Chanel Gardenia Les Exclusifs Vintage and Modern : Perfume Review

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Star rating: 5 stars–outstanding/potential classic, 4 stars–very good, 3 stars–adequate, 2 stars–disappointing, 1 star–poor.

For anyone with interest in history, the exploration of vintage fragrances is a journey that offers one exciting discovery after another. Each bottle of perfume holds the essence of its time, artistic inspirations, and scientific advances. Coty L’Origan (1905) conjures Edwardian silhouettes and rich fabrics. Caron Nuit de Noël (1922) captures the Art Deco glamour. Robert Piguet Bandit (1944) is an avant-garde take on leather, a new style of fragrance that resonated with the post-war sentiments. Opening each vintage bottle for the first time is like unveiling a mystery, an experience that never fails to make my heart race. …

The bottle of vintage Chanel Gardénia resisted being opened, and it took all of my knowledge of behavior of glass under various climatic conditions to make the stopper budge. The effort was worth it, because the pale ambery liquid unfolded in a lush flower accented with a mist of aldehydes. A crisp fruity note folded into the floral heart slowly segued into the warmth of the musky base, infused with the radiance of ambergris. Created by Ernest Beaux in 1925, Gardénia is a beautiful example of his talent in creating luminous floral compositions. The elegance of this perfume is remarkable, being evident even after all of these decades that have lapsed between the fragrance being made and it ending up in on my wrist. Whoever owned it in the interim never even touched it, because the membrane seal was still intact.

Gardénia was reintroduced in the 1980s, along with Bois des Iles and Cuir de Russie. The dewy floral sweetness of the reorchestrated version bears far less resemblance to the original aldehydic bouquet than do the other reissues to their vintage counterparts. In a sense, Gardénia is somewhat of a misnomer, because the effect here is chiefly of orange blossom and jasmine, with the entire arrangement dominated by sweet tuberose.

Although the white floral bouquets run the risk of heady opulence, Gardénia is rendered in a modern radiant fashion using ingredients like synthetic fruity notes and lily of the valley that would not have been available at the time Beaux created it. However, the natural essences woven into its heart lend a pleasing richness to the drydown. It is pretty and dainty, like a pair of pearl earrings or a white silk blouse with a lace collar. For this reason, I find it difficult to imagine it on Mlle. Coco. On the other hand, the elegant and sensuous original would have perfectly suited her Garçonne (flapper) look, which was contemporaneous with the introduction of perfume.

Gardénia is available in the EDT and parfum. The EDT is bordering on cloyingly sweet, while the parfum is richer and better balanced. It is available from the Chanel boutiques, some Saks5thAvenue stores and Gloss.com.

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37 Comments

  • Cait: Gorgeous review and comparison of vintage to contemporary. June 22, 2006 at 1:44am Reply

  • Marina: I adore Gardenia, and I haven’t even tried the vintage version…I can only imagine how beautiful it is. Beautiful reveiw! June 22, 2006 at 9:46am Reply

  • greeneyes: What a wonderful review. I had no idea until I started reading the perfume blogs every day that fragrances were reformulated so often. Thanks. June 22, 2006 at 10:12am Reply

  • Ina: Your description of the vintage Gardenia sounds divine. I used to love the new version but got bored by it fairly quickly. Sounds like the vintage one has more oomph to it. June 22, 2006 at 11:36am Reply

  • violetnoir: Ooh, a vintage fragrance! The vintage Gardenia sounds beautiful, V. I do not care for the re-issue. It does not smell like gardenia and has something in it that makes my skin crawl. 🙁

    On the other hand, Bois des Iles is gorgeous!

    Hugs! June 22, 2006 at 12:04pm Reply

  • marchlion: I’ve only tried the new EDT and, yes, cloyingly sweet would sum it up nicely. The vintage sounds lovely. June 22, 2006 at 12:12pm Reply

  • Robin: How interesting, I wondered why Gardenia seemed so much less interesting than Bois de Iles & Cuir Russie.

    And congrats on your bottle, and on managing to open it 🙂 June 22, 2006 at 12:35pm Reply

  • helg: Thanks Vic for the lovely review and for pointing out two important things that some people don’t know:

    1)this smells nothing like the real gardenia blossom (however people who have never smelled a real gardenia in their lives often recommend this when asked about a gardenia scent: shows how much cachet Chanel and classics have I guess!LOL)
    2)there has been a reformulation along the way and regretably the new formula isn’t as rich as the old one, apparently (haven’t sampled the vintage myself), so the awe inspired by this one maybe is not so suited to it.

    As can be seen by my comments I wasn’t impressed by the new Gardenia so much, although it is a nice, airy fragrance and those two reasons above show why.

    (BTW, I welcome your comments on my new perfume blog,Vic) June 22, 2006 at 10:58am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Cait, thank you. Discovering the vintage version was such a treat. June 22, 2006 at 5:09pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Marina, the vintage version is very much a child of its times–aldehydic floral, but rendered in Beaux’s elegant manner, it is quite special. June 22, 2006 at 5:10pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Greeneyes, reformulation is an unavoidable fact, I am afraid. Sometimes, the fashions change, sometimes raw materials disappear, or become too expensive, or discovered to be toxic. June 22, 2006 at 5:12pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Helg, it is a lovely fragrance, and I can see how it may be perfect for someone who is looking for a gauzy, airy floral. It is not that it is worse than the original, but it is completely different. They have their own merits. June 22, 2006 at 5:15pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Ina, the original was a classical floral aldehydic. Given the passing fashion for aldehydic florals, I doubt that it would have found currency today. However, it is beautiful, rich and elegant. For someone who loves that style of fragrances, it is a great discovery. June 22, 2006 at 5:17pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: R, I am always curious to find a modern floral aldehydic fragrance. I understand the perfumers are constantly attempting to develop new ways to use aldehydes, and perhaps, we shall see some very interesting innovations soon. June 22, 2006 at 5:18pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: March, the sweetness of the EDT is what put me off it. The parfum is sweet, but seems more rounded. Either way, I think that it is pretty, but maybe a bit too dainty for what I personally like. June 22, 2006 at 5:19pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: R, opening that bottle was something! It was quite stubborn. June 22, 2006 at 5:20pm Reply

  • Elle: Wonderful review. I have a small bottle of vintage Gardenia and it really is much more beautiful to my vintage loving nose than the reformulation. But frozen stoppers! I so empathize! I have two small testers of vintage Chanels and for the life of me I can’t budge them. Yes, have tried every trick I know. One day, if all the planets are lined up correctly, I hope to get them to budge. June 22, 2006 at 5:32pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Elle, thank you! Vintage Chanels are incredible, especially considering that the quality of the raw materials has always been very high. The elegant beauty of this composition moves me more than I can describe in words. June 22, 2006 at 6:06pm Reply

  • Katie: I don’t have anything to say, except I wanted to thank you for writing this: ♥ June 22, 2006 at 6:51pm Reply

  • Cheezwiz: Thank you for posting this lovely review.

    I have always wanted to try the (current) version of Gardenia. The fact that it doesn’t smell like gardenia is actually a big plus for me.

    It is only available in Chanel boutiques, and I am too self-concious to walk into my local fancy pants boutique and search it out 😉

    Your description makes me want to work up the courage to do so! June 22, 2006 at 9:10pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Katie, thank you very much! The first time I smelled the original Gardenia, I was so moved, I could hardly speak. Perhaps, it is simply the wonder and fascination with these ambery drops of history right before me. June 23, 2006 at 12:26am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Cheezwiz, please muster up courage, walk in self-confidently and demand Gardenia. 🙂 It is very pretty, and if you do not like gardenia, it is still fine. It does not smell much like the real flower. June 23, 2006 at 12:27am Reply

  • k-amber: Utterly beautiful review. I feel like visiting a Chanel botique now. Thank you as always.

    Kaori June 23, 2006 at 3:32am Reply

  • Judith: I have vintage B d’I and CdR, but no Gardenia (though I like the modern one). Now, your description makes it urgent that find a vintage example!

    My husband is a wiz at freeing stuck stoppers. If he can’t do it manually (which he usually can), he uses some very delicate pliers; I have been afraid to watch this operation, but he has managed to free some very stuck vintage ‘fumes (including one with a beautiful intaglio stopper) with absolutely no harm done. I will lend him out for a small price (payable in rare or vintage scents:) June 23, 2006 at 7:01am Reply

  • Anya: Great review as usual, V, and now I’m longing for the vintage. Bravo on opening the bottle, and enjoy the beautiful juice in good health. June 23, 2006 at 10:55am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Kaori, thank you. I hope that you have a chance to try Gardenia and see how it might strike you. June 23, 2006 at 6:59pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Judith, all of my vintage Chanel bottles were extremely difficult to open. The worst one was No. 46, which was also sealed with membrane and thread. Well, the story ended happily, with me managing to find a way despite the stubborn stopper. June 23, 2006 at 7:03pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Anya, thank you. The effort was certainly worth it! June 23, 2006 at 7:05pm Reply

  • Lulu: Hello, I have a couple of questions, and a suggestion. Question 1: can anyone tell me in which decade the original Gardenia (and Bois des Iles and Cuir de Russie) was discontinued? Question 2: can anyone tell me in what decade the more vertically-rectangular flacons with circular-topped stoppers were no longer used, and the more horizontally-oriented rectangular bottles with emerald-cut faceted stoppers came about. Suggestion: this is how I’ve met with success in freeing frozen stoppers…get 91% alcohol at the druggists (it’ll be right by the 70% isopropyl). Take a very small piece of cotton wool, sort of ‘string it out’ and saturate it in the alcohol. Place it ’round the stopper above the neck and squeeze a few drops out so that they seep down around the stopper, then pack the cotton round it. Let it sit a few minutes then carefully try to twist the stopper. It’s worked for me every time! Thank you and good luck! : ) February 4, 2007 at 6:25am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Lulu, it is a great suggestion. Thank you very much. As for the discontinuation of Gardenia, I really do not know the exact date. I understand that even after the war, it was not in production anymore, but I do not have another source to double check this. Plain rectangular flacons with very small stoppers were last produced in 1921. In 1924, you see the creation of faceted flacons with somewhat larger stoppers, and the emerald faceting (stoppers becomes larger still) comes into existence in 1950. February 4, 2007 at 6:45pm Reply

  • michelle: Hi,

    I was wondering anyone here actually knows how Chanel No. 46 smells like??

    any info will help.
    Thanks : ) September 17, 2007 at 5:39pm Reply

  • Clifford Braun: I have a unopened Bottle of Chanel No. 46 that I am wanting to sell. I have done some research on it and one web site says it smells very simaler to Chanel No. 5. and its very hard to tell them appart. May 3, 2012 at 7:15pm Reply

  • Nati: Hi Victoria! Where do you buy vintage perfumes? I live in Brazil amd have no idea if its a matter of luck and knowing who to buy from or if any mortal can do it!
    Love your blog, I come here everyday and read a lot since september 18! (Im new in a love for perfumes, and loving my new passion.)
    Today I felt this new Gardenia in Chanel and I loved it. But they only sell the edt here in Brazil. I didnt put it in my skin but I didnt find it cloying, I found it refreshing! Its funny isnt it?
    X
    (Ps: my Chanel loves are No22 and Coco) November 13, 2014 at 6:01pm Reply

    • Victoria: I don’t buy vintage perfumes anymore, but when I did (and that was more than 10 years ago), I bought them from the antique shops and Ebay. You could find great bargains in those days, although today there would be no such luck. November 13, 2014 at 6:51pm Reply

      • Nati: Thanks for the answer! And as a matter of curiosity, which perfumes do you buy nowadays? What was the last bottle you bought?
        So curious! November 13, 2014 at 8:11pm Reply

        • Victoria: I don’t get full bottles much these days, since I mostly buy samples and decants to try something different. I buy maybe only 1-2 bottles a year. The last one was Guerlain Nahema, and before that No 19 for Christmas (a gift from my husband). November 14, 2014 at 1:44am Reply

  • Cindy Benjamin: I have a vintage bottle unopened Chanel gardenia 1950? I think with box , was wondering value of it today. January 18, 2016 at 12:36pm Reply

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