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.