Let’s just all give a huge sigh before we start. Those of you that hate gardenia perfume or thought you hated them, have hope! I used to hate gardenia perfume, and I have some old posts/reviews to prove how much I loathed it. I wanted my gardenia buried under enough tuberose and jasmine that I could pretend it was there and was, um, real gardenia. Now? I love it, and I’m obsessed by finding the perfect realistic gardenia perfume. I must note that the several days I’ve spent trolling through gardenia perfumes, trying them on, day after day, have been some of the happiest of my life. With some notable exceptions – not days, gardenia perfumes! You’ll see.
Those of you that love gardenia and are still searching for the best gardenia perfume, I feel ya. The gardenia lover has a long, lonely road through many bottles of perfume, dashed hopes and broken gardenia dreams. The best ones that come the closest? Major bucks for them or discontinued. The reasonably priced ones? Not so much gardenia. On the day Serge releases his gardenia perfume, Une Voix Noire, and before I have my gardenia dreams dashed on the rocks of reality, and without thought to cost, availability or any other practical matter, we’re going to go through the best, the pretty decent but a little lacking on the gardenia, and the downright awful that should be sent to the…
Gardenia Hall of Shame.
Warning, this will be long, you might want to bookmark and come back later or just suck down another cup of coffee and get that “hide browser window quickly” button at the ready.
Breaking Gardenia hearts, this is my list of the best gardenia perfume –
Tuvache Jungle Gardenia (discontinued) – Damn. I have so much to say on this one, but when I researched it, I found a quote that referred to it as one of those “old drag queen perfumes.” And that pretty much sums it up, and I mean that in the absolute best way. There was a time when women weren’t afraid to be uber-feminine and sexy, pin-up Betty Grable, full-throated Jane Russell, Joan from “Mad Men” feminine – all dangerous curves hugged by clinging fabric and take-me-now looks that smoldered until the loins of men combusted.
In those days teenage girls were innocent, but they wanted to be grown up, and they’d save up their baby-sitting money and buy their own bottle of Tuvache Jungle Gardenia, or they’d steal their mother’s bottle, gardenia-bomb themselves, sneak out in the middle of the night in their clingy cashmere sweater and tight jeans to smoke cigarettes and neck with inappropriate young men. Their vision of being grown up was their moms dressing up for dinner, full-on makeup, beautifully coiffed hair, pearls, heels, tight dress with a nipped-in waist and pointy bosoms and smelling as feminine as you can get.
I’m not sure what’s gone wrong, but today’s teenage girl knows everything about sex, most lose their virginity before they can drive, and there doesn’t seem to be any boy that is labeled as inappropriate – hey, just watch “Teen Mom” if you don’t believe me! What do they choose to wear for perfume? Vera Wang Princess, Victoria Secret Cake ‘n Vanilla Sweet Cream Batter with a heap of Sugar on Top Body Spray (I did make that up, but I’m not convinced it doesn’t exist). Not smelling like women, smelling like cupcakes of the non-sexual sort. Or just young. Really young. I wonder why. Is it that they grew up too fast and they are clinging on to the little bit of little girl they can? Is that the smell that’s viewed as being sensual?
When did gardenia go out of vogue?
Or is it that the women they have as examples smell like fruity florals because women sometime during our liberation turned in our “go-all-out-feminine” card and are embarrassed or afraid to put on a clingy sweater, false eyelashes, heels, a real gardenia tucked behind our ear and put on enough Jungle Gardenia that we leave gardenia bombs in our wake?
When I smelled Tuvache Jungle Gardenia, I busted out laughing, because it is everything we aren’t anymore. And we should be. I wanted to find a pack of Chesterfields, do my hair up in a beehive and head out to see if there are still inappropriate men at my age to neck with. Well, I do that anyway, without the Chesterfields, but it was a compelling urge.
Maybe that’s why gardenia perfume is difficult. When it is done right, unrestrained, and makes no apology for being a big-ass white floral that’s earthy, skanky, bleu cheesy and over the top, we feel, um, what? Out of control? Like we are signaling that we are DTF? Sorry, Jersey Shore is a guilty pleasure.
My only regret with the Tuvache Jungle Gardenia is that it’s a pure parfum and I’m dabbing instead of spraying. But if it’s this big and blowsy and beautiful with two dabs, spraying might kill someone. Plus I’m not sure which bottle on eBay is for sure the most vintagey, and I don’t want those hateful Coty and other versions.
If you hate gardenia perfume, Jungle Gardenia will just kill you on the spot. You’ve been waved off, so don’t come back here and blame me later – or send your heirs and assigns to blame me.
JAR Jardenia – More expensive than most reasonable people would be willing to pay. A few hundred for 30 mls. You can almost justify it because you really only need a drop or two. Hey, best argument for gardenia perfume, they are, um, inexpensive! You never need much! Jardenia is bleu cheese and a little tangy on the open, and I remember reviewing this after March and me went to NYC and had our JAR “experience.” Hated it. And Ferme tes Yeux, which Tom did such a lovely review on last week. Now? Love them both, adore them both, like to wear them together! Well, yeah, it’s pretty much Olfactory Suicide, but so much fun! So sharp bleu cheese, then mushrooms meander in just to make things a lot more interesting, and your gardenia is now sitting outside in the sun wafting its splendiferousness like a white floral gone super-nova. As big as it starts out, just wait about an hour, and there is that creamy gardenia sweetness that emerges, making this incredible. It’s not as big as I like at this point, but it’s just mesmerizingly beautiful.
I had this to say about it back after I smelled it “like that crazy uncle you love that pees in your closet while he’s alive, but leaves you a bundle in his will, and you are quite sure you’d rather have him alive and peeing in your closet than his money. A slice of heaven at the end.” Huh, I liked it more than I remembered! Well, it seems like I just thought the sharp bleu cheesy part lasted a lot longer. 8 hours?!@?@? Must have been prone to exaggeration back then. An hour tops, and I’ve learned to love that open and be sad when the sharpest parts smooth out.
Other reviews at Nero Profumo, The Non-Blonde covers the whole line
Tom Ford Velvet Gardenia (discontinued) – You can still find this on eBay for now. So it’s discontinued, but don’t get all despairy, it’s still available for about $130 for 50 mls on eBay! I’m going to go snag one as a backup. I kinda remember hating this when it first came out, and I’m afraid to go look now. Oh, dear, I wasn’t very nice. During my anti-gardenia phase.
“Do I hate it? Looooooathe this little beastie, but it’s just a little hypnotic in its over-the-top slightly rotten lushness. If Tom were trying to make a perfume that would appeal to me not at all and that I would find borderline to completely revolting, he could not have done a better job.”
Glad I cleared that up! Well, I was wrong, I didn’t like strong notes back then or I was repressed sexually or something. Tom Ford Velvet Gardenia is a beauty! And I used that term “floral roquefort” like that was a bad thing! Sorry, Tom, and if I’m the one that caused the murder of this gardenia perfume that deserves to be called a gardenia perfume, I’ll be saying Our Fathers and Hail Marys until the end of time. Can’t you bring it back and call it something else? This was something you did that I really love! Black gardenia, orange, jasmine, rose muguet, tuberose, dark plum, honey, beeswax, incense, labdanum. Now someone follow that recipe and whip some of this up! Marina loved it, as did Victoria, Pere de Pierre hated it, then had the same change of heart.. I feel better now.
Ajne Fleur Blanche – not cheap, but it is natural! Scent Hive reviewed it in 2009, and I agree with her. Smoky, heady, and long-lasting. I didn’t find this the closest to the gardenia, but I’m not really talking about the actual gardenia, just the one in my head, my ideal gardenia. I’m sure those of you that have been reading me for a while followed that. If springing $135 for 1/2 ounce of parfum is too much, you can get your hands on 4 ounces of Fleur Blanche-infused lotion for $45! It’s beautiful, it’s big, and, hey, it’s not discontinued! WE are now moving in the right direction.
Strange Invisible Perfumes Lady Day (discontinued) – Just insert a bunch of weeping here. It was ridiculously expensive. I think the last time I had them make me up a little 1/4 ounce bottle, I had to pay over $300, and it was a special order. Now you can’t get it at all, the raw materials are not available. It did get renamed at the request of the Day family, and became known as (untitled). It opens with a similar sharp, heady gardenia in all its glory, but it has a softness early on that is breathtaking. The gardenia isn’t always there, it moves around, and as your mind follows it, it becomes melancholy. Not that sad melancholy, but melancholy that regrets nothing, especially the pain.
Robin reviewed it, March reviewed it, and I reviewed it, and I didn’t change my mind from that day to this when I said “There is a richness to this perfume, hinting at dark longing, mixed with regret, but never toppling over into the abyss of despair.” Hmm, I used to suffer more from the occasional round of poetic melancholia, didn’t I?
Not great Gardenia, but pretty perfume that’s kinda gardenia!!
Van Cleef & Arpels Gardenia Petale – I really love this perfume. I can’t move it up a category because it’s not the gardenia perfume that I think is the most realistic or goes over the cliff into gardenia-dom. This is more restrained. It’s like a gardenia puzzle with all the elements running around – little mushroom, little bleu cheese (just a teensy bit!), lush florals, deilicate lily, it’s all there. They just never get sucked down into the smutty, dirty, dirty spot I’d like this to land.
Isabey Gardenia – it’s not exactly gardenia, more like tuberose, but it sure is pretty! I used to like it more when I liked the realistic gardenia less. We had a little flippiness on that opinion.
Annick Goutal Gardenia Passion – Oh, this was so, so close!!! Slightly bleu cheesy open, but it was restrained and went plasticky for a while, and when we came out of that stage, it was a little too proper of a gardenia for me. But this fits the Goutal vibe, and I wouldn’t expect them to make something approaching the embarrassingly tacky beautiful Jungle Gardenia, though, you know, they did do Eau de Fier and Sables.
Estee lauder Private Collection Tuberose Gardenia – the best of the middle of the road “pretty” gardenia perfume. This makes a better grab at the gardenia, and it stays sunny and bright, but never gets too sweet, and it has a nice lushness that fits better with a gardenia perfume, even though this really is more a tuberose perfume for me than a gardenia. I would have moved it up a category, if the gardenia had been a little stronger and headier. But it’s really pretty!!!
Gardenia Hall of Shame
Kai – Every list has this on it that you must try. I realized when I did this post that I’d never actually tried it. There was a time when I couldn’t swing a dead cat in this house without hitting a Kai sample, but I did have to paw through a lot of big boxes of samples to find one. Just nope. Tries, then tries too hard and gets all body oil and coconutty and boring.
Jo Malone Vintage Gardenia – it huffs around gardenia, makes a really good try at it! Too sweet, a little plastic. It doesn’t go in the Hall of Shame, but it comes close. It only avoids it because it made an attempt. I dunno, I may still move it down. Okay, changed my mind, down it goes!
Guerlain Cruel Gardenia – Hey, I really love this little thing. But it doesn’t smell of gardenia! it smells of some Picasso-like white floral that might have been a gardenia at one time, changed its mind, drfted into an amazing alternate universe, extracted some other floral that was better, managed to be a creamy white floral that was ice cold, and returned to earth and tried to pass itself off as a gardenia. Or something like that. I LOVE this perfume, it’s only due to the lack of gardenia that it made it into the Shame Hall. I’ve smelled this thing so many times, willing it to flash some bleu cheese leg at me so I can move it up a category, but just nothing, it sits there in petulant ice queen silence and dares me to stop loving it. Bitch. In the Gardenia Hall of Shame you go! To be fair, Guerlain doesn’t list gardenia as a note, but, you know, it is in the name.
Chanel Gardenia – Oh, what?! While I don’t detest Chanel Gardenia as a perfume, I just can’t figure out why it has the name gardenia in it? And I don’t detest it, but I really don’t like it. The vintage Gardenia is better overall, but it’s still not, um, gardenia! So this one really just pisses me off. Chanel has the budget and resources to get this right, and they usually do. When they re-orchestrated it a couple of times, they could have gotten the gardenia right, and they didn’t. And they suck for treating gardenia like it was some prim, boring flower. If I had never smelled gardenia and smelled this? I would have stayed far away from the gardenia. This isn’t heady, this isn’t sensuous or earthy or lush or overripe or! or!!! or!!!!
I deeeeespiiiiiise it. That is all.
Yes, yes, I know there are a bunch of other “gardenia” perfumes out there. I’ve sniffed most of them, and more of them are really white floral accords that list gardenia as part of that, with varying degrees of success. Many of them are stunning, beautiful perfumes, but they are not gardenia-centric, so I ignored them – mostly because I just don’t want to go sifting through a bunch of white florals to tell you what small percentage is gardenia. If I can’t detect real gardenia (not some tuberose/jasmine shell game that makes you imagine it’s there because, well, it should be, gardenia is in the name!) shortly after the open and at least track it for 30 minutes, it’s not a gardenia, even if it says it in the name.. Sue me if you disagree, YMMV, and now you can all chime in and tell me why I picked the wrong ones and which ones I missed. Some I know I missed, and I just couldn’t hunt down the sample vial or never had it – Soivohle Acoustic Flower, DSH’s gardenia, Ava Luxe Gardenia Musk. Others? I’m open to adding in some and revising my list.
But I am NOT budging on the Chanel Gardenia