male perfume market went mainstream in the late 80s. He probably changed his perfume at least as often as he changed his luxury cars.” For the record, there were three years at the end of the Sixties when Kinski bought 16 cars: three Maserati, seven Ferraris and six Rolls Royces. That’s a whole lot of perfume. But maybe if he’d encountered Schoen’s creation in his honour, his restless soul might have been temporarily stilled and seduced by a different kind of self-indulgence. That is certainly the invitation that Geza Schoen is offering the rest of us.

The KINSKI pyramid

top: marihuana white wine aldehyd bergamot juniper

heart: nutmeg rose magnolia silent seanotes hedione castoreum

base: patchouly vetiver cedarwood stryax benzion cistus suede musk amber

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