Aftelier Cuir de Gardenia Extrait : Perfume Review


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



  • george: I don’t really get Aftel’s description of this perfume eschewing top notes and instead going straight in to a gardenia heart, because what for me is most distinctive about gardenia is the Agnetha high-pitched top notes which penetrate beyond the sex cheese and mushroom notes of Frida Benny and Bjorn. In fact I remember the last good gardenia approximation I smelled- Boutonniere no.7- being a great approximation for such a short time before becoming something else. Even after reading this review, I am non-plussed about whether this is worth smelling or not, but as their distribution doesn’t seem to reach these shores that’s ok with me (and that’s before considering the price). February 19, 2014 at 8:21am Reply

    • Elisa: OMG, ABBA metaphor!! Love it. George, I didn’t find CdG to be a “true” gardenia, but it is a lovely white floral. Your experience of Boutonniere No. 7 sounds pretty typical for gardenia re-creations, they can only hold the illusion for so long. February 19, 2014 at 10:13am Reply

  • Truehollywood: What toxic petroleum product is in the Estee Lauder tuberose gardenia? Im curious. February 19, 2014 at 8:53am Reply

    • Elisa: I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to imply that it actually contains a toxic petroleum product! Rather, it has a petrol-like note, probably due to some phenolic material (perfectly safe). February 19, 2014 at 10:14am Reply

    • Rina: Yes, I didn’t understand that either.. February 19, 2014 at 10:16am Reply

  • Andy: I’m always on the fence with candied gardenia/jasmine/tuberose perfumes. They are sometimes what I crave, but I’m just not attracted enough to the category to really appreciate the differences between, lets say (to contrast high and low) Le Labo Lys 41 and Madonna Truth or Dare. In any case, Cuir de Gardenia sounds delightful, as I love Tiare and Monoï oil. Today was looking bleak when I woke up, so I swiped on a slick of Monoï when I got out of the shower. Now my mind is wandering to days on the beach! February 19, 2014 at 9:35am Reply

    • Elisa: I liked Lys 41 a lot more than Truth or Dare, but it *does* seem like one should be able to find a candied white floral on a budget, doesn’t it? It’s hardly cheap, but I enjoy Datura Noir as a beachy coconut-inflected floral in summer. February 19, 2014 at 10:16am Reply

      • Solanace: Tanya Sanchez made me curious about DN, but I still have to try it. February 20, 2014 at 3:40am Reply

        • Elisa: It’s not typical of the Lutens line at all, but it’s really grown on me. February 20, 2014 at 11:22am Reply

      • Andy: What an interesting pick for summer! I’ll have to try it again, because it didn’t scream summer to me at the time, but looking back I can see how it would be suitable. February 21, 2014 at 11:46am Reply

        • Elisa: Oh yes, do! Sunshine brings out its suntan-lotion vibe. February 21, 2014 at 11:48am Reply

  • sandra: Thanks for this description.
    I have tried really hard to like Gardenia. I have been on the hunt of a wedding fragrance and I sampled Estee Lauder Private Collection Tuberose Gardenia, it was like a headache in a bottle. I tried hard to wait for the drydown, but it was just not happening. Under the sink my wrist went..scrub scrub scrub
    I also tried Chanels GARDÉNIA
    It smelled like cat pee after awhile.
    ..but will try Aftelier if I have the chance. February 19, 2014 at 9:56am Reply

    • Elisa: Well don’t force it if you just don’t like gardenia! Have you tried Carnal Flower (tuberose) or Sweet Redemption (orange blossom) for a wedding scent? February 19, 2014 at 10:17am Reply

      • sandra: No I haven’t! But I can. I am doing a nod to my husband to be Indain culture so I was thinking something more rose/jasmine or sandlewood smelling. February 19, 2014 at 10:43am Reply

        • Elisa: I bet Victoria could jump in with some suggestions there. She’s the expert on wedding scents. But Sweet Redemption is what I wore to my tiny, spur-of-the-moment courthouse “wedding.” It’s gorgeous! February 19, 2014 at 11:00am Reply

          • sandra: she has in previous posts!
            Glad to hear you had a spur of the moment! Sounds romantic!!! February 19, 2014 at 1:10pm Reply

            • Elisa: It was! 🙂 February 19, 2014 at 1:22pm Reply

          • Courant: For a wedding set in Polynesia I would turn to Songes, also much loved by Victoria. This was Camille Goutal’s creation in memory of her own wedding. I have the EDT, which evokes my own memories of holidays at Club Med, Moorea February 19, 2014 at 1:44pm Reply

            • Austenfan: Or Manoumalia, try before you buy though, it’s certainly not to everyone’s taste! February 20, 2014 at 12:22pm Reply

              • Elisa: Or Amoureuse, which V reminded me of in an email. It’s really lovely. February 20, 2014 at 12:24pm Reply

  • mysterious_scent: Fantastic review! You said everything I wanted to say! Just that I have no comparison: Cuir de Gardenia is the first Mandy Aftelier scent I’ve tried and I find it very unique February 19, 2014 at 10:42am Reply

    • Elisa: Thank you! As I mentioned, it’s my favorite from her line that I’ve tried. February 19, 2014 at 11:01am Reply

  • Anne of Green Gables: Thanks for the review, Elisa. I haven’t tried any Aftelier perfumes nor gardenia centred fragrances so far. I only know of gardenia fruits and never had a chance to smell the flowers. I’m not a natural white flower lover but latey, I’ve been really enjoying Tiare/Frangipani, which I think is due to my longing for warmer weather. I’ve been using Yves Rocher Tiare shower gel and I follow it by giving a quick self-massage with Nuxe Huile Prodigieuse. Heaven! Even after a stressful day, this small ritual never fails to makes me happy and relaxed. I also love OJ Frangipani – such a lush and delicious scent! February 19, 2014 at 11:16am Reply

    • Elisa: Hi Anne, you might like this one because it is really a tiare fragrance. I had a sample of a frangipani lotion once that was just to die for, but I can’t bring myself to buy the full-size version since it’s $40 or so. 🙂 February 19, 2014 at 11:19am Reply

  • Donna Kittredge: I’m wearing Cuir de Gardenia right now as I stare out the window at two feet of snow. It has become my scent of choice this winter and for me approximates the heady, indolic scent of gardenias. Tom Ford doesn’t do it for me (sorry, tried to love it). I prefer a very earthy scent and I love some of JAR’s creations for that reason. I don’t find any candied jasmine in this, but depending on one’s chemistry, it may smell that way on some. I don’t get the petrol/rubber element, either. I’ve tried several samples from Aftelier and do like Cepes and Tuberose. Although it is less complex than some of Mandy’s other scents, I don’t find it has a commercial feel. It does wear close to the body so if you want a quieter experience, you might want to try a sample. February 19, 2014 at 11:48am Reply

    • Elisa: Thanks for providing another point of view, Donna — I’m sure it’s not just chemistry but also associations and how we interpret the materials. February 19, 2014 at 11:52am Reply

      • Donna Kittredge: I agree with you. It could be that my sense of smell doesn’t pick up nuances. I have a friend who can pick up the nuances in wine, and try as I may, I don’t experience the fine points. Thanks for your thoughtful reviews. February 19, 2014 at 1:26pm Reply

        • Elisa: I’m sure you are getting nuances! We may just describe them differently. Take labdanum for example — it can smell earthy, smoky, leathery, animalic, or sweet depending on context and your point of view and probably your mood at the time and who knows what else! Natural materials are complex and different people pick up different aspects of them. February 19, 2014 at 1:28pm Reply

  • Solanace: Really enjoyed reading your review, Elisa. I haven’t tried any Mandy Aftel scent yet, but her style is really appealing to me, and her chefs’ essences look awesome! February 20, 2014 at 3:51am Reply

    • Elisa: Thank you Solance! I have yet to try the chef’s essences but yes, they look fascinating! February 20, 2014 at 11:23am Reply

  • Ann: Hi Elise,

    I’m glad you reviewed this scent. I ordered a sample of it when I bought a flask of saffron essence for my father and loved it. But I also found it confusing. In part the oil base gave me the feel (or illusion) that the fragrance would be quite transient. I just felt like it could slip away. And at $55 for 2 ml, I wondered if I was experiencing a little of the emperor’s new clothes. My wrist smelled divine… Like a soft leather belt worn over a cotton shirt that had been lying in drawer filled with white flowers. But with the sampled used up, the oil dissipated, I wondered if I had imagine the whole dream. I just know if I had 2 mls I’d have an irresistible urge to douse myself in it, and would use it up entirely only moments after I’d ripped the bottle from the packaging.

    Now I am wondering if that makes me a glutton for punishment, or just a glutton!? February 20, 2014 at 2:52pm Reply

    • Ann: Yikes. Sorry~ Elisa! February 20, 2014 at 2:53pm Reply

    • Elisa: Hi Ann! Your story is making me laugh. Cost can mess with our heads that way. I have what looks like about a 2-3 ml vial and I have the feeling it will last me forever. I use things up much more quickly when I can spray. I find the oil format here very luxurious! February 20, 2014 at 3:03pm Reply

  • Mandy Aftel: What a wonderful review, thank you so much Elisa for your very savvy writing, and Victoria for your terrific blog, and really everyone for your fabulous comments!
    Mandy February 20, 2014 at 5:41pm Reply

  • Olga Talyn: There is a fragrance shop in Nantucket that I visit when there that has a soft gardenia oil that is a dead ringer for the actual flower. The soft and spicy carnation scents are also delightful. I believe even Madonna orders from there. August 25, 2014 at 3:27am Reply

    • Gían: And what, pray tell, is the name of this “fragrance shop” in Nantucket that Madonna orders from so that we might order from them too?! I’m always on the hunt for a true-to-life gardenia fragrance! That’s like the Holy Grail of the perfume world. At least, it’s my Holy Grail anyway… (Along with a true-to-life Osmanthus solifleur.) August 27, 2014 at 2:14pm Reply

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