Heeley 101- Five to Get You Started

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.


James 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.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Heeley Chypre 21- Last Stand for Oakmoss?


If there is any genre which gets perfume lovers wringing their hands with concern over the IFRA/EU restrictions on perfume raw materials it is the chypre. The form was created by Francois Coty in 1917 with oakmoss prominent within its formula. Oakmoss is one of the ingredients which has been significantly restricted in its use. This hurdle has only inspired some of the best perfumers out there to see if in this new age where all of M. Coty’s ingredients can’t be used if an alternative can be found. Perfumer James Heeley is the most recent to take a crack at this with Heeley Chypre 21.

The original chypres were big blustery perfumes which were full of powerful notes like patchouli, civet, musks, and vetiver. Subtle it was not. When a modern perfumer reinterprets this they naturally look to “lighten” things up. Mr. Heeley does this while still using a bit of oakmoss to provide the bite of chypre but this is more a nip on the ankles than a full-fledged chomp.


James Heeley

Chypre 21 opens with the classic citrus provided by petit grain and bergamot. What I really liked was the inclusion of rosemary with the citrus. This was almost a nod to the Jean Marie Farina cologne opening. Every time I wore it I liked the cologne-like freshness these notes imparted to the early going. Rose is one of the more traditional floral notes chosen to accompany the chypre accord because it stands up to it. Rose is the heart of Chypre 21. Mr Heeley’s twist is to dust it with saffron adding in a beautifully exotic complement. The cologne intimations are fully banished and I am anticipating the chypre base to arrive any minute. When it does the oakmoss rides in on a flying carpet composed of some of the synthetic musks. If this was fifty years ago there would be a lot more oakmoss and the musk would be real. By having to use a lesser concentration and the synthetic musk equivalents Mr. Heeley makes a chypre which hums with precision but less powerfully. Patchouli deepens the chypre accord and sandalwood provides a dry woody foundation for it to rest upon.

Chypre 21 has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Mr. Heeley stated in the press release his aim was to create a fragrance “with a certain air of Parisian chic”. I think he has achieved this with Chypre 21. It feels like a chypre throughout with some interesting modern choices to give a more contemporary spin to it. By keeping it lighter I think Chypre 21 is more approachable by many for whom a real full-throated chypre would keep at arm’s length. Chypre 21 is enough of a chypre that I think it will still appeal to fans of those predecessors. I think what is best about Chypre 21 is it will also succeed at creating some new aficionados of chypre.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample supplied by Heeley.

Mark Behnke