New Perfume Review Heeley Athenean- What If?

As I’ve watched the best independent perfumers over the years there has usually been a learning curve. The earliest creations are good but as time passes, they become more assured in their ability. There is usually what I call an inflection point where an indie brand goes from being good to great. It is one of the things I enjoy most about trying new perfume to see that process happen. I’ve always wondered what would happen if one of these perfumers went back and reconsidered their earliest creations. What would they do differently? Perfumer James Heeley has decided to do this with his latest Heeley Athenean.

Mr. Heeley began his brand back in 2004 with his first release Figuier. He wanted to create a classic fig-based Mediterranean style perfume to start his independent career. That one wasn’t my first introduction to the brand it was the other debut fragrance, Menthe Fraiche. For all that I complain about mint in perfume that one remains one of the few I really enjoy. It was a super green interpretation of mint. This was what made me keep my eye on what followed.

James Heeley

In 2021 I have consistently found Mr. Heeley to be one of the more interesting independent perfumers. When I received the press release for Athenean it said that he was returning to reinterpret Figuier. In this case he was going to focus on the wood of the tree over the leaves and fruit. The other difference is he significantly ups the presence of the Mediterranean than was present in Figuier.

Figuier began with the soft grassy green of oximes. Athenean begins with the crystalline sap-like green of galbanum. The new fragrance is green with a more focused intent. What is done to smooth out some of those edges is the use of aquatic notes. This is where the sea below the cliff is more detectable. As part of these aquatic ingredients there is some melon which comes with them. Before that becomes distracting, he balances that with some green fig. It has a less effusive scent profile while still retaining some of the creaminess of the riper version. Sandalwood picks up that aspect and resonates with it as it forms the scent of the trunk of the fig tree. Some synthetic woods and white musks add in the sun-warmed feel of the wood and the breezes off the Mediterranean.

Athenean has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

Comparing his first perfume with his twenty-sixth is an interesting exercise. The most obvious difference is how adept he has become with his use of different perfume ingredients. Many of these ingredients were present in those first two releases seventeen years ago. Now he knows exactly what he wants to achieve when using them. Which answers the “what if”.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Heeley Rose Aria- How to Build a Rose

My antipathy towards rose perfumes is that all too often their reason for being is to smell good. Now you might think that is the primary goal of perfumery. I hold it to a higher standard. There is so much more to the best besides being pleasant. Rose fragrances are the biggest perpetrators of doing little other than displaying the floral. Which is why you might think I would not be excited about Heeley Rose Aria.

Independent perfumer James Heeley has been one of my favorites because he manages to make the generic less so. Three years ago in Poudre Blanc he did a brilliant interpretation of fresh laundry. It was subtly layered and one of the best constructed perfumes I have ever come across. Rose Aria has a little bit of that as Mr. Heeley takes on rose.

James Heeley

The press material mentions it wants this to be a true garden rose with the green as important as the flower. That’s a good description of the first half of this. Underneath it is a gorgeous musky woody base which is where this really hits the high notes.

It opens with an overdose of galbanum. In these concentrations I experience it as a crystalline solid green. To break that up there are some softer green ingredients which cut though. This is the green of the rosebud, but I imagine it with little glittery flecks of galbanum. A classic rose centifolia explodes to life out of this. The rose bud opens to reveal a floral which is also keeping the green which came before. It is that which makes this rose less generic.

The base accord is a fantastic contrast as he takes a very dry amber and sandalwood to form the outlines. In between saffron and musk act like their own accord bursting out of the amber-sandalwood frame. It is the same kind of transformation I encountered with the rose and galbanum in the first half. Together this turns into a dry musky ambery green rose.

Rose Aria has 12-14 hour longevity and moderate sillage at extrait strength.

I wish all rose fragrances would rise to this level of interpretation. Or maybe I don’t. It makes it easy to distinguish the brilliant from the mundane.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Heeley Zeste de Gingembre- Only the Frosting

I have a dear friend who has a unique way of eating cupcakes. He drags his finger through the frosting licking it off his finger. Once all the frosting is gone, he throws the remaining cake away. I’ve jokingly asked him why he doesn’t eat birthday cake the same way. His reply, “that would be weird.” While I enjoy the full cupcake experience I kind of get his enjoyment. Sometimes it is what’s on top is the best. In perfumery you don’t really get the same effect because there does have to be something after the top accord. Although Heeley Zeste de Gingembre seems to be trying.

James Heeley

Independent perfumer James Heeley has constructed one of the great collections of fragrance over the last sixteen years. His Heeley brand has been endlessly inventive. It is one of those which I own almost all of them. When I received the press release for Zeste de Gingembre based on the name I was hoping for his take on one of my favorite scents, gingerbread. Instead it is a more literal interpretation of “ginger zest”. He composes almost entirely of ingredients you typically find in the top accord of many perfumes. It is a fascinating experiment which I enjoyed a lot.

It begins with the citrus of lime given a greener tint though the use of the rind of lemon and orange. It is the kind of tart you get when you bite into a wedge of lime and you smell the rind underneath your nose. Mr. Heeley makes it as breezy as that sounds. The ginger comes next. This is the smell of the root as you grate it for cooking. There is a bit of liquidity as the energy of the ginger is released. Many times when ginger appears in a perfume it adds a near-manic kinetic component. To temper that Mr. Heeley uses a dose of black pepper. That could make things too heavy, so he counterbalances it with baie rose and cardamom. As those come together with the previous ingredients you get a fragrance of exquisite balance and energy. There is one, or more, of the synthetic musky woods to add some longevity and lift but most of the perfume is what I just described.

Zeste de Gingembre has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

This is a perfume where you revel in the interplay between the ingredients Mr. Heeley brings together. It is all frosting, so good you don’t mind there isn’t any cake beneath.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Heeley.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Heeley Blanc Poudre- The Subtlety of the Mundane

If there is one place most people encounter fragrance in their daily life it is in their use in laundry products. You might choose a scent-free detergent and fabric softener but the people around you probably do not. It is true for many that the smell of the musks in laundry detergent is how they define clean through their sense of smell. Those laundry musks made the leap to perfumery when the consumer wanted a “clean” fragrance. Because they are reminiscent of laundry detergent they also get criticized as smelling “cheap”. It is one of the reasons that a niche perfumer might be reluctant to go towards this style of perfume. I think it takes a certain amount of belief that you can find something interesting to bring to something so common. Independent perfumer James Heeley has taken this challenge with Heeley Blanc Poudre.

James Heeley

When the name was first released without any detail there were some who thought the “white powder” referred to in the name might be something more illicit. When the press release followed it says Mr. Heeley was “inspired by the bone pale fineness of French porcelain.” Mr. Heeley has put together a perfume of pale fineness, but porcelain isn’t what I think of while wearing Blanc Poudre. Instead it is that moment I open the dryer and get that wave of warmth carrying the scent of my “spring fresh” dryer sheet on top of warm cotton.

The white powder in Blanc Poudre is a beautifully restrained rice powder. It is not an obvious piece of the perfume because it is paired with the more prominent cotton linen ingredient. This is that smell of fresh linen given a very transparent overlay of powder. It is easy to lose it in the background of the linen, but it is one of those grace notes in a perfume which makes a difference. In the same kind of deftly placed style Mr. Heeley threads through some of the synthetic florals. These are the florals which exude their floral nature minus anything, like indoles, which would distract. It is a classic representation of a commercial spring flower scent  In the hands of someone clumsily adding this to a perfume it would come off trite. Mr. Heeley uses the florals and the rice powder to create a weave of fragile filaments over the linen. The final prominent note is the use of those laundry musks in the base. Together they give off that warmed fabric accord. Just he did with the other ingredients it is precise uses of sandalwood and vanilla which add texture to the overall construct.

Blanc Poudre has 12-14 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

I know it will be easy to dismiss Blanc Poudre as something that smells like laundry. If you do that you will miss out on one of the most cleverly constructed perfumes of 2018. Not everything has to be full of bombastic portent. Mr. Heeley has dared to show the beauty found in the subtlety of the mundane.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Maison Kitsune x Heeley Note de Yuzu- Perfumery Outside the Lines

No white after Labor Day. Red wine for meat and white wine for fish. Citrus perfume is for summer. These kinds of pseudo-rules are supposed to make our lives easier. They can also have the effect on never allowing us to color outside the lines. Which is silly on my part because it is out on the margins where things can be the most exhilarating. This is the second year in a row when a new citrus focused release has challenged my assertion that citrus is for the dog days.

Masaya Kuroki and Gildas Loaec

When it comes to coloring outside the lines Maison Kitsune has been doing that with their multi-platform stylings founded by Masaya Kuroki and Gildas Loaec. Beginning in 2002 the pair would use the DJ nightlife of Paris as a platform to show off their clothing designs. They opened their first New York Boutique last fall. When I heard they were collaborating with James Heeley and his Heeley brand for their first perfume I was interested enough to get a sample. The trio seemingly enjoyed meshing the Japanese, French, and British aesthetics into a fragrance. The result is Maison Kitsune x Heeley Note de Yuzu.

James Heeley

The basis for the framework are the yuzu baths popular in Japan during the autumn months. Soaking in a wooden tub filled with salt-laden water upon which float slices of yuzu is a fall ritual for many. I was excited because I think one of the very best salt water perfumes is Heeley Sel Marin. I was interested to see if Mr. Heeley and Messrs. Kuroki and Loaec could find some spaces on the margins to create a memorable fragrance.

The yuzu is present right away, but it is presented differently than usual citrus. There is a real sense of humidity around this version of lemon. Instead of crisp brightness there is a muted diffusive effect which is made more pronounced as the sea salt accord rises for the yuzu to float upon. To really give the saltiness some extra texture a bit of seaweed adds a vegetal iodine facet which threads its way through the hot lemon water. I was enthralled by this opening because of the way it renounces the airy sunshine of most sea spray and citrus perfumes. Instead this has a kind of comforting warmth as if I was in the bath. Vetiver provides the sense of the wooden bath tub while the green overwrites the seaweed with something more typical. The final hours of Note de Yuzu are a set of white musks providing a soft slightly powdery final phase.

Note de Yuzu has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

I would have never believed Mr. Heeley could have improved on Sel Marin but Note de Yuzu is much better. I think it is because by collaborating with rulebreakers like Messrs. Kuroki and Loaec it brought out a freer style within. Note de Yuzu is what happens when perfumery is practiced outside the lines.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample from Maison Kitsune.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Heeley Eau Sacree- Cardinal Part II

When I did my Perfume 101 on Heeley a few weeks ago I mentioned that my introduction to the brand came through a fragrance named Cardinal. Cardinal is one of my very favorite incense fragrances I own because at its heart it is a very delineated and present frankincense around which perfumer James Heeley uses a selection of notes to abstract that very realistic incense heart. In my book as incense perfumes go it is as good as it gets. Because I think Cardinal is such a well-executed fragrance I was a bit worried to hear about the new Heeley Eau Sacree which seemingly would travel the same ground. It is much the same way I feel when I hear about a sequel to a movie I also admire. If the same people are involved it can be good but experience has told me that it is often not the same thrill. That was my mindset as I tried Eau Sacree.


James Heeley

Eau Sacree is the fifth release in the Extrait de Parfum collection. These are, as the name implies, meant to be of a higher concentration. Right there is what allows Eau Sacree to stand apart from its older sibling. At this concentration even though some of the same beats from Cardinal are here they are evolved into something different due to that. Where Cardinal is full of very delineated phases Eau Sacree is something less focused with the lines between the notes made more malleable.

Like Cardinal, Eau Sacree opens with the frankincense there from the first moments. The fine lines are present but Mr. Heeley uses labdanum to blunt some of the sharper qualities. It provides a warmth to what would have been an austere incense without it. That warmth is extended as a flurry of spices flow into the resinous core. Myrrh provides the last bit of warmth as it adds its own nature to that which had come before. Amber repeats some of the spiciness and musk provides more soft intensity.

Eau Sacree has 14-16 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

Eau Sacree is, to continue my movie analogy, like the best sequels. It manages to be different while still using everything that made you like the first one. Eau Sacree is that kind of companion to Cardinal. Cardinal is a bright composition. Eau Sacree plumbs deeper pools than Cardinal, brilliantly. This is going to be fantastic as I pull my sweaters off of the shelf. If you are a movie fan you know one of the most lauded sequels ever was The Godfather Part II. Eau Sacree is Cardinal Part II.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample from Heeley.

Mark Behnke

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

New Perfume Review Heeley Vetiver Veritas- In Vetiver, Truth

British perfume maker James Heeley has excelled in creating perfumes which capture a basic truth in their composition. Cardinal is the Catholic Church Mass incense. Sel Merin is the sea spray in your face. Hippie Rose is one of my favorite rose and patchouli fragrances ever for the depth of both of those notes. Mr. Heeley has worked in mixed media using synthetic raw materials along with high quality naturals. With the release of Vetiver Veritas he is moving into the world of botanical all-natural perfume.

When someone like Mr. Heeley embraces natural perfumery it helps to broaden the appeal. His starting point for Vetiver Veritas was to use the natural Haitian Vetiver he had been wearing as a straight dilution for years. For Vetiver Veritas he takes that vetiver and makes it 90% of the composition. Then to keep it completely simple he only adds four other notes two of them to comprise a leather accord. This kind of perfumery really allows for maximum appreciation of the central note. It allows for the truth of that Haitian vetiver to radiate.


James Heeley

That Haitian vetiver is where Vetiver Veritas begins. By using it in such a high concentration it allows for nuances that are not usually detected to show up. The vetiver mainly comes forward with an intense green quality, very vegetal in nature. There is also a deep rooty and earthy quality which matches the green. All of this is familiar territory. What I also detected was a bit of sugar cane-like sweetness lurking underneath. At the level of vetiver it could have been very standoffish. But as it grows in power this unusually natural sweet leavens the harshness and reveals an undiscovered truth about vetiver. Mr. Heeley adds a bit of grapefruit and mint to help define the green. Together they provide an astringent framework for the vetiver to be displayed in. Finally a smoky leather accord appears to sweep away the green and allow the roots and earth to have the final say.

Vetive Veritas has 6-8 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

I know I’ve smelled Hatian Vetiver as a raw material but that sweetness never presented itself until I had Vetiver Veritas on my skin. This is what Mr. Heeley does so well he takes something and allows the wearer to discover their own truth within the perfume. With Vetiver Veritas I found there was an all-natural truth about vetiver I had never experienced. If you are a fan of vetiver especially in its smokier darker variety I think there will be some truth to be found in Vetiver Veritas.

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

Mark Behnke