Phoenicia smells like an old fragrance situated in an old place, drawing its inspiration from ancient cues and ingredients. It evokes exactly what you’d expect when an ancient coastal Levantine civilisation is involved. Phoenicia involves a seemingly total absence of florality and citrus, instead harnessing a new effect of freshness in an unorthodox way.
Capturing desiccation through perfumery is done time and time again. The resinous soliflores and ancient preparations of Santa Maria Novella, the labdanum charge of Goodsir works, the unsweetened tar of Rien and the countless wash of incense scents. These works all happen to demonstrate a take on desiccation, often utilising it as the first step, then moving it somewhere else. Even Rien (and Rien Incense Intense) is transformative, giving a near-herbal and bouncy touch after it unfurls with wear on the skin. Desiccation in this era of modern perfumery has become boring and cliché (especially considering synthetics), and yet Heeley is able to offer something new in the mix through Phoenicia.
Photo Credit: Heeley Paris
Continuing with the idea of desiccation-as-an-effect in perfumery, using it as a foundation relies on building something on top of this. In that way, absolute dryness provides a simple counterpoint and thus an effective base within perfume. Of the entire mix, I thoroughly and considerably enjoy Heeley’s take on dryness, harnessing and consequently layering different forms of dry textures. As a result, Phoenicia is a ruffled work, rich in texture and subtle in colour modulations.
There’s the solar warmth of cistus labdanum, which without fail evokes plains of sand without a discernable end, air free of wind, and a midday sun dotted right in the center of the sky. This is the flesh of the fragrance, the impossibly deep melange of spice, herb, and the tinge of caramelised sweetness. Oud is appropriately the bone structure of the fragrance, wrapped in the labdanum. Whilst not the main note, it is an integral element of the composition, giving a fresh dirtiness and spiritual purity demanded of the extrait, with all the inflections of rubber, roasted meat, and further herbal tinges without overpowering the composition. If Phoenicia were credited for oudiness alone, it would receive high praise for shaping an oud without being or ever becoming overbearing. Birch adds a suggestion of leather and further draws out the tarry aspects. Adding a good dosage of vetiver (in a similar naturalistic manner as Vetiver Veritas) adds a natural sort of rawness, and a glimmery blanket that covers the structure from end to end.
These dry, resinous notes form the bulk of Phoenicia. And yet it is raisin and date which contribute to the most intriguing component of the fragrance, adding a dimension that exists between counterpoint and complimentary. The raisinated accord’s long length of sweetness is exaggerated by its parched quality which forever appears to demand water, moving towards unctuous and syrupy: Cognac-like, a hint of oak, a wash of super subtle and yellow-hued fruitiness, complimented perfectly with incense.
It is through this accord’s subtlety that subtle yet adequate freshness is given to Phoenicia, in a way providing the necessary element of internal structural balance that any decent perfume requires, and any spectacular perfume excels at. And yet, Phoenicia is most unusual, as it provides the quietest sense of balance I have encountered in perfume. Whilst Phoenicia lacks a strongly identifiable sense of counterpoint that I usually search for, I never seem to miss it in this composition. Consequently, it would only be fair to call Phoenicia, like many of James Heeley’s excellent works, sublimely constructed and clockwork in accuracy. It is a monolith of a perfume. It doesn’t move. It spreads.
More on Desiccation: Here
Non-transformative. A delight to observe.
Subjective rating: 4/5
Objective rating: 5/5