Cruel… oh, so cruel


First, winner of last week’s draw for the grabbag of samples, plus the two Montale samples and the Ineke Evening Edged in Gold sample is Pavlova!  Just hit the contact us button over there on the left and let me know your address and I’ll get it out to you! 

There are as many opinions about what scents should be as, well, there are people in the world who can smell.  When March and I were in NYC and got a quick spritz of the new Guerlain Cruel Gardenia, she went “meh,” but warmed up more to it as it dried out, but I immediately went “squee” and and fell head over heels in love with it the longer it was on.  Notes of gardenia, soft white musk, damask rose, peach, neroli, violet, ylang-ylang, tonka bean, vanilla and sandalwood.  If you’re looking for a full-on roquefort gardenia, move along, nothing to see here.  While there is enough gardenia in it that you will believe it exists in there, this is just a smooth, velvety beauty.  There’s  a very faint, sharp gardenia bleu chese tang early on to remind you what it was supposed to be, but it moves to the back of the fragrance bus the rest of the way through the journey, always present, never above a whisper.  Tonka bean, musk and vanille smooth out the composition like whiskey hitting your belly, warming you to this absolutely gorgeous scent. 

Over time, I’ve fallen in love with all of the Matiere line, I think they are brilliant and will join the Guerlain classics, but they will be taken as a group because there is something about each that needs the others, but still stands alone.  Each of them is … well, a beautiful perfume.  I wear perfume to make me think or feel or remember, but many times I just want to wear something that trills behind me with a gorgeous wake and makes me feel like a little bit lovelier human being than I feel most days — especially this week when I’ve felt a close kinship to the Bette Davis character in “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane.”  I don’t find anything groundbreaking in Cruel Gardenia in terms of unusual use of notes or a completely new treatment of gardenia, and it really isn’t cruel in the least. But if you want a perfume that will bring you to a more beautiful you, you’d go a long way to find anything lovelier than this.

There’s been discussion over the last couple of years about Guerlain scents that didn’t survive or only survived for a short time.  One theory is that the best survived and the others, while they might be quite good or interesting, got winnowed out.  That may be true to some extent, but my belief is the more mainstream acceptable scents for their time survived – not saying at all that those that endured aren’t great and classic –  and those that were made for the wrong time did not.  Djedi belongs to a time yet to come.  Voilette de Madame is from a time when women covered up and let their sexuality unfold in their wake as they walked by.

Take my much loved Fol Arome.  From the moment I opened my little teensy sample of this, I was in love.  Heliotrope and vanilla with some florals, there is a deep longing reaching up from the bottom of this scent for a more innocent time. Putting it on yanks me by the collar into my childhood, before I knew deliberate cruelty and callous disregard for the dignity of the human person, and it just makes me happy as no one has a right to be once they get past the age of 11. So was it winnowed out as weak?  Perhaps it doesn’t have broad appeal, the kind that keeps it in production for a century, but it is a lost treasure that I will hold out hope for Guerlain to bring back for another run, even if it is a short one.

Is there a process of  natural selection for perfumes that works? Or is it too dependent on the tastes of the time it was created and many great perfumes go by the wayside only because they were born too early or too late?  What one perfume was made completely out of its time and needs to be brought back into existence?


  • BBliss says:

    F. Malle discusses tuberose and gardenia in Allure this month – could have been a little more interesting – but anyway, between that article this morning and now this post- I gotta get me some gardenia. Though it is one, I tend to prefer to smell not wear often – and I wind up passing my purchase along…

    I agree the fun is in the sniff more times than not. Sometimes it’s like shoe-shopping – just trying on a new persona for a moment or two…
    Your questions are fascinating, and I think right-on about timeliness/eras of scents, but can’t discuss more intelligently – brain is mush|-)

  • Elle says:

    Glad to see someone else who loves the Matiere line! It doesn’t get a helluva lot of good press, but I’ve found the need to own all of them so far. Am assuming I will fall for the gardenia as well, despite my love of roquefort w/ that scent.
    I always assume fragrances get the ax due to lackluster/low budget marketing or the fact that they are too expensive to produce (Nombre Noir springs to mind). I think it’s only occasionally that they fall by the wayside due to lack of inherent appeal. I have (sadly) huge faith in the powers of excellent marketing – can’t imagine how some of the crap out there today could succeed w/out it.

  • March says:

    I’m with you on the knowing rather than the wearing. I want to be able to SMELL it — and then (frequently) I can move on.

    If anything I’d wish for some sort of sample de-ager machine, where I could stick my vial of Djedi into it and it would be magically transformed into the way it smelled when it was FRESH. That’s what really kills me — I mean, I like the patina, but wouldn’t it be interesting to know what everything smelled like brand new in 1915 or whatever? It’s like stuff you see in museums sometimes, like a terra cotta stone fountain, really plain, and then they point out to you in an accompanying drawing that according to their research, when it was new it was entirely covered in gold leaf, or really super-bright paint or whatever. I remembering visiting somewhere (Monticello?) and was shocked when they did the restoration how fricking bright the colors were.

  • Lee says:

    Too busy today to comment unfortunately – at least with any meaning. Glad you’re enjoying CG though, you hottie.

    (and I can’t imagine you’re ever like Better D in that movie). Just. Can’t. Believe. It.:x

  • violetnoir says:

    P, what a great question!

    Since I am a total Guerlain “ho,” I have to think that many of those beauties, like Kadine and Ode and Fol Arome (which I need to test…I really do need to test it!), just hit at the wrong time. I put my big ole head into the “ovens” at Guerlain’s flagship this past summer and swooned, especially at the beauty of Kadine. My 18 year old, who is too cool to agree with me on anything, even swooned.

    God, I love Guerlain!

    Anyway, thank you for the photo of Bette and Joan in “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane.” I bet that set was fireworks, because those ladies hated each other. In my humble opinion, Joan was good (but very, very mean), but Bette, well, she was born to act! She is hands down one of the all-time great actors…ever!


    • Patty says:

      Bette was an acting miracle, but in that hard as nails kind of way, though she, despite the bitch she must have been, had a way of showing vulnerability that was just amazing. Even in her meaner roles, like this one, the scenes on the beach had me all weepy.

      • erin k. says:

        bette rocks. talk about mean, have y’all seen her in “of human bondage”? she’s total evil … and i love her.

        i prefer 20s-30s era joan crawford – like in “grand hotel.” she just sparkles onscreen, so vital and full of life.

        generally speaking, i just love old movies the best, anyway. they’ve got style! (as do so many of the classic perfumes, to my mind.)


  • Robin says:

    I’d say natural selection works pretty darned well in terms of what would sell — not the same thing, obviously, as what would please perfumistas (including me). And on the major houses, I’d say it works well enough in some other aspects. Nothing I’ve smelled from the reissued Guerlains has made me reevaluate their place in history, even though I’d very much like to own a few. In some cases, like Piguet, the reissues are bound to be a bit of a letdown — Fracas & Bandit are so iconic. What they’ve reissued since is wonderfully well done, but the perfumes don’t have the same impact. Likewise, the Lancome reissues, while again wonderfully well done, did not make me reconsider Lancome’s place in perfume history.

    Christian Dior, on the contrary, I think badly *needs* to put out respectful reissues, because they are no longer thought of as on the same level as other houses, and personally I think they ought to be. Same with Coty.

    I do go on, don’t I?

    • Patty says:

      I think sometimes it is personal preference. I so much more like Fol Arome than (shh!) L’Heure Bleue. LB is too powdery, and FA just has all the notes from LB I love and focuses there. I think it is ?? that did a think on the scents that are derivative of LB.

      Agree on Dior – they have so much great history and so much crap they’ve put out in the last decade.

      Coty is dead to me.

  • erin k. says:

    i keep hearing the matiere line scents don’t match their names – like the cuir beluga with no cuir – cuir makes everything better, dont they know that? :d

    cause if there was some real CRUEL to that gardenia, i would try some in a hearbeat! i’m a southern girl, and the smell of gardenias half rotted on the bush on a hot summer night – oooh, baby!

    here’s to the baby jane in all of us (or me, anyway!):
    8-x 8-x 8-x !!!!!!

  • Carol Sasich says:

    Perhaps the Gardenia can be called Cruel, in that it elicits that feeling of melancholy, lost youth, before the repercussions of living began to reverberate…I dunno..
    I will be looking forward to smelling this at sniffa…
    Fragrance is so sbjective, I am shocked at the number of people who give fragrance as gifts. Just not good. Unless of course you are intimately linked like perfumistas…LOL…
    i miss the original Diors from the 60s.I owned three at the age of 14..reformulations begone!
    ( I understand the REASONS, that doesn’t mean I like it.)

    • erin k. says:

      speaking of the classic diors, i’m about to get myself some samples to try. which of the reformulations that you’ve tried smell truest to the originals? or do they all suck? i’m interested to hear a dior fan’s take on them.

    • Patty says:

      You know, the only perfume I’d ever give is one I knew someoned liked or I’d give them a big ole sample pack of some new things outside of their norm for them to try.

  • Marina says:

    I find CG groundbreaking in that it dares to smell so classic, without giving even a passing nod to any “trend”.
    It also doesn’t smell like a Guerlain at all (luckily for me :”>).

    • Patty says:

      Hey, but we agree on one! I do think it will be a classic, but I think the whole matiere line will wind up in that category, just not necessarily each perfume in it individuall. It’s really been beautifull done, and that becomes more so as they keep adding scents.

  • Billy D says:

    No surprise that I think Iris Gris deserves a little (or huge) revival. But I agree with Louise that the Gobin-Daude’s need to be brought back into existence–50 ml bottles of EDT selling for $350 dollars? There must be something special about them.

    Do you really enjoy all of the Matiere line? Even the Tuti-Frutti Kiwi one? I don’t really understand why they release so many of these a year and only one classic at usually ridiculous prices. Sure, young girls must buy a ton of the L’art line, but they would buy Cachet Jaune too if you offered it, Mr. Personified Guerlain.

    • Debbie says:

      I wish Iris Gris would come back too, so that perhaps I could afford more than .25 ml. After reading the descriptions on The Perfumed Court and 1000 fragrances, I think I would love it. I picked up on the pastry note in Iris Ganache…iris and pastry and peach sound pretty wonderful too.

    • pitbull friend says:

      Actually, I think the “Tutti Kiwi” is part of the Aqua Allegoria line. I’m not sure what’s left in that line — lots have been discontinued. I sort of like the AA Pamplelune’s astringent grapefruit, but I do know why it has become a standing joke on here as “eau de cat pee.” –Ellen

    • Patty says:

      Agree on Iris Gris and the G-Ds. I never found the G-Ds to be as wearable as some others, but as far as unusual and beautiful, they can’t be beat.

  • Anne says:

    I don’t know about the time/place part. I don’t have the knowledge or the nose to answer that part of the question. But I do wish Chaos would return. I have 3/4 of a bottle of edp and I save it for special occasions but if I make it last too long I’m afraid the scent will not be ‘right’. I wish I could spray with abandon! I dunno, did they make a parfum? That would be something to experience! :)>-

    • Louise says:

      I have the Chaos perfume…lovely, but not so very different in composition or longevity to warrant the current prices. There’s a rumor that DK is going to bring back some kind of set of memorable discontinueds soon…

    • Patty says:

      Agree with LOuise on the Chaos parfum, it is gorgeous, but highly unattainable, and not that much different that it is a must-have. I treasure the little i have, but I wouldn’t recommend anyone go out and spend the college fund to find it.

  • Louise says:

    Love that pic, great movie, especially the part when Jane cooks Blanche’s pets and serves them. Early Glenn Close/boiled bunny theme?

    While I still protest that I’m not a flower girl, I love to prove myself wrong. Datura Noir was my entry into SLs, wore it so much my son called it “Eau de Maman”. I’m delving into rose madly right now, had a brief fling with violet. So-I’ll have to give Cruel a spin. It does sound so pretty.

    I’m getting very cynical. I think most perfumes make it or die due to marketing factors, not to say that those are wholly unrelated to “quality”, and appropriateness to time and place, but largely so. It will certainly be fun, as we grow old(er) together, to see which niche houses/scents survive.

    I would love to get a crack at all those Guerlains listed on BN with the little evil skull (how about Violette Qui Embaume-now there’s an appealing name ; ), and see how “poor” the quality/timing was…

    Not misplaced in time or place…but I miss the Gobin Daudes.

    • Patty says:

      Oh, yeah, Baby Jane was the bomb. It and ARsenic and Old Lace never fail to amuse me mightily — and Sunset Boulevard. Crazy characters that you somehow got and even empathized with.

      Prowling through the Guerlain catalog would be heaven for me. I wish someone had all of them in little teeny vials. I’d pay a fortune to get them all.

      • Lee says:

        Are you ready for your close up Patty?

      • MattS says:

        Sunset Boulevard kicks my a$$ every time I see it; what an awesome movie. I love pretty much anything directed by Billy Wilder. He can find the dark side of human nature and make us laugh at it, or in some cases, relate to it. Double Indemnity, Some Like it Hot, The Apartment…he can blend funny with sad with morbid with scary with sexy like nobody else I know. Doesn’t Norma Desmond wear Fracas? I can’t remember…paging Netflix…

        • erin k. says:

          i’ve read elsewhere that it’s narcisse noir – though i don’t remember that myself from the movie, i saw it years ago.


  • MattS says:

    “I’ve written a letter to Patty…” You guys always use the best pictures in your posts and you immediately got my attention this morning with yours, leaving me wide awake and a little bit scared. I love the idea of a perfume “to bring you to a more beautiful you.” I try not to sniff anything discontinued; there’s no sense in falling in love with something unavailable and getting your heart broken. That’s just cruel. Although I read so much about this Djedi…

    • Patty says:

      I have to warn you, Matt… the longer you sniff perfume, the less it matters to you whether you will own it. Sometimes the sniff is everything. I have teensy amounts of things that I will never own, but I treasure knowing what they smell like and being able to just smell them for the time I can. I have a little jasmiralda and KRISS and others, maybe like a drop. 🙂

      Now, I’m not sure everyone gets to that point, where you really just want a smell reference library, and you do own some beautiful things, but the wearing is sometimes less important than the knowing.

      How cryptic was that?!?! 🙂

      • violetnoir says:

        That was very cryptic, babe, lol!

        Maybe I’m just a big fat piggy, but the wearing is everything to me. I know that if, no–when!–, I visit the Osmotheque (I think I butchered the name…so sorry!), I will feel a bit “cheated,” because I will want to actually be able to find these fragrant beauties and wear them on my body.

        On the other hand, many of them have probably weakened in strength over the years, so the fragrance would not last that long on my skin, but I guess I’m just a total perfume hedonist! :”>

        Oh, but I do love whipping out my Iris Gris sample and taking a whiff every now and then!


      • Joan says:


        “Sometimes the sniff is everything” Me too!!
        Sometimes I spray something amazing on a cotton ball and just enjoy having the whole room smell wonderful for days.

      • chayaruchama says:

        I refer to those scents as my ‘museum scents’-
        Those which I’m grateful to sniff, but are no more for me, than Faberge eggs or the Dali crucifixion…

        Btw- my decant from you just came [of this], and I spritzed;
        Very lovely, well-done, but I think that what you sent is just enough.
        If I’m goin’ indolic, I want to HONK…

      • MattS says:

        I can see one reaching that mindset, especially regarding what would be considered the “historic” scents. The idea of smelling what someone would have been wearing in 1918 is very seductive indeed, somehow releasing us from the restraints of the moment we live in. I think that’s been part of the appeal of Mitsouko and Jicky for me, other than the fantastic way the smell. Some people smelled of those scents almost a hundred years ago. We can’t dress in that manner (and probably wouldn’t want to), nor can we live as they did, but we can get a sense of their lives through their scent.

        • erin k. says:

          i feel much the same way about some classic scents, that connection to the past.

          every time i wear nuit de noel (at this point it’s tied with mitsouko as my absolute favorite) i can’t help but look out my window at the stars and and feel a connection to those in the past: watching those same constellations decades ago, smelling the abstract beauty of nuit de noel on their wrist, pondering lost loves or lonely thoughts or melancholy philosophy as they watch the stars revolve slowly past their window.

          just gorgeous.

  • tmp00 says:

    Okay, I have to ask, what could make you feel like Baby Jane Hudson? ‘Cause March isn’t in a wheelchair and Lee is far too svelte to be Edwin Flagg… 😉

    • Patty says:

      Don’t you ever just have those days where you feel like a witch – you’re mean to everyone, short-temepered, foul, the milk of human kindness has just curdled in your veins? No?

      Well, I do, and I walk around hating the sound of my voice when I act that way, it’s just not me, it’s Baby Jane rolling around and saying “Because you are in that wheelchair, Blanche!”

      Doesn’t last long, but it’s just ugly and usually coincides with a lot of stress and pms.