Scented Advent, December 3

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 vogue.com

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?

May Melange Marathon: Lady Day

May Melange Marathon: Lady Day

This week, all the gardenias in my garden and neighborhood seem to have popped open, and the air is full of their fragrance. The flowers themselves are, of course, lovely — some are like perfect little waxy white roses, others more like simple daisies, with fewer petals. So I thought I should look out a gardenia fragrance for a post this weekend.

The one that came to hand is Maria Candida Gentile’s Lady Day, which was named for the singer Billie Holiday, who regularly wore gardenias in her hair. I bought it some time ago when there was a big sale. It comes in extrait de parfum concentration. I like it, but for the life of me, I don’t smell gardenia!

The only notes listed are galbanum, gardenia absolute, and Peru balsam. I do smell galbanum, but it’s not the note I’m used to calling “galbanum.” Here, it is less green and more — I don’t know! There’s a strong herbal tone, but it doesn’t “read” as green to my nose. I guess the absence of what I think of as gardenia could be caused by the fact that the perfumer used gardenia absolute, not an accord meant to suggest gardenia.

I don’t know what to think about this one! Its overall scent reminds me of something but I just can’t remember what. Do you have any favorite gardenia scents? I keep seeing Elizabeth Taylor’s Gardenia at places like T.J. Maxx, but I’ve never tried it. Lady Day is nice, to my nose, but it doesn’t seem like a true gardenia. I’m stumped!