The original Chanel Gardénia – available now only very intermittently from vintage, rare perfume web sites – was by all accounts a masterful, creamy floral aldehydic typical of its creator, the genius Ernst Beaux: a perfume of its time, now gone forever.
The reformulation and relaunch of the perfume in the late 1980’s, however, exciting as it must have been for those in the know, was apparently an affront to lovers of the original. Where Bois Des Isles, Nº 22 and Cuir De Russie by all accounts retained the essential character and formulae of their original incarnations, the rebooted Gardenia was by far the least faithful to the original formulas of the first four ‘secret’ Chanels, and Luca Turin famously hates it (but really; who gives a damn..)
Knowing only the later version of this perfume myself, though, I have nothing to compare it to, and in any case fell straight in love the moment I smelled it, chiefly because it reminded me very strongly and vividly of my first ever love: at primary school, the friend who sat next to me every day in class had a wonderful smelling cedar-wood pencil case that then fused completely in my mind with her: and to me – this sharp, woody smell, unmistakably, is Rebecca.
I can picture the yellowish interior of that pencil case perfectly; can smell that intense, almost sour scent again and can conjure it up my mind upon demand, when I would sit there in lessons when bored, inhaling it deeply, and rapturously, and dreaming. I was infatuated; weirdly so for a boy of six. I could hardly sleep at night I was so besotted.
We had little romances at six, at nine, and at fourteen, were kind of besotted with each other, and are still friends (although she now lives in the south of France and has no recollection of this pencil box at all….)
But back to the perfume that jolts this memory. Compared to the soft beauty of those other Chanel extraits (all of them so soft and elegant and beautiful), I admit that Gardénia is quite an artificial creation, but I do think that it is very original in the way it steers away from the standard, southern belle creamy white shoulders and flor in the hair and goes for an entirely different interpretation.
Here, a fresh, piquant gardenia flower is fused with other florals – tuberose; orange blossom, and jasmine; a very chic, a classic white floral that might be too heady a scent were it not chastened, and freshened with a sharp, spiced note of clove, sage and pimiento, on a subtle, wooded base of cedar and sandalwood.
To me, the cedar and pimiento are key, bringing her back down to earth and resulting in a perfume that is lovely: crystal sharp, like freshly cut flowers placed on a box of brand new pencils in September.
GARDENIA ROYAL/ IL PROFUMO (2004)
The Chanel gardenia, though much maligned (Why? I love it!)) is perhaps, despite its negative reputation, much more influential than we perhaps realize, because this beauty by Il Profumo, a company that make very vivid, colourful fragrances, strikes me as smelling very much like the Chanel take on the flower but transported, illustriously, to the jungle; that same, piquant scent, but denser, greener, lusher. This is a gorgeous and potent blend indeed, gleaming and effulging with notes of tuberose, jasmine and peony over a rich powdered base that according to the creators, ‘renders a woman sure of her fascination.’
GARDENIA/ SANTA MARIA NOVELLA
What I like about the Santa Maria Novella exotic florals (Tuberosa, Gardenia, and the frankly bizarre Frangipane) is the sense that the flowers have simply picked at the height of their erotic power; been forcibly submerged by the Florentines in some scent-releasing liquid, and, the liquid saturated, presented to the public as perfumes. Santa Maria Novella’s gardenia fully captures the strange, medicinal, green and fungal side, and the milky allure of gardenia flowers on a humid, summer night.
Tactile, oleaginous, green-brushed and ‘thick’, it is rounded, cool, wide-eyed and fleshy, and in some ways a quite splendid perfume (if perhaps a little torpid).
Wear it and wilt.
GARDENIA / ISABEY
Drunk at a giant mansion looking frantically for the powder room (marbled, orchid-fringed; elaborate) this gardenia is the obviously self- proclaimed leader of the pack, a gorgeous, sluttish gardenia with a patina of ingenue; sheening, plush, blooming: unaware that her shoulder strap has just fallen down.
A revived classic from the 1920’s (though the formula smells more 1980’s big-haired to me), Isabey’s Gardenia is sweet, curvaceous, and is unique in supposedly containing actual gardenia essential oil, one of perfumery’s rarest essences.
ELLENISIA/ PENHALIGONS (2005)
Putting my theory of the indefatigable Chanel’s perennial influence, Penhaligions’ Ellenisia is yet another reinterpretation of the Chanel gardenia, but done the English way (ie. utterly unthreatening).
This is a bright vaseful of perfumed white florals, modern, pretty and very wearable, with a taut, marbled, shine that shows no thigh.
GARDENIA/ LE GALION (1937)
Le Galion is an old French company whose old-fashioned perfumes I occasionally get to smell when they wash up in Japanese antique stores and fleamarkets. Their jasmine was truly excellent, and I wish I could find another bottle. Gardenia, an extrait, is very much of the old school; the dark, tweed-suited gardenia of Miss Dior with a fearfully potent surge of fur and scent-soaked anthers – an exciting, if difficult, delving into the perfume past (when women presumably smelled like purring, powdery moths). When this initial flower-smog clears, balmed and vaulted with the unguents of passion’s dust, the perfume steadily attains an interesting beachy note – like rock flowers bathed in midday sun and the whirring hot-sand smell of the air.
In summertime, as little kids, my brother and I used to crawl into the canopies of broom on the sand dunes of Bournemouth (for a child, like exploring Borneo), and this curious gardenia brought those exciting times flooding back to me beautifully, and immediately, with a vengeance .
An intriguing scent that is not what you might imagine from this semi-venerable institution, this gardenia perfume is more like one of the power florals of the 80’s than the white and trembling French white floral I was expecting; a beautifully-made, adult, and very sexy perfume somewhat redolent of the fearless Giorgio Beverly Hills.
An interesting option if you want something rich, dusky but not overly sweetened; a glamorous gardenia to get dressed up for, douse yourself in, and marry the night.
All clothes by Coco Chanel.
FOR MORE ON GARDENIAS, AND MY JAPANESE ILLEGAL ACTIVITY INVOLVING THE FLOWER, PLEASE SEE MY PUNGENT POST ‘GARDENIA CRIME’.
61 responses to “THE UNUSUAL AND UNEXPECTED INFLUENCE OF THE UNFAIRLY MALIGNED CHANEL GARDENIA + eight more examples of this exquisite, luscious flower”
Isn’t it amazing how certain scents can conjure up time and place like nothing else in this world? (Love that story about Rebecca and how fantastic that you still keep in touch)
In the late 90s I tried the reformulated Chanel and it didn’t move me enough to buy a full bottle. I also did not know that Molinard made a gardenia (I rather liked and went through two bottles of Molinard de Molinard-it was a signature scent of one of my ballet teachers).
Loved the original Marc Jacobs! It was such a lovely creamy floral on my skin and garnered me many compliments.
I had a small collection of empty bottles that my parents (luckily) kept in their possession. Last summer I retrieved the empties and found a bottle of Alyssa Ashley gardenia with the pricetag still on it $2.34…can you believe it? and sniffing the bottle it STILL smells divine!
On a final note thank you for drastically improving my vocabulary skills…I had to look up the word oleaginous this morning in the dictionary!
I think oleaginous is a great synonym for ‘oily’: sometimes only that word will do.
I am DEEPLY intrigued by this Ashley gardenia: tell me more!
Alyssa Ashley was popular in the States in the mid-late 70s for their Musk ( extremely affordable for us youngsters loving perfume!). The company also came out with solifleurs (gardenia, rose,lilac). The gardenia smells gorgeous: rich, creamy, buttery is the best way I can describe it and one would not think it was a cheap drugstore/department store fragrance. And the sillage! The cologne was as potent as an edp of today. Such a pity that my bottle is empty otherwise I would send you some.
And I am one of those crazy individuals that loves new words- I keep a dictionary on hand whenever I read and have lists of newly aquired words floating around all over the place…
I read the New York Times religiously: have it delivered. I soak up language from that….
Somewhere I have Molinard de Molinard and I remember really liking it, but the idea of your ballet teacher, and it being her signature, thrills me. Can you describe it for me? What did it smell like on her?
That gorgeous Lalique bottle! It is described as a green chypre-notes of black currant, green notes, cassis, asofoetida, bergamot,ylang ylang,jasmine, NARCISSUS, labdanum, amber,musk,vetiver,incense and patchouli. Everyday I would smell it on my teacher and I adored it but it took me months before I had the courage to ask what she was wearing. When I finally got the name I rushed to buy a bottle but never wore it around her as I did not want to “steal” her signature scent.
Luckily this bottle was with my parents so it did not get discarded. Now I have it hidden in my basement. There were actually a few drops left which I decanted and sent to Barbara H. some time ago hoping she would review it (this was before I knew you, otherwise it would have been sent to you!).
Oh and I forgot to add that it has been re-formulated and many complain that it is not the same as the original
Now why am I not surprised….
I love the original Marc Jacobs too and wore it religiously my first year of graduate school. It was a big departure from the more unisex fragrances I was wearing — and that was a good thing!
The Santa Maria Novella florals are lovely, aren’t they? You have tried their jasmine one, right? That’s my favorite.
I have, but I can’t picture it perfectly in my nose brain. What is it like?
Daisy- would love to know what unisex/men’s fragrances you liked/like?
It’s a sweet story. I think it’s great when people have this type of memories.
The only perfume that I tried from mentioned in the post is Chanel Gardenia but in EdT, the modern version. I neither liked or disliked it. I thought it was a tipical Chanel and it wasn’t too tenacious.
Most of my gardenia perfumes are from the recent years – Guerlain Cruel Gardenia, Ineke Hothouse Flower and just released new Creed’s gardenia.
Ooh haven’t smelled the Creed – my antennae are up!
Cruel Gardenia hasn’t entirely seduced me yet though I would love to smell it on a woman…how does it come off on you?
I absolutely love it (though it’s neither really gardenia nor cruel)! It was my first Guerlain love (until a year ago I had no Guerlains in my collection). I bought a bottle of it and every time I wear it I can’t believe how beautiful it smells to my nose.
Interestingly, Birgit originally didn’t like it but recently she posted about change of heart in regard to this perfume.
You are clearly influencing us. I need to get to the Tokyo boutique (daunting and highly snobby though it is) to get me another sniff!
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Reblogged this on The Black Narcissus.
I have never smelled the original Chanel Gardenia, but I, like you love the one that exists. I also love your story of Rebecca.
Thanks. But hilarious that she has no memory of the pencil case, no? Funny how we all have our individual obsessions that are invisible to others.
Regarding Gardenia, I have had several bottles of the edt, but it wasn’t until relatively recently that I discovered the original reformulated parfum. And it is absolutely gorgeous! Much creamier, thicker, more pungent, and yet lighter.
The precious little bottle of the vintage Chanel Gardenia that you sent me is worn only on very special occasions, but sniffed frequently for pure pleasure. I loved this post, and realize upon rereading that I have never smelled the two by Marc Jacobs. I will need to find them. An unsniffed gardenia is a hole in the cosmos.
No no Signora Feral you most definitely don’t need to smell the Marc Jacobs as you have already: we are talking the Clinique Happy of Gardenias: in fact that is quite a good analogy. Pure Americana, in the most unthreatening way imaginable.
Do you know all the others?
No, but of the ones that I don’t know, the only ones I have any prospect of getting samples of are the two Mark Jacobs. And I have sworn never again, or at least not in the near future, to buy without sampling. I seem to have bad blind-buy karma. The Penhaligon I rejected out of hand, on the premise that no gardenia worth its salt is “unthreatening.” Real gardenias are bold, joyous, narcotic, fleshy, pushy, the embodiment of the (pre-Katrina) New Orleans where I misspent so much of my youth. I miss them.
The Penhaligons is exactly how I describe it: a more uptight, very English rendition of the Chanel edt. I like it, but it would seriously get on your wick.
The Santa Maria Novella you can trust me on. It is seriously fleshy and full
I clicked the link to your post detailing your gardenia thievery and was delighted to read of your exploits. I have a distant association with the gardenia as my mother, many years ago, and in the state where we lived, Michigan, successfully raised a gardenia plant indoors that bloomed for several years. You may not know this, but Michigan is not a place where a gardenia plant would naturally flourish. So, I was lucky to be able to admire the flower and smell its intoxicating fragrance. Then, not too long ago, I drove to Louisiana with a friend, and while staying out in the country, I encountered a very large gardenia plant, at least 8 ft. tall, that grew next to the deep porch on the side of the farmhouse where we stayed. At night I would go out onto the porch and sit in a rocking chair next to the bush and simply inhale until I was a little dizzy.
I have toned down my gardenia thieving now as deportation would be unwelcome at this stage, but I do still think that there is something amazing about them. Until last year when I went to Indonesia and smelled real tuberose flowers for the first time, I imagined that the tuberose would be much headier and overwhelming, as in perfumery that note often is compared to gardenia. In reality, however, the gardenias I have smelled are much more pungent and direct. I have only smelled the ones that grow in Japan, mind you.
I’m glad that you have given up deportable activities, but if you are ever exiled, do take a turn through America. You might be amused by New Mexico. We go along looking like everybody else, and then you come across a piece of our weirdness, like ghost bikes. What are ghost bikes, you ask? Well, in these parts, when somebody is killed on a bike ( not a rare occurrence, due to our drivers,) it is customary for family and friends to paint the frame of the victim’s bike white, bolt it to the sidewalk nearest where the death occurred, and tie plastic flowers and personal mementos to it. They are rather striking. You are going along with your mind on your grocery shopping, and somebody’s untimely and gory death is suddenly in front of you, as well as the logo of their favorite team and a lot of plastic hyacinths.
This has nothing to do with gardenias, I will be the first to admit. But on the Black Narcissus, you never know where the conversation will go ;-).
We finished Breaking Bad last night, which we watched in a kind of frenzy of DVD addiction. I must admit though, that the landscape in your part of the world, striking and amazing though it seems, doesn’t attract me. It is too vast. I would be agoraphobic. Give me mossy streams and rivers, plush gardens, fairylands….
Would still love to visit though. Oh yes.
I love the idea of sitting on a porch inhaling living the living gardenia!
In England it’s just an exotic fantasy.
It’s funny, when you live here for a while you can start to feel claustrophobic elsewhere.
I don’t doubt it.
You should try going through Shinjuku station in Tokyo, the busiest station in the world. Even after all these years my throat can sometimes constrict.
Beautiful pictures. Somewhere in my head I got the idea of gardenias and the Louisiana Bayous and debutantes and great white plantation houses, the connection for some reason being the film Grey Gardens. Though I’m sure they don’t mention gardenias there’s something that fits, perhaps it’s just the beautiful evocations of pre-war beauty (and 1930s Chanel?), and Little Edie describes their unkempt gardens as having a Bayou feel..
God how I love that film.
Only saw it for the first time two years ago.,,,
I KNOW!! I only saw it last year! Absolutely incredible. Have you seen the Drew Barrymore Jessica Lange one? I think I must have read this post originally at a similar time and stayed up all night collecting images of bayous and amazing American wooden houses and thinking of Gardenias
It is a gorgeous, bosom-filled thought, that is for sure.
I’ve never seen this film. Sounds like I need to.
It’s highly peculiar: a documentary about some relatives of Jackie Onassis who were living in Bohemian squalor in the Hamptons. Mesmerizing, touching, and rather disturbing .
There’s also ‘The Beales of Grey Gardens’ released in 2006, of different footage..
i didn’t know……
must seek it out. it had me reeling in a really weird way that film.
No neither did I, just looked it up, might watch it later..
This is the one I’ve seen. Very strange. Sad, too.
Once again I feel there is some celestial connection at work… there The Dandy was, somewhat improbably sniffing a gardenia scented candle at a department store in Manchester thinking… ‘you know I haven’t a gardenia scent, I really should correct that’.
And here you come bearing this tray of fancies… the Molinard cries out, but wouldn’t it be a bit of a cheat? Not really a true gardenia at all….
The Perfumed Dandy
I love our synchronicity….and I love gardenias.
I wonder which one would suit your fair self the best. People say great things about the Arquiste Bouton, and I am still to smell the Lutens Voix Noire, that dusky Billie holiday tribute. Oh the gardenias, les gardenias….
Dearest Dandy, everybody needs a real gardenia, a true gardenia. If you don’t have one yet, of course you must procure one. The problem is that, if you love the flower, your quest for the perfect gardenia will be lifelong. My Platonic gardenia was the Tom Ford Velvet Gardenia, but the corporate jackals at TF discontinued it, so I am lost in the twin obsessions of (1) getting all the Velvet Gardenia I can without actually bankrupting myself, and (2) seeking a replacement for the inevitable day when I run out of VG. One would think that I might turn to wearing one of my dozens (hundreds?) of other perfumes, but that is not the path of the true gardenia fanatic.
Oh yes… once the essential has been experienced, nothing else will do!
I’m put in mind of the Symposium… perhaps we are all waiting to find our other long lost perfumed half and you found yours, only to have it cruelly taken away.
Then, when perfection is removed everything else, no matter how good, excellent even, is so much dust running through one’s fingers.
Such is life….
The Perfumed Dandy
Ah, Dandy, you lead me to stop and recall that I have been greatly blessed in the marital department, love my career, all is not exactly dust running through my fingers, and at some point I need to stop my endless yapping about Velvet Gardenia. A platonic perfume is still, after all, just a perfume.
What a nice comprehensive post on one of my favorite flowers and favorite notes. Alas, I am among those who cannot abide the Chanel Gardenia. But that might have made it even more enjoyable to read why you *do* like it. Seeing it through your eyes was a nice change of pace.
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As usual, you make complimenting you on your work impossible! Just too many things to say. I love how you always weave in so many elements: childhood memories, history, personal anecdote, culture, your own thoughts and feelings, the perfect photos . . .
I don’t know many gardenias well; I’ve sampled many but none have made it to full-bottle status Amouage Honour Woman. The rhubarb in that one works very well with the oiliness of the flower and the base is more interesting than most gardenia soliflores. That TF Velvet Gardenia FeralJasmine mentions is in its own category, the mushroom/blue cheese aspects blown up larger than life, yet arrestingly realistic. I do love it. I just knew it was the kind of thing that would invite discontinuation. Sadly.
I’ve never smelled vintage Chanel Gardenia in any strength. Sigh.
I adore that Le Galion Jasmine.
I wonder what the new Chanel Gardenia EdP is like? Have you tried it? The Les Exclusifs EdT is gone, discontinued. All of the EdTs are, all replaced by EdPs this year. I’ve tried several of the others and generally have been less than impressed . . . or worse. A sad state of affairs.
Oops. None have made it to full-bottle status EXCEPT Amouage Honour Woman. Sorry.
I didn’t know that about the Exclusifs. I want to check them out now. The Honour Woman had something too metallic in it, ultimately, for me. Velvet Gardenia: YES! But only in theory. It was a monster on the actual flesh.
A little VG does go a lonnnng way.
Do check out the new Chanel EdPs. I’d be interested in your assessments. A couple were good, to my nose, a couple so-so, a few just BAD. I wouldn’t say there were any real improvements, especially when compared to the original 2007 EdT formulations. The later EdT reforms, particularly in the cases of 31 Rue Cambon and Coromandel, took the good stuffing right out of ’em, so comparisons get a bit tricky.
I can’t stand either of those two!
I’m with you on the Coromandel. But. The original 31 Rue Cambon???!!!!! Come ON, now! Nothing short of a masterpiece, dammit . . .
This is one of the reasons I’m crazy about perfume, Neil. Same thing about the other arts. Opinions can be all over the map and it makes it way more interesting. That two No 19 and Vol de Nuit lovers can be that far apart on 31 RC?! Extra cool.
I wonder. Might be a skin thing?
You made me want (that came out as needwant, maybe closer to the truth but too reminiscent of Orwell, I think) to try the new Gardenia EdP. Sample is ordered, along with two concentrations of Cristalle, which I’ve been wanting on my skin for months and the local stores don’t have it (?!)
I had whatever Chanel Gardenia was available in the early 2000s, in the flat bottle. It’s gone now (wish I could find that bottle!)(do you save your bottles?), we’ll see if I need more.