Review En Bref: Heeley Parfums Cardinal

As always, my Reviews En Bref are for fragrances that — for whatever reason — didn’t warrant one of my full, exhaustive, detailed reviews.

Heeley CardinalCardinal is an Oriental eau de parfum from the British-born, Paris-based designer, James Heeley. The perfume and its notes are described on the Heeley website as follows:

Incense enrobed in folds of white linen

A timeless scent built around the traditional incense notes of labdanum, ciste, frankincense and myhr. An air of lightness and purity is portrayed by a note of fresh, clean linen. The association of grey amber, patchouli and vetiver, imparts this perfume with mysticism and a rare and contemporary elegance.

♂ An immaculate young priest.
♀ Auburn hair and milky white skin. Romantic and mystical.

White Linen . Baie Rose . Black Pepper
Labdanum . Frankincense . Myhr
Vetiver . Grey Amber . Patchouli

Fragrantica also includes aldehydes which I think is quite a key component of the fragrance. And, as a side note, “Baie Rose” is another name for pink peppercorns.


Cotton. Source:

Mr. Heeley wasn’t kidding about the white linen. Cardinal opens on my skin with linen, followed in its footsteps by frankincense, patchouli and labdanum amber. The latter feels slightly leathery and animalic, though it is muted in nature and completely overwhelmed by the fresh cotton scent. There is also a strong undercurrent of soapy, waxy aldehydes.

Cardinal is quite a cool or cold scent at first, and one which definitely evokes the feeling of an old, stony church with its slightly musty aroma. Within minutes, the patchouli-incense combination grows stronger, and I find it extremely unpleasant. Something about the mix of fresh, white cotton with soap and incense atop a slightly dirty, leathery base of labdanum and patchouli feels incredibly contradictory. Even worse than the discordant aspects, the whole thing smells extremely artificial.

Bounce Fabric SoftenerIf you’ve read this blog for any amount of time, you’ll know that one of the things that I dislike the most are soapy scents. However, fresh, soapy, artificial, and laundry detergent all combined in one has to be the greatest evil in my eyes. Cardinal hits all my triggers. At the end of the first hour, it is all soap, soapy labdanum, white cotton, incense and…. Bounce. For those of you outside of America, Bounce is a fabric softener that often comes in sheets which you throw into the dryer to add freshness and to prevent static or lint. The fabric softener sheets come in a variety of scents, including Fresh Linen!

My tolerance for extreme aldehydes or general soapiness as a perfume note is extremely low. My tolerance for soapy, fresh scents that replicate fabric softener is practically nonexistent. For hours and hours, Cardinal wafted out varying degrees of that terrible combination. There was a growing sweetness to the soapy, fresh, incense-y, Bounce-heavy, cotton hot mess as time passed, thanks to the myrrh and labdanum. Making it all worse somehow is the impression of a white musk accord which appears about 90 minutes in. Cardinal’s artificial discordance is further cemented by a synthetic undertone which gave me a throbbing headache and a burning tightness high up in my nose.

Cardinal was such a painful experience that I actually considered scrubbing it entirely, but I stuck it out. All 9.75 hours of it. At no point did Cardinal twist, morph, change, or reflect other facets. It was linear all the way and, while linear is fine if you love the notes in question, I found its singularity to be an incredible ordeal. I suppose I should be glad that Cardinal was a light, airy fragrance but, unfortunately, it was still sufficiently strong enough for me not to feel a huge amount of gratitude for that fact.

Cardinal is often compared to Comme de Garçon‘s Avignon perfume. I haven’t tried the latter, but for those of you who are curious, Now Smell This has a comparison that may be useful:

Like Avignon, Cardinal starts off rather strong, but it has nothing like Avignon’s uncompromisingly gloomy stance: it is brighter, smoother, and not quite so bone-dry, although I wouldn’t go so far as to call it sweet. The dry down is soft and mildly earthy, and like many incense-focused fragrances, has a meditative quality.

Is church incense really church incense if it isn’t brooding and dark? Well, if Avignon is your idea of perfection, you might answer no, but if Avignon was too much of a good thing for you — or if, like me, you think there just can’t be too many variations on incense — Cardinal might be just what you’re looking for.

I haven’t looked up a ton of other reviews for Cardinal, but those few that I have read never seem to mention the damn linen. I’m baffled. The cotton note is, to me, a far greater characteristic than the incense. It’s even explicitly mentioned on the company’s website. A few commentators on Fragrantica mention the soapiness — and one calls it a soapier version of Avignon — but absolutely no-one talks cottony freshness or fabric softener. All I can say is that my skin clearly must amplify the note, along with the soapiness.

I know Cardinal is much-loved amongst those who enjoy incense fragrances. I love incense, too. Unfortunately, Cardinal had me praying for deliverance…

Cost & Availability: Cardinal is an eau de parfum that comes in 3.4 oz/100 ml bottle. It is available from the Heeley website where it costs €120, or from Luckyscent where it costs $180. There are undoubtedly numerous other online retailers which also carry the fragrance, but you’ll have to forgive my lack of interest in looking up the links. I obtained my sample from Surrender to Chance where prices start at $3.99 for a 1 ml vial.

37 thoughts on “Review En Bref: Heeley Parfums Cardinal

  1. Hmm. I have wanted to try this one for awhile but it sounds unbearable (and also not at all what I was expecting- the whole idea of a cold Oriental leaves me, well, cold). I will be trying Heeley for the first time this weekend during a visit to bricks and mortar MiN; I think I’ll skip this and give Sel Marin a try (it is billed as the marine scent for people who hate marine scents, and thanks to you I now know why I do- calone!).

    • Well, a lot of people really love it and don’t seem to get the linen note that was so strong on me, so I say you should try it! You’ll be at MiNNY anyway, so take full advantage of that. It may probably just be my skin. I do know that it amplifies soap notes and, now, apparently, the linen accord as well, so you may not experience anything like what I did. I know Poodle doesn’t get the linen and gets lots of incense with aldehydes, so give it a whirl. 🙂

  2. Oh, I’m sorry you hated it. I love this one! I don’t get the dryer sheet effect from it at all. I don’t find it soapy either. On me it’s smells like I have the remnants of Jour Ensolleille on and I decided to give myself a squirt of Avignon. So I guess I get the aldehydes and the incense but not the soap. It just didn’t play nicely with you. Oh well, there are lots of other incense scents out there for both of us. I’m so jealous of your almost 10 hours of wear time too. I get about 2 maybe 3 on a real good day. After that it’s really just a skin scent and I need to reapply.

    • Darling Poodle, I thought of you nonstop while writing the review and almost wished I could have apologized to you directly within it. I know how much you love Cardinal. Clearly, my skin decided to be contrary. And I wish I could have given you that 9.75 hour weartime. 😉 But do you really get no linen notes at all?? My skin must be even wonkier than I had suspected. :

      • Nope. No linen. I am not a fan of clean laundry scents unless it’s my laundry that smells like them. Lol. No need for an apology. I’m sure there are some things you like that make me cringe as well. I think it’s fascinating how we all have different reactions to the same scents.

      • I wouldn’t say it’s my signature but I do love it. I’m not even sure what I would call my signature.

  3. Kafka, you have been smelling some bad bad things lately!! Time for something good!!! Go smell Maison Francis Kurkdjian’s Cologne Pour le Soir, or the Absolute for that matter. I feel bad that lately your nose has been subjected to awfulness!! I hate aldehydes, soapy, dryer sheet, plastic, stinky shoes, unwashed undies, and vinyl, too. I just got the MFK Cologne Pour le soir for Mother’s day, and I smell so fantastic!! I want to put my wrist under the nose of the world and create World Peace!!!!

    • Hurrah for a lovely Mother’s Day Present! I knew he wouldn’t have forgotten! So, did you end up preferring the Cologne version to the Absolue one?

      As for Cardinal, well, just note how assiduously I’m avoiding talking about it…. 😉 LOL

      • I love both the Cologne and the Absolute. The Cologne is so much more nuanced, I can smell the benzion, the honey, the rose and amber as if it were an ever present cloud of softness floating around me. The Absolute is a deep resounding fireball of smoke and amber and labdanum.. I put some on my husband yesterday and it was Epic!!! hello Father’s Day gift!!!!

  4. What a bizarre scent! Why would anyone want to combine cotton and incense, with a dash of patchouli on the side? That doesn’t even sound appealing, and the comparison to Bounce pretty much seals the deal. I haven’t tried many Heely scents. I like Ophelia, but it doesn’t have enough oomph to make me break down and buy a bottle. Love your reviews…they truly make me smile with each new post.

    • I’m so glad I could make you smile, dear Gretchen. 🙂 As for the cotton note, it was quite unexpected in its dominance on my skin. *BUT* it truly doesn’t seem that way on some others, even if they did sometimes find the scent to be soapy. If you have the chance to sniff it, and if you like incense fragrances, I think it’s worth a test sniff. It may depend on how much you like aldehydes or soapy scents in general because, even without the cotton/Bounce effect, there is quite a bit of those accords in there too. xoxox

  5. Kafka, I’m so sorry… Maybe you need to pause in your testing for a while to break this bad streak? Wear something you enjoy and write about history.

    I haven’t tried this one on my skin but from a blotter in the store it smelled rather nice.

    • Ha, I was feeling quite sorry for myself after the whole experience 😉 but thankfully, I had the Serge Lutens De Profundis to break the streak. And an Amouage that was nice. 🙂 If you try Cardinal, you’ll have to let me know what you think. xoxox

  6. Sorry to hear that you have tested yet another fragrance that does not work for you! I am hoping that when you get my package you will fall in love with something in there :D!
    I was very interested in trying Cardinal as poodle raved about it so to me…despite the heaviness on “bounce” I think I might still give it a whirl!

    • I think you should give it a whirl! Just let me know what you think when you try it. I’d love to know if anyone else got a lot of the linen/cotton note. 🙂 (And I can’t wait for your package and the Jour Ensoleilée! xoxoxo)

  7. Oh no, you amplify soap too!!?? That’s horrible, and you have my deepest sympathies as I know exactly how it can turn an anticipated fragrance into a revolting mess.

  8. Hmmm, given that not everyone gets clean laundry, I will try to reserve judgment for this one until I have the chance to try it (I am 95% sure I have a sample). But your clean laundry experience sounds dreadful. Not because clean laundry is a bad scent (I quite enjoy it!), but it is for me in the context of perfume. Leave the clean laundry smells to clean laundry.

    • You’ll have to let me know how Cardinal manifests itself on you. I’m dying to know if others experience that cotton-Bounce combination!

      • I just tried this today. I definitely don’t get dryer sheets, thankfully. However, there’s something sort of off-putting to it and I can’t put my finger on what it is. I really enjoy a lot of incense scents, but there’s a certain variety/type that makes me a bit nauseated, and this is one of them. I don’t really hate it, but I don’t really like it either and I will probably give away my sample. For me, it’s how I imagine a crappy version of Coromandel (which is among my top 5).

        • Perhaps the white, “High Church” (as it’s called), almost dusty, cold aspects of myrrh is what you’re struggling with, Kevin. It’s definitely a very particular sort of incense smell, and not one that is at all similar to the more oriental sort of aroma from frankincense. You’re not alone in struggling with High Church type of incense. I think Mr. Hound hates it, in part due to childhood evocations, if I recall correctly. I myself prefer the frankincense variety in things like Coromandel.

  9. I really enjoyed Cardinal even though it doesn’t smell exactly natural. My sample was gone in a couple of days. For churchy incenses, I prefer Avignon or Olivier Durbano’s Rock Crystal, but Cadinal deels happier, less meditative.

    • I had to laugh at the “even though it doesn’t smell exactly natural.” 😛 *grin* That said, I’m glad you enjoyed it a lot. I’m going to have to try Avignon one of these days. 🙂

      • Avignon is the reference frankincense fragrance in the same sense Ambré Precieux is the reference fr ambers and Diorissimo for Lily of the Valley. I have a bottle of Avignon coming my way…I really liked Cardinal but it was too ethereal and fleeting on my skin 🙁

        • I often read that Opus VI is the reference for ambers — and I hope that is most certainly not true as I wasn’t a fan of it. I think I’m the only amber/Oriental lover in the world who wasn’t impressed. *sniff* As for Cardinal’s fleeting nature, I’ve heard that quite a bit for Heeley perfumes as a whole, though people seem to have more luck with Cardinal than with some of the others. I was shocked by how long it lasted on my wonky skin. I can only attribute that to the synthetics, as they are the one thing that really *does* endure on me! 🙁 As for Avignon, I hear so much love for it that I’m not surprised you succumbed to a full bottle.

  10. K – I don’t recall getting a soapy edge from this, but I did find that it was a bit boring. I like incense, like in Trayee, but this incense as a church altar (CdG Avignon and the like) are not my thing. I don’t need to wear a scent to make me feel closer to God. 🙂

    • Given how little you like soap, let alone the whole Tide/Bounce thing, I’m glad you didn’t experience a lot of it. I think your tolerance level for it is even less than mine! LOL

  11. I quite like Cardinal! But I love Avignon too, even though the entire CDG Incense series has almost zero staying power on my skin. Weird for an incense fragrances . . . I didn’t get soapy from Cardinal, but the next time I wear it, I will sniff more closely and report back.

    • Please do report back, if you get the chance, dear Daisy. Also, please check for linen or cotton notes. The strong absence of comments about that in many of the reviews is what I’m most bewildered by. It was so intense on me!

  12. Pingback: Perfume Review: Jovoy Paris La Liturgie des Heures | Kafkaesque

  13. Pingback: Arte Profumi Ecclesiae | Kafkaesque

  14. Pingback: Unum Lavs: Popes & Sunday Mass - Kafkaesque

  15. Tried this on today, and I was baffled by how much it smells like laundry detergent. I found it really odd to see no one else picking up on it, but after reading this I feel sure I’m not going insane. The mix of incense and laundry really doesn’t blend well. Granted it became better with time, but the first two hours were just straight up unpleasant.

    Sadly this artficial feeling has held true for every Heeley fragrance I’ve tried. Have you had any experience with other scents from this house?

    • My apologies for the delayed reply, John. It’s been a very busy 10 days, but welcome to the blog. In answer to your question, it’s been a while since I’ve tried other Heeley fragrances but, yes, I had the same impression as you. A lot of fresh, white laundry musk and/or other synthetics as well. It’s the reason why I haven’t covered the brand since the Cardinal review.

      As someone who cannot stand white musk in large amounts, I’ve come to the realization that, unfortunately, the vast majority of brands these days — niche or otherwise — employ it in their fragrances, often in the type and/or quantity that would make the overall composition have a laundry aroma and synthetic feel. One reason why is that it’s a hugely inexpensive way to add longevity and reach to a scent; another is that “fresh and clean” was a major olfactory trend in perfumery since Acqua di Gio started it in the mid-90s. It’s continued to this day, alas. For example, Maison Francis Kurkdjian uses a strong amount of musk because their general, typical aesthetic is often that “fresh and clean” aroma, in addition to having sheer lightness and a quasi-commercial style of perfumery. Heeley is another one. Byredo, Parfums de Nicolai, too. But laundry musk and incense is a particularly difficult combination, in my opinion.

      So, no, you’re far from crazy, John. It’s just that most bloggers don’t seem to care about white musk or else, they don’t find its similarity to laundry aromas to be problematic. In an interview with Elle this month, Francis Kurkdjian conceded that musk is “basically the main ingredient used in laundry detergent.” (Why, then, he uses so much of it in his fragrances is quite beyond me, but he seems to think it’s “sexy.”)

      Coincidentally, at this very moment, I’m wearing and testing a new release that incorporates these very same two notes. In addition, the white musk is sugary sweet while also being laundry fresh and clean, all of which makes it even more unpalatable next to the incense.

Comments are closed.