BWFs: Gardenia

whipped cream gardeniaI love gardenias, I do. I do. I crave them. It’s a little too cold for them to grow here in the mountains, unfortunately. If The CEO ever asked me what flowers I wanted for a corsage, I’d tell him tuberose (no, I wouldn’t, they’re unavailable around here unless you do a $75 special order) and then gardenia. I love yellow roses too, but that’s another story.

Gardenias. Sigh. Our neighbor once brought us a gardenia from his bush, back when I was, oh, twelve? Thirteen? And I was standing there in absolute heaven, while my poor mother was trying to say thank you without turning green. So I understand that not everyone likes them… but me, I love gardenias. So overwhelmingly gorgeous.

Sr. Perfumer Rodrigo Flores-Roux speaks of re-creating a gardenia scent in a ÇaFleureBon interview: Gardenias are somewhat wild and raw, and you have to be careful not to domesticate the scent too much. The perfume must remain a bit unbridled. For a gardenia, the sharp green edge has to echo the milky, almost buttery sides harmoniously, and the animalic sides, which are both indolic and cresolic have to be very present as well. The descriptors “fruity,” “ripe,” “bitter,” jasminic,” “honey-like,” “smoky” and “fungus-like” also come into play.

gardenia arrangementFlores-Roux has it right: it should be very green but very creamy, lush but earthy. He calls gardenia “wild and raw,” but I think the word that comes most to mind for me with real gardenias is “narcotic.” As in, I can’t stop smelling them. A gardenia should make you weak at the knees.

Unfortunately it’s a difficult note in perfumery – because gardenia essence is extremely costly and labor-intensive to make, not to mention flower-intensive. And therefore it’s extremely costly. What usually happens is that perfumers “build” a gardenia on a base of tuberose plus other notes, and thus you rarely get something that replicates the flower.

gardenia 2Here’s an incomplete list of gardenia perfumes (whether smelling of gardenia, or just named for the flower), in no particular order. If you have suggestions, please add them in the comments, and I’d love to hear if you shrink from the real flower or melt in its presence. The ones I’ve tried are in pink lettering.

Tom Ford Private Blend Velvet Gardenia (discontinued since 2013) – this one is a kitchen-sinky gardenia, complete with earthy mushroom notes and a bit of bleu cheese. Divisive. If you love it, you love it. I didn’t, but I have issues with “earthy.”

Estee Lauder Private Collection Tuberose Gardenia (which I like to refer to as ELPCTG) – lovely stuff, a good bit primmer than the Tom Ford. Sort of bridal, but in a good and lush sort of way. No off-notes to my nose here. I hear the parfum is STUNNING.

Michael Storer Stephanie – buttery gardenia (I think it’s a composition done with tuberose, not some of that pricey gardenia extract) with some musk and a slug of pepper. The pepper can take you aback; it did me. It leans a little too lactonic, though, for me. I wanted more green notes.

gardenia 4Marc Jacobs – This is beautiful stuff. Really. Gardenia/tuberose/jasmine, on the delicate side. I don’t know why I don’t own any. (Edit: actually, I do still own a mini bottle of the parfum, but it had gotten sort of lost in amongst all my mini bottles. I’ve been wearing it since I located it.)

Marc Jacobs Gardenia – incredibly beautiful bottle, but word is that it’s more aquatic than the original and less gardenia.

DSH Pink Gardenia – Lush Marilyn Monroe kind of fragrance, but done on Dawn’s usual musk base, which means it goes a bit too sweet on me.

Serge Lutens Une Voix Noire – This is Uncle Serge’s dark look at gardenia, not just an homage to Billie Holiday but also with the classic Lutens weird twist. It could be the smell of the Lady Day as her show winds down, with the gardenia she always wore in her hair beginning to brown and wilt from the heat of her body and that of the club, with a whiff of body odor, and the smell of burning tobacco in the ashtrays on the tables, and the hot sweet smell of whiskey and brandy left in the glasses. Could be, if you choose to interpret it that way. Or you could interpret it as a hot mess: wilting gardenia, dipped in meaty Mexican food and then in buttery caramel sauce, and rolled in some stale cigarette ashes to boot. I have a decant of this I bought unsniffed, and I never never never wear it. Three guesses as to why.

Isabey Gardenia – lovely. I’m not overly fond of the citrus notes up top, nor of the ambery ones at the bottom, but in between it’s attractive.

Guerlain Cruel Gardenia – as Luca Turin says in Perfumes: The Guide, “Not a gardenia.” He’s right. It’s not even a gardenia built out of tuberose. Still, it’s a very pretty perfume.

Chanel Gardenia (Les Exclusifs) – Also not really a gardenia. Sort of a lightweight mishmash of white flowers. Nice, pretty, not gardenia.

gardenia 3Annick Goutal Gardenia Passion – another not-really-a-gardenia. This is a tuberose with greenery. I like it anyway, but I don’t own any.

Jovan Island Gardenia – The current version is thin and bare, gardenia blooming three blocks away across chlorinated pools and the gasoline fumes from the whole neighborhood’s lawnmowers. It used to be better. Now it’s strictly low-rent.

Coty Sand and Sable – This one used to be better, too; when I was in high school in the mid-80s, I craved a bottle of it. (This is the one my mother made me return to the store, insisting that I was too young to wear it and smell like a divorcee on the make. Well, not that she SAID that, but I knew what she meant by the way she said it.) It starts out pretty cheerful and radiant like a real gardenia, but a scosh of air-freshener lilac and that screechy synthetic jasmine that saws on my nerves make it smell super-cheap.

Tuvache Jungle Gardenia – what I’ve smelled labeled as Jungle Gardenia was NOT the stuff I remember from my childhood. Man, could this thing knock you out from down the street: narcotic in the best sort of way. Now me, I loved that sensation. If you run across the vintage, snap it up. And if you don’t like it, send it to meeeeeee.

Edit: for full disclosure the sample I tried was secondhand, and I don’t know its provenance. It smelled thin and barely-there; like I say, the stuff I smelled growing up in the 70s was incredibly lush and powerful. If you notice in the comments, Jeffrey Dame says that the current version (since 1998) is made according to a 1974 formula. He’s kindly offered to send me a sample, which I’m going to accept with alacrity! I’ll report back when I have tried the new stuff.

Tauer Perfumes Sotto La Luna Gardenia – what am I to make of this thing? I still haven’t figured it out (need to review). It reminds me quite a bit of Tableau de Parfums Loretta, and it’s weird. It hits the mushroomy highlights though not the bleu cheese ones, but there’s that Tauerade Ambrox stuff in the bottom, and it’s… well, remember what I said about Une Voix Noire? It’s a little like that, minus the cumin and the ashtrays: sweet and wilty. Plus fruity. Plus balsamy. SO MUCH going on. Incredibly radiant, too. Look out.

Jo Malone Vintage Gardenia – if you like your gardenia with incense and a big mantle of grape Kool-aid*, this is the one for you. Pleasant, if you can get past the grape-flavored stuff. (* This effect, to me, is a sure sign that the gardenia in question is built out of tuberose, and maybe a bit of orange blossom. Methyl Anthranilate occurs naturally in certain white flowers; it’s isolated from natural sources and added to grape flavoring to intensify the grapeness. I have a range of tolerance for Methyl A., and this one is at least twenty decibels higher than the top end of it.)

Illuminum White Gardenia Petals – The former Kate Middleton reportedly wore this one when she married Prince William. It is quite innocently bridal, and has gentle sillage. It’s not very gardenia-like, either; it also boasts notes of lily, jasmine and muguet. Really, there’s a ton of that screechy synthetic jasmine in it. It’s not for me, but it’s at least inoffensive.

Annick Goutal Un Matin d’Orage – Nice. Not very gardenia, either, more a watery version of soft-focus white florals (gardenia, magnolia, jasmine sambac). That said, I think it’s lovely and if a bottle came to live at my house I’d wear it. It’s close to Dyptique Do Son, but where Do Son smells highly artificial to me (it has some clearly-synthetic tuberose in it as well as the watery accord), UMd’O smells more realistic. Pretty stuff, if you don’t mind aquatic notes.

Ineke Hothouse Flower – haven’t smelled this one, but Ineke Ruhland comments that she added creamy lactones and extra green notes like galbanum and fig leaf to tuberose to make it smell like headspace gardenia. I generally do very badly with Ineke fragrances, and I haaaaaate fig leaf, so I have not put this on skin.

JAR Jardenia – apparently a properly green-and-mushroomy-and bleu-cheesy version of gardenia. I haven’t smelled it.

Aftelier Cuir Gardenia – leather and gardenia as the name suggests, I’m told.

Arquiste Perfumes Boutonniere No. 7 – another indie version that is geared toward men. I’m not sure how that works (is it a gardenia fougere? I don’t know).

Jovoy Paris Gardez-Moi – Nice. Something along the lines of ELPCTG, but with a bit of grape Kool-aid up top. I’d rather have ELPCTG.

Penhaligon’s Anthology Gardenia – a reconstruction of an early fragrance by B. Duchaufour. No bloggers have anything to say about it, apparently. Shrug.

Strange Invisible Perfumes Epic Gardenia – I haven’t smelled this one, or any SIPs. Word has it that this one is good but not as good as SIP’s first gardenia perfume, Lady Day, which had to be discontinued because of the disappearance of a crucial raw material.

Creed Fleurs de Gardenia – apparently not a realistic gardenia, more a mixed floral.

Evyan White Shoulders – Like the Tuvache and the Jovan gardenias, this one used to be rich and lush and overwhelmingly narcotic, and easily bought in a drugstore. I remember it very well from church! (What else did church ladies wear? Youth Dew, of course, which is an entirely different story.) These days it’s made by Parfums International – whoops, no, Elizabeth Arden bought P. Intl. As you might guess, it’s only a shadow of its former self. Sad. Fortunately, you can still find Evyan-produced vintage bottles on eBay for not a lotta cash.

Parfumerie Generale Gardenia Grand Soir – Everyone I know was disappointed in this one’s being so ladylike and not very gardenia-y, by which I suppose we mean, well, ladylike. Gardenias are not ladylike. Gardenia screams “sexy” to me far more than tuberose ever does. Anyway, some people find a bunch of blackcurrant in this one, which I admit intrigues me. I love blackcurrant.

Aerin Lauder Gardenia Rattan – Reportedly, another “delicate” and office-friendly gardenia scent, which probably means that it isn’t gardenia-ish at all.

Parfums MDCI Nuit Andalouse – gardenia, jasmine, and orange blossom. A really lovely white-floral blend that reminds me somewhat of the original Marc Jacobs. Of course on me the orange blossom takes over, but that’s okay because it doesn’t go soapy.

VC&A Collection Extraordinaire Gardenia Petale – another I haven’t smelled; it’s reportedly one on the ladylike side.

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20 thoughts on “BWFs: Gardenia”

  1. I’m amazed at what you can detect in a fragrance, you pick up so many notes. Don’t mean to make you sound like a bloodhound here btw, but good going. Myself I’m still trying to come to terms with Ambrox et al.

    I can only add that I wore Gardenia Petale and that when first released GP was very true to real gardenias, but I think was swiftly reformulated because my bottle was more white flowers and less gardenia. Pity. SIP Epic Gardenia smells wet. I wouldn’t wear it unless I were somewhere really dry. PCTG I wore but they’re right, you have to spring for the parfum, and Pink Gardenia is a love of mine even though it is musky.

    1. I think I have a handle on Ambrox and Karanal, but I know I can’t identify most of the big players in the aromachemical arena. (I’m not sure I can even smell ISO-E Super.)

      Shame about Gardenia Petale, if it changed so fast! Grr. Pink Gardenia is nice, and I think it actually contains a bit of gardenia extract, but that musk can sometimes go very sweet on my skin. Sometimes I don’t mind, as in La Fete Nouvelle, which is a favorite of mine, but white flowers being generally sweet in themselves, the musk adds too much sweetness.

  2. Hi Mals86! What a wonderful Gardenia exploration, really superb, congrats on such nice writing – gardenia certainly speaks to you. Among one of my many endeavors I own the Tuvache perfume brand [since 1999 – over 15 years now] and manufacture and offer Tuvache Gardenia 1933 eau de parfum which is straight from the original Jungle Gardenia formula. [trademark battles on the JG name]. In the meantime though Tuvache Gardenia 1933 has an amazing clientele dedicated to the scent – mostly women over 60 – I’d don’t know that a young woman would even know how to wear it. The original JG recipe I’m using is from 1974, which itself came down through the years from the original composition. It is true to form, smokey, wild and uncontrollable; and at $34.99 with free shipping for a 100 ml eau de parfum how can you go wrong. I’ll pop a sample in the mail to you for you to explore, my last batch was just blended a couple of months ago and is very fresh. Best always, J.

    1. Jeffrey, how nice of you to drop in and comment. I should go back and clarify in the post – the sample I tried was a secondhand one and may not have been in good shape, but it didn’t smell like the Jungle Gardenia I smelled growing up in the 70s. A fresh sample would be a wonderful way to challenge my memory on it – I will email you.

      And you’re right that younger women tend to find a true gardenia “too much.” (I’m quite sure that this effect was what my mother was referring to when she forbade my 18-year-old self to wear Sand & Sable. It’s a very ripe, womanly sort of smell.)

  3. You know, I don’t think I’ve tried a gardenia scent yet, but surely I have one in my stash of samples… I shall look for one! Thanks for the inspiration 🙂

      1. In fact, I have the Chanel LE Gardenia that YOU sent me 🙂 I just applied it, it is quite lovely! Sweet like apple juice, but very floral. Delightful in this winter snow!

  4. Woo Hoo! Gardenia is my favourite of all the heavy scent flowers. Sydney is perfect Gardenia growing climate and a couple of doors down from the family home they had a huge magnolia planted in the middle of a gardenia hedge. On some evenings of the year you could smell the gardenia hedge blooming inside our home and all the way to the ends of the street. We used to go pick the flowers and Mum would put them in shallow bowls of water and the heavy scent of the death of gardenias would fill the house. Magic.
    The only gardenia fragrance I’ve tried that seems to capture the whole life of the flower is Gardenia Flower by a small Aussie crew: Perfume and Skincare Company.
    Thanks for this great reference post. There are still a few I need to try.
    Portia xx

    1. Oh, I’ll bet Sydney is perfect for gardenias. They are so gorgeous – magic, as you say! Now I’m intrigued by Gardenia Flower; wonder if they ship to the US…

  5. What a fantastic – and surely near as dammit comprehensive? – list of gardenia scents! It is one of my absolute favourite notes, so I will take note and hopefully track down a few of the ones I have not yet tried.

    I can mention my experience of smelling JAR, which was initially rather the classic earthy blue cheese / mould / mushroomy type vibe. Much later the most incredibly true gardenia note emerged.

    Haven’t caught up with the Tauer yet, but am intrigued by the wildly differing views on this one. You make it sound like an interesting ride for sure!

    1. I’m sure I’ve missed some, V! Let me know if you run across a good one. I have yet to try any JARs (lack of opportunity/balking at cost), but people do say that once past the weird opening, Jardenia is wonderful. The Tauer… well. It’s… well. I don’t want to sound completely negative about it, because it’s *not* awful. But it’s… weird.

    1. Hi, Adeline. Not sure why you’re not able to comment on that post – the comments are not closed. Hmm, puzzling. The blog is set up to hold any new commenter’s first comment for approval, to cut down on spam, but once I’ve approved the first one all the others should go through with no trouble. In any case, I will reply to your next comment about Ines I.

  6. I have been looking for the 1999 Ines de la Frassange by Calice Becker and have no luck.

    I thought maybe you’d be able to help me since you have the 1999 version.

    This was my original comment on that entry:

    Hi!

    I am have been looking for the Calice Becker 1999 version and I can’t seem to find it anywhere! I purchased the 2004 Alberto Morillas version just to test it, although I’m not mad at it, it’s not the scent I’m looking for. My mother bought a small bottle when it first came out from a small reseller and she’s been in love with it since. I don’t know why it took me so long to think OH HEY I CAN LOOK ONLINE but I waited until 2015. Please if you can find the 1999 LINK ME PLEASE.

    Thank you!

    Best,
    Adeline

    1. I’m so sorry to tell you, Adeline, but you are probably out of luck with the Becker version now. At the time I wrote the review (summer of 2012), it was getting more difficult to source but was still available. I haven’t been able to find any for close to a year now (if you discount the carded sample vials at fragrancenet or on ebay). There are still a few bottles of the Morillas version, but it’s quite different from the first one. I JUST checked eBay. There are two bottles of it listed, for $150 each, if you want to put that much into it. There are also a couple of 30ml bottles from a Spanish seller for about $80 including shipping. Or you can buy a 15ml decant of it for about $85 from theperfumedcourt.com.

      If I might suggest two other fragrances that seem to me to be along the same lines: Ellen Tracy by Ellen Tracy has the peach and some of the florals, as well as a lightly spicy sandalwood base, and IMO it’s primarily a powdery woody scent with some fruity floral accents. It is available at discounters (try Fragrancenet.com, which is a reputable online source) for about $17 per 100ml bottle, fairly inexpensive even if it doesn’t work for your mom. Another one to try is Givenchy Fleur d’Interdit, which is quite a bit more expensive online, but eBay has several 100ml bottles in the $50-60 range, as well as miniature bottles for around $15. Fleur d’Interdit might be a bit more fruity than the Ines, but the green notes are there as well as the florals. Its base does not have the beautiful sandalwood-tonka creamy smoothness, but I haven’t found anything that really matches the Ines. Sigh.

      I’d love to hear if your mom tries something else, and if she finds something that suits her, please let us know! Good luck.

    1. Oh, now, that’s an idea! Did you have suggestions for which ones might be representative? Without thinking too much about it, I would guess that the vintage ones would be heavier, more radiant, possibly more single-flower-focused, and the modern ones would be lighter, with less sillage and with perhaps a “twist” or a more complex formula.

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