Disclaimer: I hate gardenia. So much so I’m not even sure I should be reviewing this fragrance. Gardenia is just too…too. It is so rich and unctuous it always feels like you are gorging yourself on chocolate cake after a five-course dinner. It’s also something of a moving target in perfumery, because since it is impossible to extract essential oil from the flower itself, perfumers either use a dry gardenia extract or mix up a bunch of other oils to get an approximation of the genuine article.
I think that perfumers are also very aware of the potential ability of gardenia to overwhelm with its excessive richness, and employ one of two strategies to deal with this: either they cut the richness with another powerful element, like smoke (Une Voix Noire by Serge Lutens) or piercing citruses and refreshing greens (Collection Extraordinaire Gardenia Petale by Van Cleef & Arpels), or they throw caution to the wind and pile on even more richness by pairing it with another overly rich white flower, such as tuberose (Private Collection Tuberose Gardenia).
For Sotta La Luna, Andy Tauer goes a different route. Here he matches the inherent foodiness of gardenia by pairing it with other foody elements, making Sotta La Luna a rare bird: a gourmand gardenia. It’s as if Andy is saying to us, hey, gardenia is nature’s way of over-egging the pudding anyway, so let’s see it one egg and raise you another twelve. It could have been a nauseating mess, and indeed, on paper, just reading my own words is making me feel slightly sick – but since this is Andy Tauer, what we have here is an accomplished and arresting piece of work.
Out of the gates, the opening note is all gardenia – or what I assume is a reconstruction of the note. For about thirty seconds, I have the refrain “NoNoNoNoHELLNo” running through my brain and I briefly consider a trip to the bathroom to scrub it off. But then the magic happens. The tonka beans and the vanilla accents rise up and coat the gardenia in a delicate, sheer aroma of milk pudding or crème anglaise. This milky accord feels dusted with freshly grated cinnamon and flecked with specks of a freshly scraped vanilla pod. The gardenia is still there, but it glows gently through this sheer milk pudding aroma, like something you only catch glimpses of out of the corner of your eye.
Then, there begins the most incredible aroma of crushed bitter almonds, or apricot kernels. I say incredible, because instead of the heavy, stodgy marzipan feel that most fragrances with almonds have, here the bitter almonds are slightly powdery and give off the most wonderful starch note – starch as in the smell off a steam iron, a reef of office paper, or most strongly, the steam off a pan of simmering Basmati rice. I find this smell intoxicating and heady in all the best ways. In a way, this stage of Sotta La Luna reminds me of Andy Tauer’s PHI Une Rose de Kandahar, in that both share that wonderful powdered bitter almonds / papery smell. The effect is to infuse the traditionally heavy, too-rich note like gardenia with a pleasing airiness, like being in church and looking up to see a sudden shaft of light stream in through a stained glass window, piercing the gloom.
Later on, I start to pick up small hints of other flowers – rose and jasmine. But only hints. I can also smell quite a bit of (real?) sandalwood in the base, swirling up from below with that distinctive shifting of notes between creamy, rosy, woody, milky, nutty, and green. But gardenia remains the star, sitting like a queen amongst the other rich elements of vanilla, cream, bitter almonds, basmati rice…and yes, I know that probably half those things aren’t even in there! But that is the impression I have when smelling this. The fragrance also gets drier and woodier as it progresses through the day. Andy Tauer is so skilled that he was somehow able to corral all these rich, foody elements and use them to frame an equally rich flower, but in a way that feels delicate, restrained, and almost sheer. It is both a matter of changing textures – shifting from lush, rich, creamy pudding to dry rice steam to paper back to creamy sandalwood – but also a vein of slight bitterness from the bitter almonds and a hint of moss in the base to counterbalance all the richness at the start.
Bravo to Andy! He has made yet another stunning fragrance, and this time the first gardenia fragrance that I have ever really liked and would wear, which for a gardenia-hater like me is quite extraordinary. I see a full bottle of this in my future. Once I finally secure a bottle of PHI, of course. After all, a girl’s gotta have priorities.