It can be a lot of fun to apply a method to one’s madness. Over the summer, for reasons that I do not fully understand, I have been on a mission to understand gardenia perfumes. In the end, I think my love for vintage Miss Dior perfume gave birth to my fascination with gardenia. I have read again and again that Miss Dior features gardenia, but I seem to be unable to find it. Whenever I wear my vintage Miss Dior, I keep looking for the gardenia. I sniff and wonder, “Is that the gardenia?” I waft some more Miss Dior and think, “Wait, no, perhaps that’s the gardenia.” After a few years of this nagging self-doubt, it suddenly seemed important to get a grip on gardenia, once and for all, and the sampling and testing began.
Last month, I posted the first chapter of my gardenia dissertation in the form of a review of Andy Tauer’s Sotto La Luna Gardenia (http://fragrancedaily.com/tauer-sotto-la-luna-gardenia/). As I explained there, my studies of gardenia led me to acquire a bottle of the most unusual and, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful modern gardenia perfume around. Tauer’s Gardenia is a radical reinterpretation of the flower, and some might say I have thereby failed my gardenia qualifying exam. But my gardenia research also led me to some lovely, more traditional gardenias. In this omnibus review, I will discuss several gardenia perfumes I’ve explored, mostly niche, some vintage, some well known, others obscure.
Perhaps the most exquisite modern gardenia perfume that I have tried so far, Isabey Gardenia (2006) is silky smooth and creamy white like gardenia petals and panna cotta. It opens with a fine balance of sweetness and freshness, with perhaps more ylang ylang and jasmine than gardenia, providing a rich and elegant floral experience that never feels over the top or blowsy. Many might find this composition to be a perfect bridal or formal event perfume: it’s deeply feminine but confidently alluring. As it dries down, however, I have to regretfully bid adieu to the lovely Isabey Gardenia, since it becomes almost syrupy sweet on me, with a candied fruitiness.
Composed by Aurelien Guichard, Robert Piguet’s Gardenia (2014) is a sturdy rather than languid gardenia, setting a small but initially intoxicating bouquet of gardenias and lilies upon a dark base of modern (but not trite) woods and soft leather. Piguet’s Gardenia is gardenia tailored, coiffed and suited up for work, without any sweetness and not much florality. Guichard may have been influenced by the elusive gardenia in vintage Miss Dior, where the floral notes blend seamlessly into the musk and leather, but if I am going to wear gardenia, I’d like to smell the flowers a little more clearly.
Creed’s Fleurs de Gardenia (2012) offers the option of wearing an expensive perfume that smells exactly like ordinary shampoo or fabric softener. A big synthetic peony, perhaps some lily of the valley, and a lot of soapy white musk overshadow any hint of gardenia. In the drydown, the aquatic notes turn Fleurs de Gardenia into a rather masculine cologne on my skin. A perplexing gardenia perfume in name only.
After more than three decades of success in the perfume business, Jeffrey Dame launched his eponymous house in 2014, with his father and son, emphasizing accessible and engaging perfumery. Dame Perfumery Soliflore Gardenia is a delightfully direct and honest gardenia that opens fresh and green like a new flower and then softens and becomes creamier and slightly indolic, while retaining its cool airiness, like the scent of a gardenia corsage that has just been pulled out the florist’s refrigerator.
Sultan Pasha is an independent perfumer producing a line of artisanal attars that are receiving wide praise for their uncompromising quality. Sold only through his online Ebay store, Scents-Rarity, Jardin Borneo Gardenia is unusual in its use of a natural gardenia enfleurage, along with jasmine enfleurage and Borneo oud. Jardin Borneo Gardenia was an interesting experiment, opening with a surprising peanut smell that gave way to a gorgeous, enticing, but extremely delicate floral scent that was very short lived on my skin. Beautiful, but a bit tragic, like watching a gardenia blooming, wilting, and browning before one’s eyes in fast motion video.
Dating back to 1930, the esteemed Le Galion perfume house, has recently been re-established and has been issuing updated versions of some of its historical perfumes, including Sortilege (2014; vintage from 1937), Snob (2014, vintage from 1952) and Whip (2014, vintage from 1953). Le Galion’s Gardenia, originally launched in 1937, is a hard-to-find vintage that has not been reissued. I obtained a bottle of this parfum in excellent condition, probably from the 1950’s or 1960’s. Paul Vacher (1902-75) was the perfumer-owner of Le Galion from 1935 and authored its original compositions. A Guerlain perfumer in his youth, Vacher may have collaborated with Jean Carles in the creation of Miss Dior in 1947. According the Le Galion website, Vacher continued to provide perfumery materials and compositions to Dior’s perfume branch, composing Diorling for Dior in 1963. And of course, I am in love with Le Galion’s Gardenia, which feels like one is meeting Miss Dior at her debutante party. Le Galion Gardenia is beautifully rich but virginal, matched with exceptional sandalwood, peach lactone, and a tiny hint of animalic musk.
Have I satisfied my curiosity about gardenia perfumes? Of course not! Before long, I may test your patience with yet another installment of gardenia-scented thoughts.