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.