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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BWFs: Lily

Gold Band lily. (All photos in this post are from Wikimedia.)
Gold Band lily. (All photos in this post, except the last, are from Wikimedia.)

Lily, in my opinion, isn’t the chiefest among the big white florals, but it’s a lovely one. I won’t get deeply into the definition and explanation of why white florals smell the way they do; I will simply point you in the direction of this blog post and this one by Elena of Perfume Shrine, for further reading.

I love lilies. Madonna lilies, Easter lilies, stargazers, orientals, all of them. I can’t have them in the house, however, unless I snip off the stamens. For one thing, the orange pollen stains, badly. I once ruined a white eyelet dress by getting too close to these monster 6-foot tall white lilies that bloom near the door at our old church. For another, the pollen is murder on my allergies. At that same church, they always used to decorate the rail of the choir loft with lilies at Easter, and before the service was over my head was stopped up and I was sneezing nonstop. Once the stamens are gone, though, I’m just fine.

Stargazer lily.
Stargazer lily.

And the smell – floral, green, spicy, creamy – is heavenly. Luca Turin famously commented that lilies en masse smell like ham, and I don’t really get that specific reference, but I do understand that thick, almost-salty, almost-fleshy smell. It’s gorgeous. It’s funny, but lily scents tend to highlight either the spicy aspects of the flower, or the creamy ones. Hard to find a photorealistic one, and I’m not sure I really want one of those; I’d rather just have a lily in a vase, sans stamens.

Lilies in perfume can sometimes take over – not that I mind that much.

(I’m not talking about lily of the valley, which has a completely different smell. Yes, they’re white florals, but I never think of muguet scents as “Big” white florals. No, not even Diorissimo.)

Easter lily.
Easter lily.

In the lists below, I’ve included both soliflores and scents where lily is the star among other noticeable components. The fragrances I’ve smelled myself are in color, and the bolded ones are favorites of mine. Any lily lovers out there? Please suggest some good ones.

Soliflores:
Serge Lutens Un Lys
Frederic Malle Editions de Parfums Lys Mediterranee
Donna Karan Gold (discontinued)
Cartier Baiser Volé
Annick Goutal Des Lys
Yves Rocher Pur Desir de Lys
DSH Perfumes Madonna Lily
Guerlain Aqua Allegoria Lys Soleia
YOSH Stargazer
Antica Farmacista Casablanca

Mixed lily bouquet.
Mixed lily bouquet.

Compositions:
Cacharel Anaïs Anaïs (a floaty, green mixed floral centered on lily)
Tom Ford Shanghai Lily (spicy lily with milky-incensey woods, sort of as if DK Black Cashmere and DK Gold made a baby)
Ineke Gilded Lily (fruity modern chypre with lily)
Hermes Vanille Galante (lily intersecting with vanilla, a soft billowy scent)
Serge Lutens La Vierge de Fer (stern metallic lily)
L’Artisan Passage d’Enfer (faint lilies and soapy incense)
Oriza L. LeGrand Relique d’Amour (lilies and incense and cold stone – similar in concept to Passage d’Enfer, but in my opinion this one works where Pd’E doesn’t)
Penhaligon’s Lily & Spice (discontinued – lilies, spice and musk)
Le Labo Lys 41 (another soft billowy white floral with gardenia, jasmine and vanilla)
Keiko Mecheri Soussanne (lily, datura, and sandalwood)
Tom Ford Jardin Noir Lys Fumé (lily, ylang, and labdanum)
Jovoy Paris Lys Epona (woody lily)
DSH Perfumes Mother of the Bride (big mixed bouquet of lily, rose, and carnation)
DSH Perfumes 1,000 Lilies (Susinon) (lily, cardamom, sandalwood and incense)

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BWF January

Handmade paper flowers.  I'd rather have a ginormous bouquet of real ones, of course, but since THAT ain't gonna happen, here are these. (Click the picture for details on purchasing these. Not affiliated, I just admire.)
Handmade paper flowers. (Click the picture for details on purchasing these. Not affiliated, I just admire.)

So it’s January, and it’s dreary outside, and I want flowers. Big ones. Big smelly ones.  I keep hearing perfume friends talking about “picking up a couple of stems of tuberose at the market” with which to scent their houses, but I don’t live in a big city with a well-stocked flower market, so that’s out. (I could special order them… at a minimum $75 order, so THAT ain’t gonna happen.)

The Big White Floral, or BWF, is one of the most polarizing genres of perfume available. People either love it or they haaaaaate it, and they bring out the cross and the garlic to defend themselves (sort of the way I get with dusty tolu/patchouli orientals). I, of course, love me a BWF.

Andre', WWE baddie wrestler and consummate showman, who played Fezzik in "The Princess Bride," was a sweetheart... but he was huge. 7'4", 450 pounds huge. Sometimes BWFs are like that.
Andre’, WWE baddie wrestler and consummate showman, who played Fezzik in “The Princess Bride,” was a sweetheart… but he was HUGE. Like 7’4″, 450 pounds huge. Sometimes BWFs are like that. (Photo links to the book at Amazon, but I’ll warn you that the book is roundly panned by readers.)

BWFs can range from soliflores to mixed florals to floral orientals (and possibly even white-floral chypres, depending how strong a floral presence there is), but quite often, the operative word in the sentence is “BIG,” like Andre-the-Giant BIG, and that might be part of the issue. I’m not generally fond of potent sillage, and I prefer to keep my waft within a couple of feet of my person, but I’ll break that rule for a beautiful BWF.

I’m going to list a few of my favorites, just the tip of the iceberg, today, and will follow it up with more detailed listings, organized by central note, over the next couple of weeks. Here are some fragrances that come immediately to mind when I think of BWFs:

Karl Lagerfeld Chloë, the original. It’s still being produced (now by Parfums Chloe), but it’s strictly an online-stock thing now, and it’s had the heart sucked out of it long ago. If you loved it in the late 1970s, don’t bother smelling a new version now, it’ll break your heart. The vintage is still available on eBay, and the three samples I’ve smelled of 80s Chloë all smelled wonderful. This is a big, generous, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink floral on a bed of woods and moss, with peach and citrus and a tiny flourish of aldehydes up top for sparkle.  Carnation and rose are also present, as are muguet, jasmine, and honeysuckle but it is, first and always, a BWF centered on tuberose.

Christian Dior Poison. Yep, the Beast That Ate My College Dorm. It’s tuberose and orange blossom, plus resins and a few spices and a jammy plum so overwhelming you could swim in it. Definitely a white floral and a huge one (the sillage on this, even the reformulated stuff, is monster), but I can only think of it in terms of deep amethyst. Is that marketing, or is it truly a purple smell? I don’t like big sillage, I don’t even like purple, and I still don’t know why this stuff is so addictive.

Frederic Malle Editions des Parfums Carnal Flower. Centered on tuberose, with a lush, fresh jasmine backing it up, it is nonetheless somehow green, with menthol and green leaves up top. I first smelled it on a winter day so cold that warm breath turned to frost, and it was perfect. I’ve worn it on muggy summer days, too, and it was perfect. It’s never been not-perfect for me.

Robert Piguet Fracas. A ton of virtual ink has been spilt over Fracas, the first widely-popular tuberose-centered fragrance, created by Germaine Cellier to serve as the femme-est, pinkest, bombshelliest fragrance evarrrrr.  Despite assertions of it being THE Tuberose Fragrance, it is also completely and utterly jam-packed full of orange blossom, jasmine, gardenia, lilac, peach, and a zillion other things. The orange blossom is particularly prominent to my nose, and Fracas smells like nothing so much as it does a starlet’s dressing table, complete with lipsticks and cold cream and swansdown powder puffs and lavish bouquets.

Tom Ford Black Orchid Voile de Fleur.  Big bad Black Orchid’s ingenue sister, this EdT version is discontinued. It centers on tuberose and ylang-ylang, with a milky, peppery veil over them. There is a light but persistent oriental base under it, with benzoin and woody notes.  I can’t find the right text color for it, but it’s a sunsetty orange-pink color, pretty but vivid.

More BWFs to come.

 

 

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It’s Cold, but I Smell Good

We haven’t had quite the frozen-tundra effect that some of the rest of the country has had recently (Facebook friends were posting about their under-zero temperatures), but it’s been pretty cold over the past couple of days, getting down to single digits at night… with WIND, giving us a wind chill factor of below zero. Brrrr.

Aren't these gorgeous?
Aren’t these gorgeous?

I’ve been fighting the cold with white florals – looks like my January tuberose/white floral obsession has rolled back around again. I’ve been wearing the following:

Houbigant Orangers en Fleurs. This is a very floral orange blossom with jasmine; a bit soapy but not overly so, as many many orange-blossom fragrances go on my skin. There may be a bit of tuberose in here too.

Robert Piguet Fracas. Not for nothing is Fracas the Queeeeeeeeen – she’s a movie star in cream satin and diamonds, with a dressing room jam-packed with bouquets, and a dressing table littered with cosmetics of every kind, lipsticks and face powders and mascara and beauty patches and eye shadows and kohls and blushers and cold cream. Enormous, and exaggerated to the point of artificiality, but beautiful. This is not, to my mind, “a tuberose perfume.” It’s a mixed white floral in which tuberose and orange blossom share the billing.

Le Galion Tubereuse (2014 rerelease). According to Grain de Musc, the original 1939 version of this tuberose soliflore predated Fracas, and reportedly influenced its creation – though I don’t see a lot of relationship between the two, honestly.  This one is very green and fresh – Fragrantica lists several fruity notes in the rereleased version, fruity notes I don’t get at all. It also lists orange blossom, but pretty much all I get from the Le Galion is tuberose and green leaves.

ByRedo Flowerhead. Tuberose, jasmine, and rose, with some bitterish stuff up top that mimics the delightfully pungent smell of marigold (though reportedly marigold, an important component of the Indian brides’ headdresses that Flowerhead refers to, was too difficult to add to the composition). I was wearing this for the first time when Hayley-dog died, so I’d been reluctant to wear it again, but it is very beautiful.

Tom Ford Black Orchid Voile de Fleur. Sadly discontinued, this gentler version of the polarizing original (I can’t stand Black Orchid; the florals are completely overwhelmed with a cucumber/dirt thing that smells like dank basements) is heavy on tuberose and ylang, with a milky, peppery veil. I’d like to smell Velvet Orchid, the newest flanker to Black Orchid.

If I hadn’t used  up my sample of Serge Lutens Fleurs d’Oranger – the newer stuff, less packed with cumin than the first version released – I’d be wearing that too, as it’s just as much tuberose and jasmine as orange blossom, and very lovely.

I once looked into getting fresh tuberose stems at the local florist. They were available – by special order, $75 minimum. Wonder if I could force the bulbs, and if so where I could get some…

Anybody else craving white florals in the cold?

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