One of the fantastic things about observing perfume over the last few years has been the rise of the auteur independent perfumer. They are intuitive about making perfume without formal training. One of these whom I have followed since 2006 is James Heeley. Mr. Heeley came to perfume making after attaining a degree in Philosophy and Aesthetics from King’s College, London University. Both of those disciplines has led to the simple brand Heeley having the aesthetic of being free to create. That’s because Mr. Heeley’s philosophy is ever evolving when it comes to perfume. This is a perfume line that is all the more interesting because of it. Here are five to get you started exploring Heeley.
Cardinal was the perfume which introduced me to the brand it was the fifth release in 2006 although the brand debuted in 2004. It is one of my very favorite incense perfumes because while the incense heart accord is photorealistic the top accord of aldehydes and the base accord of vetiver and patchouli provide some abstraction. If you love incense fragrances Cardinal is one you need to try.
In Cuir Pleine Fleur the opposite occurs as an abstract version of leather is seen through a floral haze. The florals of acacia flowers, rose, mimosa, hawthorn provide a blooming riot of an accord. The leather delicately intercalates itself within these boisterous blooms. Then Mr. Heeley burnishes it with glowing drizzles of honey, some cinnamon, and cedar. All before finishing on a real animalic high as castoreum makes the leather stand up and be noticed.
By 2008 the idea of another aquatic was about as welcome as a case of sunburn. I had become exhausted with the banality of the form. Sel Marin is a good example of how Mr. Heeley can transform the common into something worth trying. The way he achieves it is to have really well-chosen partners to the tried and true. So the sunny lemon is made green by beech leaves. The ozonic briny accord is made greener by a seaweed accord. Finally, the clean cedar and vetiver finish is roughed up by birch. If you think aquatics are boring this will change your perspective.
When it comes to patchouli many perfumes struggle with trying to elide the “head shop” vibe out of it. With the appropriately named Hippie Rose Mr. Heeley embraces it and makes it elegant. He does this by sandwiching that patchouli between moss, rose, vetiver, and incense. It could be the Summer of Love in a bottle.
Last year’s Chypre 21 is a great example on how to construct a modern chypre without the full-fledged oakmoss. Start with rosemary and lemon, then bring in a Bulgarian rose. Lay all of that on top of a nouveau chypre accord of patchouli, sandalwood, low-atranol oakmoss, white musks and dust all of it with saffron. One of the better versions of extrapolation of a venerable form to the current day.
If you have not tried the Heeley perfume line these five will give you a great idea of what Mr. Heeley’s philosophy and aesthetics of fragrance are all about.
Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.