Elisa talks about gardenia, tiare, and leather as she reviews Aftelier Cuir de Gardenia Extrait.
Searching for a natural gardenia perfume is a little like hunting for unicorns – gardenias, notoriously, don’t release a natural oil. As Victoria once put it, “gardenia, temperamental flower that she is, does not give up her essence to any distillation methods.” Accordingly, gardenia in perfumery is necessarily a re-creation, using other materials to approximate the flower’s scent: sweetly tropical, but with an earthy element often likened to dirt or mushrooms.
I was surprised, then, when I heard that Mandy Aftel of Aftelier Perfumes was releasing a gardenia scent, since Aftel is known for her all-natural creations. As it turns out, Cuir de Gardenia is based on the Tahitian gardenia, or tiare flower, which can be made into a (costly) enfleurage (termed monoi when using coconut oil). Aftel has bolstered this material with jasmine and benzyl acetate, an isolate that occurs naturally in jasmine and ylang-ylang and is also used as a solvent in plastic and resins.
Cuir de Gardenia, which comes in a luxuriously silky oil format, skips the niceties of top notes and gets right to the point. The initial impression feels exactly split between white flowers and shoe rubber. It’s a rather brilliant way to represent gardenia, since the petals of very fresh white flowers like gardenia, lily, and tuberose not only look and feel waxy but often have a plasticky, rubbery smell, like tarpaulin. It’s realistic but also smells like something manufactured, and ensures that you won’t smell merely pretty. (Estee Lauder Private Collection Tuberose Gardenia achieves a similar effect with a wisp of toxic petroleum.)
As time goes on, the flowers tip the balance, and the lush, slightly metallic smell of jasmine absolute is more prominent than the rubber/leather. Slowly, the perfume gets sweeter, eventually veering towards the gourmand with the sugary, almost buttery note of maltol as the most prominent note in the base. The drydown reminds me of Liz Zorn’s Honeysuckle Bird, which also combines a very natural floral accord with a butter-cookie base, but Cuir de Gardenia is less extravagantly rich. (Honeysuckle Bird is strictly for those with a serious sweet tooth.)
Cuir de Gardenia is beautifully done, and it’s my favorite floral in the Aftelier line-up. However, I offer a couple of caveats. One, if you appreciate Aftel’s stranger creations, such as Cepes & Tuberose, you might be surprised that this one has more of a commercial feel, and would not seem out of place in a high-end, mixed-media collection. Two, Aftel has chosen not to highlight the earthy side of gardenia, and you may find this to be more of a candied jasmine than a leathery gardenia. (On my skin, the usually animalic castoreum is nearly undetectable.) It has modest sillage but good longevity for an oil-based natural perfume, lasting four to six hours at a low hum.
Aftelier Cuir de Gardenia includes notes of tiare absolute, jasmine grandiflorum absolute, benzyl acetate, castoreum, ethyl phenyl acetate, and maltol. It’s available in a 2 ml miniature for $55 or 1/4 oz for $195.
Photography (top image): De gardenias y flores (cropped) by Luz Adriana Villa A., via flickr, some rights reserved