The Sniff Box – Perfume In Plain English

Tagged With ‘Heeley’

Heeley

Menthe Fraîche

The mouth-watering smell of mint might be one of the most  refreshing scents in the natural world, but it’s a bugger to use in perfumery, for the simple fact that toothpaste manufacturers got there first. Mint has been the most popular flavour for toothpaste since the early 20th century, so it’s a brave perfumer who decides to make it the main ingredient in a scent.

Enter the Yorkshire-born, Paris-based scentorialist James Heeley, who in 2004 released Menthe Fraîche, a bold and rather brilliant fragrance that puts mint firmly on centre stage – and got away with it without making it smell like mouthwash.

Menthe Fraîche smells fantastically minty by dint of a clever combination of natural and synthetic ingredients that reinforce and support each other in a way that simply spraying mint-oil on yourself never would. James Heeley notes that ‘Menthe Fraîche was a collaboration with a laboratory in Grasse, inspired by the smell of Corscian mint underfoot. It includes bergamot, a lot of cedarwood, fir balsam and white musk. It’s fresh without being overpoweringly minty.’ It includes both spearmint and the colder-smelling peppermint, as well as hints of green tea.

Though sadly it doesn’t last very long on the skin, Menthe Fraîche does keep going longer than some reviewers have claimed; I can still smell it a couple of hours after spraying it on, but then it’s a pleasure to reapply. And it is, after all, a cologne, something you’d use to freshen up on a hot summer’s day, rather than the kind of heavyweight perfume you might long for on a cold winter evening.

Created in collaboration with the professional perfumer David Maruitte, it also has a raft of synthetics, detailed by Chandler Burr in a typically excellent article for the New York Times, which you can read here. In a variation on the theme of art concealing art, Menthe Fraîche smells so wonderfully fresh and natural precisely because of the synthetic molecules in its make-up, not despite them – and that for me is one of the wonders of professional perfumery.

Heeley

Phoenicia

rsz_heeley2Though there’s some dispute about its exact origins, the word ‘perfume’ most likely derives from ‘fumes from a substance being burned’, so you could say that Phoenicia, the latest fragrance from Yorkshire-born, Brussels-based perfumer James Heeley goes back to perfume’s roots.

The name refers to the ancient civilisation that flourished in the eastern Mediterranean around 1000BC, but Phoenicia’s smell is instantly evocative of childhood bonfires, just as his earlier L’Amandière evokes an almond orchard in spring.

‘I loved the way my hair smelled after a bonfire,’ Heeley recalls, and he’s captured the memory using a mixture of cedarwood, oud, smoky birchwood and vetiver.

Luckily there’s more to Phoenicia than smoke. ‘I’ve always loved the concrete of labdanum ciste,’ Heeley says (the densest refined extract from the fragrant Mediterranean shrub Cistus ladanifer), ‘which has a slight smell of dates or prunes.’ Adding this to the formula gives Phoenicia an attractive hint of dried-fruit sweetness, which balances the smokiness is a very attractive way. It certainly lights my fire.

Heeley

L’Amandière

Well-heeled and well-spoken, with a passing resemblance to the young Bruce Chatwin, James Heeley is a Paris-based product designer and perfumer. We’re told that he was born in Yorkshire, studied philosophy in London and then worked as a lawyer, before moving to Paris in the late 1990s, where he changed tack again and began designing vases for star French florist Christian Tortu.

Through Tortu he met Annick Goutal, the legendary pianist turned model turned independent perfumer, which must have been an inspiring introduction to the world of perfume. Heeley describes himself as a self-taught perfumer, and though he commissioned his first few fragrances he now creates the initial olfactory compositions himself.

At £170 for a 50ml bottle of ‘Extrait de parfum’ (which you can buy online from Les Senteurs), L’Amandière is breathtakingly expensive, but at least it has the grace to look like it, coming in a bottle whose surprisingly hefty weight belies its size. Its design is crisp and simple, as you’d hope from a product designer, with a simple black label and a chunky black faceted cap.

Heeley calls his latest fragrance ‘a portrait of spring’, and adds ‘I tried to include many of the scents that my girlfriend loves (including almond) and assemble them to create an imaginary, spring orchard.’ He may have intended it as a woman’s perfume, but what you smell first is light and rather refreshing combination of almond oil and fresh-cut grass – both of which have hints of bitterness (in almond’s case) and sourness (in the case of green grass), which prevents L’Amandière coming across as too floral and girly.

It does have its floral side thanks to the pastel softness of mimosa, but because the almond scent predominates in the end its associations end up reminding one more of food than flowers – though without the cloying sweetness of other food-related fragrances like vanilla or chocolate.

On a woman I think it would smell perfectly pleasant, but on a man it’s much more interesting and unusual, which is why I’m recommending it here. It has surprisingly good staying-power too, which is a good thing given how much each spray has cost you. One for the connoisseur.

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