Niche Perfumery Interview with James Heeley

Interview with James Heeley

10/10/12 19:18:45 (One comment)

by: Sergey Borisov

One more interesting meeting at Pitti Fragranze was with James Heeley, the art director of the James Heeley perfume brand. James was introducing his three new extraits:  Bubblegum Chic, Agarwoud and L`Amandiere. These fragrances were already introduced several month before the exhibition, but James couldn't skip Fragranze due to its importance for niche perfumery. 

Serguey Borisov: Hi, James! Please tell us about your latest collection.

James Heeley: Hello! The three latest James Heeley perfumes make the collection Extraits de Parfum. It's a separate project, not related to the first one. They also look different. In my opinion, extrait de parfum is more classical and special among all the perfume varieties and concentrations. Extrait de parfum is richer and intense, with a long trail.  People wear them on special occasions.

Serguey: Please tell us about each of new fragrances. I am now holding Agarwoud.

James Heeley: Yes, I already wanted to make this perfume 5-6 years ago, so it wasn't driven by the general fashion on oud. I included this fragrance into the Extrait de Parfum collection because its material—oud oil—is a very intense and multifaceted ingredient. It wouldn't fit the regular line of fragrances, where I've collected lighter perfumes. Agarwood needs a special approach and concentration of the oil to develop all its nuances. The name Agarwoud is a wordplay of "agarwood" and "oud."

Serguey: Is this a composition or a pure oud?

James Heeley: Of course, it's a composition. The aquilaria (oud) accord is paired with fresh Bulgarian rose. There is also a nuance of bitter and spicy saffron. In general, it's quite difficult to work with oud, especially for European people. Agarwoud is my version of oud. I intended to enhance the animalic (goaty) side of oud. But the general impression is very clean and fresh. I like this dualism in Agarwoud: an animalic nuance in the pureness of rose and incense.

Serguey: I remember you said you create perfumes by yourself?

James Heeley: Yes, I am a self-taught perfumer. Ten years ago I started to work with perfumers on my first perfumes. After writing briefs for them, I've tried since Hippie Rose to make my perfumes with the only help of assistants, but I don't work with perfumers anymore. I create myself.

Serguey: Please tell us about the next fragrance, Bubblegum Chic?

James Heeley: This is a union of tuberose and jasmine in an extremely short formula. You know, jasmine is my aromatic fetish, if I may say so. I love it. It stimulates me, and it smells very sensual on women.

(Serguey remembered the phrase from a Touch and Go song: "I've noticed you around/I find you very attractive. . . Umm.")

James Heeley: If you smell jasmine in a good concentrated form, an absolute, for example, you will notice a very prominent fruity nuance, similar to strawberry, banana or pear. [Benzyl acetate is responsible for this fruitiness; the same is in ylang-ylang.—Serguey]  I wanted to preserve this accent in my perfume. If you try it, the first thing you think of would be maybe a big pink bubble of Hubba Bubba chewing gum. But to make it, I used very expensive floral materials. So I named it  Bubblegum Chic.

Serguey: The third one is L`Amandiere.

James Heeley: It's a very special one. I would say it's the most sophisticated perfume among all my perfumes, according to its structure.

Serguey: Strange, it's very green in the beginning.

James Heeley: Yes, it's a very long-lasting accord of freshly-cut grass composed with several fresh notes. L`Amandiere is an aroma of green almond and I am very proud of this creation. I wanted to make something fresh for my girlfriend Gwen, and she loves to eat almonds in any treat: almond cake, marzipans, etc. Myself, I don't like almond much, nor sweet perfumes as well. That is why I uncluded in its composition notes I love: green smells of the garden, for example. As a result I got a fresh fragrance of Spring, as if all the garden flowers were in bloom at the same time. Especially, I love the note of linden blossom. Please try it. Can you feel it? Mint, lavender, jasmine, hyacinth, rose, violet—all at once. You can even imagine bluebells in this bouquet, these shy and pretty flowers which are so loved in Britain.

When I close my eyes, I see myself in the flower garden. In the trail you can smell muted sweetness of marzipan, heliotrope and bitter almond.

Serguey: Please share your plans for future. Are you working on something right now?

James Heeley: Yes, of course, we are constantly working. There will be new additions soon, to both lines: Eau de Parfum James Heeley and Extraits de Parfum James Heeley. We will unveil them in January 2013. They will be woody and tropical woody fragrances. I am also working on a jasmine fragrance. I love this scent so much and there so many versions of it that could be done! One more project is a mint perfume, which will be quite peppery and sharp. 

Serguey: You have worked in the perfume business already for 10 years.  What is happening with your main job, design?

James Heeley: I still work in design. I do brand and product design for my perfume brand (branding, graphics, bottles) and other brands. I also do contemporary art projects. On September 6th there was my installation named "Colour Blind" in Palais Royale in Paris. It looked like a gray rug 3 x 3. If you look at it from a distance, it looks like an ordinary rug, or maybe concrete, gravel or gray clay. Nothing special. I used lavender flowers instead of wool—and it immediately spoke for itself! I wanted to say with this installation that you can see everything with your eyes, but your nose is also a very important tool to explore the world. Even the blue color of it you could see only after discovering that it was actually lavender.

To my taste, lavender is a great perfume ingredient, it's a symbol of French perfumery. It's interesting to know that the typical French lavender (Lavanda Angustifolia) was grown in England, but it grows much better in Grasse. Lavender is one of my favorite materials in perfumery.  I work on my own lavender perfume, but for now I still have to create one that would satisfy my vision in every hue: fresh, bright, translucent from the very beginning to final notes. I know many classic lavender eaux de cologne (for example, Caron pour un Homme), but I want lavender without oriental notes in the trail.

Serguey: I appreciate your honest opinion and interesting insight into your perfume lab. Thank you on behalf of Fragrantica readers!

James Heeley: It was my pleasure to talk about my perfumes. All the best to your readers!

Pictures from Jasmes Heeley website


Serguey Borisov

Serguey Borisov has been known in the Internet world of perfume under the nickname moon_fish for more than 10 years. Now he writes about perfumes for and, and contributes on the subject for glossy magazines.





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