Tom Ford Velvet Gardenia : Fragrance Review

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Tom_ford_velvet_gardenia

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

Have you ever noticed how faces are much easier to recognize in exaggerated caricatures than in photographs? For this same reason Tom Ford Velvet Gardenia might offer the truest gardenia one can find in perfume form. Certainly, there are plenty of fragrances that incorporate beautiful gardenia accords (Hermès Calèche, Dior Diorama, Estée Lauder Private Collection Tuberose Gardenia), but to smell Velvet Gardenia is to experience a flower magnified by several degrees—smooth, waxy petals, green leaves and woody stems, animalic, dark roots. Its scent is creamy and intoxicating, smoldering and airy, floral and balsamic. What seems at first like an improbable juxtaposition of effects soon unfolds into a complex gardenia story. …

In some ways, Velvet Gardenia presents a departure from the classical renderings of gardenia as either creamy-milky (Jean Patou Adieu Sagesse, gardenia accord in Marc Jacobs for Women and Givenchy Organza) or crisp green (Chanel Gardénia, gardenia accord in Nina Ricci L’Air du Temps, Millot Crêpe de Chine, Miss Dior and Eternity). In Velvet Gardenia, perfumer Dave Apel incorporated a curious green mushroom note, which occurs naturally in gardenias and allows for the immediate sense of recognition upon smelling the fragrance. Surely, most commercial launches would have avoided both the mushroom effect and the decadently indolic feeling of Velvet Gardenia. Perhaps, that is why many of the so-called Gardenias on the market do not live up to their promise.

As gorgeous as flowers in nature tend to be, a perfume representing their smell in a photorealistic manner would simply fail to keep interest for long. By contrast, Velvet Gardenia succeeds in creating a beautiful abstract form that places it in the same category of exaggerated florals as Serge Lutens Tubéreuse Criminelle (tuberose), Fleurs d’Oranger (orange blossom) and Sarrasins (jasmine.) The backdrop against which the gardenia petals unfold is dark, balsamic, and animalic. In a sense, Velvet Gardenia captures the life of a flower—blossoming, wilting and ossifying.

All aspects that lend Velvet Gardenia its striking form also prove to make it challenging to wear. It is a statement fragrance that requires confidence and tolerance for heady florals and animalic notes. If your idea of an ideal white floral is L’Artisan La Chasse Aux Papillon or Lanvin Rumeur, then Velvet Gardenia might not be your cup of tea. If you like dramatic statements à la Tubéreuse Criminelle, Velvet Gardenia will ring true on that promise and much more. Difficult, but unique and memorable.

Velvet Gardenia (floral) with notes of black gardenia, orange, jasmine, rose, muguet, tuberose, dark plum, honey, beeswax, incense, labdanum. Available from Bergdorf Goodman and Tom Ford boutique. If you are new to exploring Tom Ford Private Collection, given their complexity and strength, I would recommend starting slowly–smell only 2-3 fragrances during a session and try to test them on skin.

Update: Velvet Gardenia has been discontinued.

*This effect is classically obtained from styrallyl acetate, a green crisp material reminiscent of rhubarb stems, which is used to enhance the gardenia note in white accords. If you are curious to see its effect, smell fragrance where it is dosed heavily like Carven Ma Griffe and Yves Saint Laurent Paris.

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30 Comments

  • Musette: Bring it on! This sounds lush and wonderful! May 16, 2008 at 1:19pm Reply

  • Linda: You’ve almost convinced me about it earlier but now I’m sure I need to smell it ASAP! May 16, 2008 at 2:07pm Reply

  • Suzanne: What a fascinating description of how this fragrance with built and what makes it different from other gardenia perfumes. Your analogy about faces being more immediately recongizable in caricatures when the features are exaggerated really helped me to understand what the perfumer aims for in creating an olfactory portrait of this kind.

    (And oh my, I love gardenias, so your review has me very curious to try this!) May 16, 2008 at 5:35pm Reply

  • Robin: You’ve *almost* convinced me to try the Tom Fords… May 16, 2008 at 9:01pm Reply

  • Madelyn E: Dear Victoria,
    I ran to the Tom Ford counter at Bergdorf Goodman with baited breath to make a definitive final Sniff and then BUY Velvet Gardenia. But after an hour or so – I noticed the Honey note – and disliked it . that honey note bitterly detracted from the other more pleasant aspects of this Gardenia scent. I am still searching for a more balanced gardenia. I probably will be getting more Tuberose than Gardenia. I am considering Chanel Gardenia or Cruel Gardenia .. I’m still searching .. not too floral but with a predominant Gardenia note. May 16, 2008 at 11:00pm Reply

  • carmencanada: Dear V. – I suppose the Guerlain launch awoke my interest in gardenia, and I’ve been exploring the fragrances built around that note (even down to a Le Galion gardenia). You’re dead right about Velvet Gardenia magnifying the flower’s characteristics almost to the point of caricature: that’s exactly what I loved about it. The fact that it picked up and played on that mushroom note bordering on unpleasantness.
    There is a very well-trained S.A. at the Tom Ford counter at Le Bon Marché/ Galerie Lafayette who helped me overcome my initial dismissal of the line (too many simultaneous launches, and well, it’s Tom Ford whom I admire but don’t like much).Her perceptive remarks on the various fragrances kept me there sniffing.
    And Madelyn: try to get hold of Patricia de Nicolaï Odalisque. It’s got a nice gardenia note, quite lush, on an oakmoss base. I’ve bought it and find it classically beautiful, a pleasure to wear. May 17, 2008 at 4:15am Reply

  • Judith: V! In the end-of-school rush, I didn’t realize you were “back” until Marina told me. How very wonderful! You make a great case for this perfume; since I have always considered myself more of a TC than a La Chasse kind of girl, I wish I could wear it–but I am overwhelmed by the blue cheese (I guess I am wimpier in some respects than I pretend):) May 17, 2008 at 7:35am Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Musette, it is definitely a big perfume. Have you smelled it already? Do you like it? May 17, 2008 at 10:59am Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Linda, do let me know what you think! May 17, 2008 at 10:59am Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Suzanne, thank you! I was trying hard to think of an analogy that made sense, because this exaggeration technique also makes many Serge Lutens fragrances so unique and interesting. I love that Velvet Garden does not try to be a crowd pleaser, but yes, definitely sample first. May 17, 2008 at 11:09am Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: R, they are worth trying. I dismissed the line at first as too many perfumes at once, but now that I am revisiting I am discovering that I am liking some quite a bit. May 17, 2008 at 11:11am Reply

  • chayaruchama: This is one gardenia that sings for me.
    It truly becomes a thing of beauty, very wearable, and flattering.
    [This, coming from someone no one thinks of as a ‘white florals girl’…]

    I bought it gratefully, and haven’t regretted it for a moment.
    [I get no bleu cheese- but I do love bleu cheese,anyway !]

    Lovely to see you in action… May 17, 2008 at 5:31pm Reply

  • Peter: V,
    Is there anything in this line that would be suitable for men? May 17, 2008 at 8:34pm Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Madelyn, have you tried Estee Lauder Tuberose Gardenia? I think that it has a lovely gardenia note. I used to like Chanel Gardenia just fine, but smelling it after it was relaunched in Les Exclusives, I found it too flat and sweet. May 18, 2008 at 1:01pm Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Denise, which fragrances did you end up liking? At first, I also had the same perception of the line as you did, but just recently inspired by my success with Velvet Gardenia, I started exploring more of the line. I liked Japon Noir and Oud Wood quite a bit. May 18, 2008 at 1:06pm Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Judith, always a pleasure to “see” you. 🙂 I was actually wondering what you thought of Velvet Gardenia, since I do not ordinarily think of you as a white floral lover. I can see what you would call blue cheese-mushroomy, slightly bitter. I do not mind it at all, and in the air, I do not see that note as such. Still, I completely understand why it would be bothersome. May 18, 2008 at 1:13pm Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Chaya, I think that true white florals predispose a love for animalic and woody notes, since they are rich in indoles (moth ball to fecal note), cresols (horse barn), and so forth. Velvet Gardenia is a good example. I have no problems wearing it, but I admit that it is not a crowd pleaser. May 18, 2008 at 1:19pm Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Peter, most of them are heavy on leather and wood, and are suitable for both men and women, with possible exception of Velvet Gardenia which is more conventionally feminine. Bois Rouge, Oud Wood, Neroli Portofino… I will try to review some of these at some point. May 18, 2008 at 1:27pm Reply

  • carmencanada: I quite liked Japon Noir, it’s sort of a hybrid between Opium and Shalimar Light (or whatever it’s called now), anyway a descendent of L’Origan. And if you put Moss Breches together with Tuscan Leather, you get a fairly good impression of the top notes of Bandit. Tobacco Vanille is very pleasant but I would concur with Tania S. on that one, it’s more of an ambient perfume than a bona fide fragrance. Overall they all feel like bases: as though classic perfumes had been pried apart for bits of them. It’s a modern conception of perfumery and one I am warming to despite myself — one can’t always wear the masterpieces. May 18, 2008 at 5:28pm Reply

  • Musette: . V, have not smelled it yet but I am a lover of ‘big’ perfumes – (Joy, 1000, Fracas are among my staples). We’ll see what this does on my skin. I was disappointed in Black Orchid. It turned to grape jelly on my skin – but hope springs eternal and I do love gardenias so… May 18, 2008 at 9:36pm Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Denise, I agree with you, one cannot wear masterpieces every day, just like one cannot wear couture to the office. I do not mind the minimalist, one dimensional form either, as long as it is made from quality ingredients and is original. I take it over complex, but bland and uninspired. May 19, 2008 at 9:10am Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Musette, then I think that it will be a good option for you. It is not at all like Black Orchid. Funny you should say grape jelly, because I wore it the other day and my SO commented that I smelled like grapes. It is true, because it has a big doze of orange blossom like material that smells strongly of Concord grapes! I never realized to what extent it sticks out until he commented. May 19, 2008 at 9:12am Reply

  • violetnoir: So many gardenia fragrances don’t smell like the flower, V, but now you have me interested in testing this. I have pretty much ignored the line, but now I think I will seek out this one.

    Hugs! May 19, 2008 at 12:12pm Reply

  • Linda: OK, I sampled Velvet Gardenia this weekend. Well, it’s everything you said it was, even though it wasn’t an instant love for me. My first reaction was to wash it off because of that mushroom note you mentioned. I’m glad I didn’t wash it off though because I liked it much better as it dried down. I still need to wear it longer. It’s very different and unique. Still not sure if I can wear it but I am not giving up on it. May 19, 2008 at 12:13pm Reply

  • Sveta: I know that it will be too much for me but I really want to smell it. Some times even La Chasse is too white floral for me. 🙂 May 19, 2008 at 2:18pm Reply

  • Tara: I did like Japon Noir best, Oud Wood and Tobacco Vanille were pleasant too. I would really like to test them again but no one in San Diego has them that I know of…. May 19, 2008 at 6:16pm Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: R, it is definitely worth trying, because on the whole the line is very creative. I like that it is non-commercial. But one can hardly expect commercial and boring out of Tom Ford’s niche scents. May 20, 2008 at 7:19am Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Linda, yes, it does take some courtship. 🙂 Let me know how it behaves later on. May 20, 2008 at 7:21am Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Sveta, yes, in that case it might be too much! May 20, 2008 at 7:23am Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Tara, I liked all of those too, but I also need to resample a few others. Oud Wood is very close to the real thing. May 20, 2008 at 7:25am Reply

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