Blog post by Gwen
The first time I visited James Heeley’s shop in Paris, I went for Esprit de Tigre but left with Cardinal. It’s not the first time this has happened. I find church scents hard to resist, and it seems I’m not alone. This fragrance category has remained consistently popular in niche perfumery because they’re incense-based, and since incense has been used in religious worship, ceremony, and meditation in religions around the world for centuries, these fragrances have universal appeal.
For me, Cardinal evokes a different church experience that has little to do with religion. Instead, it brings to mind summers spent in Europe with our son when he was a child. Hiking in the mountains or site seeing in cities, I remember long, hot days that left us sweaty, exhausted and crabby. That’s when we’d head into a village church or cathedral for refuge from the heat. Sometimes music might be playing, sometimes there might be a tour, and sometimes there may be a mass, but always we’d sit in silence on a pew at the back, my son's head resting on my shoulder, enjoying the calm, the peace, and the cool that radiates from ancient stone walls and pillars.
Cardinal opens with a burst of nose-tingling aldehydes that lead to a note of fresh, clean linen – the altar linens. An unusual note in perfume, but one my nose likes. Pink peppercorns add a subtle sweetness as its rosy facet gives it a light-hearted feel. It’s joined by a note of black pepper that adds warmth and depth and counterbalances the sweetness and rosiness of the pink pepper. That note of linen stays through the heart, joined by warm, musky, sweet labdanum, gently smoky frankincense and myrrh; its earth tone suggests cold stone. At the base, vetiver, earthy, woodsy and smoky, is joined by grey amber that’s sweet, musky and woody, bolstered by a note of sweet, woody patchouli.
These are the notes, but how they are handled makes Cardinal such a standout in a crowded field of church fragrances. The fragrance is centered around a Catholic mass – the altar linens, the ancient resins, the smoky incense - yet this isn’t a dark, Gothic, gloomy scent. Instead, it’s clean and uplifting. The aldehydes give it lightness while the pink pepper opens the composition up and makes space for the notes that follow to shine, creating the effect of being in a cool stone church, with smoke wafting through the fresh, warm air.
The drydown is dry, suggestive and evocative.
Whenever I wear Cardinal, I can feel my son’s head resting on my shoulder again.
Check out Cardinal in our Shop.