Incense With A Smile- Review: Heeley Cardinal

I heard many good things about Heeley Perfumes in general and Cardinal especially. So what else can the devoted Perfumista do, but get in gear and try to acquire a sample.

I was haunting The Perfumed Court for a very long time, filling my wishlist with gallons of perfume, but always refraining from ordering, because I was afraid of maybe having to pay custom duties. But I took the leap and all went perfectly smooth and quickly. (I realize I could have gotten Cardinal easier, it is available at First in Fragrance, but I was ordering other things too, so into the basket it went.

I am impressed by the lovely metal capped and neatly labeled samples, very professional. For Europeans still afraid of ordering there, I can highly recommend The Perfumed Court.

But enough sidetracking, we are here to talk about Cardinal.

I love the name and as studies show (my own, results may vary ;)) when I love the name, the fragrance is good in 85 % of the cases.

Cardinal was created in 2006 for the niche house Heeley, the brand of Paris based British designer James Heeley. Notes include incense, cistus, grey amber, patchouli and vetiver.

It starts out almost cheerful, and although there are no top notes listed I seem to smell something sparkling upon application, like pepper that gives way to a rich and almost warm incense. It is not particularly dark or heavy.

I see a church before my inner eye, light flooding through stained glass windows. It is vast and silent, full of light and quiet peacefulness. In me, Cardinal induces happiness of a quiet contemplative kind, an inner calm. Yoga in a bottle.

The drydown is a little earthy from the patchouli and ambery sweet. It ends up being one of the warmer and sweeter Incense perfumes I have tried yet.

How does it compare to other incenses?

It is warmer and less outdoorsy than Tauer Perfumes Incense Extreme, in the Comme de Garcons Incense series (reviews upcoming soon) I have tried to date, I detect more wood and less of an amber sweetness that characterizes Cardinal.

I would say Cardinal is an easy to wear incense that is meditative, but not gloomy or goth in the least. There is a warmth and brightness to it I find enchanting and has its time and place in my mood spectrum.

I can’t find a better description than saying this is a smiling incense fragrance.

Which – despite its name – would fit a lot better in the buddhist tradition than the roman-catholic that favors a guilty expression over a smile at all times.

Picture Source:, Inside St.Catherine´s Church in Bethlehem courtesy of, thank you!

About Olfactoria

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29 Responses to Incense With A Smile- Review: Heeley Cardinal

  1. lady jane grey says:

    I’m a long-term customer of the Perfumed Court, and never ever had to pay customs fee – the same goes for my Luckscent sample packages.

    I’m not particularly into incense parfumes, so Cardinal might be a rather suitable entry for me.

  2. Tara says:

    Just when I thought Kyoto was the incense for me I read your lovely review! Being a church-style incense I assumed Cardinal would have that bitter/sharp edge that I don’t like (as in Avignon/Encens Flamboyant) but your description doesn’t make it sound like that at all. Will have to sample before I buy that full bottle of Kyoto (which is good because I’m not too impressed with its longevity).

  3. Tarleisio says:

    I’ve been wanting to try the Heeley line for a long time…especially, just because I’m that kind of pervert – Esprit de Tigre. Has anyone tried that? So it follows that Cardinal would be next on the list for an incense fiend…;-) Great review, Birgit!

  4. Marina says:

    So interesting how you find it warmer that Incense Extreme. The latter for me is hot-hot 🙂 Love the idea of a smiling incense fragrance. I hope you can try Aftelier Candide too, there is definitely a smile there.

  5. I’ve been wanting to try this one but I was worried that it is very similar to Etro Messe de Minuit. I really don’t need another incense scent on my wishlist! I keep falling for them. I like the Etro one because it has citrus and it is such a lovely addition to the acrid incense.

    • Olfactoria says:

      I don´t think it so similar to the Etro (which I don´t like so much), Cardinal has a cleaner quality, whereas Messe de Minuit has a slightly oily note (myrrh?) that distracts me a little.

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  8. GeM says:

    Did you try Cuir Plein Fleur…? if I’m not wrong you don’t seem a big fan of leather scents but believe me this is a truly balanced one, pretty amazing, extremely light -but long lasting- and pleasing, and one of the most exceptional things is that, despite its complex charm, it’s always right… perfectly wereable (and all year round!). I find it really a tasteful ‘little gem’.
    It blends beatifully with violets and mimosa in the smoothest way possible (top and middle notes are mmmmmmmmmmh!), and the base notes -just a bit more animalic but not so much-, melt softly into the skin. I see it much more on the masculine side but not in a ‘testosteronic’ way at all… AT ALL. In fact always I’m tempted to spritz myself with it… (it’s my partner scent)
    If you love Cardinal, which is really incense -quite a bit heavy and dark to me 😉 -, I’m not sure if you’ll LOVE Cuir Plein Fleur the same way, but I think objectively, I mean from a perfume creative point of view, CPF is by far more interesting than Cardinal. And when it comes to perfume, I’ve learned that although love at first sight can happen, to find a perfume interesting it’s a lot more challenging and exciting. I’m a firmly convinced now.

    • GeM says:

      Oh, I forgot to ask if you love the name!

    • Olfactoria says:

      You are right, I’m not a great leather lover, but I like soft ones, so I’ll make sure to give Cuir Plein Fleur a chance, when I come across it.

      • GeM says:

        I’m starting familiarizing with your fine tastes and I I would bet that you will ENJOY it a lot. 🙂
        There’s some feel similar to a black licorice note that gives a ‘réglisse’ illusion (I don’t know if there’s a more proper word for Réglisse than licorice, in english) to the whole composition, It has an olfactory texture that is sweet and mouthwatering… almost ‘à la Guerlain’, or at least, totally ‘à la française’. And the dry down is more roots (vetiver, iris) than leather. It’s a bit more of a flower/root scent than a leather. An original take.

        Cardinal it’s a very good incense. As always, I’m generally in trouble with all those ‘sacral’ fumes, but I remember this was an improvement even to me! -still a bit too dark, though…but sorry it’s my incapacity with this kind of smell…-.

  9. First, I had an idea for a perfume just like this and with the same exact name.

    Second, Roman Catholicism is a faith of great joy and is only given a negative stereotype of guilt and gloom which I detest. We live in an age of too much information to be dragged down by stereotypes…

    Third, as a newcomer here, I am delighted that there are several perfumes that are based on incense.

    • Olfactoria says:

      Hi Rae Marie,
      There are several very good incense perfumes out there, so I’m sure you’ll have a great time exploring them.

      As for Catholicism, I’m glad you found a home with the faith that you feel so passionate for. Growing up steeped in the catholic faith and culture is something else though, and stereotypes sadly abound, but I agree, no need to be dragged down by them. 🙂

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