Scented Advent, December 3

Well, what a pleasant surprise! The Guerlain sample I pulled out of my bag today was Cruel Gardénia, which hadn’t previously interested me much, although of course I knew it would be of the highest quality. I live in the Southeastern US, so I can and do grow gardenias in my garden. Billie Holiday famously wore gardenias in her hair when she performed. I love them as garden plants, and I love the fragrance of their flowers outside, but most “gardenia” fragrances don’t do much for me. Too artificial, too sweet, too narcotic. Cruel Gardénia is none of those, and I’m so glad the nice Guerlain sales assistant included it in my package of samples.

Top notes are peach, rose, and neroli. Heart notes are violet, ylang-ylang, and musk, combining to create an imagined gardenia. Base notes are tonka, musk, vanilla, and sandalwood. The opening has an alluring peachiness, supported by rose and brightened by neroli. The neroli also adds just a touch of bitter greenness, which cuts any tendency toward sweetness. As the top notes recede, the violet, ylang-ylang, and musk accords bring a pillowy, floral softness to the fore. The note I smell the most at this stage is the ylang-ylang, which I did not expect from a fragrance named for the gardenia. Here’s what the Guerlain website has to say:

Gardenia is a powerful, sensual white flower with fruity accents. Yet, paradoxically, it stays mute in the world of Perfumery, unable to offer up its fragrance through the traditional techniques of distillation or extraction. It must be written as an accord, as if composing a poem. For Cruel Gardénia, notes of rose, neroli, ylang ylang and peach recreate its trail.

How ironic, to claim that gardenias are mute, when they are so closely associated with one of the 20th century’s greatest voices!

Singer Billie Holiday with white gardenias in hair
Billie Holiday

Billie Holiday, of course, had a tragic life in spite of her legendary artistry. But what a great beauty she was, with the white gardenias in her hair. She has been a perpetual figure of fascination, inspiring movies and plays based on her life.

Singer Billie Holiday with gardenias in her hair
Andra Day as Billie Holiday; image from

I am so happy to have finally tried Cruel Gardénia. It is a warm, sensuous, musky floral that dries down to a warm, musky sandalwood tinged with tonka. My husband liked it too! It just goes to show you that we should keep trying even the fragrances that don’t initially draw us. Have you had that experience?

10 thoughts on “Scented Advent, December 3

  1. This sounds interesting – I’ll add to my endless list of things I want to sniff someday. I used to think I didn’t like patchouli. A couple of fragrances I didn’t care for featured it – one was Nicolaï Patchouli Intense, a rare miss from that brand – and to be honest I don’t think I had ever smelled pure patchouli. Then I tried Hiram Green Arbole Arbole and decided it wasn’t the patchouli that was the problem!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love… no, LOVE Cruel Gardenia! Last year I bought one of the last old-style bottles to have a backup. There’s just 5 perfumes in total for which I have a backup, and Cruel Gardenia is one of them.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great that you’ve found a new group of fragrances to explore. All those gardenias to sample.
    I think my biggest 180 was celebuscents. Then I discovered JLo Glow & it got loads of positive comments. Perfumery snobbery disappeared in the first spray.
    Now if it’s there to be sniffed & I’ll sniff & wear with impunity.
    Now I own & wear almost all SJPs output, Britney’s Midnight Fantasy, JLos Glow is ALWAYS in my collection & I’ve recently discovered her creamy sandalwood One. Bonus points, celebuscents are almost always cheap as chips

    Liked by 1 person

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